Research Tips for Strengthening the Suspense Threads in Your Novel

is the
award-winning author of Deadly Devotion
and Blind Trust with Revell Publishing
and of many novels with Love Inspired Suspense. Her stories have garnered
several Canadian Christian Writing Awards, a Romantic Times Reviewers’
Choice Award, and a Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in
Mystery/Suspense. She and her husband of 25+ years live in the heart of
Niagara, Canada, not far from their three grown children and two adorable
grandchildren. Learn more and check out the special bonus features for all her
novels on her website or connect on


Since books and movies are fraught with inaccuracies when it comes to
police and forensics etc, it’s easy to perpetuate those in our own stories. And
to be honest, when I ask my go-to detective or my go-to former FBI agent
questions, they’ll often say it’s fiction, you can fudge it to work. But…
The more you know about the elements in your story, the more authentic
you can make them sound.
If you write in your contemporary novel that she smelled cordite after a
gun was fired, every reader who knows anything about guns will know that you
haven’t done your research—not the
impression you want to make.
So where do you get your information? 
The internet is most writers first stop. You can input just about any
question into Google’s search engine and get hundreds of thousands of answers.
Some that might even be right.
But don’t let the internet be your only stop.
Other fabulous secondary sources include training manuals and
autobiographies. They are great references and provide tons of inspiration for
actual scenes you might use in your book.

When I wrote my upcoming release, Identity Withheld, which has a
firefighter hero, I read a firefighter’s training manual and watched countless
YouTube videos of fires to see how they travelled and to see what firefighters
were doing and to hear what was going on. I often Google sounds and listen to
them over and over so I can describe them.

Another great thing about the internet is that it makes it easy to
connect with primary sources.
Professionals in various fields, from police to lawyers to weapons experts,
have started websites or yahoo loops to answer writers’ questions. A couple of
my favorites are The Graveyard Shift and the Crime Scene Writers’ Loop.
But don’t be afraid to call or email professionals directly. While
researching Identity Withheld, I spoke
to volunteer firefighters, full-time firefighters, a retired fire chief, a
paramedic and a retired fire marshal. Each provided different insights that
proved vital to crafting the story. And all were eager to share their
If you can visit such professionals in person, all the better!
Seeing and handling and smelling and otherwise experiencing the things
you wish to include in your book is invaluable in depicting it in a gripping
way. The Writer’s Police Academy was such an opportunity for me.
I did the same Firearms Training Simulator that recruits do and
I’ll tell you when I shot a hostage taker in the head and saw his brains
splattered on the wall behind him, in the uncomfortably realistic interactive
video, I nearly went ballistic on the cop who commended me on my great shot.
But whew, afterward, could I ever accurately write about what goes
through your mind and body in moments like those. And I had a far better
appreciation for the internal conflicts my characters might deal with as a
Locally, you could visit a shooting range or participate in a citizen’s
Be bold.
Thanks to being bold, I was able to meet my heroine’s “colleagues” at
the St. Louis FBI headquarters while visiting the city to research the backdrop
for my next mystery series with Revell.
The FBI has a unit dedicated to providing assistance to authors and
movie producers. There is a formal process for seeking assistance, which you
can read about here:
My contact has been fabulously helpful and arranged for an on-site
interview while I was in St. Louis. The Special Agent and media contact I met
while there were incredibly generous with their time, and patient in answering
my questions and offering insights into how they operate.
It will be another year before that story
hits bookshelves, but in the meantime, you can check out how I incorporated my
fire investigation and witness security research into Identity Withheld:

exposing an illegal adoption ring, newly named “Kara Grant” is promised safety
in Witness Protection. But someone has found her—and wants her dead. If only
she could trust the handsome firefighter who catches her fleeing from a
suspicious fire. Jake Steele seems to think she’s guilty of burning her own
home. But how can she tell him who she really is and what she’s been through
without bringing danger to the widowed father’s door? Yet with the criminals
fast closing in, taking such a risk might be her only chance at survival.
Because the price she’ll pay for her silence could be her life.
As a special bonus, Deadly Devotion, first book in Sandra’s Port Aster Secrets will be offered in free e-format on October 16th for one day only.