A "How-To" Introduction on Pursuing Arts-Based Fiction Research and Writing as a Methodology: A Review of Fiction as Research Practice: Short Stories, Novellas, and Novels

By Luna, Aniuska M. | The Qualitative Report, March 2015 | Go to article overview

A "How-To" Introduction on Pursuing Arts-Based Fiction Research and Writing as a Methodology: A Review of Fiction as Research Practice: Short Stories, Novellas, and Novels


Luna, Aniuska M., The Qualitative Report


Patricia Leavy's (2013) Fiction as Research Practice: Short Stories, Novellas, And Novels is a compellingly written "how to" text on how researchers and academics can use fiction writing as a medium to explore and convey their research. Leavy's background and experiences as a sociology professor, qualitative researcher, and fiction novelist have enabled her to articulate an alternative to traditional academic writing. This alternative is founded on the principles of well-established methodologies such as ethnography, and the existing procedural and subjective overlaps between fiction and qualitative academic approaches to research and writing. Her book shows that the researcher and writer are at the heart of the imaginative conceptualization and presentation of stories and meaning as they are constructed and shared with an audience. Left unaddressed in-depth, however, is how fiction as a research approach offers additional benefits to those provided by regular fiction writers.

Considering the goal and content of the text, the author provides a well rounded review and characterization of the differences between fiction writing and fiction as research practice. She covers the scholarly precedents and benefits of the latter, what to consider and evaluate in the planning and execution of a project, and the pedagogical benefits of the approach from her experiences as a professor as well as that of other scholars (Leavy, 2013, Chapters 1-4, 10). Leavy (2013) further offers tips and questions to consider in relation to plot, characters, contexts, and how to get one's creative juices started throughout the book (e.g., in Appendix A on "writing prompts").

How fiction based research comes together is shown in four fiction examples of the types noted in the title of the book (Leavy, 2013, Chapters 5-9). These examples embody several qualitative principles. For instance, written from multiple narrator voices (first, third person); in distinct styles that capture the personalities, social classes and education of the characters; and through insights into their geo-spatial, physical, emotional and mental states and realities, the excerpts encourage empathy and reflection about the life, being, and dynamics affecting those portrayed. By encouraging an intimate relationship between reader and characters, empathy (or the lack of it), and reflection about the characters the authors of the four fiction pieces also encourage reflexivity about the position of the reader in her/his own context and life. Reflexivity and the ability to establish or communicate an empathetic rapport with research subjects (or fictional characters) are core aspects of qualitative approaches.

The examples in Chapters 5 thru 9 are additionally accompanied by comments from Leavy and the original authors. The latter's comments present personal insights about the theoretical and individual motivations of the authors. Leavy's comments, on the other hand, reflect on proposed evaluative criteria (Chapter 4) on how to look at the quality and effectiveness of a fiction based research piece. Readers interested in additional approaches such as narrative inquiry, poetry or visual representation arts-based research may want to read Leavy's (2009) Methods Meets Art: Arts-Based Research Practice. That text presents various methodologies in a similar format to that in Leavy (2013) whereby the author reviews academic literature, provides suggestions on websites and other resources that readers might find useful, and includes several chapters written by scholars or practitioners of the methodologies discussed.

There is one question I still struggle with after reading Leavy's (2013) book, however. Besides the appeal of fiction as an engaging format for students, and the appeal of the format for researchers aiming to engage students and multiple audiences, what does fiction based research provide over fiction for the reader? I come to this question as someone whose undergraduate background was in modern languages and Latin American studies. …

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