My package of research books for The Box came yesterday. Three books, over twelve hundred pages. I think there's going to be a lot of great ideas in them, but - as usually happens with me and writing and research - I've jumped back into the manuscript and so they're going to collect dust for a while. The thing with research is that it can really, really bog you down. I read something online about an aspiring writer who took a whole cheese-making class just to write one scene about it. I know people who take trips to get a feel for a place they're writing about. And when I wrote The Mark, I read tons of original source material (Aristotle, Plato, etc.) before writing the philosophy class scenes.
You don't need that much information to draft. These are boondoggles. Stall tactics. Time spent learning the nitty-gritty details is time taken from getting the story on paper - the hardest part of writing, imo.
Getting too deeply immersed in a topic can also cloud the real story arc. I've written pages and pages of back and forth about - say, philosophies - when I really only needed a few lines of dialogue. When I research while I'm writing, most of those scenes wind up deleted or seriously edited down because it's just too much detail.
My motto: write first, research later.
Does this backfire sometimes? Absolutely. In Touch, my third novel, there's a plot element that deals with domestic violence shelters. I made a lot of assumptions about how shelters are run that turned out to be wrong so I had to go back and re-write scenes or find new ways for characters to show up at a shelter whose location would be highly confidential.
Researching after-the-fact backfires almost every time. But only in comparatively small ways because at least I've gotten the story on paper.
So, why'd I even order the books if I'm not going to do the research? Because I will read them. Later. And truthfully, I didn't even realize I wasn't going to read them right now until they got here and I found I'd written almost thirty more pages of the story while I was supposed to be waiting for them.
I ordered them thinking they’d help me find a way to continue with The Box, but the reality is that I had a way as soon as I stumbled on the topic: a scientific basis for the catalytic event that was “too magical for YA” the way I’d originally written it.
It's the idea that's important. Filling in the factual blanks can happen later.