1. Derelict
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    Derelict New Member

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    Using detailed research in your story. too much?

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Derelict, Sep 12, 2015.

    I'm not sure if this question fits in this category, but it has to do with the topic of research. Kind of.

    I'm researching viruses and diseases for a fictional story. My question is, how detailed do I need to be when describing the virus/disease/sickness to the reader? I know detail is important, but not all the time. Should I explain all of the ins and outs of the outbreak, or keep it somewhat simple?

    Thanks for your help!
     
  2. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    It's hard to answer that question without seeing what you've written, but research is done to keep YOU, the writer, from making huge mistakes. If you're writing from the perspective of a doctor, you might be inclined to mention more about the virus itself than if you are a patient (who doesn't know much yet) or an outside observer. Research works like an iceberg. 90-95% of it stays hidden.

    If you were an author writing a story about, say, a midwestern, small-town neighbourhood (where the author grew up), you would not include every detail of every house, the name of everybody who lives in every house, the colour of their front doors, the kind of flowers they're growing in each of their gardens, how many trees each yard has, how long each family has lived there, what kind of car each car owner drives, etc etc. Even though you, the author, 'knows' this stuff. You'd only pull in certain details to make the story come alive and seem realistic. However, because you know your neighbourhood well, you wouldn't make the mistake of adding in a skycraper or a marina either.

    An author who didn't know what a midwestern neighbourhood was like and didn't bother to do research, might put a skyscraper and a marina into their story because it served their plot. Those are the kinds of mistakes that good research prevents you from making. It's not what you show the reader, it's what you know yourself that really counts.
     
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  3. Derelict
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    Derelict New Member

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    This was extremely helpful. Thank you!
     
  4. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    I think I hear what you say. It would be appropriate to put a depiction of the Space Needle in Anchorage, since it's just a suburb of Seattle.
     
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  5. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have two personal rules to this.

    1. Never let the truth ruin a good story.

    I mean afterall it is fiction for a reason. Unless you are claiming to be historically accurate. I don't think people are gonig to harp to strongly on you intentionally setting somthing up. I suppose you would need to do the research to know that. lol.

    2. It is more important to sound truthful then to be truthful.

    Kind of sad at that but I think it is true. Give a reader something that sound pluasible how every untrue. They will probably eat it up. Give the reader a unplausible read fact. They are more likely to call bullshit.

    My two cents. It is never bad to do research but how you apply it varries. Like Jannert said. It is more to keep you straight but that doesn't mean you have to follow the truth or descript it in great detail.
     
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  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I didn't mean you shouldn't keep to the truth when you do research. In fact, what's the point of doing research if you're just going to ignore it? My point was that you shouldn't try to tell the reader everything you know.

    There is a great difference between writing fantasy, where you can do whatever you want, and writing something set in the real world. If you goof writing about the real world, somebody WILL catch you at it! And if you goof and get caught, it weakens your story. People then don't know what is real and what is yet another mistake, and the believability of your story can slip away from you.

    You can certainly put an afterward into your book, saying what bits are historically (or factually) accurate and what you chose to 'make up,' as regards setting and characters. You can get away with intentional inaccuracies if you let readers know what you've done. But do it unintentionally, and you're asking for trouble.

    My own personal philosophy is that I never knowingly make mistakes. I certainly make them—but if I catch them, I change the story to accomodate them. Now that my story is at the near-publication stage, I have tin kittens every time I read some piece of information that might scupper my story! Yikes. So far, none have appeared that I couldn't tweak right ...but still, yikes.

    And yes, there will be an 'afterward' in my book. All of my characters are fictional, and I've fictionalised the immediate setting they live in. But the locale and the history of the locale are all 'real,' as are the details of life during that period. At least I hope they are!
     
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  7. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can only add to what jannert says in her first paragraph.

    Many people make the mistake of meticulously researching something, and then giving their characters a text-book knowledge of this, when in truth there's no good reason for them to know so much.

    Not that I'm suggesting this is what you've done, but it's worth noting anyway.
     
  8. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    It also depends in part on your goals for the story. Sometimes stories are written to inform the reader to some degree, as well as to entertain. In such books, the author might provide more research and fact in the story than they otherwise would.
     
  9. Bookster
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    Bookster Banned

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    I think you need to be careful about TMI. I just read Dick Wolf's latest thriller. Good story, but the book was nearly ruined by Wolf's apparent need to show his readers how much he knows about certain aspects of military technology. There's also another suspense writer (her name escapes me) who makes the same mistake in her novels about New York City. She selects an aspect of the city in which to base the story (I remember one about Central Park and one set in Grand Central Station), then proceeds to beat that venue to death with an overload of facts and history.
     
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  10. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    I really dislike authors "showing their research" as it's called. Jean M Auel's Earth's Children is notorious for this.

    I found myself doing it when I was writing about a cricket match. I have zero interest in cricket and had zero knowledge of it, so I quizzed my husband for ages until I understand how to write the chapter. My first draft was full of unimportant details that I needed to understand to make sure the chapter made sense to a cricket fan. My second draft has about three sentences related to the game. The first draft was necessary for me to get it out of my system but I would always strip it out in an edit.

    Give your reader detail if it's:
    a) necessary to understand what's going on
    b) important to the plot

    Otherwise, cut it. It might be interesting to you but unless it's a textbook, you're not there to educate the reader.
     
  11. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think your job as a fiction writer is so limited. It could be to entertain, to educate, to make the reader think about social issues or the human condition, or all of these things at once.
     
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  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    You're absolutely right, in that readers read for many different reasons, and 'get' many things out of what they read besides just entertainment, if the book has gravitas. I, for one, enjoy reading fiction that's full of detail and information, as long as it's interestingly presented and is pertinent to the story. I like to think I'm learning as well as enjoying myself.

    I have also read books where the detail is tedious and not particularly engaging. It's probably all down to personal preference. However, stuffing in everything you've learned while researching your novel is probably not a hot idea—unless you've done very little research! That's really the point, I suppose. Use research to enrich your story, but never let it overwhelm your story, or haul readers out of your story so they can admire all the stuff you know.
     
  13. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh yeah when I used your name. I just meant that I agree that research is like an iceberg. Most of it beauty is beneath the surface.

    Though I think mistakes are alright if they are informed. Let me give an example.

    Lets say we took a story set in real life Japan during the Segoku Period of Japan The story is about the real life historical figure Shingen Takeda. I don't actually remember how he died but for the sake of my example lets imagine he died of illness(Which I think is correct.) Now if I am doing a book using him as my main character or a main character and I want to show him die. I don't need him to die by illness. I could have him assassinated. Yet even though I, from the start, don't plan to use his real death in my book. I can or should still research it because I might learn that he died by an illness and I can show him having that illness to have elements of historical accuracies while not having to follow the entire history. Right? :)
     
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  14. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I think you are right in that it depends on the reader. There was a hard science fiction novel in the 80s that was well-received in general that one reviewer said was a textbook on neutron stars cleverly disguised as a novel. It was a good book, but the amount of scientific detail might have put off others. Some people have had a similar reaction to the technical terminology and other aspects of books like Greg Egan's Diaspora, but it is really a remarkable novel.
     
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  15. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    Let's summarize this by using another form of artistic expression - drawing.

    When an artist draws a picture of a person, the representation of the figure is shown so that the artist's skill becomes apparent. Let's ignore the mechanics of the assembly, like word choice and structure in writing, and get to the "research part". An artist who studies anatomy can produce amazing artwork, highlighting muscles, bone structure that simply cannot be faked. In writing, understanding what you are describing is essential for a simple reason - if you do not understand what you are describing, how can your reader hope to understand it?

    This often manifests as consistency, for diseases and things that are a major focus, you need to understand them even if your characters do not. This knowledge need not be given in full, but symptoms, progression and other traits need to be known as people in life or death situations will take notice of every little thing. Understanding how it works prevents you from making blunders in your descriptions which will interfere with the integrity of the story.

    This applied to zombie-viruses and stuff can be hilarious. Mostly since the "walking dead" are also apparently immune to bugs and other carrion animals. Sorry, but "we have been running for 2 years" in a Zombie outbreak work defies logic. Hiding in a bomb shelter for two months is more than enough time unless you are in Siberia.
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2015
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  16. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Right.
     
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  17. Flying Geese
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    Flying Geese Contributing Member

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    I only read what Jannert said and I agree. I'll add to it it just a bit.

    Let's assume you're writing a SCI-FI novel and everyone already knows how the virus works in your world (as you would use a different method if your characters were discovering the virus along with the reader). You could have the POV character as a doctor (or some background that puts him into contact with a lot of infected). The opening scene could be of the doctor sifting through a bunch of near-death patients as she writes them off as lost causes. I'd say do no more than three bodies, each time, having an assistant describing something about the virus as they move on to the third body. That gets the reader going. Then later in the story, after the plot is moving, you can run into another character who just caught the virus.

    I said all that to say: Explain as you go.
     

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