Research: Friend or Foe?

When I started writing fiction, I’d assumed little-to-no research was necessary. After all, we fiction writers make things up. Research belongs in scholarly, non-fiction pieces. Not so.

In my upcoming, GAMBLING WITH MURDER, #5 in my SoCal Mystery series, I researched everything from the setting to lockpicking. I learned more than I thought I knew about the setting, and now I know how to pick a lock! 

In real life, I don’t live from far the setting.

But I view the locale as a resident, not as a sharp-eyed, super sniffing, noise sensitive, tactilely inclined writer who needs to bring the setting to life for readers. To do that, I paid a visit just to carefully examine details that I’d likely ignore as a casual observer. By details, I mean:

– the sounds;
– the smells;
– the scenery; and
– the surroundings.

The location I selected had been locked up for some time, which meant I couldn’t actually walk the grounds. But I could linger around the perimeter, jotting notes and snapping photos. This is what I noticed with an author’s eyes and mind:

– The many winding brick pathways, filled with shadows and hiding places.

– The abundant and lush plant life, the surrounding structures, and so many different scents! A buffer between the main building and the road contained a small wooded area that I’d never noticed. That area played a part in an incident that occurs in my book, which led me to study neighboring structures. Would people nearby see enough to help find the culprit? 

– The constant roar of the highway, the hum of small planes and the gently splashing waves of a golden sandy beach that disappeared during high tide.

Even when I can’t visit a setting in-person, I have the luxury of viewing almost everything on the Internet, thanks to Google Maps and a multitude of photos.

I researched seniors and gambling, both of which figure big in the book. I spent hours, maybe days researching different topics, just to ensure I viewed the big picture. This means I gathered excess information. You never know what may play a starring role in the story. Research that takes hours may take up a few lines in the book…or play no role at all. But one thing’s for certain: a way to breathe life into a book is through research. To make fiction seem real.

I’m always amazed at how much knowledge I absorb through research. Writing books is, hopefully, making me a little smarter. :) Or a possible future Jeopardy! contestant.


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