Research. Research. Research…. By Nancy Brophy

There are writers who like researching better than they like writing. They love gathering data and learning minute details. Figuring out how to incorporate that knowledge into a story is unbelievably difficult. The trick, of course, is to know what to weave in and what to delete. ‘Write what you know’ does not mean in excruciating detail.

Great Falls, Montana

Sloan Addams, a historical writer has a sign above her desk. “Only Michener got to use all his research” to remind her that some research goes unused.

Romancing The Genres had a guest blogger, George Guthridge, a science fiction writer who wrote, “world-building in the science fiction genre must be more exact and scientifically accurate than that in science fiction romance.  After all, readers who focus on the romance are apt to overlook scientific or sociological inaccuracies.  SF readers don’t.  They’re an unforgiving lot.”


One of the things that propelled Tom Clancy to fame was his research. The factual data in his story worried the Pentagon so much that they sent a copy of his book to the President. As the story goes, Reagan was crossing the White House lawn to the helicopter and a reporter call out, “what are you reading?” President Reagan held up Tom Clancy’s book. “The best damn book I’ve ever read.” Amazingly enough, the book shot up the bestseller list.

Today I had to research what shoes two thieves would be wearing when they broke into someone’s home. Shoes say a lot about a man. Surprisingly the pink ballet slipper was not the first choice. If I choose Harley Davidson boots could you conjure the man wearing them? Rugged? Bearded? Tattooed? Big and burley?  But if he was wearing black and silver sneakers how would that change your perception?

I write contemporaries and still have to research locations. My husband and I took a driving vacation to Montana when I wrote about the rancher and the artist. We visited a museum and researched historic guns of the area. If your hero had a gun above his mantel given to him by his grandfather, what would it be?  Pick me. Pick me. (hand waving) I know.

Any questions?

During the James Bond movie, Casino Royale, my husband was so proud when I could tell him – unsolicited – every gun being used. Nothing is more romantic than a woman who whispers in your ear “HK MP5K.”

Fire inspectors believe they are in charge after a house fire. And would have been if I hadn’t had so many questions. Did you know potato chips are a new tool in the arsonist handbag? The high fat content proves a cracking fine blaze. Who knew?

I would love to be the writer who doesn’t need to research, but my life hasn’t been that interesting/colorful that I know details about every career, every shoe, every gun, every location.

But when I win the lottery this first thing I’m doing is buying a private jet, strictly for research, of course. I think the IRS will buy it, don’t you?


Posted on January 27, 2012, in General and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Nana Friday is over…ahhh… Please, please, please save me a seat on the jet. Where are we going? I need to do some more research on dragons 🙂


  2. “world-building in the science fiction genre must be more exact and scientifically accurate than that in science fiction romance. After all, readers who focus on the romance are apt to overlook scientific or sociological inaccuracies.

    Someone doesn’t know much about romance readers, does he?


  3. Oh, man a burglar in pink ballet slippers – I might be able to pull that off. Thanks for your guidance.


  4. Really interesting, as usual 🙂


  5. You always write such fun posts, Nancy.
    First, Tom Clancy… I always remember his grouching about how the movies based on his books aren’t anything like the book — the quote was something to the effect of, I didn’t even recognize my own story.
    (Always makes me laugh. Hollywood!)
    Second: Love your photos.
    Third: Potato chips? Really? I’ll have to prime our next burn pile with a can of Pringles.
    And finally… save a seat for me on the jet!
    ps- I dare you to write a burglar in pink ballet slippers!


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