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Dani PettreyDani Pettrey is a wife, homeschooling mom, and author. She feels blessed to write inspirational romantic suspense because it incorporates so many things she loves--the thrill of adventure, nail biting suspense, the deepening of her characters' faith, and plenty of romance. She and her husband reside in Maryland with their two teenage daughters.

Favorite Bible Verse: Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NIV) He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.


 Give it a Try: Dani Pettrey


As a writer, you want every aspect of your story to ring true, and that means research. Whether you write contemporary or historical fiction, there is always some level of research involved, so here are some of my top tips to get you started:

1) Start with the basics and build

I’m always surprised by how much information I gain reading juvenile non-fiction. Seriously. As a homeschool mom, I’ve learned the value of kid’s books. They are well-written and contain a world of information in condensed form; beautiful photographs, great maps and in-depth overviews. They are naturally shorter in length, which makes it easy to read through several in a sitting. No matter my subject or location, I always start here.

2) Make a list

After finishing my juvenile non-fiction, I have a good idea where I want to dig deeper. It’s easy to get sidetracked while searching for books, so before I head to the library, I make a target list of the specific topics or places. For example, while researching for my debut novel, Submerged, I needed to learn more about Russian America.  So I tracked down as many books as I could find on the subject—everything from historical overviews to detailed biographies.

3) Pick a handful of the best books

It’s impossible to read every book on every subject you’re looking for. You won’t have enough time to do so if you want to get on with actually writing the story, so pick your favorites. I limit myself to five. These are the books that I purchase and the ones I refer back to as I write my novel.

4) Take notes

I always take notes while reading research books. Otherwise, even if I’ve highlighted a passage, it takes me too long to remember where a particular passage or fact was located. By skimming my notes, I’m able to quickly pick up on key words and find the reference I was looking for.

5) Pictures are worth a thousand words

We need to not only read about our subject, but to see it, if possible. If we’re researching a location and can’t afford a research trip, then we have to find other ways to see the landscape and the people. If we are researching a profession, it helps to see that profession in action. Watching movies, shows, or documentaries about our profession or story location is a fabulous way to get a closer look. For Submerged, I wanted to see what cave diving was like and I wasn’t brave enough to try it myself.  So I rented every movie I could find about cave divers. There are amazing documentaries out there on a vast number of subjects and most are available through your public library. I usually stock up, curl up on the couch, and make a night of it. Popcorn comes in very handy.


6) Invest the time online

There is a wealth of information available right at your finger tips.  Look up everything that pertains to your subject. You can find job descriptions, message boards, news articles, even restaurant menus. It is absolutely amazing the amount of information that’s available, if you’re willing to put in the time to find it. If you are writing historical novels, delve into the firsthand accounts that have been scanned and put online by volunteers at historical societies and museums. Visit ancestry sites and take a virtual tour of museums you aren’t able to visit in person.

7) Search for Blogs

In this wonderful age of blogs, people love to post information about their professions, their schooling, their towns, travels, ancestries, and their hobbies. Use a blog search engine like Google Blog Search.  Type in the subject you are looking for and you’ll be amazed what pops up. You’ll get recommendations, firsthand descriptions, itineraries, recipes, and often some fantastic photos. Most bloggers are more than happy to answer questions if you post a comment. 

8) Talk with the experts

Talk to people who deals with your subject on a daily basis. For example, if your hero is a charter pilot, contact a charter pilot service and see if one of the pilots would be willing to answer questions. More often than not they are happy to help. If you belong to a writing group such as ACFW, be sure to post your research questions to the loop. I’ve done this numerous times, asking for help on subjects ranging from locations to weapons to professions. The writing community is filled with people from vastly different backgrounds. You may be surprised the firsthand knowledge available to you there.

9) Give it a try

 I was writing about a heroine who excelled at rock climbing. I read a lot of books, talked to the experts and watched movies, but I wanted to be able to describe the way it felt, so I signed up for indoor rock climbing classes and had a blast. If your subject interests you and is readily available for you to try, give it a go. You just may find a new hobby, like I did. If you write historicals, visit reenactments and historical sites, take time to talk with the volunteers—most are history buffs and full of knowledge.

10) Find your balance

After you’ve done all your research, you need to weave it into your story. It is very difficult finding the right balance between research info dump and description that brings the story alive for your reader. Often I am so excited by all the research I’ve done, and all the fascinating things I’ve learned, that I want to squeeze it all into my story.  But you have to learn to use what is vital and helpful to your story and let the rest go. It’s hard—trust me, I know—but it’s necessary. I think the best way to learn this balance is to study examples of great description. Pick up novels by your favorite authors and see what words they use to bring a picture to your mind. How they weave in details of their hero’s profession without making it sound like you’re reading a textbook. Pick up craft books on description. One of my favorites is Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively by Rebecca McClanahan. It is a fabulous book full of lots of exercises.

11) Remember you’re writing fiction

While we want to be as accurate as possible in our stories, it is important to remember we are writing fiction. It is okay to have your hero’s favorite fictional restaurant set in Chicago or for your heroine’s fictional architectural firm to have different hiring practices than the norm. Readers understand you are telling a story, not writing a travel guide or a job manual. On the other hand, don’t write a blizzard in Phoenix, paint L.A. as a sleepy little town, or have your story’s tax accountant give gourmet cooking lessons while he does returns (though that does seem pretty heroic). Keep true to the research as best you can, while still exercising your creativity.

I hope these tips will help you as you research your next novel ~ Dani


Discussion Question Index


 • Abigail: Jill Eileen Smith
 • Abigail's New Hope: Mary Ellis
 • Against All Odds: Irene Hannon
 • Against the Tide: Elizabeth Camden
 • Almost Forever: Deborah Raney


 • Blue Moon Promise: Colleen Coble
 • Blue Widow Brides: Maggie Brendan
 • Breach of Trust: DiAnn Mills
 • (The) Bridesmaid: Beverly Lewis
 • (The) Bridge: Karen Kingsbury
 • Brigid of Ireland: Cindy Thomson
 • Burn: Ted Dekker


 • (The) Calling: Suzanne Woods Fisher
 • (The) Chance: Karen Kingsbury
 • Chasing Mona Lisa: Tricia Goyer & Mike Yorkey
 • Chasing the Sun: Tracie Peterson
 • Choices of the Heart: Laurie Alice Eakes
 • Claudia, Wife of Pontius Pilate: Diana Wallis Taylor
 • Critical Care: Candace Calvert
 • Crossing Oceans: Gina Holmes


 • (The) Dance: Dan Walsh and Gary Smalley
 • Deadline: Randy Alcorn
 • Deadly Devotion: Sandra Orchard
 • Deadly Ties: Vicki Hinze
 • Deception: Randy Alcorn
 • (The) Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow: Olivia Newport
 • (The) Discovery: Dan Walsh
 •  Dolled Up to Die: Lorena McCourtney
 • Demon: A Memoir: Tosca Lee
 • Digitalis: Ronie Kendig
 • Dogwood: Chris Fabry
 • Double Minds: Terri Blackstock
 • Dying to Read: Lorena McCourtney


 • Fair Is the Rose: Liz Curtis Higgs
 • Freefall: Kristen Heitzmann
 • Frontiersman's Daughter: Laura Frantz


 • Gift of Grace: Amy Clipston
 • Gone South: Meg Mosley
 • Grace: Shelley Shepard Gray


 • Havah; The Story of Eve: Tosca Lee
 • Heart's Safe Passage: Laurie Alice Eakes
 • Highland Sanctuary: Jennifer Hudson Taylor
 • Hope of Refuge: Cindy Woodsmall


 • Intervention: Terri Blackstock
 • Into the Whirlwind: Elizabeth Camden
 • Invisible: Ginny Yttrup
 • Iscariot: Tosca Lee


 • (The) Jewel of His Heart: Maggie Brendan
 • June Bug: Chris Fabry


 • Katie's Way: Marta Perry
 • Killer Among Us: Lynette Eason


 • Lady in the Mist: Laurie Alice Eakes
 • Lady of Bolton Hill: Elizabeth Camden
 • Lady of Milkweed Manor: Julie Klassen
 • (A) Lasting Impression: Tamera Alexander
 • Leah's Choice: Marta Perry
 • The Lesson: Suzanne Woods Fisher
 • Lethal Remedy: Richard Mabry
 • Life in Defiance: MaryLu Tyndall
 • Like Dandelion Dust: Karen Kingsbury
 • Lonestar Sanctuary: Colleen Coble
 • Lonestar Secrets: Colleen Coble
 • Love Amid the Ashes: Mesu Andrews
 • Love at Any Cost: By Julie Lessman
 • Love Calls: Lorna Sielstad
 • Love in a Broken Vessel: Mesu Andrews


 • Making Waves: Lorna Sielstad
 • (A) Memory Between Us: Sarah Sundin
 • Moon in the Mango Tree: Pamela Ewen
 • Moonlight Masquerade: Ruth Axtell
 • (A) Most Peculiar Circumstance: Jen Turano
 • My Heart Remembers: Kim Vogel Sawyer


 • Naomi's Gift: Amy Clipston
 • Never Far From Home: Mary Ellis
 • Nightshade: by Ronie Kendig
 • No Place for a Lady: Maggie Brendan
 • (A) Noble Groom: Jody Hedlund



 • Paper Roses, by Amanda Cabot
 • Plain Jayne, by Hillary Manton Lodge
 • Preacher's Bride: Jody Hedlund
 • Promise of an Angel: Ruth Reid


 • Rebekah: by Jill Eileen Smith
 • Redeeming Love: Francine Rivers
 • Redemption: Karen Kingsbury & Gary Smalley
 • (A) Reluctant Queen: Joan Wolf
 • Remember to Forget: Deborah Raney
 • Remembered: Tamera Alexander


 • Sarah's Gift: Marta Perry
 • Shadows of the Past: Patricia Bradley
 • Simple Choices: Nancy Mehl
 • Simple Deceit: Nancy Mehl
 • Slow Moon Rising: Eva Marie Everson
 • Someone to Blame: Susanne Lakin
 • A Sound Among the Trees: Susan Meissner
 • The Sweetest Thing: Elizabeth Musser


 • Tailor Made Bride: Karen Witemeyer
 • That Certain Summer: Irene Hannon