Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Research Method #1

My mother used to ask me this question all the time, whenever she'd finish reading one of my books. It simply boggled her mind that her daughter's stories involved topics–like murder, the NSA, espionage–that she had no business knowing anything about.

In response, I would always just laugh and tell her, "That's what research is for, Mom. It's what writers do."

And do and do and do. Back in my school days, I hated research, probably because it was always on some topic I had to learn about. But as a writer, it's up to me which topics are covered in my stories. As such, I have come to love research in a way I never would have thought possible.

Starting this week, I'm going to do a series on here about research and writers. In fact, I'll go through 10 different research techniques that writers use, starting now with one of the fastest and simplest, what I call the "quick and easy double-check."

The Quick and easy Double-Check

For me, research is often more about verification, asking advice, or getting opinions and suggestions than it is about actual information-gathering. When that's the case, the writer's handiest tool is a smartphone and some receptive friends and family members. Truly, not a week goes by that I don't text someone I know a quick book question, anything from "What kind of shoes would my character wear with this dress?" to "Which of the following scenarios is more emotionally satisfying?" and everything in between.

Three Cheers for Helpful Daughters–and Smartphones 

Emily, Mindy, and Lauren Clark
To understand one type of quick and easy double-check I'm talking about, consider the following conundrum:

How does a 55-year-old writer tell a story through the eyes of a 27-year-old character?

Answer: By verifying details whenever necessary with her two daughters, both of whom are in their 20s.

Fortunately, this can be done via text. To show this concept in action, here are a few screenshots of some recent exchanges I've had with my girls...


Sounds like a no-brainer, but clothing terms can vary widely by age, so it never hurts to make sure.  

Cultural references must also be age-appropriate:

Of course, technology is often a tricky area:
And finally, even insults can be age-related:

These are just a few of the dozens and dozens of age-related exchanges my girls and I have had over the past few years. I'm so glad my daughters are willing to help–and I'm thankful for smartphones and texting, which let us communicate quickly and regularly even though we live far apart.

And there you have it, one of the easiest and fastest types of research and one way writers go about doing our jobs. Be sure to check back next week, when I'll talk about a different type of research, one that's speedy and obvious but that can also be risky and sometimes downright scary. See you then!


  1. I love this. :) No wonder your books are some of my favorites. I can always count on not being taken out of the story by implausibilities when I read your novels. You are so right. I have read several books by older authors (you are not old) who write as someone who was young in the 1990's, but not nowadays.

  2. Thanks, Sylvia! So glad to hear it. That makes all the hard work worthwhile.