Researching Beyond the Internet

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By Cindy Ervin Huff

I write historical and contemporary romance and research is the key to getting details right. If you are placing your story in a town that exists now or at the time of your story, you need to get the geography right. Those details give readers you-are-there feel. I’ve learned the internet is not always the best source for information. Great for a quick reference but not for deeper details. My first book, Secrets & Charades, had my heroine Evangeline moving to Texas. She was a mail-order-bride to a rancher. She kept her profession, a doctor, from her new husband. I needed to research a variety of things: female doctors in the mid-1800s, ranch life, train routes, Civil War veterans’ PTSD responses, Spanish phrases and the list goes on.

Over the course of my research, I visited the library for maps of the train routes in 1870. I examined a map of Texas to choose the setting for my fictional town and books on female doctors in the west.

I interviewed a Civil War re-enactor, who played a doctor to learn about medicine at the time during and after the Civil War.

I purchased books from used book sites on female doctors, diaries of women who settled the west and photo books of life in the mid-1800s. I learned about building a soddy home. The details in these books far outweighs the brief articles you find online. I especially love the diaries. My goodness, the things people wrote about. These diaries helped me create interesting character arcs. The recipe books and descriptions of meals on a ranch and on cattle drives were very interesting.

I asked my history expert friend what kind of weapons existed in 1870 and my sister, who’d done rodeo riding, about the care of horses. My daughter-in -law (she is Hispanic) agreed to check my Spanish phrases. I had used the English to Spanish web translator. She and her family informed me they were not true Mexican translation and didn’t fit the situation. They helped me change it.

When I wrote my contemporary romances, I consulted my hubby for directions. Although New Duet took place in the town we lived in, my poor sense required his help to tell me which way on what street my character would turn to get where I want them to go.

My next contemporary’s heroine is a professional dog groomer. I spent several hours observing my daughter and her fellow-dog groomer as they did their job while I peppered them with questions. That research enabled me to create a setting that was true to life.

I even had a conversation with a psychologist regarding the trauma of an abused husband for my latest WIP. Did my character respond realistically to the situation I outlined for the story? I also wanted to know if his ex-wife would act a certain way to bring about the plot twists I had dreamed up.

As a writer, I needed to step out of my comfort zone of relying on Google to get the accurate details and do the reading, the interviews and visit the sites in order to create realistic stories. Research takes time away from writing, but it’s necessary. The only downfalls to research are knowing when to stop and start writing, and what details enhance the story or drag it down. I love digging deeper and books and interviews allow me. After all, what’s on the internet is a condensed version of what the author has researched from offline sources.

Research beyond the internet for more accurate details in your fiction. @Cindyhuff11Huff #ACFWBlogs #writetip #critiques #ACFWCommunity Click To Tweet

Cindy Ervin Huff is an Award-winning author of Historical and Contemporary Romance. She loves infusing hope into her stories of broken people. She addicted to reading and chocolate. Her idea of a vacation is visiting historical sites and an ideal date with her hubby of almost fifty years would be the theater. Visit her  website



Comments 1

  1. Cindy, I heap Heaven’s blessings upon your head, now and forevermore! As an editor of many decades standing, freelance and for publishers, I preach research until I’m blue in the face to my writers, many of whom believe the internet is the be all, end all of research. I will give this blog widespread attention!

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