Monday, June 22, 2015

Stepping out into the unknown

Sometimes you become so interested in the research for your book that it takes over the story. What do you do to keep it from becoming a treatise that only serves to make your readers’ eyes close with boredom?

by Meredith Cole

It's easy to get distracted when you're writing. Sometimes, instead of actually fixing a plot point that doesn't work at all, you can find yourself distracted by research. You dig deep to find out everything there is to know about a certain gun or traffic patterns in the city where your book is set. The next thing you know, you have enough for a non-fiction book on the topic and you've completely neglected your fiction altogether.

So how do you show your reader that you know your stuff without boring them completely? I think the secret is in the details you sprinkle throughout your story. If the details that are relevant to your story ring true, your reader will be right there with you. But if you're heavy handed with the details and interrupt the story to explain something for pages and pages (just to show them that you know your stuff) you'll lose them. Eventually, too, you have to leave the research behind and take a leap into the unknown and enter the world you've created.

Right now I'm grappling with the question of how much research is enough and how much is too much with my current book. It's set in 1951 in a small town. I've been surprised by how much 1951 was similar to the way we live today (cars, refrigerators, telephones, television...). But the difference really is in the details. The prices of things. The language. The options for women. I've done far more research on bank security and details on life in the 1950's than will ever make it to the final pages. But hopefully when you read it, it will feel right to you and the story will suck you in. And then I can feel like I've done my job.


Paul D. Marks said...

Good stuff, Meredith. The other problem with research, at least for me, is that it's a great procrastination tool. You can tell yourself you're working when you're really just having fun looking stuff up, clicking from hyperlink to hyperlink. And you're definitely right about trying to get the balance between giving a feel for a time or place and writing a dissertation on it.

Art Taylor said...

Nice post, Meredith—and looking forward to the 1951 story!

Meredith Cole said...

Thanks for stopping by Art and Paul! I know research can be a lot of fun (and can suck you in) but you definitely have to stop at some point and write! I'm looking forward to my book being done, too, Art!

RJ Harlick said...

Good post, Meredith. Interesting year, 1951. Good luck with the research.

Meredith Cole said...

Thanks Robin! I'm finding it a very interesting year indeed (but of course most of it won't end up in the book!)

Triss said...

Well, it helps when my publisher reminds me that I am writing a mystery not a history book! They seem to think I shouldn't forget the plotting, tension, suspense and all that other stuff. :-)