Monday, November 26, 2012

The following question is one I am frequently asked: “How much research do you do to get all the amazing correct facts about your characters? Example, Merry Christmas, with Love (in the novella anthology, Postmark: Christmas), since the hero is retired from military service, how do you know what life in the armed forces is really like, to make it so accurate and interesting for your readers?
Research. The main reason writers avoid tackling historical fiction or contemporary stories about occupations or locations they are unfamiliar with. I felt the same way before I wrote my first historical novella, Dressed in Scarlet, in Snowbound Colorado Christmas in 2008.
What I have learned over the years is that research isn’t nearly as hard as I thought. Before I write a proposal, I do enough research to do determine the story could have happened at that time and place. I don’t pour months and years into research. I’ve read books where authors do that; they are amazing and fantastic. But that’s not my style. 
I used to say I’ve learned how to “fake” my way through a story. That’s not really accurate. I combine a solid foundation with a vivid imagination and keen sense for what details need research. The search is half of the fun, so the time I devote to research is often a pleasure. Even better, research often leads to unexpected twists in the story—little known facts I never would have known without a bit of elbow grease.
For instance, in that first novella, Dressed in Scarlet, my hero was a recent Italian immigrant to Denver. The time was December 1913, during the worst blizzard Colorado has ever seen. The Colorado History Museum had a special exhibit on Italians in Colorado and I went. As we walked through the room, we heard the sound of trumpeting elephants. When we tracked the recording down, we discovered that circus elephants wintered in Denver and helped to clear the roads during the same blizzard.
Elephants clearing snow. Now, there was a tidbit I couldn’t ignore, so I worked it into the story. I’ve found one or more interesting stories like that with almost every book I’ve written since. 
Research also adds minor details that tie a story down to time and place. What were popular children’s books in the 1920s? How does a steamboat operate? What products did Roma, Texas, trade in the late nineteenth century? What kinds of trees or birds are native to the area? I write a generic scene: hero and heroine have a picnic in a meadow. I make that a Vermont or Texas meadow by the weather (what time of year is it?), the wild flowers they find, the creatures that may leap out of the grass.
The same holds true about researching contemporary stories. In Merry Christmas, with Love, I researched things like ranks and military installations on line. I asked questions of one of my writing partners, Kathleen Kovach, who is a military wife. In the end, my imagination created a story out of what I have seen on screen (be it news or drama), in books, online, and the personal experience of others. 

Author bio: Award-winning author and speaker Darlene Franklin lives in Oklahoma near her son’s family. 
Darlene loves music, needlework, reading, and reality TV. She has published several titles with Barbour Publishing, including her two latest releases, A Bride’s Rogue in Roma, Texas, and Merry Christmas, With Love, in Postmark: Christmas. She has also written two books in the Texas Trails series with RiverNorth Fiction, Lone Star Trail and A Ranger’s Trail. She’s a member of Oklahoma City Christian Fiction Writers.


  1. That's very cool :) Love the information on doing research and incorporating unique ideas into your writing! Thank you Darlene!

  2. Thanks for having me on your blog! Kathleen, research can be a lot of fun.


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