Tuesday, February 14, 2012


There is an excellent article in the New York Times today on how Eugenides (THE MARRIAGE PLOT) researched the work of yeast geneticists so thoroughly even a yeast geneticist was amazed. (Always read the Science section).

With short stories, you can't throw yourself in quite so far although I read quite a few articles and book chapters to understand work with primates for Monkey Justice. Right now I am trying to understand the concept of the angry ghosts that the Vietnamese believe haunt their country for a story on a vet. It is hard to know where the research should stop and the writing begin sometimes. Even for readers, a book can become an information dump if you're not careful.

What say you writers? Do you get tangled up with the need to relate all you have learned in a piece of fiction? And readers, do you get frustrated with too much information?


Dana King said...

The best piece of advise I've read on this front--and it has helped me immensely--is not to do much research until after first draft. Know something about the subject, of course, but make notes on what you need to know better and research those specific things between drafts.

I used to argue that the writer needed more in-depth knowledge to get the tone right, but I've come to believe much of that can be worked in on later drafts, again, with the assumption the writer wasn't totally ignorant when beginning.

I research much less than I used to, as I've begun to write more about topics with which I am already familiar, which makes it easy for me to follow the above advice. I used to spend a lot of time in your conundrum, wondering how much research is enough. Now I've found the best way to keep from boring the reader with my research is not to rely on it any more than I have to.

And, oh, yes, do i hate writers who feel as though they need to make sure I know as much about something as they do. Not even non-fiction writers can get away with that. In fiction it's death.

Chad said...

I'm absolutely guilty of too much researching. Sometimes to a ridiculously tiny level.

F.T. Bradley: said...

I'm doing exactly what Dana suggests: writing the first draft and researching later. It's hard though; I like to have nifty nuggets of detail lead the story.

But I'm a terrible research geek. I don't allow myself to get too caught up anymore, because it takes sooo much time.

And as a reader, I hate that info-dump. You can tell when an author fell in love with their topic too much.

Anonymous said...

Not a writer (obviously) but as a reader I agree you can see when a writer is determined to show off how much research s/he did by cramming it all in.

Jeff M.

Anita Page said...

I've been struggling for months with a chapter for which I've done a lot of research. The problem, I've come to realize, is that the research gets in the way of the emotional heart of the scene. Figuring out the problem is one thing, working out the solution is another matter.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Such good points. It can be an excuse not to start if I'm not careful.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - There is such a balance between giving information and "information overload!" In general, when I read, I like information that is relevant to the plot. I also like it if the author perhaps has a few suggested resources at the end; that way if I'm particularly interested in a topic, I can find out more later.

George said...

Richard Powers, the novelist (not the artist), does plenty of research before he writes his science-based novels. I'm always impressed with the amount of information Powers provides in his novels. But it's not just an info-dump like I sometimes endure in contemporary science fiction novels.