Researching Your Novel…Can You Go Too Far?

“So are you up for a little adventure?” my fellow indie writer asked, blue eyes bright with anticipation.

A little adventure. Sure. I’d recently quit my nine-to-five job and was living the vida loca, writing full-time from home, and figured I could use an adventure. Shake up the old synapses, give me some good material for the further escapades of one of the protagonists in a popular action-adventure series I write. What the heck, I thought. Couldn’t hurt.

I was wrong.

A little backstory: I am a dedicated, full-on writer and love all things research. I will stay up into the wee hours searching for the most obscure reference imaginable for a story, even if it means only I and my character know that morsel of information. To me, it makes the narrative more real and I may use it later, somewhere else. I urge you to do the same, if you want to make your novel as believable as possible. As you are well aware, this can be done from the comfort of your own home in your jammies, perhaps with a glass of wine or cup of hot cocoa. Maybe a snack.

If you ever, and I mean ever, develop a wild hair and decide to help a sistah indie move from Washington State to Mazatlan, Mexico in September in a Jeep with no air conditioning hauling a trailer and large black dog to get new material for a book, DON’T.

Just don’t.

No, not because of the dog. She was a big, friendly goober-pooch and endured valiantly.

No, it was the heat. The potholes. The fire ants. The mutant mosquitoes that laughed in the face of DEET. And don’t get me started on the topes or buses or farm machinery (more on those later).

You’d think I’d remember what driving in Mexico was like. I mean, I did live there. But it was on a sailboat. On the water. I didn’t venture into the interior in the swelter that is September in Mexico, with good reason. I also didn’t spend a lot of time in Sinaloa during the monsoon season. It’s gorgeous and lush and filled with color you can only see during the rains. It is also a giant party pad for mosquitoes that have never heard that straight DEET was supposed to render them senseless (I swear I saw one of them sucking down the last of a can of the stuff, wipe its mouth with the back of its wing and belch).

Many of my friends were horrified to hear I was considering driving through Mexico, especially into the dreaded Sonoran desert, supposedly filled with narcos who would jack your car without a thought, decapitate you, or worse. All I can say is drive an older model Jeep with no a/c hauling a trailer filled with household goods. That’ll stop ’em in their tracks, I guarantee it. Who wants to expend the effort to steal that set-up in 100+ degree heat? Of course, the goober-pooch probably helped. She looked like she could gnaw your leg off in under a minute.

More like lick your face off in ten.

No, don’t worry about meeting up with a posse of nasty drug cartel members. They’re going to stick to messing with higher value shipments. Worry about driving into a frigging steer or slow moving plow. Worry about being run off the road by a bus driver with a death wish. Worry about hitting a tope, or Mexican-style speed bump at sixty miles an hour.

That’s gonna hurt.

And this brings me back to my original question: can you go too far in your research?

Ask the Policia Federal who declined to search the rest of our trailer at the temporary checkpoint, more than likely because he felt sorry for us. He just shook his head and sighed as the two sweaty gringas and friendly black dog bounced over the giant tope on their way to Mazatlán, narrowly missing a rear-end collision via runaway bus.

You can bet my character will be taking a little trip through Mexico in the next book, and run up against every obstacle imaginable. There’s nothing like experience to make a story believable, right?

Author: D.V. Berkom

DV Berkom grew up in the Midwest region of the US, received her BA in Political Science from the University of Minnesota and promptly moved to Mexico to live on a sailboat. Several years and at least a dozen moves later, she now lives outside of Seattle, Washington with her sweetheart Mark, an ex-chef-turned-contractor, and writes in the male point of view whenever she gets a chance. Indies Unlimited: https://www.indiesunlimited.com/author/d-v-berkom/ Amazon US author page link: http://www.amazon.com/DV-Berkom/e/B004EVOYH6 Website: www.dvberkom.com

31 thoughts on “Researching Your Novel…Can You Go Too Far?”

  1. Choose a safer geographic location!

    In writing my bio on Jeanne d’Arc, I would have felt incompetent and inept, had I not gone to those places where her story unfolded, innumerable times. Needed to breathe the air, see those landscapes, know what I mean? Of course, you do!

  2. Awesome post. I could feel the heat and was smacking away at the mosquitoes, good job, DV. I’m a stickler for research too. I don’t want anybody telling me that I’m wrong. I want to be able to back up every fact in my story. Keep up the good work.

    1. LOL. Thanks, Martin! I like backing up my facts with fiction, er…no, that didn’t come out right.

      My next story’s gonna take place at a spa…in Gstaad. Hello, research!

  3. Yeah, no Mexican deserts in the summer for me. I’m not driving to the upper Midwest in a blizzard, either. Or flying into the middle of a hurricane. I believe in research, but I’ve got my limits… Great post, DV!

    1. Thanks, Lynne! I understand the Midwest thing, having come from the land of blizzards, but flying into the middle of a hurricane sounds fun. I LOVE storms 😉

      I think Kat did something along those lines in one of her other lives…

  4. Yep, right there with ya. Love research and probably read more than I write. But I also have to experience things to write about them so would have loved your Mexico trip minus the misquitos (allergic). Like my WIP set in Alaska; got to go out two years on skiffs, seiners and tenders to write about the herring season in SE Alaska for my murder mystery/romantic suspense. Cold, freezing rains, salt spray in the face, the smell of the fish, watching eagles dive bomb the fish after roe was tested, snow, wind, sunshine all in one day, a lot of fun.

    1. You sound like my kinda person, Jacqueline! I lived in AK for a while and holy cow, did I get some incredible fodder for characters! Loved going out on the water…the fish, not so much…:-)

  5. *Groans* Don’t get me started on research. I’m publishing Silks and Sand next year and try writing an entire fictional story around 4 people and a racehorse. The people were easy, the horse was the pain. I had to do mega research to find the correct races the horse needed to enter in order to make my ending end up where I wanted it to be. HEADACHE! But I think the realism will add to the book, and I managed to pull off some heart pounding scenes.

    Great post. I hate long road trips.

    1. I’ll bet you’re an expert, now, though. Some of the most interesting people I’ve met are folks I interviewed for books. Of course, interviewing a horse could be problematic… 🙂

  6. Enjoyed this! Thanks!

    I’ve always said I need to do just enough research so that I sound like I know what I’m talking about. 🙂 One of my favorite things to do is to talk to people who are in the same profession as my characters. People love to talk about what they do for a living. (Often, they tell me things they probably shouldn’t. But that just makes research that much more fun!)

  7. I’m not exactly the outdoorsy type but I loved the research that took me to the Undarra Lava Tubes in Queensland. And no, it was a guided tour with a very civilized lunch afterwards. 😀

      1. Those aren’t even that bad…I wrote an article on it back in June. I’ve had terrible things done to myself in the name of research. But I enjoyed them. LOL

  8. Topes. Before you defined it, I ~ahem~ had to do some research, since the term was unfamiliar to me. Guess what I found?

    Merriam Webster’s* Definitions of TOPE:

    1: to drink liquor to excess
    Highly probable. Figured that was it, and was waiting for details.

    2: a small slender cosmopolitan shark (Galeorhinus galeus) valued for its flesh, fins, and oil-rich liver
    OK, I could maybe see this, but you were inland; hmmm, cosmopolitan shark??? Does that imply you got hit on? Probable. Highly probable. Eagerly awaiting details.

    3: stupa; a usually dome-shaped structure (as a mound) serving as a Buddhist shrine
    OK, I know you’re into the eastern spiritual thing, but I was not familiar with the Buddhist influence on early Mexican cultures. Not totally discounting it, though.

    Imagine my disappointment to discover it was a speed bump. I propose you now have three different subtopics to explore regarding this trip. Go for it.

    * http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tope

      1. I can vouch for the first definition, but the only Buddhist influence I experienced on the trip was being enlightened by my poor judgement. As for the cosmopolitan shark with the oil-rich liver, does he come with a BugattI????

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