In Story, Robert McKee suggests that research is the antidote to writer's block. When you can't write, that generally means you don't know what to write--so go learn something and you will.
In my next novel, I'm hoping to explore the idea that being human means being the opposite of a predator--that we are hard-wired to be social animals, and we define "good" and "evil" in terms of that which is selfless (and society-preserving) or selfish (and society-destroying.)
I wanted two of my secondary characters to represent the extremes of this scale, and in the course of some research I did last night, I found a delightful way to do it.
People with Down's syndrome tend to be affectionate, kind and honest. They love orderliness and routine, and they are resistant to "last-minute" changes. They tend to be very sensitive to expressions of anger by others. Their intelligence is affected by their condition, but their emotions are normal and healthy.
People who are clinically psychopathic tend to be emotionally superficial, dishonest and manipulative. They are easily bored, and they crave excitement and sensation. They lack empathy and tend to have trouble understanding both visual and verbal expressions of sadness or fear by others. Their emotions are stunted by their condition, but their intelligence is normal and healthy.
So my plan is to have the character who represents a "good", order-loving human have Down's syndrome and the character who represents a "bad", chaos-loving human be psychopathic. The fun part is, the protagonist is going to fall in with the "bad" character while the antagonist teams up with the "good" character. There's more possibilities for inter-personal friction that way.
What things have you researched to spark ideas for your writing? Have you ever learned something new and immediately had a story bloom out of that? Do you have ideas that come out of nowhere, or can you usually identify the trigger for them?