R is for… [R]esearch #AtoZChallenge

One more week to the finish line… Almost there… Don’t get burnt out. Do not get burnt out…

I’m all caught up, and I’m even early with today’s post—compared to my usual knocking on midnight posting time—so let’s skip right to it, because I have a feeling this post is going to be short—A to Z starting to weigh down on all of us. I think we’re all looking forward to the grace of Sunday . . .

. . . pun not intended . . . but sweetly satisfying.

In this planning session, I want to talk about research. I don’t think people really understand how much research is involved in the writing process. And I’m not just talking about papers for school or academic journals, or articles in the New York Times. Fiction writing requires heavy research as well. Unless you’re into the fantasy genre and you’re creating a whole new world, there’s bound to be something about the subject you’re writing that you are absolutely clueless on.

How can you write a war novel when you’ve never been in the army? How can you write a love story set in Victorian London when you’re an east Texas millennial? How can you write a story about a murder trial when you’ve never stepped foot inside a court room? How can you plan the perfect murder when you’ve never killed anyone? (Ok, poor example. Please don’t go kill somebody. Just . . . I don’t know . . . google the Zodiac Killer and figure out how the hell he got away with it.)

Of course, you could always wing it and hope that your readers will simply accept it as truth, no questions asked. But the tricky part about writing fiction is that you have to make it sound somewhat believable, even though it’s totally made up. Most readers aren’t dumb (most, not all, because I’ve seen a lot of five star reviews on Amazon for books that were complete garbage, but that’s a rant for another day). I can’t speak for all readers, but when I’m reading a book and I start to notice that the author is just making shit up, I completely check out. I either don’t finish it, or I keep reading because it’s so laughable and ridiculous, and because I really want to roast it online.

Believe me, you do not want to get roasted online. There are enough trolls on the internet to begin with, and book reviewers are probably the worst. Save your writing career and do the research.

I know Lost Boy will require a bit of research. Especially on Detective Maye’s side of the story. The only thing I know about police is what I see on TV, and that could be horribly inaccurate. For example, is there really a 24 to 48 waiting period before someone can file a missing persons report? While we’ve accepted it on television, logically it doesn’t make since. The missing person could be dead in 24 hours! Also, what does the inside of a police station look like? Do the officers work at desks? Cubicles? Do detectives really have partners?

Secondly, there’s Leslie’s work in the jail ministry. What are the general rules for jail visitations? Do the evangelists need special paperwork to enter? What does the inside of a jail look like? Where do the visitors meet? In a common area? Behind a screen?

So I have a lot of questions, and as I’ve said before, I can either make shit up and hope that it’s believable, or I can do the research so that I can portray every scene accurately.

While searching online is usually the quickest way to find information, there’s too much fake stuff online, and besides, this type of research really requires some footwork. I have two people I plan to interview in doing my research: one of the members in my church’s Jail/Prison Ministry, and my godmother’s brother (god uncle—is that a thing?), a retired police lieutenant. He could probably even get me inside a station, though I have no interest in going inside a jail—too scary!

Of course, now I have to think of some questions to ask. Funny truth about me: I hate asking questions; I never know what to say, and I always stumble over my words (I write, I don’t talk). Maybe I’ll make that a topic for a future post. What to ask the interviewees. Suggestions welcome!

—Nortina

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4 thoughts on “R is for… [R]esearch #AtoZChallenge

  1. Research is so important to a story. A writer might be able to get away with some things if they don’t have too much detail or goes with what people think is true. It’s funny that you used the missing person example. I started a new book last night. It’s by an author I love and he is very detailed which makes things that don’t quite feel right stand out. He has a 72-hour wait for a missing person. I’m like how can that ben with all the Amber Alerts and the one for older people that usually come out within a few hours. I’m glad you are doing your homework. Girl Who Reads

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