Some of you may remember Anne as a guest blogger a couple of months back during the Writing Journey series. Today she's with us again to talk about research. Anne writes suspense, and every good suspense needs an equally good detective. And since Anne's not a detective, she had homework to do. So, I'll turn the rest of this post over to Anne so she can tell us how she approaches this.
The Importance of Research
The old saying, write what you know, doesn’t really work well in fiction unless you’re an ex-cop doing a series about a cop or a retired forensic pathologist drawing on their experience to create NY Times bestsellers. But when you’re an administrative assistant, creating a variety of characters including FBI profilers to fire investigators, you want to be as through as possible, so you research.
For me researching is half the fun. It hasn’t always been that pleasant. I remember, before the great wide world of internet, spending hours and hours in the local library skimming through book after book hoping to learn as much as I could about the subject I was writing about. But with the invention of cyber space (God bless Google) my research time has been cut way down. Even better is finding that one source that can help you get inside your character’s head.
On my novel, Every Skull Tells a Story, I linked up with a real Forensic Artist who was able to give me great insights into the process through email correspondence. Plus I read as much about the subject I could get my hands on. This paid off at my first book signing when I had a small group of eager buyers who asked a variety of questions on the subject. If I hadn’t done my research I would have been in a real pickle. Not to mention looked really stupid.
While writing my upcoming release, Fire and Ash, I was put into contact through a friend with a Fire Investigator in Iowa. By the time I met him I had already done most of my research on the subject, but wanted to make sure I got it right and that my scenes were feasible. He graciously took the time to read my manuscript, offered some great input on how to improve my main character, and let me crawl inside his head so to speak of what a day in his life was like. He walked me through (via email) several fire scenes which really helped when I was working on my imaginary scenes. His help was invaluable.
So how much is too much? Most of the research I do never goes into the actual story; it’s more background information to help me have a good vision of what my character should be like because you want them to be as believable as possible. You also want your scenes to be as realistic as possible. You wouldn’t build a house without a good set of blueprints would you?
Sometimes you get so wrapped up in the research though that you lose your concentration or get side tracked. A good solution to this is as you’re writing your story, when you come to a place where some research is needed, highlight the paragraph and come back to it later once you finish the first draft. This should keep you grounded. At least it works for me.
The bottom line, if you want to write a book that captivates the reader with believable characters, do your research. You never know when you’ll have a group of interested buyers ready to pick your brain about your wonderful new book.
Please visit http://www.suspensebyanne.blogspot.com to read excerpts and sample chapters of my books. Every Skull Tells a Story and Journey to Redemption is available now, more titles to come in 2010.