Research – How Much is Enough or How Much is Too Much?
Once your first draft is completed, you might decide there are areas that you need to research. How long a body will keep in a refrigerator, for instance. Or how apt someone is to be struck by lightning while jogging through San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in July. Or whether or not the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City is uptown or downtown from where your main character is. There are many details that writers have to research to make sure they are correct.
Just like anything, some authors love to research and others hate it. Those who love it can get lost in researching, using precious writing time to keep researching nit-picky details that simply aren’t necessary to the story. Those who hate researching may cavalierly assume that their details are correct and not bother taking the time to conduct important research. Whether you love it or hate researching, though, it’s a necessary task.
When writing your story, you’re the expert. You know the characters and the plotline better than anyone else does. You should also know the other details, as well. If you write that MOMA is downtown from Wall Street, you’d better be sure you’re correct! Otherwise, a streetwise New York City resident is going to say, “No way, Jose!” And bingo, you’ve lost your credibility as the expert. Something as simple as misspelling Walmart (I see this particular issue all the time in manuscripts I edit) could make your readers lose faith in your story. At the very least, it may give them pause while they think about whether or not you’re correct. (Other readers may not notice at all.) Since you’ve now taken them out of the story, you have to work at drawing them back in again. It’s an unnecessary interruption that you could have avoided.
So the answer to the question “How much is enough?” is as much is needed to ensure all your facts are correct. A freelance book editor can help in this regard, as many will query facts they believe are wrong. I even have a proofreading symbol, “CYF,” which translates into “Check Your Facts.”
The answer to the question “How much is too much?” is when you’re spending valuable writing time researching things that aren’t going to appear in your book at all. Some authors, especially historical authors, spend a lot of time researching a period or event before they even start writing. While this may prove helpful, it’s also easy to become caught up in researching and end up with tons of material that isn’t even going to be used. When you understand the basic facts, it may be more useful to start writing and save the research for the material you really need.
Next week we’ll discuss ‘When to use “which” or “that”?’
This series is not meant to be (nor will it be) simple static information.
I’ll be here for each post to answer questions, offer suggestions as necessary, and interact with you.
If there’s something you specifically want (or need!) to see addressed in terms of self-editing, please let me know in the comments under this, or any of the articles of the series.