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View Full Version : B&N Week 181: How Much Research Should You Do On A Topic?


Steven Forbes
06-10-2014, 11:31 PM
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Welcome to another Tuesday! That means itís time for me to ask a question, in the Bolts & Nuts tradition!

How much research should you do on a topic?

I am not going to lie: I hate research. Iíve always hated research. Research and I have been arch enemies since I was introduced to the word back in elementary school. Why? Because when youíre forced to do it, research is very boring and dry. Quite often, weíre not interested in the subjects that weíre forced to research. Get some facts, store it long enough to regurgitate it in a cogent manner, and then forget about it.

However, when youíre passionate about a subject, you can then wax poetic about it for hours on end. With me, itís comic books and movies, as well as some cartoons. When did Columbus sail the ocean blue? I donít remember, and I donít care to, because it doesnít impact my every day life. Why are we living in America instead of Columbia? Amerigo Vespucci. Almost no one knows his name, because Columbus gets the credit for sailing, trying to find a new way to get to the Indies. I donít care about Columbus, but a friend of mine does, going back to stuff she read while she was in elementary school.

Now, when you start researching things youíre passionate about, you find yourself asking all kinds of questions. One question leads to another, which leads to another, and down the rabbit hole you go.

Click here to read more. (http://www.comixtribe.com/2014/06/10/bn-week-181-how-much-research-should-you-do-on-a-topic/)

Newt
06-11-2014, 02:54 PM
This column could be written just for me. Through a combination of personal inclination and training (I have a degree in biology), I do inordinate amounts of research for everything I attempt to write. Often I get so bogged down in research I can never get the actual story moving.

Recently, in an attempt to get around this issue, I gave myself a writing assignment: write an origin story for a space adventurer, a la Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon. I wanted the story to be pulp style, so no hard science: spaceships can go as fast as the story requires, and I don't need to explain it; alien races are often human-shaped and invariably speak English, and I don't need to explain it. So far so good, right?

I ended up researching Jazz Age slang, the French Foreign Legion, savate, the origins of Art Deco, and a bunch of other nonsense, and I still haven't finished the story. Staying out of that rabbit hole is hard for me.

scrappy
06-11-2014, 06:25 PM
great article, steven. one of my favorites.

but i'm going to disagree with you. in the article you're saying (tell me if i'm wrong) research enough to know what you're talking about, but dont kill yourself doing it for x, y and z reasons.

while that might make logical sense, i prefer to kill myself doing research. wikipedia is the greatest invention when researching for writing. gives you just enough information to make it sound like you know what you're talking about. and when i'm researching something, i read the whole article, then click on a related article, and another, and another.

yes, the majority of that info probably will never get into the story. and even yes, i might fib some of the details if it hurts a dramatic aspect of the story. but i find immersing myself in the subject matter of a story, diving head first into it's world and absorbing all the info i can on it (even if i dont remember it the next day) gets me into that "zone" of the characters and the story's world. the more i know the better because i feel confident in what i'm talking about regardless if the factoids are in there or not.

that's just how i am though.

Luke Noonan
06-11-2014, 09:39 PM
This column could be written just for me. Through a combination of personal inclination and training (I have a degree in biology), I do inordinate amounts of research for everything I attempt to write. Often I get so bogged down in research I can never get the actual story moving.

Recently, in an attempt to get around this issue, I gave myself a writing assignment: write an origin story for a space adventurer, a la Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon. I wanted the story to be pulp style, so no hard science: spaceships can go as fast as the story requires, and I don't need to explain it; alien races are often human-shaped and invariably speak English, and I don't need to explain it. So far so good, right?

I ended up researching Jazz Age slang, the French Foreign Legion, savate, the origins of Art Deco, and a bunch of other nonsense, and I still haven't finished the story. Staying out of that rabbit hole is hard for me.

Holy fuck, welcome to my world. :carrot:

tim1961
06-22-2014, 01:16 PM
Related a bit to doing research is that it invests a character with more believability.

I'm working on a cocaine dealing drug murder biker story set in the mid 1970s and looked up what the Federal government was doing back then, and found a lot of great material to put in the story. Not only did it flesh out some heavy characters well it backs up the events to things that really could've happened back then.

Secondly, a bit like research is taking time (talking just an hour or two, no more) to writing up a short bio of your main characters. Knowing their background, political leanings, family, past traumas, loves, desires... ...even their attitude about work (i.e. he's a cop, does he like his job, is he bored, is he close to retirement?) adds mountainfuls of help when writing the script even before they speak one word.

Lastly I agree with Steve a bit on carrying the research just far enough. Like the story I heard on the old low budget Hammer Films in the 1960s they would figure out the camera angles before building a castle set, say, so that they would know enough to stop building the structure just two feet beyond the frame of the scene! Same goes for research, you need to approach it with a cold eye knowing just how much is enough.

crognus
06-26-2014, 02:51 AM
I agree. The job of a writer is to bend truths to reveal greater truths. The primary function of fiction is just to tell a good story. On the other hand, too little knowledge can become so distracting it breaks the reader's suspension of disbelief.

I still refuse to go see Lucy though...That "10% of your brain" bull crap makes me want to tear apart Uri Geller with a bent spoon.

crognus
06-26-2014, 02:58 AM
great article, steven. one of my favorites.

but i'm going to disagree with you. in the article you're saying (tell me if i'm wrong) research enough to know what you're talking about, but dont kill yourself doing it for x, y and z reasons.

while that might make logical sense, i prefer to kill myself doing research. wikipedia is the greatest invention when researching for writing. gives you just enough information to make it sound like you know what you're talking about. and when i'm researching something, i read the whole article, then click on a related article, and another, and another.

yes, the majority of that info probably will never get into the story. and even yes, i might fib some of the details if it hurts a dramatic aspect of the story. but i find immersing myself in the subject matter of a story, diving head first into it's world and absorbing all the info i can on it (even if i dont remember it the next day) gets me into that "zone" of the characters and the story's world. the more i know the better because i feel confident in what i'm talking about regardless if the factoids are in there or not.

that's just how i am though.

I do not think that was the point he was making. I think he was saying, "Do not get so hung up on accuracy that it destroys the story. But do enough so the story is believable." You can do all the research you want, but how interesting would Braveheart or Amadeus be if the writer had sacrificed some of drama for historical accuracy?

Newt
07-03-2014, 08:25 PM
I thought about this article today.

I've been working on an illustration for a book, showing how a sinkhole forms. Much of the picture is taken up by a section through a slab of limestone bedrock. Now, sinkholes in the area under question typically form in massive limestones, i.e. formations with no particular internal structure, just a big mass of rock. But the picture was boring with so much of it taken up by an undifferentiated gray block. So, I made the painful decision to sacrifice accuracy for aesthetic impact, and converted my massive limestone to a bedded limestone with plenty of layers.

I don't know if it was the right decision. I do know that I feel dirty.

Steven Forbes
07-03-2014, 08:33 PM
LOL

Good! You didn't let accuracy get in the way of drama!

Take a shower, then get back to writing.

Newt
07-03-2014, 08:41 PM
Roger, wilco.

B-McKinley
07-15-2014, 09:13 AM
This is definitely a column that resonated with me. I sort of keep falling down that rabbit hole again and again. Why? For me part of the lure is that doing that research has made my ideas richer and more unique (I think). Asking questions and coming up with answers for why and how, seems to move it away from cliche toward something more memorable. But if I don't stop at some point, I'll be writing a thesis, not a comic.

Duane Korslund
07-15-2014, 10:21 AM
I think the real trick is to "know when to say when" Too much info and the story becomes too dry...too little and your story is poop...or at the very least lies on the edge of unbelievable. Know when to say when....or give me your keys!

Newt
07-15-2014, 10:53 AM
Of course, there's always the Lord of the Rings...

Tolkien spent a lifetime on research and development of Middle Earth, and any sane critic would have told him he was wasting his time, that nobody cared about how Quenya grammar differed from Sindarin or the full list of the kings of Numenor. And then LotR became the best-selling work of fiction of the twentieth century, and spawned one of the world's most successful film franchises. Any number of superfans can converse in Elvish languages and carry on learned discussion regarding Numenorean history.

But it's an outlier.