The question is: do you need to research before you write the scene in order to inform the writing, or can you write the scene and add the researched layer in the same way a painter would add another dimension to her painting. It’s a question I still struggle with after writing for more than ten years.
When I decided that I wanted to write a mystery, the only thing I knew about criminal investigation was from novels or television, so I took a series of criminal justice classes at my community college. I learned the difference between interrogation and interview, grid searches, accelerants and blood spatter. To add a sense of place I’ve scoped out dive bars and cart culture, and used my friends’ and families’ houses to shelter my characters. I’ve interviewed two detectives and asked a ton of questions of a friend who worked for years as a prosecuting attorney.
That said, I try to keep writing before I stop and research. My story and many of my characters remain fluid through much of a draft. In A Bitch Called Hope, I had a completely different murderer until six months before my agent sold the story. Which is why a lot of my research ends up in a file cabinet for some future novel. One of my writer friends researches everything before she puts fingertips to keyboard. Her characters spring from her head fully formed. Another writer friend has her character loading a dishwasher in her 19th century novel. “I’ll do the research later,” she says. It makes for a painful critique session.
What is your take on research?