Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor

Researching by the Seat of Your Pants

By Lonnie Cruse
Copyright 2007 by Lonnie Cruse, All Rights Reserved

Writers often debate the value of in-depth outlining versus flying by the seat of their pants.  My thought is, do whatever works for you.  But there's a difference between doing your research using the library or Internet and interviewing experts versus actually doing hands-on research: researching by the seat of your pants, if you will.

There is nothing at all wrong with using the library, the Internet, or experts for your research.  But if you'd really like to get inside your lead character's head, actually experience what you are about to put that character through, and know without a doubt you can make your readers feel it too, consider seat of the pants research. 

Have you ever wanted to know what it's like to be a cop responding to a domestic disturbance call, one of the most dangerous calls for a police officer to handle?  Ever wanted to ride down the main street of your town at twice the legal speed in the middle of the night, headed to "shots fired"?  Or see firsthand how boring the paper work part of the job is for that same cop?  Instead of watching Cops on television or interviewing a local officer, why not take a Citizen's Police Academy class in your town?  I took a one-night-a-week class for eleven weeks, learning about illegal drugs and how to recognize them, dealing with explosives, police procedure, crime scene investigation, traffic stops, and other fascinating subjects.  I also signed up for a ride-along; sitting in the front seat and experiencing what the cop experienced gave me a great feel for what cops deal with all the time.

Does your character fly a small plane, drive a semi, cook at a five star restaurant, Bungee jump, or teach karate?  Chances are you can get one free lesson or at least a demonstration somewhere near you.  Not a forensics expert, trial lawyer, or a paper hanger?  There are most likely ways you can shadow someone who holds the job you want your character to hold, or has a particular hobby, fascination, or problem that you need to experience firsthand.  Judy Clemmons, author of 'Til The Cows Come Home, worked on a dairy farm milking cows, and that's about as "hands on" as it gets when writing a book! 

Do you write historical fiction?  How about taking part in a re-enactment, or an Encampment where you spend the weekend in period costume, living as our ancestors lived?  Do you write science fiction?  Where's the nearest NASA facility?  Planetarium?      

There are zillions of ways to get hands-on experience and personally do the research instead of using the library or Internet, or interviewing an expert.  Why not give it a try?  You might have fun, and who knows, maybe you'll learn a whole new career.

Now, if I just had a couple more Bungee cords on hand...