Sunday, December 20, 2015

Too Much Research?

I've spoken before that I do more research for pieces of fiction than I ever did for school.  Keeping your writing grounded is necessary when you start touching on points that a large part of your audience knows, like the structure of the Catholic Church or the layout of the interstate highway system in the US.

However, you can take this too far.  Of course it's always great to know things, but in finding them out, we oftentimes feel an obligation to let everyone know as much as we do.  After all, what good is all that research if we can't share it with our audience?

Don't get caught in this trap.  Your research is to provide enough background and realism in your story for the reader to enjoy it, not for you to become a professor.  I found myself in this trap when writing The Onyx Cluster.  The main character goes forward in time, and he needs a great deal of energy to do this, to say nothing of the mechanics of time travel.  Therefore I did a lot of research on cyclotrons and curved space/time apertures.  It was very heady, and I felt so smart explaining how it was accomplished in the first chapter.

Then I caught myself and erased nearly the whole thing.

Time travel was a vehicle to get us into the story, but it wasn't the story itself.  I had to remember that the audience cares just enough to accept that time travel could really happen.  They don't care about how many coils the machines at the FermiLab have.  I went back to my work and deleted a great deal - nearly 3000 words - that would've made a great speculative science paper but did nothing to tell us about the post-apocalyptic future the main character encountered.  It hurt, but it was necessary.

Remember why you research.  It's not to come off as an erudite know-it-all.  If your readers wanted to read about the Battle of Cannae, they'd have bought a book about that, not your epic on the mysterious intrigue about replacing Hannibal with an inter-dimensional creature who wanted to alter Earth's history.

It's okay to be smart and learn in order to make your book better.  Just don't outsmart yourself.

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