Research - What to Include and What to Leave Out

Attention to detail, like so many other things in writing, is down to personal choice. As a reader, I like a smattering of detail that will pull me into a world and make me curious. I don't like having everything described down to the minutest detail. I want the writer to not only know what they're talking about, but to also trust me to imagine things for myself. Unsurprisingly, that's how I operate as a writer: use just enough detail to leave the rest up to the reader's imagination.

However! This does not mean I never do research. After all, I need to understand what I'm writing about, otherwise the story won't make sense.

Mmmm using cupcake sprinkles as a visual metaphor for how much research to include....

My current WiP required a lot of research into the Victorian era, and not just about mediums and psychics. I had to look up what London Underground stations existed in the 1860s, whether or not a piece of classical music I wanted to use had been composed in this era (which it hadn't, so I chose another piece instead), journalistic writing styles, why people could afford massive stately homes and how ownership would pass through the family, and what medicines were available to Victorians. I also had to ask a friend who's currently living and working in China about a few Chinese festivals. So, it's all been rather educational lately!

However, not every detail I read about wound up in my book, because the story didn't require academic conclusions on why the Victorians were so fascinated by messages from beyond the grave. Neither does the story need me being all "BASK IN THE RESEARCH I HAVE DONE FOR YOU ALL!!!!" No one likes a know-it-all, right? But I needed to know, which is why I had to do the research to begin with. If I didn't know, I wouldn't be able to give my story any sense of realism. My knowledge underpins my writing, and gives the story depth. Hopefully, I've done it in a way that's enough for a reader's imagination to take flight and picture it however they want.

For me, it's all about balance. If there's too much research threaded into a plot, the story can feel bogged down with infodumps. Too little, and readers might feel the meaning is lost on them. It's like those cupcakes; too many sprinkles and it'll be too sugary to take. Too little, and the cake will be bland. You've got to get it just right. And, of course, that's totally up to you.

How much detail do you like in your stories, both those you read and those you write?

Comments

  1. Ah! I'm in the same boat right now - working on a historical paranormal story, so it needs to have the feel of the era, but there are also many invented elements mixed in. I'm revising right now, trying to get just the right amount of historical flavor without making the story seem inaccessible.

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    1. It's a tricky balance to strike, but beta readers will be sure to tell you what works. Best of luck!

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  2. I definitely have a lot more research material than I need for the book (or series!). I read somewhere that it's best to pick a few key details to include to give the illusion of depth, and that's what I try to do. As a reader, I get bored with long descriptions and pages of exposition, so I try to pick the most important/interesting details. I used to be really sparse with descriptions and get a lot of feedback asking for more detail, and I really struggled to do that without adding unnecessary exposition. Getting the balance right can be tricky!

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    1. Yeah, I've had to learn to add detail. I had a tendency to forget readers didn't know what I could see exactly in my mind. Beta readers pointed that out to me. It's definitely something I've had to work on.

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  3. SPRINKLES! Hypnotic sprinkles! :D

    You weave in detail really smoothly -- I loved the connections between Victorian fascination with psychics and mediums and the high infant mortality rate. It made SO much sense!

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    1. Sooooo hypnotic O____O

      Thank you ^_^ I'm just about to print out you big picture notes and highlight the key parts.

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