Thursday, February 2, 2012


This is Lisa Harris writing today. If you’re a writer, you’ve more than likely paid your dues in the research department. Whither it’s historical details for your Victorian romance or FBI procedures for a spy thriller, writers have to research.

In the series I'm working on right now, I've found myself having to do tons of research--everything from police procedure to forensics to the city of Atlanta. Thankfully, I find the process a lot of fun and actually have to be careful that I don’t spend all my time researching instead of writing.


With Internet access, the avenues for research have grown far beyond the local library, which for me, living hours from the nearest bookstore has been a huge blessing. With the click of my keyboard, I can research pretty much any subject I want, or even download instantly a book for my kindle to help in the research.

While one of the best places to do research for a story, of course, is a trip to wherever your story is set--  unless you write fantasy or sci-fi! This can be challenging on the budget, but worth it if you can swing it. If you can’t take that trip, try using Google earth. I’ve used it in my current story to “drive” down the streets of Atlanta to give me an extra visual of the city.


I’ve been able to make connection with experts who have generously helped ensure that what I write is correct. In my historical novel, An Ocean Away, I needed some obscure info about a camera that I couldn’t find in my online research. I contacted a man from All Experts online who was able to help me with the exact information that I needed. So far, everyone I've asked to help me has always been more than generous with their help, so don't be afraid to ask. 

Sometimes, I find that I need details that I can't find on the Internet. Because of this I have a collection of research books that now forms a part of my personal library. Writer's Digest Books, for example, have a great selection of research and writing books. 

And don’t forget the people you know. I’ve turned to my brother-in-law for help with a scene set in the middle east, and a pilot friend for help with the details of a plane crash. Right now, I have a retired police detective and an officer who will be reading through my current contracted story for authenticity.


Over the past year I've started reading certain authors specifically for research, primarily in order to understand the market better and to see what readers like. For example, I have an interest in writing romantic suspense for the YA market so I read a number of books including Suzanne Collins Hunger Games series and Lisa T. Bergren’s River of Time series. A friend recommended I read one of Steven James’s books from the Patrick Bowers Files as I work on a police procedure story. I love breaking down the stories and seeing what works for me—and on occasion what doesn’t work.

Another interesting place I’ve discovered where I can learn more about writing  is in the DVD extras that are included as bonuses of many TV series. Often the writers go behind the scenes and let you in on why they cut certain scenes, how they tie story lines together, and how they incorporate character development into the series. 

Take a moment to share your own experience on research. Where do you like to do your research? Do you like to read other books in your genre while you are writing or prefer to read outside your genre? Have you ever taken a trip to where your book/series is set for that added authenticity? What did you learn that you wouldn't have been able to find out from the Internet? What recommendations do you have for non-fiction books that have helped your writing?

Happy Writing!


P.S. Visit my blog today for a chance to win a eBook copy of Keven Newsome's novel, Winter and a Skype interview. This book was published by Splashdown Books, run by our own Grace Bridges.


LISA HARRIS is a Christy Award nominated author who has over twenty novels and novella collections in print. She and her husband, Scott, along with their three children, live near the Indian Ocean in Mozambique as missionaries. As a homeschooling mom, life can get hectic, but she sees her writing as an extension of her ministry which also includes running a non-profit organization The ECHO Project. To find out more about her books you can visit her website.


  1. Research seems to be the topic today. I just read a post by Jody Hedlund about it.

    I do the same things as you to research. If possible, I like to get my hands dirty and actually do some of the things my characters do. :)

  2. Jessica, your comment made me think about a scene I was writing where I needed my heroine to escape after being tied up, so I had one of my kids be my heroine so I could ensure it was accurate. We ended up laughing a lot. LOL

  3. One thing I've done for research is join Facebook groups. I hadn't been able to find out just what a specific trail was like (paved or rocky or dirt, wide or narrow) but a geocacher from my novella's setting was happy to describe the trail for me in detail. Awesome!

  4. What a great idea, Valerie! Definitely something I will keep in mind. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Oh, Lisa, *love* the picture! Don't you just feel like at the end of some days? Of course I do a lot of research for the historical elements in my books--and i love it. Research is one of my favorite parts.

    Tip: Start your research in the boys & girls' department of your library--children's authors and editors are super careful about getting their facts straight for young minds and it will be written in terms i can understand.

  6. Great idea, Donna! Thank for sharing. And yes, I do feel like the picture some days. :-) Even though I primarily write contemporaries, I still do a ton of research and it as well!