by DiAnn Mills
Writing suspense is my passion. I stay awake at night planning a story in which a strong and vibrant heroine attempts the impossible, the forbidden, or the dangerous for the good of others. She meets a hero who compliments her strengths and challenges her weaknesses. Together they take the writer and the reader on an adventure.
However, research can be difficult, especially if I’m not familiar with the character’s profession and its rules of conduct. I educate myself through online research and the library until I have accumulated enough knowledge to contact a real person who has this profession. My goal is to pose questions during the interview that are realistic for the character in my book. Sometimes I must preface my inquiry with, “I need to know if this situation could happen, not if it has happened.” This allows me the freedom to create plot twists and circumstances that add tension and conflict to my story while staying true to the character’s profession.
Some professions are easier to research than others. The FBI and Border Patrol want public support, and these agencies were not only willing to help me write a credible book but patient in responding to questions. The FBI and Border Patrol allowed me to tour their facilities. The FBI read every word of my novels to ensure accuracy. That doesn’t mean they endorsed my book, but they were willing to point out protocol errors and offer solutions. I’m grateful for their assistance. I’ve taken their FBI Citizens Cadet Academy and I’m a part of their alumni program. Always great information that I can use in my novels while volunteering for a worthwhile organization.
Other professions involved in national security are required to keep their techniques secret. Makes sense to me. If we are to be protected from those who seek us harm, then methods must be hidden from the public. The CIA and Secret Service are two agencies that can’t reveal how we are to be kept safe. The writer is on her own to figure out how crimes are prevented and stopped. Sometimes a person in one of these fields will tell me what I’ve written is wrong. On those occasions, I become more creative in addressing a situation in my story.
I weave romance into my suspense stories. It’s a natural part of human nature. However some agencies frown on their employees fraternizing within their ranks. The reasons are sound. Think about a man or woman in a high-risk situation in which their priorities might be another person instead of his/her responsibilities. For a man and woman who are attracted to each other, employer guidelines might mean hiding their relationship. More juicy conflict.
Writing suspense is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. The pieces have to fit in a way that are credible and in character. Every part of the novel has to add conflict while the plot adds layers to the story problem. I encourage writers who are fascinated by suspense to conduct realistic research. Book sales will grow!
Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists and have won placements through the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Carol Awards and Inspirational Reader’s Choice awards. DiAnn won the Christy Award in 2010 and 2011.
DiAnn is a founding board member for American Christian Fiction Writers and a member of Inspirational Writers Alive, Romance Writers of America, Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, and International Thriller Writers. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. DiAnn is also a Craftsman mentor for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild.