Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Too much of a good thing: The pitfalls of research

"If your work shows, you're in trouble." --Chuck Jones

I was once writing a script on a particular topic, and as part of my research I was reading the "For Dummies"book on this subject. Someone saw me reading this book and scoffed. I took that to mean that I should have been reading a more "serious" book on the subject. Why? To avoid embarrassment? I wasn't trying to impress anyone--I was trying to learn enough about my subject to write about it.

Don't fall into the trap of trying to impress others with your research. This can rear its ugly head in the writing itself. You want to show off all of the work you did. But this only takes focus away from your story and characters and puts the focus on the writer. This kind of storytelling pulls people out of the story rather than sucking them in.

The more people are emotionally invested in your story the more effective it will be. Don't show your work.

Another trap of research is procrastination. Writers love to procrastinate. If procrastination were an Olympic event writers would win the gold every time. Research is perfect for writers because we can fool ourselves into thinking that we are working. We can research a subject for years and make ourselves believe that we are working. Now, some subjects really do take years to research. They really do. So how do you know when you are done?

The trick I use is that when I start to feel like I have read most of the things more than once. In other words, when information is repeated by several sources, I quit my research.

Another thing that can happen is that research sparks other ideas. You may start off with one idea and upon researching the subject you discover other things you could tell stories about. Now you can't decide what to do. This is just another form of procrastination.

What you do is make a decision. You can always tell those other stories. Just pick one and tell it. There will more than likely be one that pulls you more than the others. You may be afraid of this idea because it may be more challenging, but that's exactly why you should choose it.

Okay, time for me to get back to work. When I want to procrastinate I write a blog post.