Candee: Have you ever read a book where the simplest thing took you out of the story in two seconds flat? If you’re knowledgeable about that setting or profession, it just takes one bit of misinformation to spark an internal argument with the author and start you questioning everything else in the story. Since our aim is to keep readers fully engaged in the story, research is critical.
However, when we think about research, we usually envision historical settings and a stream of informational nuggets like specific names for pieces of clothing, modes of transportation, titles for government leaders, or acceptable vocabulary for the period. Writing a compelling story is difficult enough without adding all that extra work. That’s why I write contemporary settings.
Skip the mountain of research and dive into the story, right? Not so fast.
Every novelist must do their research in order to make the setting and characters come to life because realism is found in the little details, descriptions, and actions that make a particular location or occupation unique. A few specific details in strategic places go a long way towards creating the illusion of a fully developed setting or skill. So, unless we’re writing something we already know about, we’ll need to research until we can naturally weave the information into the story.
Take for example, a college football setting like the one I recreated in my recent release, Catch of a Lifetime. While I fictionalized the school, I still needed to know things like the campus layout, degree requirements, and likely weather in town as the weeks progressed. How many games would the team play and how many did they need to win in order to get selected for a bowl game? What grades did a player need to have in order to meet the NCAA eligibility standards? What would a coach be doing at two o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon and how would an athletic trainer evaluate or treat a shoulder injury?
By answering these types of questions, I discovered the details I needed to bring the story to life. Once I climbed inside the virtual skin of my point-of-view character for a scene, I could see the sideline action inside a crowded stadium, feel the brisk November wind on my face, hear the rip of athletic tape, and smell the rank odor of collective sweat. I could sit at the coach’s desk, glance at the dwindling depth chart on the wall, and resolve to study the scout film for another hour. Typical routines and procedures gave my characters plenty to do in each scene while multi-sensory descriptions added more layers of realism.
Despite being married to a football coach and watching numerous college games in person, I still wouldn’t have known what to include in the story without investing time in the research. And the research paid off as the setting came to life for the readers.
As a reader, how important are the little details to you? How often are you drawn out of a story due to wrong facts? Do you continue with the book or put it aside?
Candee Fick is the wife of a high school football coach and the mother of three children, including a daughter with a rare genetic syndrome. When not busy with her day job or writing, she can be found cheering on the home team at football, basketball, baseball, and Special Olympics games. In what little free time remains, she enjoys exploring the great Colorado outdoors, indulging in dark chocolate, and savoring happily-ever-after endings through a good book.
He breathes football. She shudders at the very mention of the sport. After a tragedy involving a football player destroyed her family, athletic trainer and graduate student Cassie moves across the country looking for a fresh start, but a change in financial aid lands her in the middle of her worst nightmare. Meanwhile, rookie coach Reed worries his dream career will slip away as injuries plague his players and his star receiver teeters on the brink of ineligibility. As the two work together to salvage the season, sparks fly, and Reed must eventually choose between the game he cherishes and the woman he loves.
Find Catch of a Lifetime at http://www.amazon.com/dp/