Research Methods and Sources, Part 1

David Baldacci

Lesson time 14:21 min

Firsthand research brings depth and breadth to your story. David discusses why he recommends visiting locations in person, talking directly to people, and creating a battle plan.

David Baldacci
Teaches Mystery and Thriller Writing
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[MUSIC PLAYING] - Research, for me, is critical because the worlds I write about are pretty complicated. But they're also a definite thing. If I write about the military, I really can't make stuff up. If I write about Secret Service agents who pull wands out and can fly, I mean, nobody's going to read the book. So I had to learn about those things. As a writer, you have to take off the novelist hat, and you put on the journalist cap. My older sister was a journalist. And I used to go-- when I was in college, I would go with her on her beat and see how she interviewed people and gained their confidence and trust and all that. So I go in. And you know, I figure out how to get to people that I need to know things about. And I interview them, become a journalist, and have conversations and learn a lot. I go to the places that I write about because I want to see it firsthand and have a visceral connection to it. I don't like getting things third hand from people because that puts their opinions and their biases into what I'm trying to find out. So if you take the time to go out and learn about the stuff firsthand, you'll bring a depth and a breadth of both plotting and writing to your prose that will lift you up of the slush piles and actually enhance your chances of getting picked up by a publisher or an agent. Every book that I've written, I've done a ton of research for all of them. And I think the books are far better because of it, and I think yours will be, too. [MUSIC PLAYING] I will say that research also can help you be a better writer, in that it can give you a really emotional connection to what you're writing about. I'll give an example. I'm not a gun aficionado. I don't own guns. I have fired pretty much every gun ever manufactured just for purposes of researching my novels-- everything from a six shooter up to a .50 cal machine gun. And when you write about firing an MP5 which can fire 40 rounds and about a second and a half-- so you could kill 40 people in one and a half seconds with this weapon-- to feel it against your chest as it thuds, as it vibrates, as you're firing and see this awesome field of just total annihilation in front of you, two emotions for me. One was like exhilaration-- because, you know, oh, well, that's kind of cool-- and utter terror. So when I have a character who fires a weapon like that, having felt that myself, I can draw upon my own personal experiences in better describing it. If I'd Wikipedia'd it, they would've told me that it shot 40 rounds in a second and a half. OK, you know? But to see it actually-- the devastation it could do to someone-- it's just a different level. And that's the difference between writing a book that's sort of mediocre and as opposed to one that is really dynamic and authentic and just feels at a different emotional level. And that's what research can provide. It's not just about finding out facts about stuff. It's about experiencing something. [...

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David Baldacci has captivated readers across the world with gripping, suspense-fueled thrillers. Now the New York Times–bestselling author of 38 novels shares his techniques for crafting authentic characters, developing research-based plots, and navigating the world of publishing. Learn how to write a novel with red herrings, clues, and plot twists that will keep your readers turning the pages.


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He goes on about research. Then states that an MP5 can fire 40 rounds in a second and half. "So you can kill 40 people in one and a half seconds with this weapon." Sorry David, that's BS. Maybe you should go back and do some more research.

Gary K.

This lesson was going along swimmingly. I was taking notes about research, and I was very impressed with the depth and breadth of the author's research. And then, I was pulled out of the information he was sharing. Why? When someone attempts to impress upon me the necessity of doing thorough research so my writing will have an authenticity not attainable by reading Wikipedia, and then mispronounces a word-repeatedly-I am no longer with him. In the event Mr. Baldacci sees this, the word spelled almost the way it is pronounced: NUCLEAR. New' clee er. Not Nukuler As you said, details are really important. I had to stop , back up, listen again, and then listen yet again, trying to "unhear" that word. Nit-picking? For some, I am certain it is. For me? It completely broke my concentration because it was so unexpected.


The kind of research I've done for my current novel involves a lot of exploration of mountainous regions. I've watched plenty of documentaries, but I've also been fortunate enough to go and hike through that kind of environment. I love 'living my research' because it not only helps the book, but it helps you grow in your experiences and wisdom.

Tina W.

I called a LT in the police department in the area I set my novel. I got lucky and got a man who loves reading this genre. He gave me a lot time as I laid out my plot. He gave me his email to send him my MS. I gave him an author suggestion and he told me to call him if I needed anything else

Liesl S.

I love learning and research. I am a pro-procrastinator. Doing research on the FBI from South Africa is not easy but Netflix documentaries, Crime and Investigation series etc. becomes research fodder if you’re able to look beyond the hype. The FBI also provides information to writers... it’s a real thing! Using Scrivener helps to keep my research files and photos accessible while I write. I absolutely use celebrities for characters but sometimes it takes a bit of a leap to envision them in the role of your character. I’m fortunate to travel quite a bit (48 American States ticked off-two to go) but find it difficult to connect/interview with law enforcement as it’s a complete different ball game than back home. My story is set in Cape Cod and Phoenix, so I’m bridging the divide. Anyone with suggestions?

Don from VA

This lesson really drives home the level of effort needed to develop credibility in the story and interest on the part of the reader. There are so many good sources of information available to us with current technology. There really is no reason not to provide the reader with a realistic narrative.


"Just so I could write a better book, a more authentic book" but "leave most of it out." This resonates with me so much! I am currently researching the book I am in the process of writing. My background is in history and part of my story takes place in a distant time. I love history. I can eat, sleep, and breathe the past. So I decided long ago that I needed to research the background of my story thoroughly enough to understand the time, the people, and the things that influenced them and motivated them. I want to immerse myself in the past so I can relate to it and make it more authentic for the reader. But I also decided that I don't want my book to be a history lesson. My readers should be compelled to follow a story to a satisfying conclusion, not study for a final exam.

A fellow student

This was an awesome lesson. I almost fell out of my chair when seeing that he had 5 thick binders of research. Gives me context on what I need to be doing in my own writing. Great lesson David.

Nick. C.

Brilliant advice. I went to the places I write about in "Weepers" and that made all the difference. Even getting floor plans for apartments so that I know that a particular character and see into a bedroom from the entrance closet, in the Am Smith projects. This is gold.


My question is: Who can actually get on a military base as a civilian with no connections and no established name? This is great advice on this video, but it may be unrealistic for some starting out.