Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Getting the Research Details Right by @MegMims

Meg Mims, author
Getting the Research Details Right
by Meg Mims
Copyright © 2012 Meg Mims

How easy is it to research? If you’re a diehard librarian or bookworm, it’s easy. Trawl the shelves, pore over bibliographies for even more sources—especially original sources such as diaries, letters, or books written in the past century. As a last resort, do a Google search for any details you may have missed.

But what if the idea of research is a four-letter word to you? What if you hate all that extra hard work? Ah, no big deal. Readers aren’t gonna know the difference, right?

Think again.

Readers are savvy. They’ve watched PBS series. TV shows such as Sherlock Holmes, Downton Abby, Upstairs, Downstairs, Ken Burns’ Civil War series and other documentaries, plus they’ve read an extensive amount. They have an uncanny ability to sense when something’s ‘hinky’ – and that will throw them out of the story in two seconds flat. Sorry about the cliché, but it’s true. And the truth hurts.

It hurts authors in reviews, for one thing. Call me crazy, but I would rather have a reader or reviewer criticize me for “not enough romance” over some minor detail like “they didn’t have modern plumbing on trains back in 1869.” And no, they didn’t. Trust me on that—I researched what train travelers would see when they lifted the commode lid. Train tracks flashing beneath, in fact. No wonder my grandmother and great-grandmother told their kids to never play on the railroad tracks! Ugh.

Now I do love research. Give me a stack of books or photo-studded websites and I’m there with bells on! I can’t explain that wonderful “Aha!” feeling when I stumble over a really fabulous and authentic detail I can utilize in my books. Call me crazy. Call me an old-fashioned library hound. I got caught up in the research for the sequel to Double Crossing, in fact, and was sidetracked for weeks! That’s another problem with research. Writers can either “fudge” their way around the research, or get hopelessly bogged down and never finish the book.

I try to walk the middle path – do some of the research, start writing, do a bit more, get back to the writing, and then do some minor detail checks as I make my way through the story. Some writers mark the spot with an “X” and get back to it later. That bugs me. I prefer knowing how the research will affect the story. If it’s a specific street or building, I like to trawl the web for images so I can describe the building (up to a point) and incorporate some of the history. The key is to know how much is just right, rather than too much or too little.

Another key is to take the time and do the research rather than take the easy way out by skipping or skimping. The devil is in the details, after all.

Thanks to Jacquie Rogers for hosting me this week!

Check out the 25+ five-star reviews of Double Crossing on Amazon!

EXCERPT from Double or Nothing, my WIP,
the sequel to Double Crossing…

On higher ground, I saw two men holding hoses that spurted water at the high bank. Two others sprayed quicksilver over the sluice. It didn’t look like anything but dirty water. This entire trip had been a waste of time. Uncle Harrison hadn’t needed me to take part in decisions. He resented the questions I’d peppered the foreman with and ignored my opinions on how much damage the operation was to the countryside. Why had he dragged me here in the first place?

I should have stayed back in Sacramento. My sketchbook drawings of the things I’d seen during the journey on the train needed work. Etta had brought my watercolor supplies from Evanston, and many of my books too. But I didn’t want to read or paint. A deep melancholy robbed me of energy. I was as useless as a broken pencil or paintbrush.

I trudged toward the shack. The foreman held a large piece of paper between his hands while my uncle pointed at various sections. Two other men argued with them. I overheard their heated words, although most of it was technical jargon that sounded Chinese to me.
Hydraulic Mining

“—haven’t made headway,” said a man in a tailored suit. He wore a gold chain looped across his patterned waistcoat that glinted in the sun. “I say we dig out the ridge.”

“I agree with Alvarez. You take that ridge down and we’ll never get any equipment to the furthest point of the claim, over here,” my uncle said and prodded the map. “He knows this land better than you. And Nate agrees with him.”

The foreman nodded. “I do. It’s safer to go slow—”

“I’m the engineer. Are you implying I don’t know my business?”

“I’m saying it’s stupid to undermine that ridge!”

Good heavens. I reversed direction and headed back toward the sluice. They were sure to argue for another few hours. I’d ride that horse, even if it meant hiking my skirts to my knees and baring my ankles. It had to be just as bored and probably needed exercise. I had to do something productive or I’d go mad.

Steering around the same patch of mud, I cut close to the sluice. A blood-curdling yell halted everyone. I whirled to see the entire bank of earth rushing downward, a huge avalanche of mud, rocks and two large trees root-first. The mass headed straight for me.
# # #

Leave a comment with your email address, LIKE my book on Amazon and LIKE my author Facebook page for a chance to win a free copy of Double Crossing!

Check out my book’s website and my author website, follow me on Twitter @megmims and on Facebook. I hope you enjoyed reading the excerpt from Double Crossing.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I agree, research is critical to the flow of the story for me. I hate when I get tripped up reading a story because of misinformation that could be easily looked up. Google, people :)

  3. One problem is when writers have grown up watching western movies and television, and don't realize that's the mid-20th Century version of the West, not the real deal. Belt loops, for instance. They didn't happen until the 1920s. Things like that have thrown me a few times. Another is anachronistic language, because so many of our slang terms came from the 1920s and then again from WWII, so to us, they're ancient history--but not.

    1. What's weird, Jacquie, is the belt buckles I saw from Civil War uniforms -- so I guess the belt was to hang stuff on, not necessarily keep the pants up! LOL. But you're right, cuz those westerns in film and TV were not accurate -- especially the women's costumes with the really low cut dresses. Uh, those were worn by the soiled doves!!

  4. YEP! Easy to do -- but books still have much more. I tend to use something I found in more than one place. That makes it more legit.

  5. Great post Meg, I agree the devil is in the deatil, but... ohhhhh putting in just the right words to get what I want from google really bugs me. I put in coach/chaise and get modern train carriages and buses! Urgggg. :-) Looking forward to your new book.

    1. HAHA, Sherry. Totally understand. Always put "vintage" or the year you're researching, like "1869 trains" or "1850 carriage". See what that gets ya.

  6. Meg, I'm right there with you on the research. And I stopped reading one historical romance author because she has so many anachronisms. If we can do our research, why can't she? I know you did a wonderful job and I appreciate all the background studying your did to make your story's historical details accurate.

  7. Thanks, Caroline! I'm trying to do the same for the sequel. Not easy!!


Romancing The West welcomes you to show your appreciation of our guest blogger by leaving a comment. If there's a contest, don't forget to leave your contact information. Thanks!