Friday, November 28, 2014

Research or Over-Research – Where Does a Writer Draw the Line?

Every writer knows even when writing a nonfiction novel: making it up requires research.

Like storytelling, the mind of the writer to research never stops. Isaac Asimov once said he was writing every minute he was in the shower; in the shower, he was only thinking about his writing. In the same way, research for my novels has become a part of me.

Romantic Suspense requires its writers to be reliable witnesses. Contemporary Romance requires its writers to pay special attention to details which enhance the emotional connection. Biting humor/chick lit requires the writers to take contemporary events and spin them off kilter.  While young adult/tween fiction requires a lighter touch-- with a connection to the teachable psyche and the future of humanity.

Most writers try to strike a happy medium when conducting research, leaving enough wiggle room with reality to spin a good yarn. Yet research has a cumulative effect. Once you start, you don’t stop.

You can already where I fall on the research graph: once I start, it’s difficult, if not impossible, for me to stop conducting my research.

So, here are few of my research questions (Gumbo Ya Ya: for women who like romance Cajun & men Hot & Spicy):  can a true gypsy (real medium/fortuneteller type) foretell her own future? What does a television producer do during the course of her day—when she’s key suspect in a murder investigation? What does it feel like to be on a pirate ship during the 1600s? Does time travel hurt? Bachelor Auction--what goes on during a Bachelor Auction? How does one concoct an accidental love potion? And, lastly, from my next “Fun and Sassy Fantasy” series: do gargoyles really know how to fly?

Remember research is not story. Trivial facts gathered from a variety of experiences can change the course of a future narrative.

Growing up in a career naval family gave me an almost inherent knowledge of the sea and maritime history. While residing in San Diego, California I visited the “Star of India” (16th century sailing vessel) moored at the harbor. My husband, being from Louisiana, made Cajun country and New Orleans frequent vacation destinations, and gave me ‘instant atmosphere’ for my setting. While I reside within driving distance of Hollywood, Universal Studios in the like, aside from a short internship in theater makeup technique, I am not a ‘go-to-person’ in all things Hollywood.

What am I to do?

I went to a local Starbucks, ordered a tall Pikes blend (1 Equal, nonfat milk), selected a table by the window and plopped down my iPad, pulled a chair near my table and conducted a Google search. Alas, Google is not the Oracle of Delphi. My next step was to log on to the local library Web site where I selected related research materials and reserved them for front desk pickup.  This I knew, would not quench my search of knowledge.  

With a heavy sign (knowing what weekday traffic was like) I decided to participate in a SoCal tourist day at Universal Studio (tour and City Walk).  I paid careful attention to all things visible during the freeway drive, my impression of the back lot and studio history.  I also interviewed employees and tour guides, and park visitors. Later, while grabbing a quick snack and the “Hard Rock Café” I spied the red carpet being set-up for a movie premier.  

Yay, pay dirt! 

A few more questions, observations, and a few interesting true stories (no names mentioned) told in passing, and I was good to go.

Will everything I discovered end up in my Anthology?  Most likely not.  Have I completed my research on the above mentioned topics?   Since my husband frequently asks if my office is a satellite branch of the public library, I know if I’m not researching this topic I will find another point of interest.

Reading isn’t a spectator event. 

You experience life.  The more knowledge you have, the better-equipped you are to tackle any challenge you’ll ever face.

No matter know much stress you have at work, in your personal relationships, or daily life, it all just slips away when you lose yourself in a great story.

May your holiday season be filled with joy, peace, and love.

Connie Vines


  1. I get what you're saying. When to stop when all you need is one little fact you believe will make the story. Right. It's jsut that the research is so much fun. I've learned to force myself to get the rough draft down and put in little notes like must look this up. Will a new fast skew the direction of the story. Then I come to the next draft and all those notes delay me since all I needed to know was what plants in the Sahara could produce water. Did find one in a survival book but that led me to read all about surviving in the desert and then to exaclty what was a wadi. You get the picture, Research is never done.

  2. Research provides the seed from which an enormous 65,000++ word flower can grow. Hard to stop, but you've got to know where to draw the line and how much the reader really needs to know.

    Good post!

  3. I had to smile when I read your comment that Google is not the oracle of Delphi. Yes, the Internet can be very useful, but sometimes we have to dig further. Great post!

  4. One of my early writing tutors suggested I enjoyed research more than the writing, and if that was the case I'd never get the book done! My own curiosity often takes me further than I really need to go for whatever I'm writing.


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