I’ve written articles on historical research for the blog before, and for that an author relies on secondary research—unless she has a time-travel machine, that is. But today, I want to mention primary research, the research that takes place when an author actually does the act he wants to write about, or explores the object or process he’s describing.
So, for example, let’s say Jane is writing a murder-mystery or a spy adventure. Maybe one of the characters uses a Glock gun. Jane might have picked a Glock because she owns one (safely kept in a gun safe or stored with a trigger lock, of course), or she knows someone who has one. But if she doesn’t, she can also handle the weapon at a gun store or a gun show. She feels it in her hand. Perhaps she loads it to feel the difference in weight. If she can, she might shoot it at a shooting range and feel the recoil and hear the sound of the shell casings being ejected. Maybe she learns that those shell casings are hot because she picks one up within seconds of firing the weapon. In other words, she applies her own senses to test the object and action she wants to write about. I’ve handled guns of various sorts and mentally recorded the details. When I wrote about a hero using a gun in Spanking Her Highness (due to be released by Blushing Books in July), I used those remembered sensations and movements to make the story more realistic.
Another example might be for a horror novel set in the back country of Utah. Maybe Joe is writing a story where the protagonists are camping when something scary happens. Many of us have been camping, but how many of us have engaged our senses as Joe-the-writer ought to do? The smell of the campfire with a particular kind of wood, the sound of the crackling flames, the pattern of the smoke all are great fodder for description, and Joe is right there to record those sensations for use in his novel.
Romance isn’t different. Experience counts. When we’re discussing erotic romance, of course, we don’t expect it to be written by virgins. There are certain aspects of sex that need to be experienced first-hand before one can write about them. There are smells, touches, sounds, and even physical movements that require a certain amount of primary research. Few of us complain about this, by the way. But sweet romances don’t require the same kind of sensory experience. They can be written by virgins and more experienced persons alike. The vast majority of people know the feeling of falling in love, the sound of a welcome footstep, the touch of a first kiss, or the verbal interplay of two people just getting to know each other. These can all be recorded.
How about something I’m quickly becoming an expert with, spanking romance? You can apply the same sort of primary research goals to BDSM romance as well. Many people who write in these sub-genres go to the trouble of experiencing the sensations and studying the tools that get used for writing these novels and novellas. So maybe a writer gets spanked or instigates a spanking. Perhaps he or she watches one in person and interviews the parties. Perhaps he goes to a spanking club and has an opportunity to examine a spanking strap, paddle or other implement. If she’s writing BDSM, maybe she’ll ask her husband to tie her up! I won’t go into much detail here, but I did want to find out what it all felt like for use in Liv’s Journey and Ace-High Flush (both available on Blushing Books and Amazon).
What about places? In my lifetime, I’ve been to many places, lived in many cities and experienced many cultures. Using the small details I learned about when being in these places adds realism to my stories, and this would work for any writer. Imagination is great, but you can’t beat primary research. If I hadn’t lived in Texas for five years, I don’t think I’d have been able to give Ace or Trey authentic-sounding drawls in my Journey series books. If I hadn’t been to Las Vegas and rural Nevada, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been able to describe the surrounding desert or the local people in Strong, Silent Type (due to be released by Blushing Books in June). If I hadn’t met Native Americans who lived there, I wouldn’t have been able to convey the nuances of their culture.
Primary research can be fun for a writer, and it’s virtually always rewarding, even if it’s only used for fleshing out character backstory that never gets used in the final manuscript. While it’s delightful to go to the library or surf the internet looking for facts, figures and details, there is nothing so effective as doing primary research. Just don’t shoot yourself in the foot to find out what it feels like, okay?