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Research...how much is too much?

edited September 2017 in Writing
I may have mentioned previously that I am writing a novel - my Great American Novel - and, one day, I may even finish it. Over the past few days I have been rewriting (well, adding extra detail) an existing chapter to provide further background to what is one of my central characters, Harold Lutz. In doing so, I decided to describe briefly his arrival in America just after WWII

I planned to have Harold work in a factory in New York. In this way, I could introduce him to his future wife, Bettina, a fellow refugee. I then planned to transport them to the small town where much of my novel is set. As I am a keen hat wearer myself, I decided to get him a job in a hat factory - just because I like hats!

(I have emailed two current hat companies in New York outlining the above and both have replied - one with details of their history (previous sites and of their stores and the business name around the time in question etc) and the other has passed my query to their PR dept.)

In online researching factories in NYC around the decade immediately post war, I stumbled across some names of long dead firms and images of their buildings from that time. The fabulous thing is that these images show huge signs for the hat firms that are painted directly onto the brickwork of the buildings. This is GREAT for me as my story has a tie in to the signwriting trade and I was puzzling over how to get Harold from a job in NYC to his role as a signwriter in the small town where he moves to.

Rather than have Harold work as in the maintenance department of the hat factory, I can now employ him as a signwriter painting the building sign and still have him meet Bettina. And his move to a small town will make sense. (Eventually!)

A simple plot twist resolved by a little bit of research.

***However, the above info will be used in a very brief part of my story - maybe a page? maybe less? So, is this too much delving and researching for such a tiny bit of plot background?

Views welcome.


  • Impressive! I think that as long as research isn't so intense that it prevents you from ever writing that novel, then it can only add to the truthfulness of the plot.
  • Agree with TN. Your research has given you important information, which whilst minor in terms of how much you will include in the actual writing, is actually pretty major because anyone who knows anything about this history and reads your book will appreciate that you've got it right.
  • It's only an issue, as TN mentioned, when it stops you writing the book.

    Research is never wasted, and I suspect you'll find those old hat factories inspiring another story later on...

    It's those little gems of information that pop up during research that can, as you've found, provide just what you need to resolve an issue.
  • I always research everything about something I'm writing about - even if it never appears in the resulting piece, it informs the piece, and that weight of familiarity SHOWS in the writing, weirdly.
  • Research is never wasted. For one novel I read lots of ww2 soldier's letters and gained a real insight to their thoughts. Did not actually use any of it
  • Research is never wasted. For one novel I read lots of ww2 soldier's letters and gained a real insight to their thoughts. Did not actually use any of it
    I have spent a little bit of time in researching various arrivals by ship/plane into NYC from 1945 - 1950. Quite glad I did as the info (albeit brief) has opened up a whole new avenue for the back story for one of my pivotal characters. I have not used much but what I have used adds the authenticity I wanted regarding when in the year planes/ships actually arrived.

    Also, as a side issue, it has thrown up some wonderful (and quite poignant) details of young German women during the immediate post war years, who travelled to US to get married. Tickets paid for in US by their intended husbands. One bride to be was just 17. I can only imagine the rationale as to why she travelled from war torn Europe.
    Quite sad yet also not sad. If you know what I mean.
  • My research over the weekend, combined with daughter's 23rd, garden tasks and going to see my football team plus a few hours watching NFL meant I did no writing at all.


    Today I have written 1,145 words. Each one prompted by my research and the new ideas it generated. And, rather happily, it has given me the chance make a slight nod towards one of my favourite author, Stephen King, by introducing a few lines about Rita Hayworth.

    A rather happy happenstance.

  • That's good, Kramer - research can have that effect, can't it?
  • That's good, Kramer - research can have that effect, can't it?
    It certainly seems to have. I was only researching to get an accurate time/method/name of transport from Europe to NYC after WWII and a whole new avenue (albeit as a brief passage in story) came to me. It has helped to solidify and give "meat" to my characters' back story.
  • I don't think you can ever do too much research although constantly following further links from a Google search often has me spending far more time on it than I should. I think the problem only arises if you try to use everything you find out in a single piece of work. I once read a detective novel where the plot was constantly interrupted by the author including a fact and going on to explain it. A real turn off and I certainly didn't bother looking for more of her work. I write articles and I find it best not to work on my draft immediately after researching a piece of information as it tends to get expanded beyond its importance to the whole piece.
  • I agree. Any book which is packed with barely relevant facts is a turn-off. Less is best.
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