Using Research to Deepen Characterization

The October 22nd chat is about research! #RWchat co-host Alexis Daria weighs in on doing research for her debut contemporary romance, Take the Lead.

I thought writing a contemporary would be easy.

Wait. Let me backtrack: I hate doing research. So I thought writing a contemporary romance would be easier than, say, a historical. No research, right?

Little did I know.

When I set out to write Take the Lead, I thought I had obtained enough dance knowledge from years of watching Dancing with the Stars to write a book that was kind of about dancing and mostly about people getting out of their own way to find love. And then I hit the first dance scene…and I was stuck. I didn’t know enough about dance to write a character who was a professional dancer.

Sure, I suppose I could have just skimmed the details and said, “They danced across the porch,” and left it at that. I knew which dance they were doing—a sensible waltz—but I wanted to use more dance vocabulary and detail. So I opened a browser and did a quick bit of research.

waltz nick sharna gif


Anyone who’s read their fair share of Regency  romance knows a little about the waltz, but the history of it is fascinating, and the few tidbits I sprinkled into the scene gave the characters something to talk about and focus on as they went through their meet cute. In short, doing a spot of research made the scene better.

Then came the next dance scene, and I drew another blank. The foxtrot isn’t one of my favorite dances, so I hadn’t committed the moves to memory. In that moment, I couldn’t even picture what a foxtrot looked like. Cue more research. This time, I watched videos on YouTube, both instructional videos and polished dances. I researched the history, and similar dances. And again, knowing these details made the scene better, and established Gina, the heroine, as a real pro. Writing a character who’s a pro dancer meant I had to do at least enough research to make her ring true to the reader.  

foxtrot val janel gif
By the time I got to the tango, I knew what I had to do. Stone and Gina’s tango rehearsal is perhaps my favorite scene in the whole book. Understanding the difference between tango and foxtrot and waltz helped me heighten the tension in the scene, bringing the characters closer with sexiness and humor. (In a tango, you’re basically in each other’s faces.)

maks meryl tango gif
So, while I can’t say I fully enjoy doing research, it’s part of the craft of writing a good book. If I had never opened up Google or YouTube while writing Take the Lead, I don’t think the story and characters would have been as strong. Moral of the story: Do right by your characters, and do the research to make them fully realized people.


alexis_fb_picAlexis Daria is a contemporary romance author, artist, and native New Yorker. Her debut, TAKE THE LEAD, is a 2017 Golden Heart® finalist. DANCE WITH ME (Dance Off #2) will be out 12/12/17. She loves social media, and you can find her live-tweeting her favorite TV shows at @alexisdaria, or talking about writing and books on her blog at

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