How much research should I do?

I can’t believe how long it is since I’ve blogged. So big apologies.  Where has the year gone? I think it’s summer isn’t it, although it doesn’t actually feel like it in deepest Dorset right now!  It’s all wind and rain!  Anyway, here’s a question that came into my postbag for Dear Della in Writers’ Forum recently so I’ve reproduced it here.  It’s an interesting one and I’m sure we’d all have different answers.

Q: How much research should you do before you write a novel? How do you know when enough is enough? One of the writers in my local group says she does hers afterwards, but I don’t see how this can work. How can you write a novel if you don’t know the facts that you are writing about? Please advise.

A: The amount of research you need to do will vary, depending on your subject and how much you know already. I’d say that more is generally better – definitely don’t skimp because it will show. But if you like research it’s easy to get carried away too.

Paradoxical as it may seem, I think that very often you can do your research after you’ve written the novel. How do you know what you need to research until you get to that point? There are pros and cons for both before and after.

Here are some pitfalls for doing it in advance. You might do a whole pile of research that later turns out to be unnecessary for your story and hence a waste of time. Or you might be tempted to put in every bit of research whether you need it or not just because you’ve done it. I’m sure we’ve all read novels where this has been the case. And finally, and most dangerously, you might never start the writing because you are having far too much fun researching.

On the other hand if you leave it all until after you’ve written the story you run the risk of having to rewrite huge chunks in the light of information you didn’t know previously. So my advice would be to research facts and information before the writing if major plot points hang on it.

It probably also depends on how much you plot in advance. If you plot everything out to the nth degree you may well know all the fine points of what you need to research. If you’re more of a panster (as I am) then you won’t. There’s no hard and fast rule. It may just come down to a matter of what works for you.

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Incidentally the novelist who told me to do the research after the writing was the late Frederick E Smith, author of the 633 Squadron novels.  I respected him very much, we had many a long chat at the Riverside Pub, sitting outside in summer overlooking the river and putting the world to rights.  So thank you, Fred.  Invaluable advice which I still follow.

I’d be interested to hear what others do. Happy writing everyone.

Della xx

I’m running a course on How to Write Your First Novel in Bournemouth on Saturday 24 June 2017. 10 till 4.00. Cost £45.00.  Do contact me via this website or on Twitter or Facebook if you’re interested.

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2 Responses to How much research should I do?

  1. carol Hedges says:

    I write Victorian fiction, so I do a lot of research…a chunk before, and then on a need to know basis. It’s amazing how the smallest details can take the longest to tracxk down!

    • Della Galton says:

      I know exactly what you mean, Carol. The smallest details are the killers. Hard to find, even on the internet. I don’t know how we used to cope before we had it.

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