1. Danvok
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    Danvok Senior Member

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    How Much Research Do I Need?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Danvok, Sep 2, 2012.

    I'm working on a story, for this forum, set in a death-row prison in Nashville Tennessee. It's been a while since I've done research on a project and the last time it happened I became so bogged down with my material that the story never materialized.

    It's going to be largely fictionionalized, as I think the one thing I can't gather from the period is the atmosphere of the prison itself and the characters within it. Basically, I feel that the basis of the story is the characters which may, in one way or another, be trapped inside the prison system in various ways-- whether as guards, prisoners, etc.

    How much, or little, research should I do on this story? I've already started writing and I was thinking of using research for the editing process to bring the project together.

    What does everyone think?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The only possible answer is to do exactly as much research as your story demands.

    As with nearly everything else in writing, you have to find your own balance through trial and error, aka experience.
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto that... no one can give you a 'just right' quantity... there is no such thing... how much you need to do depends on how much you know, how well you research, and how much basic info, detail and historical background is needed for whatever it is you're writing...
     
  4. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    This all depends on the angle of your story. I wrote a prison story - which is on my blog here. And I didn't
    do any research. I focused mainly on the interraction between two roommates. And coasted on memories
    of old prison movies.

    Maybe make out a list of specific questions that might crop up, and you want the answers to - that
    will keep you focused on limiting your research. Once the questions are answered back off and
    start writing - don't let yourself get swamped.
     
  5. ArtWander
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    ArtWander Contributing Member

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    I always go a bit overboard on the research when I need to figure something out. The way I see it, I need to be a master on the subject, so I can settle even the most knowledgeable reader on the subject :)
     
  6. Program
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    I suggest writing the story the way you want it to be written, and if you get a problem, such as "Did they have [this item] in the prison?", just put it in there. Use just what you already know to write the story. Anyways, it's not like you're writing the story for a researcher trying to get a PhD in the Study of Prison Life. What you know is probably all your readers will know without research.

    After you are done with the writing, research the topic to make sure everything makes sense and then patch up anything significantly historically inaccurate (significantly is a key word). Now you should have a better idea of "how much research do I need?" You just have to make sure every event you wrote is reasonably consistent. Small deatils, such as "they ate bacon" when they actually ate beef should be fine, since it's a work of fiction. Only the big problems, such as "they had back massages everyday" when they obviously did not, should be fixed.

    This way, you are not limited by research while you are writing. In addition, you don't have your problem of getting bogged down by research.
     
  7. ...
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    ... Member

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    inaccuracies will put me off a writer straight away.

    I'd say research well beyond what you need to or just don't go there. You should also visit a prison and get the sights and smells down.
     
  8. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I look at it just the opposite - I want to do the research either ahead of time or as I'm writing so I don't end up tossing out huge portions of the story that are based on inaccuracies. It shouldn't take any more time to do the research first, and could save hours/days/weeks rewriting after.
     
  9. JamesOliv
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    JamesOliv Senior Member

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    I agree.

    Just the other day I picked up a book and was immediately informed that the MC loaded "bullets" into his musket. I put the book in the freezer to protect me during the night.

    The only people who will be able to dispute the accuracy of your book are those serving (or working on) death row in Tennessee. BUT, there are plenty of people who are familiar with prison through experience (as a job or as an inmate) or research. So if your MC pulls out a steak knife in his cell or fiddles with his dog tags from a life since gone, people will call you out on basic prison inaccuracies.

    I know that I hate it when they make a Navy mistake on TV (sorry JAG, Navy lawyers don't go on secret spy missions). I imagine there are quite a few folks yelling at the TV (or putting down a book) when a very basic prison mistake is witnessed.

    Do as much research as the story warrants. And unless you've been in prison, I'd say the story warrants some.
     
  10. maidahl
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    maidahl Banned

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    Go overboard. Make your overkill happen in research so you have enough to make your story plausible. There should be a lot of notes left over. A believable story that isn't "written from what you know" needs a sh!t ton of planning. Unless you're the genius that says you hand-wrote it in one take, pen and ruled paper, and published it as is.
     
  11. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    You need to feel confident about your story for it to please you and accomplish what you set out to do. For some people this means a lot of research is needed, for others, little or none.
     
  12. maidahl
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    maidahl Banned

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    I think research is always needed. Life experience is a method of research. Without research, you have nothing. No foundation to build credibility.

    I like your mentioning confidence though. Research builds strength behind every written adventure.
     
  13. Danvok
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    Danvok Senior Member

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    Thanks for the answers everybody!
     

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