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Monday, 6 August 2012

Research - and how to be disciplined!

Yours may be a contemporary novel critiquing modern society. You may be creating a world from archived materials and ephemera. But the chances are that, in the end, you’ll have so much well-researched information threatening to overwhelm you, you’ll be tempted to include it.
This overload is not desirable. In fact, avoiding it is essential if you want your reader to stay with you. So what do you do with this embarrassment of riches?
I posed the question to the massed ranks of the LinkedIn Historical Novelists and their replies were so useful, I’ve asked permission to share. Here are some of their suggestions.
First and foremost - when you’re writing a novel for an audience - you should remember you are doing so as an entertainer, not a teacher.
You may enjoy the chase – following research trail after trail. But if you think you’re going to lose yourself and your grip in this, you may need to hire a researcher. This professional will not only track down what you need to know but also create a filing system so you can find the information again.
A reader has a right to expect accuracy and if accuracy is the hallmark of your research, you can be proud. But the task may be complex. For example, if your characters are setting sail from Australia in the 1900s, you need to control the charts to establish the route, consider the weather conditions for a summer or winter voyage and establish an accurate time-line.

One of the major problems attached to too much research is The Dump. But how much is too much? And how do you know if you’ve included too much information? Don’t worry - you’ll recognise the Dump. It’ll take the form of a close-grained passage that advances neither the story nor your knowledge of the internal workings of a character and – during a re-edit – you’ll be tempted to skip it.  A good rule of thumb is: Never bore yourself or your reader!

But apt scientific fact or concise historical detail can add so much. And – with a light touch - you can avoid the Dump. Vary your approach. A straight account of fact may appear like a rock in the shallows. But you could write in bored teenagers responding to a parental account of an event. Or set women gossiping about it at a village well? Or a newspaper report? The possibilities are many and your writer’s craft will help you explore these  - while keeping your reader attentive.
So what do you do with any excess information? You could use it in a blog?  Or write another novel based on it?  Nothing – ever - need go to waste!