1. sambot98
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    sambot98 New Member

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    Is there such a thing as doing TOO much research?

    Discussion in 'Research' started by sambot98, May 27, 2015.

    Hi,

    New guy, here. When you are working on a writing piece, do you think one can spend too much time researching versus actually getting some of your thoughts on paper? In the past, I've found myself becoming too involved in the research process instead of actually constructing a rough draft of my story.
    Opinions? Insights gleamed from personal experiences?
     
  2. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    My WIP is set in 11th century England, so I've done a lot of research into my characters, who knew whom, who was related to whom, etc.

    I've just realized - as I was writing it - that the reason why character A (minor player) hated my protag was actually a better reason for character B (major player) to hate my protag. Plus, character A is actually a bigger player than I'd previously thought. Hmmm.

    So, looks like too much research. Except that, if I'd written it the original way, anybody who knew the period would have called me out on it. Plus, upping the ante for character A could make it a much stronger piece overall.

    So, while it may delay or slow your writing, I don't believe you can ever know TOO much.
     
  3. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sometimes people get caught in a research trap, where they research, research, research and never really get around to writing.

    So I'd say this depends on your goal for your writing. If you want a pleasant way to spend your time, and are enjoying the research, then, no, there's no such thing as too much, as long as you're enjoying yourself.

    If your goal is to produce a book within a reasonable period of time (I leave the definition of "reasonable" up to the individual writer), then, yeah, spending too much time on research could be a mistake.
     
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  4. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I spent 10 years (part time) researching my historical. When I felt I had a sufficient grasp to write intelligently in every time period my story covered, I started writing. But there were several times after I started writing that I went back and either did some additional background reading (especially if new sources came to my attention) or fact checking.
     
  5. Lancie
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    Lancie Contributing Member

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    I certainly get caught in research traps. I really love history but I find it incredibly difficult to write a historical setting. Last year for Nano (national novel writing month) I really wanted to write a piece set in the Regency era in London. I researched and read books, made notes and all sorts but ultimately fell flat. I felt like I was forcing characters and plot into the time period and still didn't feel like I was doing the history side of things any justice. Although I know it really didn't help I was writing for nano, I tried to pick it up again afterwords and have had to drop it now.

    It's a tough one. If you say, for example, a character has a job that either didn't exist or lives in a style of house that wasn't accurate you may think, who cares? But I do think people will care. The setting itself becomes a plot hole. However, knowing the ins and outs of the tile making industry in 17th century France might be overkill.

    I think if you have a real passion and interest in a particular historical event or era, and have the time to develop it then research is important, as long as it supports your story.
     
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  6. BookLover
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    BookLover Contributing Member

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    My first reaction was, no, you can't do too much research. Your story will be all the stronger for it, but if it's stopping you from writing, then yes, of course, it's too much.

    I don't do anything historical, and I like to make up fictional settings just to avoid doing research. lol. But I still find I have to research other things like careers, cars, clothing. Sometimes I'll gloss over things in my first draft. For example, in my WIP I want one of my main characters to have a car that shows he has money but also matches his personality, but I don't know diddly about cars so I just put in "he pulled up in his ???" :p I'll fill in all my question marks and add other details about his car when I edit. I don't have time to research cars right now. I have a plot to move over here!
     
  7. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know if you can do "too much" research, but It's entirely possible to do research that's entirely unneeded. It's good to be grounded, but you can take such a deep dive that you end up learning details that don't actually help your story - which at the end should be about characters more than the world they inhabit.

    I love research for it's own sake - I read encyclopedias for fun as a kid - so a lot of my story ideas come either from pre-existing knowledge bases or things I purposefully want to know more about (I inserted a Jain character into my story so I had an excuse to get a more comprehensive view of Jainism). But they key is not letting the research get in the way of the actual writing.

    That's not so much a question of how much research you do. It's a question of when you do it. If you set aside writing time, then writing time has to be for writing. Research is not allowed during writing time unless you write yourself into a corner and have to google a detail to write yourself out of it (even that's a slippery slope).

    And as with any element of worldbuilding - you need to identify what about the world you need to know and research THAT. Granted I'm not terribly good at that, but it's important. In my example above, that meant ignoring any research on Jain doctrine and laser focussing on material detailing how modern American Jains implement their religious practice in concert with modern life.
     
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  8. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    For me, doing research for a historically-set novel is/was a pleasure, because I've chosen a historical period that a) I've been reading about since I was a child, and b) it's one I enjoy and feel at home in. Consequently, I was able to concoct a basic story, and do research enough to tweak the bits I didn't know. I still go cold every time I run across a fact about that period, and have to run back to make sure I haven't made some major error in my novel. So far, so good ...I will never knowingly make a mistake. That means if I discover one, I will definitely correct it. However, as my story is now 'finished' except for formatting, I'm praying to all the powers that be that nobody discovers a glaring error now!

    The more research you do, the more bits will turn up that you can use in your story. Without the research, all you have at your disposal is what you already know. With research, you have more tools to work with. Rather than confining my writing, I found that research expanded it. It's common, I reckon, to concentrate on the wee world your characters inhabit, and to forget, sometimes, that there is a wider world out there that affects your characters' lives. Research gives a window onto that larger world, and you can haul bits of it in, to enrich your story and your setting.
     
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  9. sambot98
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    sambot98 New Member

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    I have several ideas for historically based stories and a few alternative historical ones. It seems that anything historically-based involves significant research. I read that the author of "The Historian" took 10 years to write. From reading it, I can tell she did some extensive and thorough research.

    Everyone has made some points. I guess it's a matter of finding a balance between the two.
     
  10. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have nothing to add other than to re-post the above so that it can be stated twice.
     
  11. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    And then she got a MASSIVE plot-hole because she decided that an express train would just stop in the middle of nowhere - simply so she could dump her MC in the middle of nowhere.

    Making an assumption, instead of doing the research and, worse, not even using her common sense.
     
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  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Woops. Really? She did that? Oh, dear. If you want to do something strange like that, you have to set it up. If your express train runs into difficulty ...the driver dies of a heart attack at the controls, and they have to stop the train to let somebody else take over ...you can make anomalies work. But you do have to take account of them.
     
  13. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    I am doing research, but it's currently assembling web pages, links, ideas in emails to myself, books and coursera courses. Once I actually sit down to start reading / digesting it all, I will be taking copious notes and what not as I already have an idea of how the story arcs look, and will be looking for a good foundation that supports them. The notes will not be text for novels, but will be halfway between the research and actual writing.

    Can you do something similar?

    Or are you already?

    Might be an interesting discussion - how do you do research?
     
  14. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Certainly, if the driver died at the controls the train would be stopped by the dead man's handle. So, let's say it's the middle of nowhere, like a tiny village with nothing but fields for thirty miles...the chances that the driver would die conveniently close to the village are vanishingly small, and the chances of it being close enough to a road to taxi a replacement driver there aren't good. So, they'd have to find a way to send another train to take him (assuming a spare driver was on roster! Sorry, I mean two spare drivers - one to take the "taxi" train home again - And that he was trained on that route!) and some clever signalbox work to get two trains into the same block at the same time.

    Meanwhile, the passengers are sitting in an increasingly hot train because they can't get out unless the guard unlocks the doors, and the guard won't unlock the doors because he can't have a few hundred people milling around close to high voltage cables and another line where an express is likely to be belting along at anywhere up to 200 kph.

    I suppose the SNCF may be a little less draconian?

    But little chance of our MC making it to the middle of nowhere.
     
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  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, I'm not familiar with the story ...just playing around with the idea of stopping an unstoppable train. Mind you, I was on one once, leaving Boston that stopped for several hours in the middle of nowhere because there was 'a body on the tracks.' No explanation other than that was ever given to us passengers, and we weren't apparently responsible for the body. "There is another train ahead of us." But things like this do happen.
     
  16. Hwaigon
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    Hwaigon Contributing Member Reviewer

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    I guess doing too much research would mean branching off into not-so-closely-related topics, much as they may be interesting. If you stick to your primary topic, you'll know it when you've compiled enough relevant information to work with
     

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