Friday, January 6, 2012

Is In Depth Research A Must?

by Elizabeth Sinclair

In a word . . . YES!

When I began writing, back in the Dark Ages, I wanted to do historical romances, but once I started, I realized that a lot of the things we take for granted today were not around in the time period I chose to write about, the mid 1800’s. This meant figuring out how they accomplished something as simple as lighting a cigar back then. (Keep in mind, there was no Internet to go to when I began writing.).  Needless to say, the research desk librarian at our local library and I became fast friends.

After slogging through hours of research for my southern historical, I decided that the research took far too much time, so I’d write contemporaries.  SURPRISE!  Unless every heroine was a stay-at-home mom (me) and every hero was a printer (my husband’s occupation), I would have to . . . you guessed it . . . research occupations. Not only that, but I had to research locations, unless I wanted to set every book in northeast Florida. Then there was the flora and fauna and climate and myriad of other details indigenous to whatever location I chose.

No matter where you decide to set your novel and what occupations you give the characters, don’t guess.  Our readers like nothing better than to find a research mistake in our books. Check your facts, even if you think you KNOW you’re right.  When I wrote EIGHT MEN AND A LADY, which was set in the Adirondack Mountains, having lived in upstate NY all my life and being “blessed” with a male family of deer hunters, I was sure I knew when deer season was. Once the book was released, I got a lovely letter from an upstate NY lawyer informing me that the deer season in the Adirondack Mountains was different than the rest of the state.  Who knew?  I would have if I’d done my research.

My point here is that no matter what you write, resign yourself to research. It's inevitable if you want to keep your books fresh, original, accurate and interesting. With the advent of the Internet, research has become one of the simplest parts of my writing. If I need to know a fact now, I simply type it into a search engine's little box and wait for a list of places to look to pop up. 
Here's a few you may find helpful:

This site contains everything from grammar advice and rules, to How to Swear in a Foreign Language.
Or just type your question into the search box on your browser. Headlines and pop culture for any date in American history from 1800 through 2002
Occupations A to Z, includes a description of the work, training and education.
This site contains names and meanings, but it has some really good tips for writers to look out for when picking character names.
If you want to “see” what an area looks like, go to Then click on the satellite image, and you’ll be able see it as if you’re flying over it in an airplane.
Elizabeth Sinclair is author of the phenominally-selling book, Hawks Mountain. Visit her website. 

1 comment:

  1. What a great blog! I've enjoyed reading the posts and look forward to reading more. Ruth