Blending What You Know with Research in Fiction

Author, Jacqui Murray, wrote a great blog recently called ‘How To Write What You Know’, which you can find HERE. Jacqui started writing stories based on things she knew, but her desire to write fiction set in prehistoric times made research essential, and even then some things had to be left to her imagination.

I’ve read many other articles about the value of research, as well as cautionary tales about overdoing it. Although I like research, I’ve never wanted to spend huge amounts of time embroiled in it. I chose, therefore, to set my mysteries where I live in Vancouver’s Lower Mainland, which made detailing specific locations easy. The few scenes set in Europe in my first Casey Holland mystery, were all places I’d visited.

Some of my plots are inspired by actual events that have been well documented in local newspapers, such as street racing which appears in #3 Beneath the Bleak New Moon and attacks on bus drivers, which appears in #6 The Blade Man. Casey Holland mystery #4, The Deep End, however, is the one that draws most heavily on my own experience.

Back in the day, while studying criminology, I spent a year volunteering inside a youth detention center. I met all kinds of residents, some serving a sentence, others awaiting trial. The youngest was twelve years old, the oldest seventeen, including a boy who’d stabbed his mother over 40 times. I learned a lot about the juvenile justice system then, and about teenaged girls who only wanted their mother’s love and attention, and got neither. I learned about lockdowns and suicide attempts, and the importance of boundaries between residents, staff, and volunteers. I kept journals from those days and used snippets of those entries to incorporate in this book. I also spoke with a man who’d just retired as director of a newer detention center, to discuss changes over the previous twenty-five years.

The Deep End is part of this month’s BookFunnel event and is now on sale for $.99. Other great suspense and thriller novels are available through that site, which can be found HERE.

Here’s a short blurb:

MPT transit officer Casey Holland’s first volunteer shift at Fraserview Youth Custody Center turns deadly when the center’s director dies from heart failure. But all is not as it seems, and there are rumors that his death was no accident. Life soon becomes perilous for residents, Casey, and her best friend, Kendal. — “Well-crafted book with lots of teasers”-Night Reader”

How about you? Do you also blend what you know with research in your fiction? I’m curious, how much time do you spend on research, and is it before, during, or after you’ve written a couple of drafts?

Author: debrapurdykong

I'm a British Columbia author who's been writing for over 30 years. My volunteer experiences, criminology diploma, and various jobs, inspired me to write mysteries set in BC’s Lower Mainland. Employment as a campus security patrol and communications officer provide the background for my my Casey Holland transit security novels. I'm also a part-time facilitator in Creative Writing Workshops through Port Moody's Recreation program. Feel free to contact me at

6 thoughts on “Blending What You Know with Research in Fiction”

  1. I tend to do quite a bit of research when writing my Amanda Travels books. I base the location on a place I´ve visited and draw from my notes and photographs, but I also do research to make sure I get the facts correct. Teachers use my books in their classrooms and I wouldn´t want errors in some of the details. In my early days, I took some information off a brochure, only to find later that the info was incorrect. So now I check at least three places. It is time-consuming but also interesting. I just downloaded book 4 as it looks so good and based on this post I am even more intrigued. I love the Vancouver references in your books.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Darlene. Yes, research for your wonderful books would be crucial, and it’s great that teachers are using your books in the classroom. They are definitely worthwhile teaching tools for students!

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  2. Great discussion. You took it much deeper and in different directions than my article. I completely enjoyed it. You have a rich background to draw on for your stories, Debra. You are very lucky for that.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Two of my books (one of which is the current WIP) are set in Egypt. I have never been there, so had to do a lot of research to get both facts and ambiance right. One reader who has visited Egypt said she was surprised to read in my afterword that I had never been there, so I must have done a good job. I combine fact-checking with reading relevant books with the intention that something intangible will soak in and emerge when I’m writing.

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