If I were to ask you the question, “How important is research as a writer,” you would probably look at me like I had 12 heads. “OF COURSE research is important,” you would say, AND you would be right. Yet, so many authors do not take the time to research their books properly. We get all excited about the creative process and forget that we need to verify facts, figures, and locations. Yes, we are writing fiction, but it needs to be based on truth and facts in order for our readers to take that journey with us and feel they’ve not been led on a wild goose chase.
When I wrote Sealed In Lies I spent countless hours researching the hierarchy of the FBI, the CIA, Secret Service, Navy SEALS, Columbia, guns, locations, and the list goes on and on. I wanted to capture those readers who have experience in those areas and make sure that my story was credible. Did I get it all right? I’ll let the readers be the judge, and probably not, but I did put forth a great deal of effort. Our readers put a lot of energy following along with us in a book and they not only want to be entertained but they also want to learn something. If we can impart some type of knowledge or facts about a person, place or thing that we are writing about, then their money for the book will be well spent.
There are a million places to do research, but the Internet is probably the most handy. Because it is handy, you should be wary and try to verify your facts from multiple sources. Some of the most useful places on the Internet for location research are Chambers of Commerce websites, Google Maps, county websites, etc. The more you know about your setting, the more real it will seem to your reader, and place them right in the middle of Main Street. Of course the best way to research a location is to visit it. My second book, Haunted Destiny, is set in Arcadia, FL, a small town in the south central part of Florida. I actually traveled there for work and was enamored by the rural charm and decided this would be a great place to stage a novel. You want to pick some authentic places or events that occur in the town and use them to your advantage and weave them into your story.
The library is another great place for research. I checked out books on the CIA, FBI, Navy SEALS, and so on to help me be authentic right down to the type of weapon a Navy SEAL uses most often in what situation. Get to know your local librarian, because if there is one thing they are good at, it’s research. They can be so helpful and they really like helping authors.
For the sequel to Sealed In Lies entitled Captured In Lies, I am including bombs as the main weapon of the antagonist. What do I know about bombs? Absolutely nothing. I was wary about researching them on the Internet because I didn’t want the FBI showing up at my door to confiscate my equipment! SO, timely as it was, I read an article in my local paper about the Tampa Bay Bomb Squad. I emailed the reporter and got the phone number of the Bomb Squad Commander, which she happily provided. After I mustered my courage and my questions, I gave him a jingle. He was MORE than helpful. He would not tell me how to disarm or build a bomb (wonder why??), but he patiently answered my questions and gave me so much information that it changed the direction of the plot. I realized how ridiculous my main idea was because I didn’t have enough knowledge about bombs. I was amazed at how easy it was to contact him and how willing he was to help me. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from an expert. Many times if you tell them you are an author and need some help, most people are very willing to share their knowledge and expertise.
Because this has already rambled on, I want to mention one final thing. Your local bookstore has some really outstanding reference books that should be a part of every author’s library depending on the genre you write. I will mention one that I have and I would love to see comments on books that you own that help you in the research process: The Crime Writer’s Reference Guide by Martin Roth.
Feel free to share some of your best research tools. I’ll look forward to reading about them.
Copyright 2014 by Kelly Abell