Research or not Research? by Abi Silver | Resources | Better Fiction Guides | Plotting and Planning
Abi Silver

Abi Silver

Readers often ask where I get my ideas from (a question to which I can’t usually do justice in the time allowed) and how I conduct my research. And whilst I generally respond with some level of detail on my methods, the truth is that I don’t really see it – any of it – as ‘research’.

Perhaps it’s because of the kind of books I write – contemporary legal thrillers with topical themes – that I always try to construct my stories around subjects which interest me (with the hope that, if they interest me, readers will be similarly engaged), so there’s no sense of the necessary  background reading being dry or a chore.

For example, and, so you understand my process better, my first novel, The Pinocchio Brief, is a modern ‘whodunnit’, featuring lie-detecting software (nicknamed ‘Pinocchio’), which will monitor the facial movements of the accused during his trial, to determine if he is telling the truth or not  This allows me, through the medium of my story, to examine ideas about ‘new’ versus ‘old’ (see also my ‘teaser’ for more on this). So, yes, I choose to soak up what I can about this kind of product, from real life sources, but I am simultaneously feeding my own thirst for knowledge.

To be more specific, for me the New Scientist magazine is often a catalyst. I have been a subscriber, off and on, for years, buying it most recently for my children, but always reading it first, when it comes through the door and it really is a fabulous resource. I suppose it’s obvious, if you think about it, that if someone else is prepared to do all the work and collect together, in one place, the most fascinating material about what’s going on in the world right now and where we are heading next, it would be foolish not to take advantage of it.

I also dip in and out of The Economist and, if I can find the time, I read the Sunday papers, also in hard copy. (I like the feel of the pages; it helps the content sink in). I search out the small items, often towards the bottom of the page, which are more quirky or alternative (‘Robert Redford had too many freckles to land lead in West Side Story’, ‘Beethoven lost his hearing due to virus, not syphilis’, ‘rare seahorses stressed out by scuba divers’ to list this week’s offering). But I often find that I am gravitating towards areas where my interest has been piqued, already, by other sources.

Then, as my story starts to take shape in my mind, often late at night or in the early hours of the morning, I turn to Google for more. And the advantage of covering anything contemporary is that lots of people will be writing about it and expressing their views, in a variety of ways.

Once I’ve begun to write, I do often need some professional help – for my story development, that is! I have a close friend who is a pathologist and she keeps me on the straight and narrow with medical stuff, to ensure that I don’t offend too many people, with basic mistakes of the anatomy. She also refers me on to specialists (forensics, surgeons, collision specialists) as and when appropriate and I find they are surprisingly willing to share their experiences and to help come up with ingenious, virtually undetectable methods of killing people.

As for the legal input, I am a lawyer by profession, so I have truly taken the ‘write what you know’ mantra on board. Even so, there are times when I need to check things out and other lawyers have to be consulted, although I admit to ‘glossing over’ some procedural aspects, where they have potential to slow down my prose.

My final but important source is social media, asking complete strangers for help in a particular discipline (most recently I wanted to pick the brains of a designer of online games), via Facebook, including (a very friendly bunch and useful resource for writers on all topics) and Twitter. It is really heartening to find so many people who are willing to give up their time to share their knowledge and experience in this way. So, don’t be shy to ask.

One valuable consequence of all of this ‘research’ is that you become knowledgeable, yourself, in a new area and can use this in your marketing. Last year, I was asked to go on TV to talk about driverless cars  because of the themes I covered in my third book, The Cinderella Plan.

And, of course, I tend to find there are times when lots of different ideas are circulating in my head and I know I won’t be able to develop them all into stories, at the same time. There are limits, even now, after three children, a variety of jobs and lockdown, to my ability to multi-task.  I do jot them though, in a stream of consciousness kind of way, so they’ll be there, safe and sound, when I’m looking for the next piece of inspiration. So, just to recap:

Abi’s Top Tips for ‘researching’ your stories

  • Choose an area which interests you and build your story around it
  • Read magazines which focus on your area of interest
  • Trawl the internet (articles, videos, blogs) to see what other people think and say
  • Check the details with a specialist you know
  • Find help in obscure areas via contacts or social media
  • Squirrel away unwanted material for another day – nothing goes to waste

(c) Abi Silver

About The Pinocchio Brief:

A schoolboy accused of a brutal murder. A retired lawyer with secrets to hide…

A 15-year-old schoolboy is accused of the murder of one of his teachers. His lawyers, the guarded veteran, Judith, and the energetic young solicitor, Constance, begin a desperate pursuit of the truth, revealing uncomfortable secrets about the teacher and the school. But Judith has her own secrets which she risks exposing when it is announced that a new lie-detecting device, nicknamed Pinocchio, will be used during the trial. And is the accused, a troubled boy who loves challenges, trying to help them or not?

The Pinocchio Brief is a gripping, very human thriller which confronts our assumptions about truth and reliance on technology.

“A taut thriller” – The Times; “First-rate” – Daily Mail; “The unexpected twist is a jaw-dropper” – Saga Magazine

Order your copy online here.

About the author

I cannot remember a time when I was not writing stories. Growing up with a house full of books (my parents were teachers), I was inspired from an early age to believe I could join the ranks of my heroes.
I grew up in Leeds and studied in Cambridge before settling down to a legal career in London. I travelled extensively through Asia, South America and Australia and lived in Israel. Being an ‘outsider’ (as you frequently are when you travel or live overseas) makes you a wonderful people-watcher and it certainly informed my writing. I now live in Hertfordshire with my husband and three sons.

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