Why Research is the Extra Element in Writing by Teresa Inge
I grew up in North Carolina reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Combining my love of reading mysteries and writing professional articles led to writing short fiction and a novel.
I also love it when I research a new story I am writing. Most of the time this means a road trip with my family to the story’s location and most of the time I discover new ideas.
When researching my current story “Wine Country Murder,” my husband and I toured the Williamsburg Winery in Virginia. We elected to do the Reserve Wine Tasting tour, which meant visiting the basement where wines are produced and stored. I took pictures of oak barrels, machinery, and anything else I found pertinent to my research. Soon, the wine was flowing and so were my thoughts. But when a bat flew above our heads, it corked a new story plot. Later, the guide mentioned that bats often fly into their basement. I just never know what I will discover during research.
My family also joined me on a weekend trip to the Cavalier on the Hill hotel in Virginia Beach to research “Guide to Murder,” in Virginia is for Mysteries. As soon as we arrived I combed the grounds where the murder would take place. I took pictures, explored areas not meant for guests, and did lots of snooping! Since this was a historic hotel, I stumbled across vintage items such as an old sauna that had a large lock strapped across the front. The enormous sauna was tucked in a dark corner on the bottom floor. I could only imagine guests of the 1920′s and 30′s going into the sauna for good health.
We next ventured to the Outerbanks in North Carolina to research a “Milepost Murder.” While driving through Nags Head during a summer storm, I noticed a wobbly street sign. I thought what if I kill a character with a milepost sign. Milepost signs are located throughout the Outerbanks to guide tourists to restaurants, hotels, and businesses. I then based the story on my favorite beach shop in Nags Head, and added a twist by placing a bar next door. My daughter made up the title to complete the story.
Since mystery readers are savvy and intelligent, authors have to conduct Internet research, interviews, and sometimes visit the story’s location to ensure facts are correct. Even though mystery authors write fiction, facts must be real.
Another trip included driving across the Rudy Inlet Bridge in Virginia Beach. I wondered what would happen if a vehicle went over the side. Would it sink? Float? Could a barge fit in the inlet? These questions led to researching “Fishing for Murder,” in the FishNets anthology.
Since I needed answers, I made my way under the bridge and discovered a small barge in the inlet. As I began taking pictures, a homeless woman scurried up the bridge wall and out of sight. I had disturbed her hiding place. Just as I turned, a man on a bicycle with a basket of beer approached me. He asked why I was taking pictures. The situation was daunting but it brought new light to my writing when I discovered an underground of homeless people.
While researching “Shopping for Murder,” in Virginia is for Mysteries, I based the setting on the Great Bridge Shopping Center in Chesapeake. Like most shoppers, I had always pulled into a front parking space and walked into the store. Since a scene in my story required a speeding vehicle behind the center, I drove my car to the back to do my research. Dangerous. Perhaps. But I had to know if a vehicle could fit in the small space.
Since mystery writing can be isolating, I enjoy conducting research since it adds an extra element to my writing process.
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Teresa Inge grew up in North Carolina reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Today she doesn’t carry a rod, like her idol, but she hotrods. She assists two busy
executives and is president of Sisters in Crime, Virginia Beach chapter.
Love of reading mysteries and writing professional articles led to writing short fiction and a novel. Teresa’s published stories include Fishing for Murder in the Fish Nets anthology and Guide to Murder and Shopping for Murder in Virginia is for Mysteries. Her website is www.teresainge.com.
0 thoughts on “Guest Blogger Teresa Inge – Why Research is the Extra Element in Writing”
Hi, Theresa — Your travels doing research sound like fun. Perhaps you should consider a book set in more exotic places next. London, Paris, Altoona (PA). I look forward to reading about the places you’ve researched. Wishing you lots of success with your writing. Hope to see you at Malice next year.
Wondering if Teresa or you could use a luggage carrier for your research? I like your proposed locations.
A luggage carrier adds lots of possibilities. On a side note, my family and I watched National Lampoons Vacation this weekend and the luggage rack went through lots of abuse by Chevy Chase!
This is a fun piece that describes the wonderful serendipity of place-based research. All those little details Theresa describes finding make her stories not only more real to herself, but to her readers, too! I’m always amused when people assume that we fiction writers “just make it up”–easy, right? The art is in incorporating enough real-life so the reader stays with you when you veer onto your fictional path. Nice post!
Love the post about veering onto a fictional path and taking the reader along the way! As fiction writers we want readers to follow the twists and turns while trying to figure out whodunit!
Good point. People don’t realize how much research is necessary to make it seem “easy” and natural
Hi Grace! I would love to do international travel research! What fun! So now you have me thinking about a new plot…thanks for the great comments. See you at Malice next year!
Love the book and all the history behind it! Great Job Theresa!
I’m glad you enjoyed the book and Virginia’s rich history! Thanks for posting!
“Research is good.”–That’s what I muttered when a M16 pointed our way on the West Bank in an Israeli settlement. Research is important, I thought, trekking across a desert so hot I knew without a head covering, I would pass out. Research makes the difference. When the salt crystals in the Black Sea dazzled my eye in the morning light, I knew my character would be here because I had been.
Thanks for this great post!
Great segue into Angels at the Gate…..based upon
How much research went into it.