When to Research and When to Stop

When to Research and When to Stop
July 25, 2017 No Comments » For Authors, Writing Advice J.K. Allen

When writing fiction, some people assume research is not needed. After all, aren’t we supposed to make everything up? But being accurate adds realism to your story. Not many readers will want to keep reading a book with marked inaccuracies, especially when they easily could have been looked up. You can’t ask your readers to buy into your created reality when the facts are wrong. This month we’ve talked about researching tips and what we have to research. Today let’s look at when to research and when to stop.

When to research

Some writers begin researching before they begin writing. That way they know all their tidbits before they begin and can write uninterrupted and unimpeded. They can also plot based off what they learned. Make sure to record your sources, so you can easily find this information again if you need to revisit the material.

Some writers research after they write the first draft. This way they know exactly what information they need to look up without getting distracted by extraneous facts. One tip for writing this way is to use a keyword for a space filler when you need to research something. Whether it’s a character name that has yet to be determined or a fact you need to add at a later date, use a keyword like rabbit or [rabbit] as a space keeper. After you’ve written the draft you can use the find function, control F, to search for all the rabbits and know exactly what you need to research as you go through them, or find them after you do the research.

Other writers research as they go. As you’re writing, you can use the rabbit keyword trick when you’re in the zone so you don’t interrupt the flow. The problem with researching as you go can be that it becomes a sort of procrastination for writers, whether intentional or not. It’s all too easy to fall down the rabbit hole when researching, which can lead to hours of wasted time in the middle of what was supposed to be a writing session. My suggestion is to set aside specific research time each week. So if you write three times a week, make the last day a research day. Use the rabbit keyword trick while you write all week so you know what to look up on research days. This will give you more focus as you’re both researching and writing.

They big key to research is you want to use it to add depth to your story and story world without overwhelming your reader with jargon or facts. You want to give glimpses of a larger world in the details you add, but the last thing your reader needs is an info dump. Don’t drown your reader with everything you’ve learned. Use it to inform your writing. It’s a hard balance to maintain sometimes. If you’re having a hard time knowing how much info is too much, utilize beta readers to give you feedback on what you’ve written.

VictorianLady / Pixabay

How to know when to stop

Because you’re not going to info dump, you don’t need to fall down the rabbit hole of research. A good way to keep yourself from procrastinating through researching is to set a time limit for all research you do. Either set a deadline for when research will be finished before you start the draft or after the first draft or set a time limit each week, of say two hours, on your designated research day. Working with a time limit will help you keep focused.

When you’ve gathered enough details to fill out and round out your story world, giving glimpses of a greater world, then you can stop researching. Also avoid a bunch of tangents when researching. They waste your time and are rarely productive in adding any value or depth to your story. When you find yourself meandering down a bunch of tangents, on the off chance that you might include something, it’s time to stop researching.

Research is important to add layers and realism to our stories, but don’t let it keep you from the actual writing part. What are your best tips for researching? Share below and happy researching!


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J.K. Allen Julia Allen received her BA in Creative Writing and English from Michigan State University. She did her senior thesis in poetry under the tutelage of Diane Wakoski, but has been focused primarily on fiction as of late. Common writing themes that can be found in her work address identity and the type of strength that can be found in ordinary people. Julia is currently working on a Young Adult fantasy novel and can be found at local cafes in her hometown when writing, and painting, drawing, or reading when not.

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