Research, How Much Is Too Much?

When preparing to write a work of fiction, you need to do enough research to ensure that you get the facts accurate. Paint a broad picture, but don’t sweat the details too much. In other words, you are writing fiction, not a treatise on the subject. For example, if you set your story in a real place such as New York City, you should either visit the city and take notes. Or research it and have a map of it handy when writing the story. Nothing pops a reader out of a story faster than inaccuracies in something that’s verifiable. After all, you wouldn’t want to have a character leave Central Park into Times Square. The two locations are near one another. But you only have to look at a mpa to see there are some blocks between them. So leaving Central Park into Times Square is impossible, unless the character teleports.

It doesn’t take a lot of research to determine that. So do your homework before you write something. Check your facts. Make sure you don’t pop your readers out of your story before the end because of something stupid.

Of course, it’s also easy to go overboard. I’m talking Moby Dick where there’s over a hundred chapters, some of which don’t have much to do with the story. I’m told (I confess I haven’t read Moby Dick) only thirty-five chapters deal with the plot. The rest is repetitive tasks during months at sea and a lot of whale facts. If you find yourself floundering in a morass of facts. Stop. Ask yourself if this moves the story forward. If it doesn’t, cut it.

I once had a nice lyrical beginning to a story. I loaded it with astronomical facts and figures. It showed a spacecraft spiraled in to orbit around a planet somewhere in the universe. I visualized it as the start of a movie. Then I realized I had three pages of poetic science. If filmed, it would take about three seconds of screen time. It hurt, but I cut that beginning. We write fiction to entertain our readers, not bore them senseless. There is a fine line between too little, enough, and too much. In fact, you could argue that enough is the line between too little and too much.

I read a book once where the main character was scuba diving on a three-hundred-year-old wreck. She encountered the captain’s body floating in his cabin. Dramatic? Yes. Realistic? Not on your life. When they first found the wreck of the Titanic, they saw a lot of shoes in the position where they fell. Then they realized they were looking at the spot where a body decomposed and vanished. That was within seventy-three years of the sinking. So a ship that sank three hundred years ago would leave no bodies. It also wouldn’t likely be intake enough to have a cabin.

So write your story, but check the facts if you are writing about the real world. There’s a lot of competition for readers out there. You don’t want to lose any because of sloppy research. A little research and fact checks can make you a better author.


I am not one who is comfortable talking about myself but here goes. I enjoy writing, family history, and reading. I decided to do this blog because I wanted to try something new. I decided to make it a weekly blog because I wasn't sure that I could keep up with a daily one, and monthly seemed like I was writing a magazine. I think I did ok with my choices. You'll notice that there are not a lot of graphics on my site. That's because there are graphics plastered everywhere on the Internet and those sites sometimes take forever to load. This blog is a place where you can kick back, relax and be ready to be amused. At least I hope I willbamuse you. This blog is on a variety of subjects from my ficitional cat agency, the FFL, which is monthly, to instructional blogs to editorials, which are my opinions only. I admit that I don't know everything and could be wrong -- I frequently am. Now, stop reading about me and read what I have to say!

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© Lisa Hendrickson and Pebblepup's Writing Den, 2010-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Lisa Hendrickson and Pebblepup's Writing Den with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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