Writing What You Don’t Know—Research

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By Gail Gaymer Martin

Writers are so often told ‘write what you know.’ Yet sometimes ideas hit us that encompass things we do not know. This happens to me, and though I always research details in my books even if I have some knowledge, sometimes story ideas are far from my usual story line knowledge. Recently moving from Michigan to Arizona, I’m now in a world of deserts, cacti, and a lifestyle that is different from my past. So research is needed for accuracy and reality, even on a subject I basically know.

For example, I decided to write a novella, Lost in Red Rock Country, about a woman getting lost at the top of a large mesa as night descends. The fiction idea came from a real situation, but it still meant lots of research so the novella would be accurate and exciting. Another new novel that I have written, Love in the Air, includes a hot air balloon that lands on a horse ranch, and the rancher becomes the hero in that book. I’ve been in hot air balloons, but I knew nothing about horses or ranch terminology, so I spent hours learning about horses, their tack, horseback riding and more through informative articles and videos.

In that book, I had two secondary characters that I liked and decided to write a connecting book focused on them. That book is Sedona Sunset and it has been released. The cover art is a photograph, I took from my deck, of a Sedona sunset.

Research can be accomplished in many ways, and I’ve learned that using a variety of methods provides the best and most accurate information.

  1. Internet – The Internet provides information through articles, videos and webinars regarding many topics. Form good questions to get the best information.
  2. Professional – Contact people you know or people you contact who have first hand knowledge of the topic and ask for an interview—a firefighter, medical doctor or nurse, college professor or teacher, CEO of a business, police officer, rancher, any person with hands-on information can make your novel real and accurate. Ask if you can contact them again if needed.
  3. On the job – Ask the firefighter or police officer if you can ride along on one of their calls or spend a day at the firehouse or police station. Many professions offer this kind of experience so check to see if you can visit on the job.
  4. Setting Info – A Chamber of Commerce will to send you maps, brochures and information. If you can, take a trip to the location. Stop at the Chamber of Commerce there for more information. Once I was given a full day tour of the area by the person in charge.

Ask to include the names of those who assist you in the Acknowledgements. A detective who provided me with much research information, purchased 30 books to give friends for Christmas.

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Award-winning novelist, Gail Gaymer Martin writes Christian romance and suspense. She authored Writers Digest’s Writing the Christian Romance and has 82 novels published with five million books in print. Gail is a co-founder of American Christian Fiction Writers, and is a workshop presenter and speaker. Born in Michigan, she lives in Arizona with her husband.



Comments 3

  1. Here’s another tip…don’t learn about near-death experiences by having one. Yeah, been there, done that, got the t-shit, and it fitted all too well.

    The sum of all I do not know
    grows exponentially, day on day
    for when I lift a truth and look below
    the stones beneath come into play.
    I think with faith it may be thus
    that what we learned, to navigate
    our journey here from dust to dust
    covers a glory hard to contemplate.
    We are not playthings of our time,
    but explorers on a journey Home,
    led on by light and distant chime
    through a landscape that’s so dimly known.
    Here on the road, our hearts doth burn
    for that which we’ll in Heaven learn.

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