On research

I’ve been posting some snippets from the Arvon Book of Crime and Thriller Writing, written by Michelle Spring and me.  It take a multi-faced approach to craft, since it not only comes from two very different points of view, but it also incorporates essays on technique and philosophy from some fabulous bestselling authors from Lee Child to Dana Stabenow.  Take a look at the book, here.

… for me, a writer who cannot afford to spend three or four years joyfully immersed in research, it works better to limit myself to a shallow first pass in the world of research, while keeping a close eye on places where I am uncertain, and then returning to the more detailed and specific hunting down of facts once the first draft stands on its own.

Then, I get to work.

Research for me has several goals. First, to make the reader feel that they are there. Concrete details are the lifeblood of any fiction, and more so for the kind of story built on clues, but the research needs to be invisible – a landscape composed of smooth Chinese brush strokes rather than laboured detail.

This means leaving stuff out. A lot of stuff, some of it really great. To the point that it hurts.

To buy a copy, visit Amazon.uk, Amazon.com, or IndieBound.


  1. Merrily Taylor on December 2, 2012 at 6:54 am

    Your technique is very successful, Laurie. I’ve read some books in which it’s if the author either swallowed a travel guide or had to include every single fact that s/he picked up while in the course of doing research. This sort of thing has the capacity to bring the story to a grinding halt. In your books, however, the reader simply feels imbedded in a different time and place – well done!

  2. The Bold Flying Officer on December 4, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    Ah-ha … there’s a thought! I’ve just observed on your previous post “On writing what you know” that you bring to your writing a “spirit of place”. Perchance I insert too much detail in that first pass? And you’re right – cutting copy hurts. The first pipe is still alight (yes, I really do smoke a pipe – a dying breed in more ways than one) some it may not be quite a problem to formulate a solution … but to instigate it. Ah, there’s the rub (as Wille S once wrote).
    Mike – TBFO

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