A man will turn over half a library to make one book.
- Samuel Johnson
I’m not a fan of researching things for stories.
I like researching, and I like writing stories, but I don’t like doing the two together.
When working on a story, I want to just tell the story; I don’t want to stop and research. So when I reach a point in a story requiring information I don’t have stored in my head, I make a little note in brackets, highlight it, and later research what I need.
And then, I only find as much as I need to tell the story…
* * *
It’s been suggested that I research before writing the story, but I’m not a fan of researching before telling the tale. That leads to one of my biggest pet peeves as a reader: sections of a story that are obviously the result of research.
Nothing pulls me from a story like a technical description that goes beyond what the narrator would know, or talk about. It’s jarring when it’s clear that the author is dropping as much information culled from research that they can; after all, they put in the time, so why not put it all down on the page?
Because it’s usually too much.
I recently read the first chapter of a story that started out with an undertaker preparing a body for a funeral. I enjoyed what I read…enough that I will eventually buy the book. But there was a scene describing the tilted examination table “for maximum blood drainage.”
It’s a given that a tilted table used by an undertaker draining somebody from the carotid artery is tilted to aid in the bloodletting. But the author felt the need to drop in that extra tidbit of information, to make sure that everybody knows that somewhere in her research, she found out that tables used during autopsies and preparing bodies for funerals are tilted to aid with draining the body of fluids.
It just didn’t seem like something the narrator would have said.
It went one step beyond what was necessary, and it was put there, I’m guessing, because the writer wanted to be sure everybody knew the research was done.
If somebody shoots somebody in a story with a shotgun, why not just say they were shot with a shotgun? Or maybe a Mossberg 500 shotgun if the author feels it adds something. But don’t say “a Mossberg 500 pump action 6-shot Roadblocker with black matte finish, heat shielding, a bead sight, and a pistol grip.”
That’s just too much.
Unless there’s a character who really would go into that much detail, it’s best to leave the majority of what is learned in research off the page.
The trick with researching is to make what goes on the page sound like it was common knowledge to the character or narrator sharing the information–not something the author learned the day before and wanted to share with the world.