Research: Not Just Another Dirty Word

The Waterworld Mermaids are very excited to have fellow WRW member and super awesome chick, Kimberly Kincaid, guest blogging today. Besides owning some of the coolest clothes around and leading us in an amazing yoga session during WRW Retreat, Kimberly writes contemporary romance novels that split the difference between sexy and sweet. She is a 2012 Marlene winner, and a 2011 Golden Heart and Golden Pen finalist. Kimberly is proud to be represented by Maureen Walters at the Curtis Brown Literary Agency.

Take it away, Kimberly… 

Today's Guest Blogger, Kimberly Kincaid


Research: Not Just Another Dirty Word

Okay, okay. I’ll admit it. I was a bit of an aberration in high school. Was it my gravity-defying hair or my odd penchant for John Hughes movies? No, love affairs with Aqua Net and Jake Ryan were strangely the norm back in my teen-angst days. But I was definitely the exception to the rule when being given huge school projects, because while my peers were moaning and groaning about all the hard work, I was doing an inner touchdown dance of joy.

My confession is this: I love research.

Now, I’m the first person to admit that research can be pretty grueling stuff. Yes, it’s cool to gather and discover new information, but being up to your elbows in reference manuals or looking at a daunting 246,000 hits on a Google search can be pretty overwhelming stuff. So what’s the best way to make this part of the writing process not just easier, but fun?

Funny you should ask.

Plan, and then plan again. When we’re just starting out with our manuscripts, laying the research foundation is crucial. After all, what we turn up will likely impact our plot and characters, so having a good game plan is key. Outline your characters’ occupations and situations. Will your hero be a business owner? Your heroine a paramedic? Has one of your characters lost a spouse? Narrow these things down as you plan, and let them guide you into solidifying that first layer of your manuscript.

Play online. Repeat after me: Google is your friend. Let’s go with that hero who’s a business owner. Plugging “business owner” into an Internet search engine is likely to give you enough hits to break the six digit mark by a landslide. But if you play around with your keywords (“small business owner, Philadelphia” or “family owned furniture shops”, for example) will knock your numbers into the manageable level. Yes, you’ll still have to weed through the results, but the payoff will help cement that foundation into place.

Ask around. Research can—and does—happen in the most unlikely places sometimes. Your baby-sitter, your spouse’s co-worker, the guy detailing your car, all of these people are potential treasure troves of research. Don’t be afraid to casually mention that you’re writing a book about a small business owner. Chances are, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at who comes out of the woodwork with a friend/cousin/neighbor/great aunt Bessie who runs her own business. Case in point: I was ankle-deep in my first foodie manuscript when a friend of mine mentioned she knew a local restaurant owner. Which brings me to my next point…

Go where the pros are. If you want to write a realistic small business owner, things will be leaps and bounds easier if you can meet up with one to bounce questions off him or her. I like to go with a few open-ended questions like, “What does your average day look like?” and “Tell me about the biggest challenges you face in your profession”. Seeing your pro at work can also be incredibly beneficial. Remember that paramedic heroine? If you want her to be realistic, ask your local volunteer rescue squad if you can do a couple of ride-alongs. Seeing them in action will give you a sense of some of the things your character should be doing. After I sat in the kitchen of that local restaurant owner I met through my friend, I was able to create a colorful and realistic backdrop for my story, as well as enrich my chef characters with attributes that never would’ve occurred to me if I hadn’t seen the real pros in action.

First-person is sometimes best. For those of you writing about serial killers, skip over this one! For everyone else, consider putting yourself in your characters’ shoes. Does your hero have a rock-climbing hobby? Find a company that offers lessons for beginners. Is your heroine an artist? Pick up some brushes and paints at your local art supply store and play at home. You don’t have to be good at it, but if you’re able to accurately describe the burn of your muscles as you try to pull yourself higher or the smell of the oil paints when they’re fresh out of the tube, you’ll create scenes that will put your readers in your book right next to your hero and heroine as they do those things too.

So you tell me readers! What are some of the most fun things you’ve done for research? What are the things you dread? Do you go for the paper research, or are you an experience junkie? Tell us your most tried-and-true methods!

In the middle of "research"


Thank you for swimming in the lagoon with us today, Kimberly!

When she’s not sitting cross-legged in an ancient desk chair known as “The Pleather Bomber”, Kimberly can be found practicing obscene amounts of yoga, whipping up anything from enchiladas to eclairs in her kitchen, or curled up with her nose in a book. She resides in northern Virginia with her wildly patient husband and their three daughters.

37 thoughts on “Research: Not Just Another Dirty Word

  1. Good Morning, Kim! Thank you so much for dipping your toes into the pond today! Love your details and the fact that both googling and in-person research are both so important to you. I agree and thank you for being so eager to help your fellow writers 😉

    Hands down the funnest research I’ve ever done was hanging out with my favorite band’s security manager during one of their shows. I still remember things like being able to feel the thick cords and cables connecting all their stage equipment under my shoes, or watching the lead carpenter in all his dred-locked glory laying on his back, fixing part of the stage set-up, holding their guitar which was surprisingly heavy. While I absolutely love discovery via the internet, for me, the best way to live your book is to go out and get your boots on the ground!

    1. It’s my pleasure to be here, Carlene (but you know how much I love the Mermaids!) 🙂

      I agree, the hands-on research is the most impactful in a lot of ways. Even if you write in time periods that are long-past (this is a shout out to all your historical romance authors!), you can still manage a lot of hands-on stuff. For example, last year at RWA Nationals, Delilah Marvelle had herself laced into a corset. Hey, nobody said the research was gonna be comfortable! But it gives amazing insight into how our characters would be feeling in certain moments.

      Next time you go on tour, Carlene, I want in on that! 🙂

  2. Thanks, Kimberly! Great advice! Nothing knocks a reader from the story like some detail that doesn’t ring true.

    And I agree with the fun of doing research. I took a falconry lesson in Scotland because I have an alpha hero secretly afraid of hawks. Now I’d like a hawk of my own, but since I fear my maltipoo would be carried away, I’ll forego that particular dream for now.

    1. Oh! How cool is THAT?! And what a unique detail that will ring through with your readers. Especially because you’ll be able to describe things in such lovely detail.

      And now I want a falcon…

  3. Thanks for the wonderful advice on researching for writing. I’ve actually been wondering how to get started!

  4. Kimberly,
    I too was the ‘research lover’ in high school. I remember trying to find everything I could out about my term paper for ‘women in the military’ ended up joining from interviewing one of the Navy recruiters–and ‘The History of the English Coronation”, my senior year.

    Now with the internet it is so much easier. Lately I’ve taken virtual trips to Romania, found out about their Dacian ancestorial heritage and folklore which helped lead me to create my lead character for my WIP–a Zmeu (half dragon/half human shape-shifter). Where else can reading up on a simple topic lead to so much information! I become a kid in a candy store! 🙂

    Hugs and thanks for stopping in today!
    Hope to see you around the lagoon more often! 😉

    1. Oh, the Internet is an amazing resource– millions of interesting things to check out, and the details can be amazing. One of my heroines has insatiable wanderlust, but since I can’t afford to travel the world (despite how I want to!), I had to settle for virtual tours myself, and they were wonderful. Often, you can find personal accounts of people who have been to different parts of the world, too, and those are incredibly valuable. Firsthand accounts really offer those great touches.

      Thanks for having me in the lagoon! I do so love it here 🙂

  5. Hi Kimberly! Research is why I earned a library degree. I noticed that I was the one people called when they didn’t know the answer to a question, and I would jump online, or even head over to the library for an answer. When I finally realized that people got PAID to do that work, I was back in school within the year. Even after 10 years of keeping teenaged boys quiet and weeding a sadly outdated collection, I still think research is fun!

    1. I love it too! My brain is like a sponge. If I got paid to research, I’d never leave my house 🙂 Except to research margaritas, like in my picture, hehe. Now that was a fun day…

      1. I know, I know… my dark secret is makeup. I love love love researching all about the fun things put out by large or small companies. I even have apps on my phone for on-the-go reviews.

  6. Welcome to the lagoon, Kimberly! We are so thrilled to have you here! I love this post and I love your pics (now that ‘s my kind of research – ha!)

    My favorite “research” was when I was writing my poker novel, and I took a trip to Vegas so I could scope out the casinos. Fun stuff. 🙂

    1. Pintip, any time you want to accompany me on the foodie research, there’s room at my table for you! As long as you let me know when the next road trip leads to Vegas 🙂

      For something like poker, I think you’ve gotta watch people firsthand. How exciting! I bet you came home armed with a ton of great details.

      1. You’re on! I’ll tag along on your next foodie research trip, and you come with me to Vegas. Or better yet, we’ll combine the two. 🙂

  7. Ugh! Research! Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes I’m not even sure what I’m reading because my stuff is all about computers and…well…I am not. I’m more “VPN, what?”

    I live in fear that one day I’ll just say my heroine’s computer is powered by tiny hamsters running on tiny wheels. 🙂

    1. Haha, Romily, I know the feeling! The hero in my very first book was a computer security specialist, and I was out of my league with his job description. Thankfully, my husband knows a thing or two about that sort of thing, otherwise I’d have been toast. In hindsight, I don’t know if he found my endless questions amusing or frustrating, but in the end, my hero was much the better for it! It’s good to have an expert on your side 🙂

  8. Welcome to the lagoon, KK! I have to admit that doing face-to-face research scares this little Mermaid so I really loved this post. I’m ready to grab my margarita and dig in! 😉

    1. I’ll confess, the face-to-face reseach is my favorite! I love hearing people talk about what they do, and I gather all kinds of details and tweaks from their stories and experiences. Honestly, it’s bar none for making those multi-layered characterizations really sing in a book.

      Good luck, and happy sipping 🙂

  9. Wonderful tips, Kimberly! I recall doing many internal happy dances for research papers!!! Thanks for sharing.

    Probably the funniest thing I’ve Googled is H-O-W-T-O-M-A-K-E-O-U-T. Great fodder 😉 Will need to get back on that WIP…once I finish current WIP. No wonder I’m WIPPED.

    1. Oh, my Google list is embarrassing and hilarious. My husband, who maintains out home network, is always making fun of me for the phrases I put into search engines. Some gems include “what happens when a person nearly drowns” and “tripe recipes”.

      Eye-openers, both of them 🙂

  10. I admit it. I hate research. But when I’m doing it for my contemporary, usually pertaining to a character occupation, it doesn’t feel like research. It feels more like getting to know my characters better. Which always makes the book better.

    I have been known to find a bit of research, find it interesting, and try to force it into the story. Rarely works. Have to remember that if it doesn’t add to or move the story, it has to go no matter how cool.

    Great tips!

    1. Oh, Terri, I hear you! I ended up writing an entire scene while sitting in a professional kitchen to observe the chefs in action. Something one of them did just struck me and a lovely characterization, and it exploded from there. But then, I’ve taken things to my laptop that I’m certain will fit like a glove, and…they don’t! That’s the beauty of going back to the drawing board. There’s always room for more 🙂

      Thanks for visiting!

  11. Kimberly – I also love research! I heard a workshop last year and the speaker (aak! can’t remember who it was) and they answered a question from a person who hated research because if you didn’t use it in a book, it was “wasted”. The speaker said something that stuck with me – look at your research as a source for your plot. Take that little nugget of stuff and use it as a plot device to trip up your characters. Love that!

    My frequently used research tool right now is my subscription to Cosmopolitan magazine. The best way for an old fogey like me to understand the the sating scene today. . . .and the articles ain’t so bad either! : )

    1. Robin- that is so funny about Cosmo. I have a subscription to Glamour if you ever want to borrow. It’s fabulous! 😉

    2. YESSSS, I use Cosmo for research all the time! I swear by it to keep myself current on trends and lingo. I’m a big believer that all of those things characterize our literary people in perfect show-don’t-tell scenarios. We can tell our readers that our heroine is a fashion maven, or we can describe her with a bubblegum pink Coach tote bag, Tom Ford sunglasses and this season’s hottest Manolos and *show* her love of fashion. Even if you don’t know who Tom Ford is (I only know from Cosmo, because spending $300 on sunglasses makes me want to cry), you still get the idea. And it all came from your research.

      Plus, there’s something sinfully indulgent about those glossy pages. Siggggh 🙂

      1. Wah! I need to subscribe to Cosmo??? Can’t I just have her in something comfy from LLBean and leave it at that? (#sticksheadinoven #forgetstoturniton)

        1. Of course you can! But that heroine who find comfort in her oversized LL Bean sweater is going to be characterized differently than a Manolo-loving fashionista 🙂

          You know, I think maybe we need a post on how “the clothes make the (wo)man”. Doesn’t wardrobe really characterize our heroes and heroines?

          Now I want my comfy sweater!

          1. Hee! Which is why I switched out of my slinky new top after going to the doctor and into a crummy casual button down work shirt. Plus, it’s raining. There are no Manolos in upstate New York rain.

  12. Kimberly!
    I love this topic. The only bad thing about research is my tendency to go a bit overboard. I’ll look up one thing, end up finding something interesting in that, link to something else…and before I know it HOURS AND HOURS have gone by. But it’s so fun.
    There’s always a downside to research. A couple years ago I was doing a story about a cheerleader in a YA. I couldn’t for the life of me remember what the under-thingie they wear under the skirt was called. So I googled it. Mistake. Talk about what happens when you put a few key words together… Don’t try underwear and cheerleading skirt together. I ended up with teen porn. NOT what my sweet YA story needed. Or me either. But, oh, how depressing that was for me as a mom of up-and-coming young girls… Super, super sad stuff.
    And by the way, there were called briefs. 🙂
    I think with research, you need to put a basic time limit on it. I could research for hours. And then I don’t actually do the writing. I just keep looking at more information.
    I love your margarita research. Count me in on that next time.
    Thanks for swimming with us!

    1. I definitely agree– setting a timer is a good idea! If I didn’t set time limits on my research, my family would have to send search parties after me 🙂

      And yes, do be careful what you plug into your search engines. I’ve gotten an eyeful once or twice myself when I’ve been less than careful with that. I’m a big fan of, where you can actually type in whole phrases like, “What’s the name of the undergarment cheerleaders wear under their skirts?” It usually pulls text answers, and then you can go from there!

      If you ask it things like, “Why don’t my kids bring their dirty laundry to the hamper?”, sadly, it won’t give you a satisfactory answer 🙂

  13. Welcome to the lagoon Kimberly and what a wonderful post!

    I could say I’ve been been to the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain and Mexico for research, or done some rappelling and volunteered with my local rescue squad to get a feel for the experience, but the truth is I did it all for fun. Each and every place I’ve been and every job I’ve ever held holds a deep wealth of knowledge I use in my writing. I love drawing on personal experiences, or talking to others that have first hand knowledge to really pull details out of my characters.

    1. Um, I’ll have what you’re having, Dana! Your brand of research sounds FUN! 🙂

      And yes, it doesn’t hurt that I write foodie contemporaries and that my research includes taste-testing some really good stuff. Just don’t Google “tripe recipes” to find out about the not-so-fun stuff I’ve taste-tested…

  14. Good to see this topic, Kim. I’ve learned to love research while writing my highland books – it’s fun following the bits of information and seeing where they’ll lead. Thank goodness for the internet (and Google). Where would we be without them!

    Sorry to be late to the party – we’re in San Francisco and the hotel wifi is not cooperating.

  15. Say it loud and proud! I love research 🙂 It’s so much fun to discover those new ideas just begging for a story.

    Love your story about the astronaut! How funny is that?!

    Hugs back at you, lady 🙂

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