(A variation of this post was to appear as part of my recent blog tour for Under the Radar, however the blogger had to drop from the tour, so I’m recycling it here, while I work on my taxes!)
I received an email from an author friend a few weeks ago asking me about my writing process where research is concerned. Specifically, did I do my research before I start writing or as I write? She feared if she didn’t do all her research first, she’d get the story wrong.
My answer to her questions and concerns was simply, “Yes.”
When you have deadlines every eight months as I do, the luxury of researching every aspect of a story first just isn’t there. Plus, I tend to go down the research rabbit hole. The book would never get as far as Chapter One if I wasn’t careful.
As I write this, I’m proofing the galleys of the next Zoe Chambers Mystery with my deadline less than a week away. But already, I’m thinking ahead. The next book I write will be a departure from the known on many levels. Lots of stuff I know I don’t know. I had hoped to use some of my hubby’s vacation days he carried over from last year and must use by the end of the month and go on a little research trip. Good old Coronavirus has nixed that plan. For now.
Once we’re released from this forced isolation, I’ll contact people I know from that area and arrange a meet-up so I can pick their brains. In the meantime, online contact will have to suffice.
The thing is, even when I tour locations, speak with experts, take pages and pages of notes, I’ll still end up not knowing what I don’t know.
The bulk of my research happens as I write. Usually, after I’ve written something the way I think it would happen. But then I start questioning myself. Or my critique group reads it and questions, “Would that really happen that way?” Time to phone a friend.
I have experts in law enforcement, medicine, the coroner’s office, and the legal field who willingly (dare I say gleefully?) respond to my emails with the details of how cops would react, or what would be found during an autopsy, or what the real legal process should be. From their responses, I frequently come up with a better scene than my imagined one.
Case in point:
I can’t share spoilers because it’s the big, climactic scene in Under the Radar, but I’d written this scene the way I wanted it to play out. Surprise. Danger. Rescue. I was pleased with the result. But my critique partner was not. He listed the points he didn’t like, which was mostly the entire chapter. I contacted my friend, a retired cop who’s also a writer, and he agreed to read the pages.
Not only did he agree with my critique partner, he told me law enforcement would not have reacted that way. We talked on the phone for quite a while and he gave me some of the best information I’d ever heard! Stuff I’d never read about. Stuff I didn’t know that I didn’t know until I’d written the scene wrong.
Yes, I had to completely rewrite that chapter from beginning to end, but let me tell you, I think (and my critique buddy agrees) that it’s so much better and more powerful—and more REAL—now.
Of course, if you want to decide if that scene is truly suspenseful and thrilling for yourself, you’ll have to read Under the Radar.