How much research is too much research?

Discussion in 'Research' started by RedRidingHood, Sep 20, 2011.

  1. RedRidingHood

    RedRidingHood Apprentice

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    How much research into myths or world creation do people do? Sometimes I feel like all I do is research, but then when I go to write, I feel like I'm just writing an essay, not fiction. How do you find a balance?
     
  2. Johnny Cosmo

    Johnny Cosmo Grandmaster

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    As long as you are crafting your own mythology, or a unique version of an existing one, then I don't think any amount of research can be considered 'too much'. I've been researching for a story a while now, but I know it'll be worth it. I want my world to be consistent and realistic, and the best way to do this is to research real history and mythology.

    In short: I wouldn't worry about it, unless it's preventing you from writing at all. You can always redraft your work if you feel it lacks tone and character. Writing something 'less' academic sounding will probably just take experience.
     
  3. Dreamer

    Dreamer Apprentice

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    I don't think that in my experience there is such a thing really as too much research. Store the information you gather away and
    let it work its way into your piece. I have had trouble at times like you said with it sounding like an essay. It feels like the
    research takes over and you spout out more facts than the piece you are trying to create. It has helped me at times to just go
    ahead and write as I feel and either turn the information I have put in to the story into more of a story, or to add some information
    where it feels it is lacking. That is the beauty of revision :)
     
  4. Bass_Thunder37

    Bass_Thunder37 Journeyman

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    Well, though I agree that there can't really be too much research if you feel it's necessary, theres one way for there to be too much research.
    "When it makes you want to stop writing.
    If you get to the point where your research is getting in the way of writing, you should stop letting it get you to that point, and just write based on what you do know. So what if you mess up or change something? It makes your story yours, and because it's yours, you can make whatever you want.
     
  5. Ravana

    Ravana Istari

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    No such thing as too much research. Not possible. You may not use everything you collect–should not use everything you collect, if you're doing it correctly; but it may come in useful at a later date, and could well lead you to additional material you do want to use for a current project that you wouldn't have discovered otherwise.
     
    Sparkie likes this.
  6. Leuco

    Leuco Lore Master

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    I usually do research as I write, mostly as a form of troubleshooting. For example, if I'm going to include horses or castles, I want to make sure I'm using the appropriate language. If I'm going to talk about a mountain, maybe I should find a picture of one, look up what it is, learn more about it's geology and composition. Is it slate, sandstone, or granite? What's the difference? Is it volcanic rock? Does that mean I'm really looking for a volcano instead? Does it fit with my setting? I don't know, so I read a bit about it. It's the same with weapons, armor, and things like boats. I try to find a picture of what matches my imagination and then I read a bit so I can write about it more effectively. I might pull plot ideas from headlines, but that's not really research. Oh, and the thesaurus! I'm constantly looking for the best word possible. Then sometimes I need to go into a dictionary to make sure I'm using it right!

    To better answer your question, I'd say it's normal to do a lot of research. As for finding a balance, I'd recommend to just start writing and then research as you go.
     
  7. Johnny Cosmo

    Johnny Cosmo Grandmaster

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    I do this too, for the type of things you mentioned. For cultural research though, I just read as much as I can and apply what I need. I guess it's a different sort of research.
     
  8. ShortHair

    ShortHair Mystagogue

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    A guideline or truism I saw somewhere in the distant past said, you will gather about ten times as much research as you need to put in the finished product. Possibly a corollary of Sturgeon's Law. So which ten percent do you actually use? That's one thing that separates published authors from the rest of us.
     
  9. Sparkie

    Sparkie Dark Lord

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    Good point. I know from my own researching experience that good ideas can come from dilligent study. Perhaps even the best ideas.
     
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2011
  10. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    If your writing feels like an essay, I don't think the problem is in your research. You could end up with the same problem in a purely imaginative world.

    I'm going to refer you to this thread from elsewhere on these forums, and specifically to Ouroboros' remarks on page 2 about "info-littering," a phrase I rather hope to see become popular parlance.
     
  11. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis magnanimus Moderator

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    Ravana is exactly right. You should not use all of the research you collected. Nor should you use all of the backstory or world-creation you've done. If you feel like you are writing an essay, you are likely putting in way too much information that is not important to the story and that the reader doesn't need (or care) to know about. Having all of this information is valuable to the writer in terms of creating a consistent, deep, and believable world, but the writer should resist the urge to tell all of it to the reader. Too many writers feel that since they spent a lot of time on these elements that it all has to be worked into the story one way or another.
     
  12. writeshiek33

    writeshiek33 Mystagogue

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    i bought a whole book on ancient roman army (Blackwell series) it 600 pages worth of facts by various writers since doing research for alt history scifi fantasy using Romulus the last emperor will i use everything in there maybe not but it gives me understanding of culture and roman army throughout history and it opening my mind to possibilities
     
  13. mirrorrorrim

    mirrorrorrim Master

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    I think it's important to focus your research on what matters for your writing. For example, if you're not going to mention gods or religion in your story, I don't think there's much point in poring hours of research into it (except, of course, for your personal benefit). On the other hand, if an important part of your story is the main hero forging a sword, I think it's important to be able to write about that whole process with at least some degree of familiarity.

    I think in many ways, fantasy is a sort of hyper-reality; you change or don't include some parts of the real world in order to better focus on others. Because of that, I think there's a lot you don't need to know about, because you aren't writing about it, or aren't writing about it enough for it to really matter. Because of that, though, you need to know those things you are focusing on a lot better.

    For example, I'm currently writing a chapter in my fantasy story that deals with one of the main characters visiting a psychologist. This scene is very important for justifying some important actions that my main character later takes. I tried and tried and tried, but I just couldn't get the voice of my psychologist to sound real. He came off as far too much of a caricature. To fix this, I went out and bought a book that's all about how psychologists should talk to their patients. Hopefully, by the time I finish it, I'll be able to write a convincing psychologist. I won't directly share any on my research in my written pages, but it will (again, hopefully) indirectly be strongly reflected there.
     
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2011
  14. Ravana

    Ravana Istari

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    If you want to write a convincing psychologist, you should get to know one… or several. No book, certainly no single book, is going to do it for you… especially considering the number of people in the world who have experiences with them. (And your target audience is probably going to have a higher percentage of this than the general population, considering.) That's without even beginning to take into account what kind of shrink you want the character to be, from a theory standpoint: even a look at the Wikipedia article on psychology ought to give you a good notion of what you're up against there.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  15. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    That depends a little on where you are with your writing. If you're in the middle of a story and you know what you need to research you're absolutely right. The less you know about what you want to do, the more I think broader research topics are the way to go. I'm convinced that if I wrote out everything in my head I would pick up a book on "The History of Europe" and flip through the Encyclopedia at random.

    Reading broadly about a culture can also clear up a lot of weak assumptions people might find themselves making in their writings. You might not realize most of the mistakes you're making.
     
  16. mirrorrorrim

    mirrorrorrim Master

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    You're right, of course, but that's a little overwhelming, especially considering the amount of time my psychologist is actually in my story. Ideally, I'd actually go and pay for a couple of sessions with several different psychologists, but I just don't have the extra money for something like that. A ten-dollar e-book I can afford. Multiple $100+ sessions I can't. And I doubt my insurance company would accept "research" as an acceptable rationale for covering my visits. :p

    I do have a roommate that's studying to be a psychologist, as well as another close friend, so I am drawing a lot from both of them. It was my roommate that suggested the particular book I'm reading.

    Deep down, I feel that psychologists are just people, and so are driven by the same motivations, good and bad, as all the rest of us. I've seen as much in my friends' motivations for entering into the field. I think I'm okay at writing people, and in fact I think I could write a decent psychologist outside of a clinical setting. The tricky part for me is writing him inside of one. The only psychologist I ever visited was when I was only a child, and there was only a single session. Incidentally, I came out of it having quite a negative opinion of that particular psychologist. This, too, is having a strong influence on how I'm writing the psychologist in my story.

    Maybe someday if I'm ever rich, though, I'll come back and write do the research you're suggesting, so I can write a truly convincing psychologist. Maybe I'll even make him a main character. For now, though, I just want to get through to the end of the chapter!

    That's a great point. I've always been better at knowing what I want to write about than actually writing it, so I've never really been short on ideas. I guess I kind of tend to assume that everyone's like that! :p

    Thanks, Ravana and Devor, for pointing out some things I hadn't thought about.
     
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2011
  17. Ravana

    Ravana Istari

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    I'd bet against it, yeah.

    See if you can get one of your roomie's profs to lend you a little face time, maybe. Especially if you already know what you want your character to say: then it just becomes a matter of delivery.

    DevorDevor: you mean you don't flip through encyclopedias at random? I thought that was normal.… :p
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  18. SeverinR

    SeverinR Valar Lord

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    Research, if all you do is research and never write, that is to much research.
    I constantly think of my world and consider what each book might need. When I fix on a need, I research and then write the information down as it pertains to my world.

    Research is important for consistancy and knowing how things happen in the world, but if you don't begin a story, the research is meaningless.

    I think the why things happen is important, finding a way to slip in the reasons allows the reader to understand.

    Lord of the rings; the ring wraith can't cross water. Why? because its in the script. A simple escape in an unescapable unsurvivable encounter. I know there is a reason, maybe in the book it tells why, but I have heard this as a complaint of the movie.
     
  19. Benjamin Clayborne

    Benjamin Clayborne Dark Lord

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    So far, I do research to support the story I come up with. I occasionally will read about random things, but frankly to me the details being super-accurate is not important. I'm not an expert in post-medieval English clothing or marriage customs, and neither are most of the people in my intended audience. As long as the details are internally consistent and make sense with the world, the primary focus is and should be the story and characters.
     
  20. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis magnanimus Moderator

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    On the ringwraith comment - They can cross water, and they attempt to do so. In the books, Elrond uses magic to raise the river and sweep them away. In the movie, Arwen does it. But until that happens, they are crossing the water.

    @Benjamin - I think that is the best approach. Also, for some reason many fantasy writers seem to think that if their fantasy work has a medieval-equivalent level of technology, then the realities of the world have to conform to medieval Europe. But since you are writing a fantasy book in a made-up world, the realities of your world may or may not conform to what really happened in medieval Europe. Just because you use an equivalent level of technology does not mean that things like political structure, marriage customs, titles, and the like have to reflect real-world Europe of that time.
     
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