How much research is too much for a fiction writer

Everything in life is a delicate balance. Diet, for example, is one half healthy foods and one half junk food. Eat lots of fruits and veggies along with cookies and potato chips. No matter what, everything is a balance in life. Obviously anything can be overdone. Too much fruit is as bad as too much chips. Balance, balance, balance.

The question for writers, especially for those who write period fiction like me, is how much research is too much? When does your research reflect a cumbersome narrative in your story?

My first e-novel “Loonies in the Dugout” takes place in 1911, mostly in New York City. The backdrop for the story is baseball and that part was easy. But how did people in New York get around? What was the fashion? What was the slang? What were the events of the day? What was in the news in the summer of 1911? How does one get from the Braddock Hotel to Greenwich Village?

I came across how the phrase ’23 skidoo’ originated. It came about because of the wind patterns at the triangular shaped Flatiron building in New York as men would go there and hang out hoping to see a gust of wind blow a woman’s dress up, showing an ankle, or perhaps, even part of a calf. It was so bad a couple of policeman were assigned to the area to chase the men away who were lurking about. The word they used was ‘skidoo’ as in scram. I don’t know where the 23 came from as it was going on in 1911.

I thought it interesting so used it in my story in a comical way. The trick was to blend it into the story so it seemed natural, not forced. An item you find can’t be used for its own sake, it must fit, otherwise it needs to be dropped. This happened when I discovered there was a devastating heat wave that summer. Many people died. I tried to use that in the opening chapter as it fit thematically with how the book would end. But I cut it, leaving it on the editing room floor, as it were. It got in the way of the narrative.

One trick I learned when coming across interesting facts, such as a woman who was hung in England a few centuries ago, but did not die, was to have a character tell the story. I love these odd little tidbits, but there must be a reason for a character to tell the story. In this case I had John McGraw, manager of the New York Giants, tell the story to my lead character, Chester Koski. He was trying to make a point to Chester. I used the same tactic in “Loonies in Hollywood” set in 1922.

But whatever research you encounter, it must blend into the story. Readers notice misspelling, they notice grammatical flaws, and they will notice when a writer’s research is getting in the way of the story. You must have the same critical eye to your research as you do your proofreading of spelling and grammar.

My e-books are found at Amazon. This link is not working. I guess I will have to do research, but you can go to Amazon, Google my name in search and I should show up. I hope.


1 Comment

Filed under dalies, e-book publishing, Uncategorized, writing

One response to “How much research is too much for a fiction writer

  1. Hello, Terry! Thank you, hugely, because I, too, am writing a period story, set in the early 1940’s. I haven’t begun any research as of yet. To me, it seems so daunting! With your post, I feel a wee bit less intimidated! Thanks, again!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s