Friday, February 16, 2007

Re: Search


Over the last two weeks I've really knuckled down and put in some hours researching my novel. It's been quite interesting and not at all laborious thankfully, but it has raised a few questions.

For example: how much research should one do? when do you determine that you have researched enough in order to produce a realistic and reasonably accurate piece of writing? what do you put in? what do you leave out?

I am writing a work of fiction, but these days, readers demand a higher level of believability and accuracy from novels. In the modern day, the crime reading community have an increased knowledge about police procedurals, criminal activities and forensic science than ever before thanks to films, TV and literature. Therefore, even if you are writing fiction, there is a necessary amount of research to be done to satisfy hard core crime fiction fans and keep them reading your work. Added to that, I am sure it is every crime writer's dream to have someone in the know, be it a policeman, detective, or even a criminal, comment that the writer's novel is realistic and believable.

So how much is enough? To tell you the truth, I have no idea. Do too little and even if you have written a good story, it can be let down by errors and implausibilities that turn the reader off. However, do too much and you run the risk of spending too much time researching and not enough time writing. And there is also the risk of including information from your research that might not be relevant in order to justify the time (and money) spent. Information overload can also get up a reader's nose, especially if it fails to move the plot along.

So how much is enough? For me, I've decided that I will research as much as is necessary in order to give myself the confidence and the knowledge to write the story I want to write. And write a cracking good one too!

I also think that when I take off my writing hat and put on my reading cap, I will be able to identify those areas in my work that need further research to increase the believability factor or double check the detail. That's the theory anyway.

And I keep thinking back to what George Pelecanos said - for your first novel, remove all barriers. Make the first attempt as easy as you can. In terms of research, this means, in my opinion, to scale down the scope of your research; do enough to fill in those big holes in your knowledge; use it to refine your plot and character profiles and then get on with the writing.

In the end, you DO NOT want to use research as an excuse to delay sitting down in front of that blank page and starting your novel. And don't worry, I plan to practice what I preach.

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