Novel Research Details: Curb Your Enthusiasm

Red ladybug on serrated green leaves to illustrate tiny details

Research Details and Your Reader

Your novel research supplies details that bring verisimilitude to your story. You may research how a particular weapon works, or the streets, shops, and buildings in a neighborhood. Or, if you are writing about a specialized world, you might have details of dog breeding or art restoration.

The 80/20 rule applies to your background research for your story. You will know much more about a subject than you put into your story. Base your guideline for what to include on discernment and the details your story requires.

Curb Your Enthusiasm

You’ll be tempted to share your knowledge with your reader. But keep the details germane to the story. Know where to draw the line.

A colleague was helping me research details about the Coroner in Sonoma County, California. The building is old and tucked away on a side street. He was enthusiastic about the history. It had been part of a hospital, and then a nursing school, and then a laundry. This was great information, but unless my protagonist was a history buff, and she isn’t, all that history didn’t work for the story.

Let Your Character Be Your Guide

Your protagonist sleuth is your reader’s guide to solving the puzzle. Your reader wants facts that pertain to your sleuth and the story, but not extra facts.

If you bog down the story with all your knowledge, you’ll keep the story from moving forward.

When I write historical stories, I keep the details pertinent to what the protagonist senses. All five senses, but that’s the limit of the details. I found that limiting the research facts to what the protagonist senses keeps me from stuffing unneeded details into the story.

Write A Story, Not Research Findings

Consider research as a tool to engage your reader. Readers want story. A rich story includes details as your protagonist experiences their surroundings.

How much you know is not as important as how you use what you know in the story.

Instead of a long narrative passage showing how much you know, spread your research details into the story. You have many opportunities to add details. For example:

  • setting
  • your protagonist uses an object
  • as your protagonist travels from one place to another
  • cultural customs that work or don’t work for your character
  • a meal
  • transportation
  • what is in each character’s home
  • marriage or death customs
  • the murder weapon
  • politics
  • your character’s feelings or reactions to the surroundings
  • supporting characters

The idea is to make your reader feel the story.

Knowledge, for knowledge’s sake, takes the reader out of the story.

Use the Broad Base But Through Details

As the author of your book, you control what the reader senses with accurate details. Research is your big detail pool. The broad base gives you an array of information. Your role as the author is to choose the details pertinent to the story.

Your reader will enjoy learning about your background research when you use the details that enhance the story. Readers love information, but they want to get it organically. They need to feel the information came from within the story.

Readers may not be able to articulate how they enjoyed all your information. If you add research details appropriately, your reader may not know how they learned so much. That’s because you’ve helped them internalize the details by making them part of the story.

Reward Your Reader

Readers love new information. And the best way to deliver that information in a story is by integrating details.

Through the process of reading your mystery, following your sleuth as they solve the puzzle, you introduce the story world through strategic information placement.

If you find yourself trying to explain, either through narration or character dialogue, go back and rethink the scene.

Novel Research Details That Work

The key to using background research in your story is to integrate details as part of the story. Show your reader how the details fit. Give your character reaction to research information.

Your reader won’t think of thanking you for keeping them in the story. But, they will appreciate a story well told. 

Photo by Rots Marie-Hélène on Unsplash

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