The Importance of Research by Christine Duncan Writers need to do research before they write. This statement seemed like a no-brainer to me until I met a writer at an open critique once who told me that she had no idea what her character (who was a doctor) should do in some emergency situation, so she just synopsized.

Unfortunately, the reason the subject came up at all was the fact that it was just not the place for synopsis. She had led us all to this big juicy climax and as a reader, I felt beached when she just summed up the action in a few short sentences. I told her she needed to call a few doctors and figure out what the character should be doing. She wasn’t a happy camper–calling someone and asking them questions about a scene you’re writing means telling someone are a writer, which as we’ve discussed in this very place can be difficult. But she did it and her work was better for it.

I’ve heard every excuse in the book for not researching from–“It’s fiction, people!” from a woman who couldn’t be bothered to get the direction of a well-known Chicago street right, to “I invented this world.” from a Sci-fi writer whose world didn’t conform to the laws of gravity. This kind of laziness does not hold up, folks.

On the other blog I write on, Make Mine Mystery, we had a guest blogger this week talking about witnessing an autopsy to add realism to his writing. Let me make it clear to you folks, I have yet to go that far in my search for realism.

I do believe in research though so I have called the fire department (many times) to get help with a fire that broke out in the battered women’s shelter that is the setting for my books. I have attended a citizen’s police academy and shot guns–something this pacifist never thought to do. I have ridden on ride alongs with my local police,(my city lets any citizen do this a couple of times a year.) and I have spoken with an FBI crime scene expert (the husband of a writer in my local writer’s group) to get advice on blood spatter.

I won’t kid you–some of the research was more fun than the writing! And some of it was darned depressing. But when you are writing about something that you are sure about factually, you come across more easily. And there is no substitute for that.


3 responses to “The Importance of Research by Christine Duncan

  1. Totally agree. In order to get one of my short stories to jell properly (had traces of religion and the bible in it), it required a few trips to the library to brush up on those particular items (especially Dante) so that my story would sound more authentic.

    Same thing went for my recently completed manuscrip Line 21. Because it has two females as the protaganists (in addition to the topic of adult entertainment), I had to do some intense research, in the form of asking female friends/co-workers, what certain things were and would they work in this particular situation.

    It definitely wasn’t easy with some of the questions that I asked, because frankly I turned a little red in asking them, but it helped make my story more realistic and authentic in the process.

  2. I always do research – though to be honest, I love research. And I find the very act of research to be inspiring – discovering a fact I didn’t know before can kick off a whole new line of thinking. And sometimes, I’ll even research a topic I’m interested in even before I start a story, just for fun. Research is one of the parts of writing I enjoy most!


  3. Maybe calling it “research” is scaring people away from checking facts, places, techniques and everything else they need to make their writing sing. Perhaps people are suffering from the nightmares of high school English class research papers, all those bloody note cards and topic sentences and lists of sources.

    I can usually tell when a writer has a passion for a subject. When they do, they simply want to know more about it. The word “research” never comes to mind unless they need to justify to somebody else why they’re walking in the woods, hopping on a plane for Paris or reading a stack of books.

    Their passion shows in their writing.


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