This past week, I visited a dairy farm since I’m writing a book that takes place on one. I learned some pretty interesting stuff. Like keep a good distance from cows because they don’t hold back when it comes to bodily functions. I also learned other things, most of which I won’t use in my book.
And that’s a good thing.
Research is a very important part of the writing process, especially if your story takes place at a time or location different than your own. That said, research can also be a bit of a trap. We’ve all read books where, on every page, we hear the author screaming, “Look at all the research I did!”
And that’s a bad thing.
For me, research is about building my confidence in the setting I’ve created as well as discovering those little details that add authenticity. Research should complement your story, not compete with it. Setting your book in medieval times is great. But if you’re devoting pages and pages to description (and ignoring your character development in the process), you might want to scale it back. After all, what you need is a great story, not great descriptions. That’s why I usually do most of my research in the final stages of writing, rather than at the start. I’m more concerned with getting my characters and story nailed down before I move on to other aspects.
Research, like good writing, requires editing. Consider what details of your research are most important to your overall story and think about how those details illuminate the lives of your characters. Leave all the non-essential stuff where it belongs – in your head, not on the page.
Special thanks to Ron and Deb at Birchwind Holsteins for letting me poke my nose around.