Teen Shiver Tabs

May 24, 2012

Extreme Research!

His bound wrists would prevent him from using his arms to swim, but with his hands holding onto the wood, at least he could keep himself afloat while he kicked. Fifty yards. He could do that.
He grabbed the branch, ran to the dock, and dove into the dark, brutal current.

            Hmmm.  Would that work? Is it possible to make your way across a swollen river wearing handcuffs? It sure seemed possible, especially for the resourceful, tough-as-nails Sandro, but I couldn’t let myself run with the scene, not until I knew. So I did what any dedicated writer would do: I brought rope to my husband and asked him to tie my wrists together. Yeah, I got a look at that, but he (quite happily I might add) obliged, and off I went to the backyard. My husband quietly followed. I found a 2x4 to play the role of the stick, then jumped into the deep end of the pool, fully clothed (couldn’t wear a swimsuit, since poor Sandro didn’t have that luxury.)  Then I swam. Kind of.  Holding the wood beneath my chest, I kept my head above water and kicked my way to safety, and voila! Presto! I had my answer: If I could do it, surely my fantasy guy Sandro could. Dilemma solved.
            Research. Sometimes there are no shortcuts.
The Internet is a writer’s best friend. While the thought of research can send you straight back to school and that term paper you didn’t want to write, the reality is getting the facts straight is critical. (Just be careful you don’t end up on the FBI watch list. That’s happened!) We all love making stuff up, but you can’t say a heroine can free herself from being duct-taped to a chair just because you want her to. You need to know if that’s possible. That’s the challenge bestselling author Virginia Kantra faced when she decided to duct-tape herself to her office chair to make sure she really could free herself. Um…she couldn’t. And it wasn’t even noon yet, DH was at work, the kids at school, the phone across the room. So there she sat, in her office, bound to her chair as minutes dragged into hours. Finally her teenage son came home, followed her voice to her office, and walked in on something he’d never imagined walking in on! I would have loved to have seen the look on his face!  Fortunately, being a writer’s son, he immediately deduced that he hadn’t walked in on a home invasion, but rather, his mom doing what all good writers do. Research.
But sometimes research means leaving the house. How else do you find out if it’s possible to escape while handcuffed to a police cruiser?  When romance author Diana Duncan found herself in line at Starbucks behind a uniformed cop, she immediately seized the opportunity to solve a key plot problem. Thrilled, Diana struck up a dialog with the cop and soon found herself out in the parking lot being handcuffed to his car, while her horrified teenage daughter looked on.
For my current YA series, the Midnight Dragonfly books, there’s not one New Orleans locale that I haven’t explored myself, including a late night sprint from Bourbon Street to the levee, to see how fast you could feasibly get from one place to the other. I’ve sat with the psychics and had my palm read, and I’ve climbed the fences and hidden behind trees and…um….sorta gone somewhere no one was supposed to go.  I can’t say where, but the second I learned about This Certain Place, abandoned since Hurricane Katrina, I knew it was perfect for a crucial dramatic sequence. And despite the abundance of YouTube videos about This Certain Place, I knew I had to make a visit myself. I needed to see the swamp encroaching upon the parking lot and the chain link fence (to make sure it could be climbed), the abandoned buildings and…well, I can’t say what else I needed to see, except whether it was true that certain objects were still there after over five years of abandonment. I needed to breathe the air and smell the decay. I needed to see the graffiti and feel the despair.
And I did.
And it was amazing.
I was scared to death, but that’s okay. Knowing that, how frightening it was to be there, how many places there were to hide, the realization that there were probably others there, hiding—watching—only enabled me to add that much more authenticity to the scenes.
And that’s what it’s all about. Authenticity.
I do have to add that not all research involves risking your life (or breaking the law). When I first started writing Shattered Dreams, I researched the most popular brands of jeans among teenage girls, and found myself in a Buckle store to see for myself. The next thing you know, I’ve been fitted for my own awesome pair of Big Stars!! 
Research definitely has its perks, the more extreme the better.
What's the craziest thing you've done?!?


  1. Haha that's so funny. You really had guts to do that, so that's points to you

  2. Love this post. I wish I had the guts to take research that one step ahead... If I had tried the swimming thing, I'd have sunk. It's part of my rock-like tendencies, really.

    Thanks for sharing! :)