You’ve got this great idea for a novel, but, first, you need to do “a little” research. You go to the library and check out three or four great reference books. You know, the kind that can double as door stops. You scour the internet and download a ton of articles on your subject. You copy and paste dozens of quotes and tidbits.
At last you’re ready to start your research. As you plow through those massive tomes and cutting edge papers the minutia begins to pile up. You find that your detective hero can’t get the DNA test back in 24 hours (it takes about two weeks for most DNA tests to come back from the lab) and that upsets the timeline of your plot. You learn that blood coagulates pretty quickly so your antagonist couldn’t return to the crime scene two days later, get blood on his shoes, and leave a blood trail down the street. Then you learn that your detective hero can’t be fired by his captain on the spot. It takes quite a bit of administrative gymnastics to fire someone working in any government job, be it local, state, or federal. Then you find...
Hey! Time out!
Research is essential for any good genre novel but don’t let it get in the way of a good story. Use the information wisely. Don’t stress over those tiny facts, especially if they are of little consequence to the overall plot. Here are some morsels I’ve learned over the years that might help you in your research:
- Research jargon if it’s pertinent to the way your characters speak. For example, it would be helpful to learn how doctors speak on rounds if you’re writing a medical thriller.
- Learn only what’s pertinent to your story. In other words, if you’re writing about the movie industry, don’t get immersed in what a key grip does if you’re focusing on a romance between actors.
- If you’re writing a historical novel learn about the overall setting of the times such as customs, dress, occupations, politics, etc. But, don’t try to become an expert. People have devoted their lives to that. They’re called professors and they work at universities.
- You’re writing fiction so don’t be afraid to bend the facts a little. That DNA test I mentioned earlier—maybe the state crime lab gets a new machine that spits out the results in a matter of minutes.
- Don’t let your research get in the way of the story. Some people feel that since they’ve done all this research, no matter what, it’s got to appear in the story. Nobody wants to read pages and pages about how a fuel injector works.