Research: Where to begin? When to stop?
I’m Patricia Charles and I write contemporary and present day romantic suspense novels by night. By day, I’m a medical librarian.
In my day job, I spend much of my day researching for the latest information of medical topics requested by physicians, nurses, administrators, and so many others, including students. I love what I find, and often I have to read every line of it, even though I may not understand it all.
Maybe research is in my genetic makeup as well as part of my education and career, but mainly I have to know that I’m correct. In my new romantic suspense, Crescent Moon, my heroine is an assistant district attorney in New Orleans and she’s a twin. That’s two things that I had to check out. I researched online, and I visited the Orleans Parish Courthouse. Google Scholar and PubMed helped with twins and their multi-layered relationship to each other. The trip to the courthouse was a real eye-opener.
Just like Blanche DuBois, I always depend on the kindness of strangers. I have personally met with an ADA, homicide detectives, and my pilot. I also worked in oil for a couple of years. And the novel takes place in New Orleans where I lived until that mean old lady Katrina sent me elsewhere.
Luckily, I ran into a new friend at a writing conference. He flies planes and writes thrillers, just the person to understand exactly what a writer needed. Thanks, J.
But where to start and where to end – start where the characters start. When were they born? What music influenced their teen years? And now? What part of the world did they grow up? The South is definitely different from California, and New Orleans is its own creature. There is nowhere else in the world like New Orleans.
Soak up your town or even your imaginary city. Draw a map if you need one. Where are the places they visit? What are the people like? What are their hobbies? Their careers? Friends? Clothes?
Now I have to start writing. I have my basic research. As I write, if I need a particular bit of information that I haven’t found in my research, I type three question marks. I also highlight them in red. Stopping to do research can throw off a scene for me. Researching how to make a particular type of food the hero likes will be done much later, even if someone is trying to poison him.
At the beginning of my next session at the computer, I review my previous chapter, looking for any question mark or the color red. Also to find what I need to insert, I can do a search to find more than one question mark, and I can also scroll through looking for the color. Here’s where I find that particular piece of information. It may be a quick fix or may take hours.
This sounds easy when researching the 21st century, but what about Scotland in the 15th or the Civil War in 1863? Yes, I believe I love too many things. I addition to enjoying contemporary romances and romantic suspense, I also love historical romance, although I haven’t finished any yet. I once read a 500-page tome to uncover what the people of Natchez drank for coffee during the War. That fact was on page 492. If you really must know, it’s sweet potatoes.
One more bit of interesting history. I have a character who needs reconstructive surgery on her face after a fire. Yet she exists in 1890. Would you believe I actually found an article with pictures about facial “plastic surgery” from that year? Me neither, but I did.
More about researching for historical facts in my next blog on New Year’s Eve.
Here’s a little snipped from Crescent Moon. I hope you enjoy it.
“How long have you known Celine St. Pierre?”
“Mr. Morgan. . . “
“Mr. Morgan, why did you kill Mrs. St. Pierre?”
He shot forward so quickly that Claressa jerked back. West leaned as far as possible over the wide table and demanded, “Look at me.”
She tilted her chin defiantly, met his gaze, and tried to seem undisturbed.
“I’m successful. I’m rich. Why would I have to kill someone?”
“Rich people kill all the time. Don’t you read the news? Or even the Enquirer? Now, you tell me. Why would you kill Mrs. St. Pierre? What’s the connection?”
He sank back into the chair. “I didn’t kill her.”
“But you were in her house on November 21.” Claressa scrutinized his face. The day-old beard. The haggard, rebellious look. She knew he’d been there. She had no doubt at all.
“I think that’s enough. My client has no more to say.” Like rotating apes on a carousel, it was Matthew’s turn to speak.
“One more question.”
“No,” Hebert stated.
Why? She wanted to badger West Morgan until he spilled the truth. She knew how, what, where, and who. All she needed was why. What was his motive?
As his attorneys escorted him from the room, Claressa threw one last question at him. “Are you left-handed?”
West Morgan stopped at the doorway, glared over his shoulder at her and answered, “Unfortunately, Ms. Dupré, I’m ambidextrous.”