How much research does a writer need to do while they’re actively writing? Won’t it slow down the writing process?
Research while plotting
An interview in “The Big Thrill” with thriller author Elizabeth Heiter reveals writing habits concerning research that are useful to all writers. She does as much research as she can while she’s still plotting out her novel:
I love the research side of writing! Before I started the book [Seized], I’d already done extensive research on cults, survivalists and terrorists, so it was rare that I needed to pause my writing to go look something up, which helps me keep up the pace.
Keep your momentum
What if you’re not a plotter? Author Craig Holden doesn’t let lack of knowledge slow him down. If he’s writing a scene where a character, for example, picks up a gun, he marks the spot and keeps writing, rather than stop the momentum to look up what kind of gun it could be, what it looks like, or how it feels in your hand.
Writer Desiree Cooper says “When writing things that require a memory of details for authenticity, I write first, and research later. I don’t want the ‘facts’ to bog down the storytelling.”
Too much research?
Can an author waste time doing too much research? Sometimes much of what we do in the name of research never ends up in the manuscript. Heiter doesn’t think so:
I think probably 80 percent of the research I do for every book (if not more) ends up not actually going into the book directly. But that 80 percent still informs the way I create the characters, the settings, the situations, etc. In SEIZED, for instance, I was fascinated by some of the similarities between cult structures and terrorist groups—followers are often willing to die for a cause, the frequent religious component, the ‘training’ or ‘task’ elements in both. It comes into play in a big way in the book when Evelyn begins to suspect that the survivalist ‘cult’ that has taken her hostage is actually a terrorist threat.
Also consider the value of doing research that goes beyond your computer by interviewing actual people. Heiter adds:
Of course, I stack my bookshelves with FBI resource books, but nothing can compare to talking to someone who does the job. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to talk to a lot of current and former FBI agents, including HRT agents, about it and about specific details I needed for my books. You pick up details you never would have thought to ask.
To emphasize that, she explains something unexpected she learned about handcuffs when she was at the FBI Academy talking to a weapons specialist. Read it here: “Seized by Elizabeth Heiter” in The Big Thrill, the Online Publication of the National Thriller Writers Thanks to E. M. Powell for a terrific article on Heiter and her research.
Linda K. Sienkiewicz is the author of In the Context of Love, adult contemporary fiction, a 2016 Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist.
Angelica Schirrick had always suspected there was something deeply disturbing about her family, but the truth was more than she bargained for.