Research Methods and Sources, Part 2

David Baldacci

Lesson time 8:53 min

Building on the previous lesson, David provides practical tips for finding sources and getting the most out of interviews.

David Baldacci
Teaches Mystery and Thriller Writing
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[MUSIC PLAYING] - My first novel was "Absolute Power." I was working, you know, full-time as a lawyer. I had a family. I couldn't fly off and, you know, go somewhere to do anything. I just couldn't do it. What did I need to know about? OK, I needed to know kind of how the Secret Service did their thing. My office was near the White House back then. I think George Bush 41 was president back then. And I would walk past the White House. You'd see some of the Secret Service, uniformed Secret Service. They didn't have the barricades up. They put those barricades up after Oklahoma City. So you could walk up to the-- you could drive your car in front of Pennsylvania Avenue back then. What I would do is I would, you know-- anybody I would meet along the way-- it could be at a meeting with different lawyers. It could be at a party, or whatever. I would talk to people to get the background and stuff. And really what I was trying to dig was, anybody here know a Secret Service agent? You, know married to one, father is one, knew one in high school? Or whatever. So and that's the way I did it. I just kind of dug into people that I knew, my surrounding of friends and acquaintances. And because I lived in Washington, DC, you know, eventually somebody knew a Secret Service agent and I was able to contact the person, and they agreed to meet with me. And not everybody can do that. Not everybody lives in Washington, DC, but you can use your periphery of friends and acquaintances. And 9 times out of 10, you're gonna get a connection somewhere. [MUSIC PLAYING] Once you have a contact, don't just go in cold turkey with that person. I'll give the example of Secret Service agent again. I knew going in that I didn't want to waste their time, and I wanted them to show-- I wanted them to know that I respected what they did. And the best way to show that you respect what these people do is to learn about them before you go in to talk to them. So I wasn't gonna go in and ask stupid questions to the Secret Service. You know, what kind of a gun do you carry? How do you get to be a Secret Service agent? You know, and all that. What are you? You're just-- you know, you protect the president, right? No. Most agents are dealing with computer and financial crimes, you know, and money laundering, and things like that. It used to be part of the US Treasury Department, and that's what they did. After Abraham Lincoln was shot, that's when it became a protection detail. So I wanted them to know that the questions I asked were based on a lot of homework that I did before I even sat down in front of them. One, you gain their instant respect. And because you have their instant respect, they will tell you things they would not have otherwise told you. And then when you go in, I don't have these static questions that I want to ask them. I have a series of things that I would like to discuss with them. If you ask static questions, you're gonna get static answer...

Captivate your readers

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.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I have learned so much, and have so much to work with after taking David Baldacci's class. He is an exceptional teacher!!

Inspiration to do what I was always meant to do! Thank you.

This was so helpful! As an author trying to break out into the world, I needed this class and advice to focus my work in productive ways. Thanks!

He's very clinical when he talks, but all the information he had was good. Especially about publishers and relationships with them which I had never thought of before.


A fellow student

I want info I can’t find on the internet. Nuggets that are authentic and interesting.

Tina W.

I found this great stuff. Like he said. Have your questions ready. I had basic questions and when we were done. I gained a friend who reads the genre and want to help me as he got interested in the plot

Rebecca C.

So far, I have loved this class! Interviewing techniques, caveats and professional courtesies, it is all there. David, thank-you for being so thorough.

Joseph C.

great strategy in interviewing skills for research, develop a interest in who they are first

A fellow student

Be thorough but seek permission to enter the world you're researching. Both helpful reminders.

Jay M.

I'm really admiring the thoroughness of David's presentation - love this section on research, etc.

Sasha S.

If you can imagine it, we already done it. This is one sentence that gets my gears turning. Thanks.

Cliff Y.

Fascinated by this class, loving it. I really relate relate to David. I was a cop for 35 years and he is right on when it comes to research and proper protocol. If someone had emailed me at my Sheriff's email, I would be hesitant to engage as the department really owned the email account and could be monitoring certain language.. Great insight, loving this class.


Knowing when to stop the research and just write, thank you for highlighting your approach.

Todd G.

Thank you David. Listened to a podcast by Malcom talking with a couple of lawyers and Malcoms partner (with a uplifting voice) today. They visited about testing for a lawyer exam in which there is masses amounts of information to digest yet little time to complete the test. Contemplating what information you digested (Im with Malcom on this one), what would you suggest a layman to do for digesting that much information? What methods do you use? One could get lost for years combing the details!