The Joys (?) Of Doing Research
One of the things non-fiction writers constantly face is getting the facts right. That usually requires a lot of research, especially if you’re dealing with a subject on which you are not already an expert. Nothing denigrates a work more than incorrect and bogus data.
Of course, if you’re writing fiction, it’s all your imagination, so accurate facts aren’t prerequisites, right?
Wrong! Nothing bugs readers more than seeing information that is totally out of sync with the real world… unless you are writing fantasy or sci-fi. Even little things like descriptions of locations that don’t jive with physical reality can draw critical comments on a writer’s web site or the multitude of writing blogs (like Mogen’s, for instance) that span the internet.
When I began writing my first novel, Trapped, in 1990, I imagined a physical condition for my protagonist, Jackee, as physically comatose but fully sentient, locked in her head. Only her mind and her eyes worked. It wasn’t until several years ago that I heard of “Locked-in Syndrome,” which is exactly the condition I envisioned. When Trapped won TAG Publisher’s “Next Great American Novel” contest in 2012, and I was on my way to getting published, I figured I‘d better do some research on the condition, to lend reality to her story.
Thanks to Google, I found a plethora of articles on the syndrome, including many vignettes about real people in Locked-in Syndrome. I even had details and medical terms for the parts of the brain affected. It took several days of digging and sorting to accumulate what I needed, and then several more days to incorporate it into the story without making it look like a “data dump.” In the end, I was happy with the results, and I’ve received many comments from doctors, including two neurologists, complimenting me on the accuracy of my work. I’ve even had some ask if I was a doctor, or if I had medical training. That makes you feel great about a job well done.
In my second novel, A 3rd Time to Die, that was just launched in June of 2013, I was faced with a more difficult research task. This romantic suspense deals with past lives and rebirth, and I’d read several books on the subject, and saw a captivating TV program many years ago on Ophra, featuring noted psychiatrist, Dr. Brian Weiss, who is a leading proponent of the subject. In A 3rd Time to Die, two lovers are brutally murdered in the 17th Century. Their souls are reborn in the 19th Century, again finding love together… and again gruesomely murdered. Now they are back in the 21st Century… and so is their killer.
My protagonist is eventually hypnotically regressed into those past lives, so I decided reading about how it was done wasn’t going to cut it for me. I found an associate of Dr. Weiss’ who hypnotically regressed me… into NINE lives of my own. I had my doubts of the reality of the condition, but wanted to see what it was like. This, you may think, is going a bit “overboard” for research, but it was a life-changing experience. I’ve found that good research is often fulfilling and mentally expanding, but this went beyond. And it gave me a clear understanding of how regression actually works, the actual mechanics the therapist uses to take you back… back… back into past lives.
Here’s an interesting personal antidote. When I was twelve, my dad brought home a target bow and a big straw bull’s-eye target. My only experience with a bow was from watching Western movies, but I set up the target in the back yard, strung the bow (how did I even know how to do that?), walked off about 100 feet…and started shooting bull’s-eyes! I seldom missed that center black circle. A few days later, while practicing, a big crow flew over, probably 60 feet high. I instinctively put an arrow in him. A week later, while “hunting” in a nearby forest preserve, I flushed a ringneck pheasant, and knocked him down with a quick shot. Then a rabbit, dodging through the brush. I don’t know how I did it, I just did it, without thinking.
The point of this little tale is, during one of my regressions, I found myself in Lincolnshire Forest, shooting game for a 16th Century English duke…a regular Robin Hood. An interesting and provoking side-light to doing research for a novel.
I have to admit, I’m usually reluctant to do a lot of research. It can be time consuming, and often frustrating. I’d rather rely on my imagination. But, if you’re a serious writer, the time will come when it’s a necessity to lend the feeling of reality to your tale. I’ve written two in a series featuring a troubled Miami homicide detective. In the first, he’s chasing an elusive serial killer. Now we all know quite a bit about these guys, with all the TV detective shows, but I needed to know more details of who they are, how they think, and what can motivate them. Again, plunging to Google, I found loads of information, including the complete minutes of an FBI symposium given by their BAU division (Think “Criminal Minds” on TV). While those two novels are yet to be published, I’ve now got a storehouse of info on how to make these guys seem real.
Sometimes, it can be downright fun! Just don’t forget the “Disclaimer” in the front matter of your book, stating this is a work of fiction, and you may have taken liberty with facts to meet the demands of the story.Research can be complex, like regressing into Past Lives, or simple, like learning about the streets and demographics of a city you’re writing about but have not visited. Whatever, good research helps separate the professional novelist from the common amateur.
Thank you, George
George Bernstein is a youthful seventy-six-year-old, with a B.A. from Northwestern University, now living in south Florida, and the retired president of a publicly held Chicago company.
George’s main interest is as a serious novelist. He has attended numerous writers’ conferences and seminars, including that of famous fiction agent, Donald Maass, and he has worked with independent editor, Dave King, all with the goal of improving his craft.
- Website: http://www.suspenseguy.com
- Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0989468100 (print and Kindle editions)
- Amazon US: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0989468100 (print and Kindle editions)
- Publishers web site: http://www.gndpublishingllc.com
- Facebook: HTTP://facebook.com/georgeabernstein
- Twitter: http://twitter.com/georgebernstein
- Goodreads: http://goodreads.com/suspenseguy
A Third Time To Die Synopsis
Two souls struggle to fulfill their destinies together. Twice, in the 17th and 19th Centuries, just as they discover the magic of their love, their lives are snuffed out by brutal murder. Reborn for the third time in the 21st Century, they discover each other again… and their killer is once again stalking them!
Ashley Easton rescues a badly abused horse and decides to return to show jumping, the passion of her youth. The animal gives her unquestioned love, something she no longer receives from her husband, Keith. But when Ashley begins to compete, she is terrified as the course seemingly morphs into an old forest, the jumps transformed into real walls, fences and streams. Her thoughts spill through her head in elegant French, a language she barely knows, as she attacks the fences with a fearless abandon uncharacteristic for her, winning every event.
Craig Thornton is fed up with the rampant promiscuity of his society wife, Toni. An expert horseman, he attends a jumping show, seeing Ashley compete with Injun. After several missed attempts, they meet and become fast friends, their love of horses a mutual bond.
Trying to sort out her troubled marriage and to address a strange terror swamping her whenever she’s intimate, Ashley seeks psychotherapy with Dr. Feldman. Resorting to hypnotic regression, they are stunned to find her in past lives, first in the 17th Century as the French countess who fills her head while jumping Injun, and then in Philadelphia as the daughter of a shipping tycoon. Each life is fulfilled by the wonder of passionate romance, quickly terminated by their gristly murder!
The doctor assures her these are pure figments of her subconscious, but he is shaken, realizing the truth. He somehow sees their slaughter through his own eyes! And he suspects their killer is here again, in this time!
As Ashley’s and Craig’s marriages disintegrate beyond repair, they suddenly discover much more than just friendship. It’s as if they’ve loved each other forever.
How wonderful to be in love with your best friend!
Meanwhile, Dr. Feldman seeks the truth of his role, through his own regression, and tries to identify identity his cohort. He realizes the lovers may again be in danger, and must warn them before it’s too late.
The lovers struggle to free themselves from broken marriages and find happiness in this lifetime. They ride their horses to a picnic in a hidden meadow, unaware they’re followed by one intent on fulfilling an ancient legacy of death.
Will this be a 3rd time to die?
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