Monday, February 27, 2006

How much research is enough?

The topic of research comes up often. Again and again, writers are advised to make sure the information in their books is accurate. Readers have no qualms about pointing out errors in both copy and in the story.

Some genres, such as historical romance, would need much extra research. Rene, from A Little Cheese With That Whine, says she finds it hard to find some material and wonders how strict readers and other writers are about historical accuracy.

Personally, I get lost in research. It’s another way to avoid writing. I’m just about finished the research and outline for Picture Perfect, and I must say that I had a lot of fun because I could do a lot of research. But, not unlike deciding when the book is finally finished and it’s time to mail it out, writers must decide at some point when they have researched enough. I’m there. Time to start writing. I know I still have bits and pieces of research left, information specific to certain scenes (like what a 1955 Buick looks like, what year bra burning was in fashion, etc., etc.). My question to you is, do you do ALL of your research in advance so you can write straight through? Or, do you do a little or all of your research as you go? Or, do you write the first draft and fill in the bits that need research during your first revision?


Rene said...

Some research I do in advance. BTW, like the urban fantasy idea in your comment, lol. I will get a general idea about the era or place I'm writing in, but because I'm a panster, I end up doing a great deal of research on the fly. And that gets me in trouble because I could research for hours and totally lose my way.

That is one reason I try to write in one era because of the research is done and I can't be lured off too much.

Dana Pollard said...

I'm like Rene. I'm a pantzer and research as I go along. I never know what I might need or might not. My time is valuable. I also delegate very well. Research assistants are awesome! hehe

Heather Dawn Harper said...

Research, and even blogging, are procrastination culprits for the discipline challenged.

Nienke said...

rene - I tend to lose track of time when I research too, that's why I need to start writing now!
dana - you renting out your assistant?
heather - I could list many, many more culprits. I like PBW's advice, turn off the dang internet while you're writing!

Stephanie Bose said...

I do enough to get me into the scene, and add as I go. If I get stumped on a scene, or the plot, doing more research is often a way to take things in an interesting new direction. Sometimes, an intriguing tidbit will pop up, and you'll wonder how your story ever could have existed without it!


AlisonG said...

I'm with Stephanie, I like to have a balance between research and writing, doing both at the same time, because they influence each other.

I just finished a story about a nursing student, and I looked at some nursing textbooks and watched a few videos before I wrote the hospital training scene. Then, when I knew what info I wanted in the scene, I went back to the books to get more specifics. Finally, I had a nurse read it over for accuracy!

Shesawriter said...

It's very easy to get lost in doing research. Some people use it to procrastinate their way out of writing. How do I know? I do it all the time. :-(


Dana Pollard said...

Nienke, I can rent my research assistant out to you, but its gonna cost ya. hehe She's awesome actually. I call her Inspector ClueSO! hehe She can find ANYTHING. Even when you think it can't be found.

Janna of Canada said...

For my WIP, which relies heavily on research, I wrote a tentative outline first, and then read reference material to find out how much of what I'd imagined was actually possible. From there, the research informed the modified outline, and took it in directions I would never have thought of if I'd waited until after the first draft to fill in the scholastic blanks.

I prefer to have the research completed before I actually start writing, and than to refer back as required by each individual scene. That said, I'm still working my way through two final research books even though I've already started writing. The information in these books isn't relevant to much later in my WIP, so I'm hoping I'll get through them before I actually need them. If not, I'll probably have to stop writing until I finish reading.

Rachel Vincent said...

I try to plot in advance, then I research as I go, during the first draft. However, if the research seems like it'll take up a bunch of time, I make a note in the margin and move on, then come back to the research in the second draft, once my immediate thoughts are already recorded.

My rough drafts wind up with around 400 comments apiece. It's scary, really.

Nienke said...

stephanie - good advice, thx. And, a great sidetrack when the muse doesn't want to come out and play.
alison - I can see how the information you dig up could influence the story.
shesawriter - I do it all the time too! That and read about how to write instead of writing!!
dana - I was hoping for a male assistant named Sven.
janna - I'm afraid I'll over research if I do it that way. But, I suppose it also depends on what you're writing about. Like Alison's example of writing about nursing - you have to know what your talking/writing about! Historicals also.
rachel - That sounds like a good way to go. I would think you'd end up only researching what you really need.

Thx for your comments everyone!

Im Chele In [dot] LA said...

..this is why I am a stagehand..
Over from the other Michele's..

Goofy Girl said...

I think I do most of it ahead of time so I can have a game plan of how to lay everything out. Then I do little bits of more detailed research to fill in details.

Tess said...

Nope - I do enough to start me off, then when I'm actually writing the first draft and come across a research need, I just enclose the question/fact/whatever required in square brackets and keep going. At the end, I go through my ms and take down all the things that need researching - at least half of them end up not being quite as important as I thought. The rest, I do tons of research for.

I can so easily get lost in research, I really have to discipline myself!