Behind The Rewrite With JL Peridot: Breathing Life Into A Flat First Draft @jlperidot

Behind The Rewrite With JL Peridot: Breathing Life Into A Flat First Draft @jlperidot

flat first draft

If you’ve ever skimmed through your flat first draft and felt as if it needed more depth to come alive, then you’ll relate to this Behind the Rewrite post from author JL Peridot. Below, she discusses rewriting her sci-fi romance novel It Starts With A Kiss.

JL Peridot’s Behind The Rewrite

I hate first drafting. But I love having a first draft. And while going over rough work can be tedious at times, the rewrite stage is where you get to really express your creativity and skill as a storyteller.

To date, my most popular book, It Starts With A Kiss (“Kiss”), is the one I enjoyed drafting the least. It took four rounds of reboots to turn it into a piece of work I was comfortable sending out.

Oh, gosh, my rewrites… Let me show you them.

1. Shaping Realistic Characters

Using archetypes can speed up the first draft process, because we’re so used to seeing them in fiction and the “economy of thought” saves us from getting bogged down by details early on. But these exaggerated personality profiles are just that—profiles. And depending on the kind of story you’re telling, they may hinder your ability to write characters that people can relate to.

Where this stuck out for me was when Celeste stood at the door to Eleanor’s quarters, deciding whether or not to knock. It was too easy to portray a “blameless protagonist”, free of vice and vitriol. But Celeste isn’t like that. She’s independent and strong-willed. And I needed to show her talking about Eleanor as well as to her in the earlier chapters, so not only does it make sense why she made that decision at the door, but the truth of her whole character emerges as well.

2. Writing Natural Dialogue

Once I connected my plot points together, I spent a lot of time fixing the dialogue. Workplace banter is easy if you’ve ever been mates with your colleagues. All you have to do is pay attention to what gets said and take note of the non-verbal stuff too, like tone of voice, facial expression and body language.

So, when re-written Owen mashes his hand into Celeste’s face, you can tell it’s because they’ve been friends long enough for that to be okay. When re-written Laks bosses everyone around in the function room, you know it’s different to when Eleanor does it. It’s evident in what she says, how she says it and, most importantly, how everyone else responds to it.

If you don’t have personal “banter” to inspire your dialogue in certain scenes, look for movies, TV shows and reality shows that match the genres, characters, setting, pacing or vibe of your story. In addition to my own workplace friendships, I referenced my friends, family and in-laws for specific social dynamics (such as Bettina’s dynamic with Dave), and Fresh Meat for how a diverse cast of characters could bounce off each other in a story-driven setting.

3. Fixing The Tone Of Voice

Even though “Kiss” was always intended to be a romantic comedy, the first draft prose was much too saccharine, taking away from the dramatic encounters and ruining the chances of emotionally connecting with the reader. Fixing this meant getting into the right mood to write in a particular tone of voice. My solution was soundtrack. Not just “a writing playlist”, but a playlist specific to the story and its unique setting. Other writers may only need to turn the lights down, or write only at certain times of day. Every writer will have different sensory needs for getting into the zone of a particular story, if not getting into the zone of writing anything at all.

 

4. Not Shying Away From Science

The first version of “Kiss” had far less of the nerdy stuff. At the time, I was trying to emulate the contemporary stories I’d immersed myself in, ones with broader appeal that stuck with general language. And it failed.

What makes a romance special is its characters. It Starts With A Kiss is a story about two engineers who came together through their work on a futuristic space station. The technical stuff comes part and parcel with who they are and the choices they’d made leading up to the start of the book.

So when re-written Celeste rambles about technical details, it’s because that’s what she sees when she looks at the world. As far as she’s concerned, this is the situation she’s dealing with, even if non-technical folk gloss over it or decide it’s nonsense because they don’t understand it. This is just who she is, and just who many of my sources of inspiration for her character are.

5. Building The Wider Universe

All of my stories are contained within their own worlds, but most of these worlds belong to a greater milieu with a timeline and interconnected events. “Kiss” is my third Alliance Worlds release, but the first event in the timeline. And this isn’t in any way relevant to the story.

So how do you pull off large-scale worldbuilding in such a way that it’s enriched by your existing lore while also contributing to the wider universe, when it has nothing to do with what your book is about? You drop hints.

For example, towards the end of “Kiss”, when Eleanor has her big spiel, I could have let her allude to other companies as an abstract concept. It does just as good a job at getting her harsh point across, if that’s all we needed to do. But in the final published version of the book, Elle named a specific company that’s tied to the wider universe. This serves the added functions of strengthening her character through dialogue, and giving familiar readers a richer experience of this story and all the other stories.

These particular revisions ended up breathing life into a manuscript I was on the verge of giving up on. Of course, I look back and wonder if I could do a better job of it with the gift of hindsight and these extra months’ worth of learning. I’d like to hope so, but may never find out. There are too many other stories still to tell.

This post covers the summary of this rewrite. Visit JL’s blog for the full deep-dive.

rounded characters

Want To Read The Book?

It Starts With A KissCeleste is a talented engineer who doesn’t realize her job’s going nowhere fast. She’s a little naïve. She’ll cut code and solder cables forever as long as Owen’s around. Owen, on the other hand, knows exactly how badly things suck—he just doesn’t care. Sure, his skills aren’t what they used to be, but they’re still better than what Halcyon Aries deserves. Then it happens. The company’s toxic management team finally crosses the line. As both techies race to upgrade the station and to free the team from their oppressive contracts, they come to learn that life—and love—can only ever be what you make it.

Strap in for a steamy office romance in space, because sometimes It Starts With a Kiss!

More About JL Peridot

JL Peridot writes sexy love stories and more instead of using Arduino kit she insisted on buying when the conversion rate was slightly better. Her latest book, “It Starts With A Kiss”, is a nerdy, sci-fi office romance—a little HEA for her fellow ladies in tech. Right now, she’s working on a futuristic romantic suspense novel, washing her hands, and playing a lot of video games.

Subscribe to JL’s mailing list for periodic updates, teasers, free reads and banter.

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Opportunities For Writers

Are you an author interested in writing a Behind the Rewrite guest blog post? Get the guidelines here.

Are you a writer who could use some editing tips? Check out Stacy’s free resources:

Line Editing Made Simple–5 Days to More Polished Pages  – Free e-mail class packed with line editing tips

Shortcuts for Writers: Editing Made Simple Facebook group – Download the guide, 7 Simple Steps to Nailing Your Book Blurb in Unit 1.

 

Behind The Rewrite With Kathy L Wheeler: Scene Purpose @kathylwheeler

Behind The Rewrite With Kathy L Wheeler: Scene Purpose @kathylwheeler

scene purpose

Do you find it painful to delete a scene in your manuscript or give it a massive overhaul? Take heart as you’re not alone. Below, Kathy L Wheeler shows you a before-and-after from her book, Mail Order Bride:The Counterfeit, demonstrating why scene purpose is so important.

 

Kathy’s Behind the Rewrite

As a writer, I cannot tell you how difficult it is to delete hard writing words. What do I do when something doesn’t quite fit? I copy them to a document called “Deleted Scenes.” Sometimes I number them. However, in the case of Mail Order Bride: The Counterfeit, as it turned out, I only had one complete deleted scene to speak of.

While the scene below is still in the book, it resembles nothing of the final outcome. The villains’ motivations in the original scene were unclear. That’s called the “horrible 1st draft.” Reading through the original scene makes me laugh, especially, when I read through the final version. All the same characters present, but there is a difference, to me, in the tone.

I’ll share:

Original First Draft

(Note: The below excerpts contain some profanity.)

The frigid night air cut through Alvin Danhauer’s less-than-adequate jacket against the late fall of a Colorado mountain night. But just as he decided waiting in the barn would serve as well as the boot of the Hobson’s carriage, the door to Merciful’s house opened and Glendora sashayed out ahead of her bastard husband.

“Damn it. There is something about her. I know that girl from somewhere.”

“Certainly, she’s not from one of the many brothels you frequent.” She sneered. “The girl’s much too innocent for the likes of you.” Alvin grinned at Glen’s irritatingly calm voice that managed to drive men wild. The woman never lost control. Not even when she lay spread eagle beneath a man, and him driving a hard cock in and out of her tight sheath. Her laugh sparkled through the cold night air. The sound was suited to the glitter of stars against their black backdrop.

Just as they reached the carriage door, Hobson snatched her arm and spun her around. “You listen to me, Glendora—”

She jerked her arm out of his clutch. “No.” She poked him in the chest.  “You listen to me. We are in this together, whether you like it or not.” She glanced back at the house, then back to Hobson. “You think I’m so stupid or naïve? I know of your entanglement with the late Eleanora Jeffers.”

Alvin bit back a gasp, though why he should be surprised was a mystery not worth contemplating.

Hobson turned away, yanked the carriage door open, picked up his wife, and bodily tossed her through the opening. “What of it? A man as hot-blooded as me married to such a cold fish has to find some way to satiate his thirst or die trying.”

The force of palm against flesh should have started an avalanche, instead, the snow seemed to mute the sound to a degree. Alvin waited, tense with expectation. Finally. He had something to hold over that bitch. Glendora Hobson deserved everything she got and more.

“This is an age-old argument.” Her tone had reverted to that ever-ending control.

Alvin peered around the corner. Hobson had pulled up and was regarding his wife thoughtfully. “The question I have, is how someone as good a rider as Eleanora Jeffers ended up breaking her beautiful neck on a fall from a horse.”

She turned away and climbed up in the carriage without assistance. “Mysteries do abound. I’ve wondered that myself,” she said. Her gloved hands smoothed over her woolen cloak, never raising her head.

The carriage shook with Hobson’s bulky ascent. He settled in and flicked the reins.

After a time, a silence reigned, filled only with the crunching snow beneath the horses’ heavy hooves. Alvin’s brain raced. What the hell was Hobson indicating? Or, Glendora, for that matter.

Someone snapped their fingers. “Simone,” Hobson barked, with a prickle of surprise.

“What?” Alvin pictured the bored disdain covering his former lover’s expression.

The carriage shook under a shift of movement and Alvin took the opportunity for a quick peek. “You will befriend Will Jeffers new wife. Do you understand?”

“Let go. You’re hurting me,” Glendora bit out. The hatred spewing from her ruby lips could poison the air.

Hobson didn’t seem to notice. “Once we find that deed, I’ll turn that little whore over to her mother.”

Glendora stopped struggling. “Her mother?”

Despite the glacial air piercing through him, Alvin grinned, taking warmth in the possibilities suddenly stretched before him.

scene purpose

Final Draft Of Same Scene

Kathy’s note: The purpose of the scene changed so completely, it didn’t work.

News traveled fast, and Alvin Danhauer hadn’t much cared for the news flyin’ around the Springs lately. Will Jeffers had a lot of goddamned nerve givin’ him the boot then turnin’ around, puttin’ out a notice to a bunch of Chink immigrants to come in and do his work.

He’d never have learned a thing had he not seen Ennis Wisentangle talking to Merciless. He’d followed the snooty proprietor to the depot’s telegraph office and seen him and the operator shaking their heads sayin’ “Merciless was a damned fool, openin’ that can of worms.”

Alvin wasn’t no dummy. Barton Hobson had to have signed off on that order, he was the one who owned the fucking mine. And that was exactly where Alvin planned on starting his trail of revenge. No one got the better of Alvin Danhauer.

He slid off his chestnut roan and tied him to a branch just out of sight of Hobson’s homestead. He’d show that bastard. Alvin crept up to the house, mindful of any servants lurking about. The man was as rich as a fresh gold vein streaking through dense rock.

He peered in an open side window and grinned.

Well, well, well. Hobson’s wife looked especially pretty tonight, all blonde and lithe. She was facing away from the window, but Alvin could see her blue eyes in his head anyway. He remembered them right enough. He spent many a night peeping at her through the windows. She tugged a picture from the wall, exposing a safe. He let out a quick breath that rose in the cold air. He’d been hankering after its location for days. She turned her head to check the study door several times while she worked. Finally the safe’s door swung wide and she quickly flipped through a stack of papers.

Her form went rigid. She dropped the stack and jerked the painting back in place, but with the safe open, the frame couldn’t lay flat to the wall.

Alvin dragged his gaze from her to the doorway. Hobson stood there, the look on his face, a mask of carved marble. The hair on Alvin’s neck raised. They were too focused on one another to pay him any mind, but he squatted lower just in case—just high enough to still see.

“Looking for something in particular, Glendora? Surely, I can help.” The frost in his Hobson’s voice was chillier than the snow-covered ground. Alvin’s hands grew clammy. Hobson sauntered in and leaned his hips against the desk, his hands clamping the edges on either side of him.

She slowly turned, malice wreathing from her. “You’ve made a fool of me for the last time,” she bit out.

“Fool of you?”

“You’ve been shagging those whores at the Gold Rush … again. I warned you what would happen, Barton.” She meandered from the safe to the liquor cabinet and poured whiskey from a crystal decanter into two tumblers. “You should have listened.”

Disgust twisted his lips into a sneer. “And, what do I get from you, dear wife? Tell me that. You’re colder than a fish hooked in ice.”

The fog of hate emanating from her stiffened shoulders shifted to a model of control when she turned and faced him, the previous malice erased entirely. “I see,” she said, strolling toward her husband, holding out one of the tumblers. Her lack of fear was both terrifying and inspiring. “How perfectly arrogant, egotistical, and utterly predictable of you to expect me to spread my legs for you after your humiliating chase after the new and younger Mrs. Jeffers.” Her maniacal laugh trilled, sending another blast of glacial freeze through the air. It had nothing to do with the weather, but the rime penetrated his skin, clear through to Alvin’s bones. “I was sitting right there, you bastard.”

Hobson’s steady gaze never strayed from his wife, all the while slowly sipping his whiskey, not a word crossed his lips. Impressive.

She laughed again. “You don’t even bother to deny it?” Her features twisted into a venomous snarl. “Of course, you won’t because it’s true. A leopard’s spots don’t change, do they? You’re aiming to take Will’s new wife just as you did with Eleanor.”

To Alvin’s surprise, Hobson flinched. Eleanor Jeffers had been dead two years.

Alvin eyed Glendora Hobson’s lush breasts, red lips, and alabaster skin. Her complexion was heightened with the flush of fury. His own cock swelled at the sight. The woman needed to get laid. Alvin decided he was just the one to satiate her need as an unforgiving seam in his trousers dug hard despite the frigid cold. The air in the study was so taut he dared not move.

Hobson’s cruel lips curled, but they resembled nothing close to a smile. “And you, darling? I may have humped her, but I didn’t murder her.”

Murder? Alvin pulled up.

“Look at it this way, darling.” Sarcasm dripped from her. “We need one another.”

“How do you figure?”

She set her tumbler of undrunk whiskey on the huge desk and stalked around Hobson to the painting where it hung parted from the wall. She reached into the safe and pulled out a sheaf of papers. She strolled back around, staying just out of reach. “This is the deed to the mine.”

Hobson’s body turned to a slab of marble. He didn’t so much as a blink. He slammed back the rest of his drink in a single swallow. He moved to put his glass down, but it slipped from his hand, missed the wood surface, and hit the floor in a shattering crash.

“I find the witness signatures a bit suspect.” Her voice grew teasing, and again, Alvin marveled at her composure. “I wonder what Will Jeffers would think seeing Ennis Wisentangle’s indecipherable scrawl.” She flipped through the papers, shuffled a portion of the top of the stack to the bottom, and shook the papers at him. “The question I have, darling, is what are you doing with William Henry Jeffers, Sr.’s discharge papers, signed by none other than James Monroe? I think it’s time we talked.”

“Talked about what?” His slurred words were barely discernable.

Alvin had never taken Hobson as a fool, but watching Glendora, Alvin realized that’s exactly what Hobson was. A fool. The man didn’t look so high and mighty now. Beaded sweat heightened his flushed face to a sickly shine.

Peeling off the top page, she shook it under his nose. “This is forged,” she said, then snorted. Quite a sight from Glendora Hobson. “No one in his right mind would have Ennis Wisentangle as a witness. And, Alvin Danhauer? It’s laughable. Alvin’s nothing but trouble. For another—” She leveled her gaze on him. “He was known to have been in Rock Springs, Wyoming working the mines there at that time.”

That was news to Alvin. He’d never signed anything for Hobson. She was right on her other point, however, he had been in Rock Springs, and damned proud of it. Killin’ off chinks one by one because of the jobs they were stealin’ from legitimate Americans. Good to know his efforts hadn’t gone unnoticed.

Hobson’s expression was priceless. No, not priceless. That expression was worth a considerable amount.

“You don’t even own the mine, do you? Where are the originals?” she demanded.

The man was caught, and by a woman no less. He pulled away from the desk and stumbled back against it. His face had turned a ghastly verdant shade. “Get me some whiskey.” His words were more husky than they were demanding.

The smile on Glendora’s angelic face set off bells in Alvin’s head, fear lifted the hair at his back of his neck again. “Of course, dear.” She sauntered to the cabinet and filled a new tumbler, then made her way back, hips swinging a seductive sway. She handed him the glass and he slung back the entire contents.

“No. I don’t own the mine,” Hobson snarled. The sheen on his forehead formed large drops. Alvin glanced toward the blackened hearth. Odd. “If anyone ever learns the truth, I’ll hang, and you’ll be destitute.” He swiped the back of a hand across his forehead. “I imagine Miss Bethany can help you out with any finances you need. Of course, you’ll have to earn them.”

Alvin had heard enough. Enough to get himself killed, and enough to know he stood to make a tidy little profit. He ducked from sight and worked his way to the stable, taking care to mingle his footprints with others in the snow back to his roan.

Final Thoughts From Kathy

Many times, I find that I must write even if what spills forth will not quite work. The writing itself allows a writer’s thoughts and actions to get back on track, or on a track. Sort of like a veering out of the lane car in a high-speed chase. Not that I was ever in a high-speed chase…

My lesson: writing loosens the blocks in your brain, takes you down a path you might not have envisioned. And, the more you write, the better you become.

Let me know your thoughts between these two passages. I would love your input.

Happy writing!

Want To Read The Rest Of The Book?

Mail Order Bride: The Counterfeit (Book 1) – After a disastrous first marriage, Will Jeffers hasn’t the stomach for another emotionally entailed union. All he needs is a wife to cook, nurse his mother, and look after the homestead. But good women are few and far between in Colorado mining country. A mail order bride is the perfect solution. Amelia Johannasen is running for her life. Her brassy mother has decided it’s time her daughter joined the family business, shattering Amy’s dreams of marrying for love. Imagine her surprise when she is mistaken for Will Jeffers mail order bride. She has a talent for spinning tall-tales but no notion of how to cook, nurse or keep a house. Can she reach the heart of a man once burned so badly, he’s sworn off love?

More About Kathy

Kathy L Wheeler loves the NBA, the NFL, musical theater, reading, writing and karaoke. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her musically talented husband, Al, their adorable dog, Angel, and their snooty cat, Carly.

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Opportunities For Writers

Are you an author interested in writing a Behind the Rewrite guest blog post? Get the guidelines here.

Are you a writer who could use some editing tips? Check out Stacy’s free resources:

Line Editing Made Simple-5 Days to More Polished Pages  – Free e-mail class packed with line editing tips

Shortcuts for Writers: Editing Made Simple Facebook group – Download the guide, 7 Simple Steps to Nailing Your Book Blurb in Unit 1

 

Rewriting A Novel When It’s A Big Mess

Rewriting A Novel When It’s A Big Mess

rewriting a novel

How do you go about rewriting a novel when it’s an absolute mess?

I want to tell you about this editing client I once had. She submitted a manuscript that was the biggest disaster I had ever seen. It would need countless drafts to make it even in the ballpark of publishable.

1. First, it was written 25 years ago when she was a teenager, years before she developed her skills as a novelist. It lacked character development, description, and a strong point of view.

2. Since it was originally done on a word processor, this author hired a company to scan her hard copy so she could work with it again. Unfortunately, the scanning process riddled it with formatting errors and odd symbols that made my eyes glaze over when I was editing.

3. The storyline was so outdated and unrealistic that she had buried the manuscript in a drawer for several years, too overwhelmed to deal with it.

Finally, this client took a deep breath and vowed to give the manuscript a long-overdue rewrite. It was a sequel to a young adult sports novel published in 1992 that still sold copies daily, and readers kept asking her if there was a second book.

As a freelance editor, I’m known for writing encouraging but honest ten-page editorial letters. Some editors have never written a book themselves and don’t understand how awful it feels to have your hard work criticized. Since I’ve been on the receiving end of overwhelming editorial letters, I always make sure to include the positives. However, in this case, I ripped the manuscript to shreds.

Want to know why? This “client” was me.

Rewriting A Novel From Scratch

Rewriting my young adult novel Offsides (Hockey Rivals Book 2), a manuscripted penned by my nineteen-year-old self, was one of the scariest, strangest, and most rewarding projects I’ve ever undertaken.

Every single word of that book required rewriting. I think the only thing that stayed the same was the characters’ names. (Wait . . . I changed a couple of those, too.)

I desperately needed a system to break down this monumental editing project into manageable steps.

I made a long list of every possible task I could think of and arranged it in an order that made sense so that I could redraft the novel. Then I dug into my messy manuscript and revised one item at a time.

Little did I know that this checklist would shape the curriculum for my online course Book Editing Blueprint: A Step-By-Step Plan to Making Your Novels Publishable. Checking off each task was a small victory, and finally reaching the finish line reflected my proudest moment as an author.

self-editing class

 

Now, just like its predecessor Face-OffOffsides sells copies every day. This one-line review on Amazon filled me with joy. “My 11-year-old hockey player grandson could not put the book down. He loved it.”

I market these hockey books with the tagline “Score a goal for reading,” but I scored a goal for my writing career also by tackling the rewrite of that novel. Through self-editing, I took my disaster of a manuscript and transformed it into a publishable novel that my ideal reader couldn’t put down. You can do it too. I’d love to share my system and revision checklist with you in Book Editing Blueprint. 

Your mission is to learn how to do a thorough developmental and line edit, to clean up your manuscript, and to create a solid action plan. By the end of the course, you’ll have prepared a detailed editorial report and will be armed with a simple self-editing checklist to guide you through your revisions. Sign up below.

 

 

Have you ever had a messy rewrite to complete? Are you working on one now? Tell us in the comments.

Setting In Fiction: 5 Bestselling Authors Share Their Secrets

Setting In Fiction: 5 Bestselling Authors Share Their Secrets

.setting in fiction

Several years ago, I wrote an article about setting in fiction for a writing magazine. The angle was how research field trips could enrich your writing. As a longtime journalist, hands-on research comes naturally to me. I’m used to picking up the phone, explaining that I’m a writer, and requesting a tour and interview. I’ve done it for hundreds of newspaper articles, so I have no qualms about seeking out experts to research my novels.

I’ve hung out and chatted with interview sources at a hospital emergency room, childbirth education class, dog training school, prison, power plant, Christmas ornament factory, homeless shelter, haunted inn, and at a psychic’s house; during a police cruiser ride-along, on the firing range, and inside a courthouse, to name a few. I never could have created such authentic setting descriptions without being there in person and asking my list of questions.

However, some authors feel hesitant about e-mailing or cold-calling a stranger for research purposes, especially writers without a publishing track record. Here’s my advice: do it anyway.

Agents and acquisitions editors trust writers who strive for accuracy. Readers love authors who plunge them into settings ripe with authentic details. Field trips can expand a writer’s knowledge base and provide opportunities to gather color, atmosphere, and on-scene information unavailable in a research book or on the Internet.

Sure, the adage ‘Write what you know’ has some truth, yet if that’s all we wrote, our fiction would be boring. Next time you get stuck on a scene, put on your reporter’s hat and go out and find the story.

Here is advice and setting anecdotes from five of the novelists I interviewed for the original article.

Lisa Gardner

Lisa gardner booksBestselling suspense author Lisa Gardner met with the Rhode Island State Police for her novel The Survivor’s Club and even staked out a Providence courthouse to determine the ideal angle for a sniper shot.

For The Killing Hour, she visited the FBI Academy to learn about the life of a new agent, and she spent a week with the U.S. Geological Survey team, checking out remote places in Virginia for an “Eco-Killer” to abandon his victims.

The Other Daughter led her on a hunt to Texas, where she researched execution protocol. 

“I need to be able to picture something to write it,” she said. “Actually seeing Texas’s retired electric chair was so much more riveting than simply reading about it. To walk through a maximum security prison, getting the sights, the sounds, and particularly the smell, made the whole atmosphere come alive in a way simply talking about it never would. Then I can take this experience in turn, and make it come alive for the reader.”

Stephen Coonts

Stephen Coonts booksStephen Coonts, bestselling action/adventure author, took a flight in the F-22 cockpit concept demonstrator at Lockheed Martin in Georgia for Fortunes of War. He talked his way into the V-22 Osprey simulator at NAS Patuxent River, the basis for scenes in his novella Al-Jihad. While research is vital, he advises not overloading the reader with information. 

“The first requirement for any writer is a good story,” Coonts said. “Once you see how the story is going to go, then do enough research to give the tale the flavor of authenticity. Salt in a little jargon, but only a little. Write around details you don’t know. The easiest and best way to do research is to find an expert and ask precisely the questions to which you need answers. Shotgunning (or scattered) research is a waste of time.” 

Jodi Picoult

Jodi picoult booksAs part of her research for novels such as Plain Truth, The Tenth Circle, and Second Glance, bestselling writer Jodi Picoult has milked a cow in Amish country and roughed it with native Alaskans. She shudders when she remembers heading out to an abandoned New England mental institution on a winter night with paranormal investigators. Her group trudged across a field where a building had burned down with patients inside. 

“I was walking with a sensitive, someone who can ‘feel’ ghosts,” Picoult said. “Suddenly, all the hair stood up on the back of my neck. Before I could even mention this to my walking buddy, he lifted a digital camera and held it up between us backward, over our shoulders. Although there was nothing visible to the naked eye, in the viewfinder of the camera was a white, misty, wraith-like image.” 

Janet Evanovich

Janet Evanovich booksAnyone who has read the humorous Stephanie Plum series, about a female bounty hunter sleuth with attitude, knows how much detail bestselling author Janet Evanovich weaves into the books. That all stems from research.

“One time I was meeting a bounty hunter for lunch in a crowded Au Bon Pain in downtown Washington and this guy came in dressed in leather,” recalled Evanovich, whose books include the recent Twisted Twenty-Six. “I was trying to find out what he did and how successful he was. He did this arm thing and reached for something on the table, and all you could see was this illegal Dirty Harry gun. The place cleared out and we were the only two people left. It was important for the Stephanie Plum series as it gave me perspective on crowd reaction, and made me think about how I was putting my heroine in this atypical and unsavory job.” 

 

Deborah Donnelly

Wedding Planner MysteriesDeborah Donnelly, author of the Wedding Planner Mysteries, writes so vividly that her books caught the attention of Hallmark Movies and Mysteries. The channel adapted her book Veiled Threats into the movie the Wedding Planner Mystery.

“While researching May the Best Man Die, I toured the Seattle’s Best Coffee roasting plant,” she said. “I explained myself as a mystery writer when I made the tour request, but apparently no one told the gentleman who showed me around. As he dutifully described all the specialized equipment, I kept asking questions like, ‘If one of those sacks of coffee beans fell on you, would it kill you?’ and ‘If this place burned down, would the coffee smell really good?’ He kept edging farther and farther away from me… Eventually, he learned the reassuring truth about my odd profession.”

Arranging Research Field Trips

Are you inspired to make a field trip to enrich the setting in your book? If you want to tour a site or interview an expert, search the Internet for leads. Larger organizations might have a PR department that handles inquiries.

Cold calls are fine, but don’t subject someone to an on-the-spot interrogation; make an appointment so you both have time to prepare. You could also outline your request in an e-mail.

Before the visit, read up on your subject and develop specific questions. Bring a notebook to the interview and ask whether you can call or e-mail with follow-up questions. Afterwards, be sure to show your appreciation with a thank you note. 

What type of field trips have you made to research your books? Share in the comments. If your book is published, share an excerpt that reflects your research and a buy link.

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