How much research do you need?

IMAG0187In the last blog post I mentioned my need for some research into swordplay, sword fights and swords in general. I thought about approaching the local SCA to ask if someone would show me how to swing one, but when I asked them last year about taking off their armour they got a bit funny with me, so I am resorting to the written word at the moment (while I work on my wording).

I also have a large battle coming up (it is a war after all) and so some siege planning and the like is also required.

These are important aspects of the series but firstly I need to focus on the story.

At what point do we need to research and how much do we need to do?

It is going to depend on what you are writing as to how much research is required. Yet there will always be some needed because there is always a reader that will pick up a mistake.

We have all read something where we thought the author must have researched so much that he wanted to pack everything he learned into the novel. Said novel then reads like creative non-fiction and sometimes not even that creative. I don’t want that. I don’t enjoy reading it and I’m sure I wouldn’t enjoy writing it.

The key is not to get lost in the research.

So don’t read everything on a topic. My suggestion is to start writing and then make a list of what areas you need to research as you go.

My research on sword play started with my character needing to learn how to use a sword. I do not need blow by blow included in the story but it needs to be realistic.

For the big battle scenes for the moment I am writing what is happening while they are under attack, not just the bombs falling (so to speak, my medieval fantasy doesn’t have bombs, yet). The details can come later.

I did a little research before I started writing on the general language and life in the period I have set my novel. Some things at the moment really do not fit with the period, but as it is fantasy if I can explain it well it may work.

When I come across areas now that I am writing that needs research I make a note and keep writing. Or when I need a break from writing I do some reading then, particularly if I can’t continue writing without a little research. Or I collect references as I come across a problem area, such as the swordplay where I have purchased some books on swordplay itself, different types of swords and fighting and how to write fight scenes.

The majority of my research will be done during the various editing phases.

Does the idea of research scare you as you write or do you easily get lost in your reference material and forget your story?

One Reply to “How much research do you need?”

  1. My problem is that I never know when to stop. I know there is a point at which I am researched up enough to dive in and make the story believable. But where is that point?
    I’ll always worry about that historian who specialises in mediaeval metallurgy seeing through my shoddily made short sword.
    Having researched 15th century tall ships and life at sea to death, I am still seriously considering actually spending time on a tall ship. (Like I could afford to do that.)
    I heard a story at Conflux10 about someone’s friend who was writing a book on a particular battle of the American Civil War. After 17 years of research, he is still yet to put pen to paper.
    There must be a happy medium.

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