RESEARCH: When to say When

February 13, 2008 at 12:59 pm | Posted in Bria, creativity, research, writing | 4 Comments

I’ll be honest from the beginning: I love research. I’m was that seven year old who would look something up in the encyclopedia and end up on the floor, surrounded by books, cross referencing everything with a handy-dandy dictionary in my lap.

My parents had no idea what to do with this.

I’m sure many writers have similar memories.

And so, let’s focus on, well, focus.

Research can grow wings and bring you places you’ve never been before. But how often are those tangents helpful for what you’re working on right now? While extra information can often turn your story in a newfound direction or give you story ideas for the future, it can also bring your current work to a screeching halt.

Before you begin your research, ask yourself:

• What do I need to know?
• Why do I need to know it?
• How does it fit into my story?

Post these next to your computer screen to keep you on target.

If you’re clear on what you need to know, it will cut down on the bunny trails.

If you need to know about regency carriages, you don’t want to end up reading the entire history of the British Transportation System – sure, some of it might be interesting (that’s pushing it even for me) but, remind yourself of your time period and purpose.

Let’s continue with the carriage example.

So, purpose. Someone looking up regency carriages is most likely to be doing that in order to give their character transportation. You wouldn’t want your governess riding about in a 1800’s version of a Ferrari or your Duke to brag about his Yugo.

If that’s your purpose, stop at the definition stage.

BUT, let’s say that Duke we were just talking about is horse mad and owns and races several carriages. The questions grow to where’s and how’s.

Is this such a significant part of your story that it drives the plot, or a passing note?

Obviously if it’s only a small bit of information thrown in for setting and realism, it isn’t worth three days of research.

But, if the Duke’s whole reason for existing is tied into those carriages, if they pop up again and again, if they almost become a character themselves – then a lot of research is going to be needed to do them justice.

The point is that, just like any good thing, you CAN have too much research.

Be clear of what you need and why and know when to say “when.”

Love the word, do the work and Go Write



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  1. I totally agree about needing to know when to say when. If I can’t get the plan in place beforehand on what I need, why, and how much (snippets or expert), I can waste WEEKS on research.

    My biggest thing is…do I research and then write? or do I write and then making notes of where I need more info (questions that come up) to research before the next revision? Sometimes I find myself in that constant cycle of write, research, write more, research more, write more, etc. because I’ll find something later that needs more research or info that I research means changing several parts of the MS.

  2. I totaly agree with the “there can be too much research” theory. I am one of those people who can go on and on about nothing and then end up cutting pages from a story. Sad I know. But at least I’m not afraid to cut…if I realize that it doesn’t belong then it has to go! The tips were great, especially the parts about keeping on target and on point because I tend to be a drifter. *huggles*

  3. Hi Ladies –

    ANOTHER one of my mantras: Research is never wasted.

    1. Research, even unused, makes you more able to picture the fullness of your story.
    2. Research never goes bad – without an expiration date you can always use it later
    3. Feeling like you understand something really well allows you a comfort to move with in the topic that a vague idea doesn’t permit
    4. Its fun – but still, limiting is good. . ah, right?

  4. […] The best information on the topic can be found at the source here […]

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