Laura Griffin is a new-to-me author, but I can tell you I’ve ordered most of her backlist. If you love romantic suspense, Laura’s books will keep you up nights. =) In a good way. Don’t forget to comment today, Laura is giving away a $15 gift card to Barnes & Noble and a signed copy of her new release, SNAPPED.
Some of the best writing advice I ever got came from the news editor at the paper where I landed my first job.
Don’t write from your chair.
Huh? Most writers I know are very fond of their chairs. We like to sit in them for hours at a time crafting beautiful prose, or conducting fascinating research, or checking out shoe sales on Zappos.com.
But unfortunately, spending all your time in your chair will not give you some of the key things you need to write a compelling story.
Details are those magical ingredients that you sprinkle into your prose to make it come to life. How do you get these magical story ingredients? The answer is simple: research.
A lot of writers feel at ease with any research that involves books or the Internet. What’s not to like about sitting in the comfort of your office and learning everything you need to know about eighteenth-century undergarments? Books, Web sites, and other reading materials can be helpful sources of information. For example, many of my stories are set in Texas, so I keep a “Guide to Texas Trees and Wildflowers” on my desk so that I have plant names at my fingertips when I’m describing a setting or trying to come up with a street name.
But if you really want to get the good stuff for your story, you need to go beyond thumbing through reference books and surfing the Net. You need the face-to-face interview.
As a reporter, I discovered over and over that while is possible to write an article by getting a few quotes over the phone, that article is infinitely better if the writer goes out and actually meets the people affected by a news event.
Is your main character a cop? A veterinarian? A sous chef? No matter what you’re writing about, that story could be improved by a little research–the more hands-on, the better. Some of the most fun I’ve had as a writer was touring the FBI Academy at Quantico and shooting a Glock on their firing range. You may not have access to the FBI, but if you’re writing about gun-toting tough guys, you can go to a gun shop and handle some firearms. Or set up a ride-along with your local police department and get a glimpse of what they do.
My upcoming novel Snapped opens with a sniper scene on a college campus. The book’s hero is a former military sniper who now serves on the SWAT team called to confront the shooter. Having never stormed a building and taken down a gunman, I decided to do a little research on this topic. The police sniper I interviewed helped me understand the inner workings of a SWAT team and gave me details that allowed me to cram the maximum amount of tension into my opening pages.
Maybe you’re not writing about cops and bad guys, but more ordinary folk. One of my books features a heroine who is a hairstylist at an upscale salon. When I began the story, I knew next to nothing about this job. So I got my hands on one of the best resources for any writer The Complete Idiot’s Guide to (fill in the blank). Whatever profession or hobby your character has, there is probably an Idiots or Dummies book out there that covers it in detail.
After getting a grasp of the basic tasks and jargon related to haircutting, I found a high-end salon in my community and set up an interview with a hairstylist. Over coffee (my treat) during her lunch break, she told me about the ins and outs of her job and gave me a tour of her workplace. There, I picked up the sights and smells of her day-to-day life. I learned about what makes her love her work, and also her pet peeves. (Always ask about pet peeves, by the way. People love to talk about them and it gives you some great details to use when fleshing out a character.)
But what if you are writing about, say, a medical examiner and you don’t know any? Or a countess in regency England? Again, be resourceful. If you’re writing historical fiction, find a historian who specializes in the time period. Many experts, including forensic scientists, write books or journal articles about their field. Read them. Then track down the author’s email address through their university or their Web site and ask for an interview. When you mention that you enjoyed his or her book, the person will probably be happy to talk to you. If you sense reluctance, offer to email a few questions (so the person can take more time answering and not feel put on the spot).
Don’t be afraid to interview anyone around you who has an interesting job, because you never know what could spark a story idea. Practically everyone is an expert in something, and you might be surprised by how willing they are to share their knowledge. Many people find it flattering to be interviewed by someone who has a genuine interest in what they do.
As writers, we are competing for an ever-shrinking sliver of people’s leisure time. You need to hook your reader in quickly. You need to immediately let the reader see the world through your character’s eyes. They key to doing this? Good details. They key to good details? Good research.
And the key to good research? It’s all about getting out of your chair.
How much time do YOU spend on research? Have you ever interviewed anyone to strengthen your story?
Join us tomorrow for Laurie Schnebly Campbell for her post on your hero – How Fabulous is TOO Fabulous?
- No Plotters Allowed Workshop – Allison Brennan
- Portraying Ethnic Characters with Dignity in Contemporary Romance – Vicki Essex
- Author Liz Talley – Pass Me a Tissue: How to Add Emotion to Your Writing
- High Concept and Learning to Write the Romance Novel
- Modern Mythmaking with Jaye Wells