Research: How much is too much?
If Google looked at my browsing history, (which I didn’t get round to clearing before the recent deadline so God knows what they’re going to do with it) they would see:
- current stalking laws
- Danish traditions
- the history of Bristol Zoo
- videos of how to make a prosthetic head
- pictures of burnt out dodgem rides on Weston Super Mare pier
- what to do when an air line loses your luggage
- how to embalm someone
I’m not sure there’s anything there to get me arrested or certified. It’s all novel research and that’s just a snippet.
“I think a lot of people who want to write get horribly bogged down in research and getting the details right. It’s a total waste of time. Get the characters right; try and feel them as living, breathing humans who have something to say, and worry about the details later. “
I balked at this at first because research to me is part of creating that layered, fictional world, that has to be credible. If I’m reading something and some detail is obviously inaccurate or glaringly anachronistic, I find the whole carefully constructed world begins to crack a little. Obviously with historical fiction you can’t get away with fudging details, but I’m thinking more generally.
But now I think maybe Jenny Colgan has a point. I don’t think she’s suggesting not doing any research at all but rather it’s more important to get the character right than the details. If the characters are two dimensional, no amount of painstaking research is going to save them, but the balance is a fine one I think. Like a method actor, I want to know as much as I can about my character’s profession but it doesn’t determine how they will react in any given situation.
If you’re a writer, how much research do you do? Do you do it first or as and when you need to find something out? Do you agree with Jenny Colgan that it’s easy to get too bogged down in research?
If you’re a reader, have you ever noticed something glaringly wrong about a profession, place or situation?