by Dr. Richard Mabry
As writers of fiction, we obsess over the big things: characters and plot. We work to make certain that readers invest themselves in the people who populate our stories and that every page provides an impetus to turn to the next one. We worry about the big things, and that’s as it should be, but how about the little ones? Are they important enough to justify the effort involved in doing research? I believe they are.
For my own purposes, I needed to know about a specific piece of equipment, one we don’t think about until it’s needed. It’s hidden in overhead bins on airliners and tucked away unobtrusively on ferries. If you look carefully, you can see them as you walk through airports. They can be found in major department stores, shopping malls, even restaurants. I’m talking about AEDs-automated external defibrillators. What if an author wants to make use of one in his or her novel? How hard is it to find out the necessary details?
I can hear you saying, “You’re a doctor. You know about these things.” Actually, even as a physician, I never had occasion to use an AED, but I needed to know about them when I wrote Heart Failure. In the past, I might have spent hours at the public library doing research. After that would come phone calls and even visits to learn enough about the device to write knowledgeably. A day or two of research might be the price for writing accurate material.
I was able to skip all that, thanks to our modern world. An hour spent on my computer using a search engine gave me all the information I needed. I confirmed the presence of an AED at a particular location about which I was writing. I learned how to use one, including a video that walked me through the steps. I saw pictures of various models. I could have included a manufacturer’s name and model number of the device if I’d wished.
Some authors may question the need to do research in the first place. Most readers won’t know the difference, they say, so why not just put in something and move on? Let me assure you that among your readers will be one or more people who know about the subject, and although they may not take the time and trouble to email you or send a note to your publisher, you will have destroyed a bit of your credibility with them. I don’t want to take that chance.
Some writers, like John Grisham, are quick to admit that they hate research. I’ve found places where it’s evident Grisham failed to do his homework. Did I stop reading his novels as a result? No, but what I noticed did destroy a bit of his credibility with me. With the easy availability of modern resources to answer our questions, is there any excuse for skipping research as we write? Until I’m a multi-published author with fans numbering in the millions, my answer is going to be “no.” What about you?
Dr. Richard Mabry is a retired physician, past Vice-President of the American Christian Fiction Writers, and the author of six published novels of medical suspense. His books have been finalists in competitions including ACFW’s Carol Award and Romantic Times’ Inspirational Book of the Year. Richard’s next novel, Heart Failure, releases on tomorrow.