Research Matters

ACFW Advice, Authors and writing, Friends of ACFW, research, writing 2 Comments

by Dana R. Lynn

I recently had a conversation with a close friend regarding research. I was researching what a 911 operator’s computer terminal would look like.

“What does it matter?” My friend asked, completely serious. “It’s fiction. Just make it up.”

He was not the first person that I had heard this from. I guess it all depends on the reader. For many reader’s, they are able to suspend belief and become fully engaged in the story. The nitty gritty details don’t get in the way of their enjoyment. I think my friend falls into this category. He reads with the expectation of being entertained and doesn’t care if the details are realistic. Nothing wrong with that.

There are other readers, however, who will notice the little details. These details will irk them enough to pull them out of the story. Especially if it’s a subject that’s near and dear to them. I know because I’ve been that reader. Sometimes I can get past the details and sometimes I can’t. This has taught me that a little bit of research is well worth the effort. As writers, we never want to give our readers a reason to put our books down.

I’ll give you an example. I write romantic suspense with an Amish connection. My editor calls it Amish adjacent. Whenever I write a story in a new geographic area, not only do I research the area, but also the Amish communities. The differences are vast! Are the communities New Order or Old Order? What are the clothes like? Do the women wear aprons, and what are the shapes of the bonnets? Even the buggies they drive are different. When I was writing Amish Country Ambush, which takes place partially in New Wilmington, PA, the buggies were tan. It’s the only community in the USA with tan buggies. It might seem like a minor detail, but I received several emails commenting on the accuracy of this one seemingly minor detail.

Our books connect with people on a deep level. Many of our readers are wounded or suffering. When we write stories that they can connect to, it touches them. When we take the time to truly research our characters struggles and situations, our readers appreciate it. In Amish Christmas Emergency, which was out in November, 2018, my heroine had type 2 diabetes. I have had readers write to tell me how much they related to her.

Research also plays an important role in settings. I like to set my stories in fictional towns that are surrounded by real places. My first seven books with Love Inspired Suspense take place in LaMar Pond, a fictional town in rural northwestern PA between Meadville and Spartanburg. Using a fictional town has given some freedom to create the town to meet my needs. At the same time, there are real landmarks. These landmarks give a feeling of authenticity to the setting, so it is vital to portray them as accurately as possible. When you can’t visit the place yourself, the internet is a good resource. You may even be able to get in contact with someone in the area who can provide you with maps or other information.

How do you keep your research straight? I know some authors use OneNote or Evernote. Some keep their research in Scrivener. I tend to use physical notebooks and Scrivener. It all depends on how you feel the most organized.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is telling the story God put on your heart to the best of your ability so it can minister to those who need it the most.


Does research really matter in fiction? Yes! Find out why. @DanaRLynn #ACFWBlogs #writing #pubtip Click To Tweet

Dana R. Lynn believes the power of God can transcend any circumstance. She is a bestselling award winning author of fifteen books. She writes romantic suspense for Love Inspired Suspense. Dana met her husband at a wedding and knew he was the one. Today they live with their three teenagers and a variety of pets in rural northwestern Pennsylvania.




Comments 2

  1. In a world so hewn with care
    by a God who loves the small,
    can we ignore what’s really there
    in answering the writing call?
    We are beholden to a paradigm
    that all things were made for place;
    their true reflection is the sublime
    glorification of God’s fine-grained grace.
    Our stories may be merely fiction,
    but to our readers, they are real,
    and in avoiding contradiction
    we give a value to what they feel.
    We let His breath fill tall-ship sails
    when He’s in the rope-knot details.

  2. I am working my way through “Plot & Structure” by James Scott Bell. One exercise is to free write what I hope my readers take away from my stories. One of the most important parts of my writing is that my readers feel like they are reading a quality story. That’s where the attention to detail you wrote about, Dana,comes in. For fiction,I do some research, and write some notes as to which information is where in which source. Then, I write the story, and do more in-depth research as I write, then rewrite according to any further needed research. When researching for non-fiction, I do about the same, overview research to find my sources, then more in-depth research as I write. If I am paraphrasing or quoting, I go over everything about 50 kabillion times to make sure I cited correctly. It sounds like you enjoy research as much as I do, Dana. Thank you for this article.

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