Avoiding Research Pitfalls

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Research: How much is too much?

Writing authentically is a challenge when a setting is unfamiliar to the author. Understanding setting and circumstance is necessary to maintain credibility with readers. The wrong application of science, for instance, can wreak havoc for an author. So, as most authors would agree, research is a task that cannot go by the wayside. Reading, visiting locations, observing people, watching documentaries or other films are all ways that writers can gather valuable knowledge.

With good research and copious notes at hand, the question becomes one of how to embed this new knowledge into the text. After all, every author wants the respect of readers. The need to show knowledge can be a compelling reason to add those research details to the text. New authors can feel a sense of obligation to prove the accuracy of their writing. Whatever the driving force, it is important to be selective about how to use facts in a plot.

Deciding how much research to include.

Authors research so they can write with confidence, but adding all of that research in a novel can be risky. After all, the plot is the most important component of a story. The author’s need to learn more before writing that plot is not the reader’s problem or interest. Drawing too much research through the text leads to a stalled plot. When the plot stalls, the reader needs a break and is very likely to take one. There are a few traps that authors should avoid in order to keep the reader actively engaged in the plot.

Detailed information pushed into the text through dialogue can be a sure indicator that the author did some recent research. Examples of this approach might include a child asking too many questions of an adult or an expert who explains in great detail the facts of a situation. Another pitfall can be feeding too much information to the reader when the main character reads a letter, a book, a news article, or hears a news report. Even placing the main character in a situation where he or she is forced to tell another character all about, for example, an explosion that killed three workers in a local plant can become problematic.

It’s important to let go of lengthy explanations. Consider the scene of an explosion. It isn’t necessary to include details of chemical reactions, how those chemicals were being used, exactly what went wrong in the process, what could have been done to prevent the problem from a scientific angle, and other technical information if those details are only serving to show the author “knows his stuff.” It is necessary to be sure that the bottom-line problem is scientifically accurate. Done. Move on. Save the reader from the details, particularly if the targeted audience is interested in the murder mystery or love story being told. Save detailed chemical reactions for scenes between the main character and the love interest.

Authors can work with the necessary level of detail for the plot to work. The key is to substantiate character decisions that drive a plot forward in very authentic ways. In other words, facts should make sense for the story.

In a first draft, a writer may include all of the research that was necessary for the story to take shape. Consider this revision technique when reviewing the material – read the scene out loud. Hearing the words is often enough for an author to recognize overindulgence in newly acquired knowledge. If it feels right, definitely leave the details intact. After all, the reader will be the final judge, and every writer has a keen perception of who those readers will be.

Happy Writing!