This week’s writing prompt is all about using research to bring on the fight! We have a list of heroes whose actions demonstrate the qualities that make heroes such awesome people. They are saviors, survivors, artists, champions, activists, and they are all real! Learning about real life heroes from the past and the present can give you ideas about the kinds of people you want your characters to be. It can inspire you to imagine the sorts of challenges, obstacles, and setbacks your own fictional heroes might face.
Previously in our section on doing research and developing credibility, we talked about the importance of doing careful research when we decide to write on topics that are unfamiliar to us. We even tested this with a little experiment, which you can find at bit.ly/1i3rf6X.
What we have not talked about much, though, are the more creative purposes that research can serve. We’ve discussed how our sleuthing skills can keep us out of trouble, but what if trouble is what we’re looking for? This week’s writing prompt is all about using research to bring on the fight!
We are going to begin digging into using research as a source of inspiration for stories, plot ideas, and characters—specifically heroes.
Having a powerful imagination is an invaluable tool. Whether you are setting out to write the next blockbuster novel or you are solving the everyday challenges of life and work, your imagination is the best resource you could ever ask for. But a powerful imagination requires fuel, maintenance, and a surplus of good construction materials. This is because creativity is a skill that we acquire over time through experience and learning. It isn’t a quality that you either have or you don’t. The more you experience and learn, the more powerful and flexible your imagination will become.
As writers, part of our mission is to seek out great characters and fantastic tales, and to share those stories with readers. Perhaps the most significant question any writer can be asked, and also the toughest to answer, is where their inspiration comes from. I have my own theories about where stories come from and why they seek out their authors, and it is my firm belief that good stories plant themselves in fertile minds because they grow best in rich imaginations.
Strengthening your imagination and making it more adaptable will help you tell more stories better. One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and potential tales for the telling is human history. Studying history might seem dull, but all of the most epic people who ever lived are in it. When history is cut and dry, it is being done wrong.
Not only is history pretty much the most amazing story you could ever find, it is still happening. History isn’t about what a lot of dead people did way back when. Tomorrow’s history is happening today as you read this, and it is full of heroes, which brings us to this week’s prompt.
This week we have a short list of real, modern day heroes whose actions demonstrate the qualities that make heroes such awesome people. The people in this list have overcome obstacles, broken new ground, and helped to make the world a better place. All of them faced adversity, and many of them have had close encounters with death. Some of them have saved lives, others have persevered against incredible odds. Often, it seems as if their most powerful weapons of choice were determination and hope. They are saviors, survivors, artists, champions, activists, and they are all real.
For this prompt, your challenge is to choose a name from this list of heroes, research the hero you chose, then tell that hero’s story. The artistic medium for telling your hero’s story is up to you, but 500 to 1500 words would probably be a good length for our prose writers to strive for.
The List: (Alphabetically)
- Amanda Sullivan
- Eli Erlick
- Lindsey Stirling
- Malala Yousafzai
- Park Jee Young
- Todd Love
- William Kamkwamba
Find out as much as you can about the person you chose. You should be able to name and provide links to at least four of the sources where you found your information. If the person you chose is active on social media, look for their social media profiles on places like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube to gain firsthand information about them, who they are, and what they are doing or have done. Wikipedia is an okay place to start researching because it will give you hints about the people you are studying, but know that information on Wikipedia is notoriously unreliable and that you should think twice before listing it as one of your sources.
In discussing the person you chose, go beyond who they are and what they did or do. Describe, however briefly, the events and the other actors, social movements, and historical contexts which lead them to do the things that they did and to become the people they were and are.
History, both ancient and ongoing, offers us a wealth of stories with possibilities that are almost never ending. Learning about real life heroes from the past and the present can give you ideas about the kinds of people you want your characters to be. It can inspire you to imagine the sorts of challenges, obstacles, and setbacks your own fictional heroes might face.
Doing this kind of research is an excellent way to expand our own horizons and to understand other people better. What sorts of circumstances and situations have others been faced with and how did they respond? Knowing the answer to a question like this will benefit both your writing and yourself. It can help you to become a more resilient person while also giving you ideas for new stories and new excitement for your audience.
Beyond the thrills and spills of your heroes, though, your characters will very likely serve as role models for your readers. When you study heroes and learn about their lives, you can do a great deal to help your readers become stronger and more creative people if you use your knowledge of real heroes to help you develop your characters. In their own times of need, your readers may well turn to your stories as a source of strength.
To borrow the words of Communication theorist R. Tyler Spradley, you can help your readers learn to “celebrate and struggle well.” Someday, they may turn out to be heroes themselves, so give them strong role models and good examples of heroism.
I can’t wait to see what you all come up with for this prompt. It’s one of my favorites, and I know you all will enjoy it, too. In the comments below, tell me about the people you find heroic. For the first seven people who give this prompt a try, I will write about the real life heroes they suggested. So if you write about one of the heroes on my list, I’ll write about one of the heroes on yours. It’s your turn to teach me a thing or two!
Grow leaders. Grow heroes. Grow what you know!
(Roggen Wulf, 2014)