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The Importance of Research

by Sandra Robbins

A writer friend and I were discussing the importance of research in writing a novel the other day. Both of us at one time or another had read a book that we liked until we came across one instance that suddenly changed our opinion of the book. Having written both historical and contemporary novels, I know how much time it takes to research a historical novel. One might think a contemporary one would be much easier, but that’s not always true. It’s the things we think we know but don’t, that can mean the difference in keeping or losing a fan of your writing.

Not too long ago I purchased a novel written by a NYT best-selling author in the general market. Since I had enjoyed other books by this author, I couldn’t wait for the next one to release. Just as he had done in the past, the writer opened with lots of action. The hero who was being sought for a murder he didn’t commit was on the run, and he decided to change the license plate on his car. He drove into a motel parking lot and found a car with Tennessee tags. He switched his license with the one on the front of the Tennessee car before he drove back into traffic.

The average reader, in a hurry to get on with the story, might have skimmed over that passage, but not somebody who lives in Tennessee. What the author didn’t know is that Tennessee cars don’t have a license plate on the front. They only have one on the back. That slip along with what I imagined my CBA editors would have said if my hero had been a thief made me lay the book aside and not pick it up again. Since then, I have pondered the importance of research in my books. Readers may suspend belief at times in a story, but they don’t want to be fed inaccurate facts.

When my historical romance Angel of the Cove released, I spent months studying life in the Smoky Mountains and in Cades Cove. I wanted to know how the people lived and what their community was like. As the release date neared, I prayed that my research would prove adequate for the story I’d told. Now Mountain Homecoming, the second in the series has released, and my prayer is the same.

Over and over authors are encouraged to write the story that’s on their hearts, and I believe this. But I also agree with Joe Friday, the veteran police officer who entertained audiences on Dragnet in the early days of television. His famous quote “Just the facts” rings true for authors. Give your reader the facts, but make sure they’re correct.

MountainHomecoming (2)
Sandra Robbins, former teacher and principal, is a multi-published author of Christian fiction who lives with her husband in the small college town where she grew up. Her books have been finalists in the Daphne du Maurier Contest for excellence in mystery writing, the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence for romance, the Holt Medallion, and the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Carol Award. Angel of the Cove, her first book in the Harvest House Publishers historical romance series Smoky Mountain Dreams, released in August, 2012, and was followed by Mountain Homecoming in March 2013. The third book Beyond These Hills will release in September. In April 2013 Summerside (Guidepost) will release A Lady’s Choice which chronicles the plight of suffragists who picketed the White House to gain the vote for women.
To find out more about Sandra and her books, visit her at her website at http://sandrarobbins.net or email her at sandra at sandrarobbins.net.

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3 Responses to The Importance of Research

  1. Ron Estrada says:

    I had a similar experience with a popular secular novelist. His character was driving over the Coronado bridge in San Diego and concerned that his pursuer would run him off the road and send him crashing into the battleships berthed below. In an otherwise great novel, that stopped me cold. The Navy hasn’t had a commissioned battleship in a long time, and when we re-commissioned a couple in the 90s, they weren’t sitting in San Diego. Again, a minor point to anyone who doesn’t know anything about the Navy, but this author lives in that area. He should know what kind of ships are berthed there, and certainly not ones that were mostly mothballed after WWII.

    Hopefully, I’ll be more careful!

  2. Hi Ron.
    Thanks for leaving that very interesting comment. I didn’t know the navy doesn’t have commissioned battleships any more. I’ll keep that piece of information in mind in case I ever decide to write a book with naval characters.

    Sandra Robbins

  3. Great post. Research is so vital…I can so understand why you put the book aside.