Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Knowledge - A-Z Blogging Challenge

One of the members of the Writers' Thingie recently finished reading a book (well, actually all members have usually just finished reading something. A particular member just finished a particular book). And one of the criticisms was that the writer seemed to be showing off her research.

Knowing about your topic is great. I took a feature writing course in the Irish Writers' Centre last year, which was great, and is starting again soon. Some of what I learned about the life of a working freelancer has been really useful for my novel. My main character's flatmate, best friend and hetrosexual life partner, Sammi, is a freelance features journalist. This is incredibly useful for the plot, because she has access to information that not everyone knows, she can have free time during the day when the plot demands it, and I can contrast her lifestyle interestingly with Becky, who lives to work.

But there is a fine line. No one is going to read this novel to hear about the life of a freelance journalist, yet if I got it wrong ('Sammi wrote one column a week about shoes and sex and always had money for Manolo Blahnik sushi cupcakes. . .') it would stick out a mile and annoy people. So the research is certainly worth doing. It is important, though, to strike a balance between interesting and authentic detail, and writing a report of your research instead of a novel.


  1. Well said!

    I find it irritating when writers seem to display far too much knowledge on a side-issue subject. It's good to have that knowledge so that we can write authentically, but not so that it alienates our readers.

  2. I agree. When I read "Clan of the Cave Bear" it felt like interludes of prehistoric soap opera combined with chances for the author to show off her extensive research. Same with "Centennial." The first huge chunk of the book was all geologic gobbledygook that I just skimmed or outright skipped. You don't really want your readers doing that, no matter how fancy-schmancy and successful you are as an author.

  3. Kit, I find the same - done well, and I think 'ooh, cool, I never knew that about Whatever' and done badly I think 'If I wanted to read a textbook, I would have bought a textbook!'

    Mara, I've had a few people say similar things to me about both of those books - I am still curious about them but at least now I'm forewarned!

  4. I've just started reading the latest of Tom Clancy's books, and he has that irritating habit of tossing the narrative aside so that he can go into great detail about how a missile works, or where an engine part was built...

    The man could easily shave three hundred pages off a thousand page book if he stopped with all the tech lecturing.

  5. I don't overdo the research in the writing. I overdo researching. I get bogged down in it and when that happens, interest in the story lags and then it get left on the little USB thingie.

  6. Well done!

    There's nothing that will pull me out of a novel faster (especially a thriller)than an author who feels the need to justify the amount of research they did by including way too much information.

  7. Hard to find a balance between showing off your research and badly-done research. I always think if you've done your research it shows without showing off.


  8. You have to know as much as you can of what your characters do. Then you have to bite your tongue and not say it :-)


I love comments!