‘Eyewitness Blues’ is Tim Baker’s latest novel. He has written a guest post for my blog about research and how important it is.
There’s nothing worse than spotting inaccuracies in a novel.
Suspension of disbelief aside, even fiction should be as factually accurate as possible…I mean if your character is being chased by a pack of time-traveling zombies riding flying monkeys, and he/she shoots ten of them dead with a Colt single-action revolver, I’m afraid I’d have to call that bullshit.
A simple Google inquiry will tell you that particular weapon only holds six rounds.
Every novelist should do his/her research because, as Genghis Khan said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”
Actually, that quote belongs to Abraham Lincoln, but I had to research it to be sure, which took me about 45 seconds. If I hadn’t taken the time to verify it, I would have looked pretty silly, and those people who knew the truth may have stopped reading and dismissed me as a hack (or worse).
You might think that since I’ve written seven novels, two novellas and a collection of short stories I enjoy research.
You’d be wrong.
Research, to me, is a necessary evil…like going to the dentist. If I could go the rest of my life without it, I would. Since that’s probably not going to happen I’ve found a way to minimize it. I simply limit the amount of verifiable information needed to make my stories believable.
My research can be divided into two classifications: Plot research and technical research.
Plot research isn’t really research as much as it is discovery.
I’ll give you an example…
In the summer of 2010 I read an article in my local newspaper about a man arrested for performing cosmetic surgery by injecting women with industrial grade silicone (aka caulking). When one of his “patients” died he was arrested and it was soon discovered that he had escaped prosecution for the same crime in Miami by ratting out his partner.
I did an hour’s worth of internet research and found that this practice was not uncommon.
Using a few key facts from a few articles, I came up with the plot for my fourth novel, Pump It Up.
The plot idea for my second novel, Water Hazard, was inspired by the speaker at a work-related seminar on ground water.
Once I’ve done this “research” it’s simply a matter of creating the right characters and letting them write the story for me.
Occasionally, and unavoidably, there are some aspects of my stories which require some factual information beyond my ken.
In my first novel, Living the Dream, Kurt, the antagonist, finds a gun.
It’s a semi-automatic pistol, the kind with a slide. You’ve seen TV and movie characters “rack the slide” of such guns a million times, as have I…however…in the story, Kurt’s right hand had been recently mangled in a car door rendering it pretty much useless.
I realized I had a problem right away…How can he rack the slide with a mangled right hand?
Since I know next-to-nothing about guns, it was research time.
I emailed a writer friend (Tony Walker) who is a bona-fide expert on all things gun.
I asked him if a man with a severely broken hand could perform the task and, if not, what were his options?
Tony’s initial response was “give him a revolver instead”.
Given the nature of the story and Kurt’s misadventures, this wasn’t an option, so Tony explained how Kurt could do it using one hand.
Most readers probably didn’t give that particular passage a second thought…but I’d bet there were a few gun enthusiasts out there who were impressed with my apparent knowledge of guns.
The most research I’ve done for a single novel was for my sixth book, Unfinished Business.
The story involves a woman who works as a mortician. My plot research consisted of a casual conversation with a real-life friend who is a mortician.
The technical research was a bit more involved.
In the story I had to accurately describe the embalming procedure, so I interviewed my friend for over three hours.
She gave me more information than I needed. Much of it was never used in the story, but if a mortician should happen to read Unfinished Business they won’t be distracted by technical inaccuracies.
I also needed some information about paralytic drugs, so I called a friend of mine who works as a nurse-anesthetist. Fifteen minutes later I had enough information about succinylcholine to prevent any readers in the medical profession from scoffing at my lack of knowledge.
If I had to guess I’d say that I average between one and two hours for research per novel, which works for my novels because they are primarily character driven. They revolve around people…and I’ve been watching people my entire life!
Unbeknownst to me, I was researching my novels all that time.
My methods fit my books, but if I wrote historical fiction, medical thrillers or political espionage stories I’d probably need to do much more.
This is why I don’t write in those genres!
About Tim Baker
Tim Baker was born and raised in Warwick, Rhode Island.
He enjoys a wide variety of activities including sports of all kinds, music, motorcycles, scuba diving and, of course, writing.
An avid dog lover, Tim was a volunteer puppy raiser for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, raising and socializing potential guide dogs.
He has also studied and taught martial arts.
Tim writes fast-paced, off-beat crime stories full of colorful characters and loaded with unexpected and often humorous twists and turns, set in Flagler Beach and St. Augustine, Florida.
Currently, Tim is enjoying life in Palm Coast, Florida.
To contact Tim or find out about upcoming works please visit his website at www.blindoggbooks.com
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/BlindoggBooks
Twitter – https://twitter.com/blindoggbooks
Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B002U64TCW