Sunday, July 20, 2014

Research on the Web…might make a writer look psycho

Now that I’m completing the third novel in my mystery series, I’ve come to realize just how much research a writer conducts.  What’s funny is how that research might make a writer look a little psycho to anyone who got a peek at their browsing history.  Most of the details involved with our research doesn’t actually make it into the books and that’s largely due to the fact that many of those details would be too much information or just completely unnecessary for the reader.  My main reason for research is to make sure what details I do include, even if minor, aren’t totally off the mark so that the story is more believable.  I may be writing fiction but that doesn’t mean the dirt in the details shouldn’t have a ring of truth about it.

Today, as I was researching how long it takes a body to begin to smell once someone has died…I know, gruesome…I was struck by the thought that someone who didn’t know me as a writer might really wonder about my frame of mind.  But to write a story, and to hopefully make it believable, although it’s completely fictional, is really something a writer has to grasp and hang on to as the story unfolds.

My research has taken me from the mundane to the macabre, which is good since I prefer a variety. 

The most mundane was when I researched what might really be involved with opening a small business, especially with regard to a bookstore.  How much money would it take?  How much inventory would you need?  What’s involved when you offer coffee and food to your customers?  Can someone really survive financially from a bookstore business?  I’m sure you know the answer to that.  With the many bookstores closing left and right, even the larger chains, it’s obviously a difficult business to be in but since I wanted my recently unemployed character, Jorja, to be the owner of a coffee shop bookstore, I decided I had to improvise.  I did that by giving her access to other funds, from a deceased family member and a side job, so that she didn’t have to completely rely on the bookstore to pay the bills.  I want this series to be about mysteries involving crimes and characters, not about how to keep your head above water with a failing business.  

I’ve also researched floor plans of Victorian homes because I wanted to find an actual floor plan I could work with and visualize when I wrote about what Hillcrest might actually look like.  I have to admit, researching various Victorian homes of all shapes and sizes was really quite fun.  And more recently, I’ve researched the details about planning for a wedding, but while it’s fun to do the research, I’m not sure how much detail about the wedding plans will or should be used in the books.

But beyond the safe zone of business models, house plans and wedding details, I’ve dug deep into what’s involved with other subjects I’ve included in the first three books or which may be included in upcoming stories.  Some of that research has related to missing and unidentified persons, the medical necessity for inpatient mental health treatment, patterns of serial killers, paternity testing, DNA relating to humans as well as animals, weapons, poisonous plants, drugs, fibers, sentencing guidelines, phobias, body decomposition and write-ups for obituaries and news articles relating to vehicle accidents. 

It’s quite the mixed bag, isn’t it?  But just based on the above list, it’s probably a good thing I finally came out as a writer…or my husband may have come to the conclusion that it might benefit him to sleep with one eye open for awhile.  Read the list again, tell me you don’t agree. 

It’s true, then, that not only do writers need to be interested in everything, they also need an understanding spouse!

I’ve conducted a lot of research over the past three years, and I expect to have many more odd items pop up in my browsing history as I continue to research details for future stories and books.  It’s one of the things I love about writing, besides the act itself, which is the knowledge I gain as I research and continue to learn. 

What’s not to love about that?

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