It’s All In The Details

I’ve been mulling over the importance of details in a story.  Mainly because I sometimes get hung up in details and doing research.  The other day, for example, my MC made the comment, “Perhaps I can come back when I’m a journeyman.”  So I spent a half hour researching apprenticeships, and levels thereof, to make sure the statement would be correct.  In this particular case, it had absolutely no bearing on the plot, the MC was merely using the suggestion as a ploy, and I actually cut the whole scene later that day.  Wasted research?  <shrug>  Depends if I ever use it again.

But how much detail do readers pay attention to?  Krista Walsh over at The Raven’s Quill, did a good post about research a while back, in which she stated:

“when I read about something I know well and find the info goes against everything I’ve read, I get very irritated.”

I’m the same way.  Because I’m familiar with them, and adore them, my biggest gripe is authors getting horses all wrong.  (If you’re writing something in which horses are involved, even obliquely, I suggest you read Writing Horses by Judith Tarr, it will help you immensely.)

And I think that’s they key thing to keep in mind.  What do our reader’s know?  What are they familiar with and passionate about that we could screw up?  Even in a made up, magical world, things have to make sense and be consistent.  If you fabricate everything, including clothing (no pun intended), then as long as you’re consistent and things make sense, you’re probably okay.  If the reader can buy into your world, and it’s rules and terminology, all will be good.

But if you’re touching on the familiar ~ castles, horses, armor ~ you’ll need to do a little research to get things right and add that flavor of authenticity to your work.  Will anyone notice?  Hard to say.  But I can almost guarantee, if you get it wrong,  someone WILL notice .  You’ll get the e-mail pointing out that a garderobe is a medieval toilet and not something your lovely princess would wear to the ball, and if your knight is going to try and swing his sword by grasping the pommel he’s going to have a hard time winning.  On the subject of armor, Fantasy Armor and Lady Bits is an entertaining and informative look at the good, and bad, in armor depiction.

For me, research is fun!  Always has been.  I have shelves of books and spend oodles of time (maybe too much) scouring the web for information.  But be warned, all that research can sometimes make you re-think your plot, or cause you to re-write a scene, when it turns out to things don’t work the way you were counting on.  You may even find yourself lead off in directions you never even thought of, when one fact leads to another.   And, no, not all details will even get mentioned in your story, but they’re there; the sub-structure behind your world, they make things a little more solid.

So, how much do you research when you’re writing?  What are some of your favorite on-line resources?  Or are you an inventor, making things up as you go? 

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8 responses

  1. Fantastic post Kathi – had a good chuckle over your examples of getting things wrong. Your situation with “journeyman” was what really struck a chord, because that’s my exact problem! How many hours do you spend researching a word used only in passing? Enough to tear your hair out, really.

    January 6, 2012 at 5:37 am

  2. Youtube has become one of my favorite research tools. For example, listening and watching actual car crashes, before writing one, helped. A tough, weird day.

    January 6, 2012 at 8:32 am

    • Wow! I never even thought of YouTube. What a great suggestion. You probably can find videos of just about anything on there and what better way to make your writing more realistic than by having a visual to spring off of. Great, now I have another site to gobble up my writing time!! LOL

      January 7, 2012 at 6:35 am

  3. I spend more time researching than I do writing. And the research always provides me new plot twists I hadn’t previously considered. That’s one of the hidden perks. 🙂

    For me, the Internet is my number one research resource. However, I am heading over right now to Amazon to buy WRITING HORSES for my WIP. Thanks for the suggestion!

    January 6, 2012 at 11:05 am

    • Devin, I don’t think you’ll be sorry for the purchase. I know horses and I still found things in there to consider. 🙂

      January 7, 2012 at 6:34 am

  4. It is so easy for me to get lost in research. But I also love it when it leads to new plot twists or ideas for other scenes. Google and Wikipedia make good starting points for me. But they always leads down many paths….

    January 6, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    • That’s the fun part of research! I’ve always loved the winding trail it leads down. Maybe part of that’s due to being a librarian’s daughter and spending a lot of my free time scouring the stacks.

      January 7, 2012 at 6:33 am

  5. I just slapped you with the Kreativ Blogger award. http://wp.me/p1HIMV-ha Congratulations!

    January 7, 2012 at 10:22 pm

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