Real Life Research

I’ve always written historical fiction, mainly romance, which required a great deal of in-depth research, digging around in old documents, looking at ancient maps, reading tattered journals, even finding out what they ate that last night on the Titanic. Google was my very best friend. But after the latest “thanks but no thanks e-mail” I’ve decided to start working on a more contemporary series, and suddenly a whole new world of research opened up.

Now, I can actually find living, breathing humans who’ve been there, done that. I’ve used in-person interviews before, quite a lot, actually, for articles published in magazines and newspapers. Now it’s time to put those interview skills to work for book research.Interviewing

I started out like I always do, with a list of questions that I knew I needed answered to be able to fill in holes in my story. But the fun part was that several of the answers actually started a chain of domino reactions that took my story in different and exciting directions.

If I’d been sticking to internet or books for my research, I would have missed out on that. It’s a little out of my comfort zone, because it means going to places I wouldn’t choose to normally, like the police station. Putting myself into uncomfortable situations, like having a martial arts specialist show me what to do if I’m on my back, an assailant sitting on me, being strangled (NOT fun). But it also meant finding out some cool tricks of the trade for restoring classic cars.

Phaeton with title copy

My point is that in-person research is hugely valuable. Not only do you get information you need, but you see expressions and hear inflections in their voices that give you insight into their emotions. All of that can help your story be more realistic.

I also received more information than I needed, but since I’m working on a series, I’m pretty sure the “extra” will be useful somewhere down the line. I have a couple more people I need to meet with, and some of them are going to be difficult to find, but I’m persistent, and I can write around the missing pieces for a while. I could end up having to re-write some parts once I get that data, but I usually do with my historicals, as well, when I find a tidbit that I just can’t leave out.

I think I’m going to enjoy being in the real world again. But then, there is that paranormal, historical part of the series that will give me my history fix….

How about you? Do you use in-person interviews to add realism?

Terri Benson
As a life-long writer, Terri Benson has one published novel, award winning short stories, and over a hundred articles – many award winning - in local and regional magazines and on-line e-zines. She is a multi-year member of RMFW (Western Slope Liaison & Board Education Chair, and W/S events are hosted at her employer); she is also a long-time member of RWA. Benson is a regular blogger for RMFW, and frequently pelts them with articles for the newsletter.
Her historical romance, An Unsinkable Love, a truly Titanic love story with plenty of suspense, is available from Amazon in both e-book and paperback. More about Terri on her website.

4 thoughts on “Real Life Research

  1. People always love talking about their work. The best research outcome I had was when I asked a homicide detective if he’d be willing to talk to me, and I offered to meet for coffee. He asked if there was an Ale House near me, and I said there was. Then he asked if he could invite some friends. Listening to the way they interacted with each other was worth ten times the cost of a few beers. With only minor modifications (like moving the scene to a breakfast cafe) much of that ended up in a scene in Hidden Fire. Cultivating contacts is an important part of being a writer. I’ll be going to the Writers’ Police Academy for the 5th time, and I learn new things every year I go.

  2. Hi, Terri! I share your love of history, and write in the 15th century. Still, I’ve been able to gather good info from both email and in-person interviews. Sailors in the Poole Yacht Club (England) were immensely helpful in helping me determine how long it would take to sail from one area of Pool to Brownsea Island. Phone interviews with a museum curator in Winchester netted some gorgeous brochures on the medieval fair and markets, complete with maps that revealed what products were offered in the booths. That Writer’s Police Academy sounds fascinating!

  3. I really think I’m going to enjoy working on this series, because it gives me the best of both worlds. You all have great experiences, and I’m hoping for the same. Thanks!

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