Posted June 19, 2023 at 02:34 pm

A couple weeks ago I said there were two major pitfalls with regard to research. The first was researching instead of writing. The second was writing the research instead of your story.

This is less common but I bet we’ve all come across it at some point.

You’re reading a story. Book, comic, whatever. And out of absolutely ​nowhere​ you find yourself in the middle of a scene that exists only to tell you about some research the writer did. Maybe they’re showing off. Maybe they’re just excited to share something they found super engaging or interesting. This isn’t ​always​ a problem but it usually is because the scene exists for the writer​ instead of the ​story. And as we mentioned before, the greatest crime you can commit against your reader is to waste their time.​

Movies and TV shows are less prone to letting scenes like this slip in because more people are involved with making those, so it increases the likelihood of someone​ asking if we really need this scene where everyone talks about the price of wheat in ancient Rome for a couple minutes.

Now, as a writer I totally get the impulse to include this scene. You found something really cool and unexpected and you wanna share it with everyone! It’s the easiest thing in the world to convince yourself that ​this​ tangential conversation is appropriate and character building and interesting and relevant and arises organically from what’s going on. But really it’s just that you’re​ excited to talk about it, and probably have been for what seems like one million years, so the gravity of your interest has warped the text until it enters this unstable orbit around the object of your interest. And everyone on the ship (what) can see you’ve flown into this eccentric orbit that’s gonna crash and kill us all and they’re trying to make you correct the entry angle, but no, you’ve got this god damn death grip on the controls and you’re like, “But see, the fall of Rome and the price of wheat are inextricably linked! The entire Western world as we know it took its shape because of the economic viability of a single crop a thousand years ago ​isn’t that interesting?!?!”

And, I mean, yes it is!

But does it ​belong​ in your story? Probably not!

Also I was just making up that thing about wheat and Rome. I have no idea if there’s a correlation.

Maybe I should research it instead of figuring out how to give advice...

No, I must be strong!


Anyway, this is why I always bring up that thing about how only 5% of my research makes it to the final page. A lot of what I come across is surprising, or exciting, or funny. Sometimes it’s all of the above! But information that doesn’t actively contribute to the story is just trivia. There are ways to put some of this stuff in there. Characters are allowed to have hobbies or niche interests or strange knowledge they picked up from who knows where. But this is seasoning, not the whole meal. A line here. A reference there. Used sparingly this information can brighten up a story. But you shouldn’t let it take up a whole scene in the same way no one’s ever going to serve you a plate of salt for dinner.

Well, that brings us to the end of this blog series. I have no idea if any of that was useful! But it’s some of the stuff I’ve thought about and learned over the course of writing over one thousand five hundred pages of ​ATOMIC ROBO​, so there’s got to be ​something​ in there. Even if my advice was so bad and wrong-headed that all it did was convince you to do the exact ​opposite?

That still technically counts as helping you HA-CHAAA!!!

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