How much research must you do when writing?

Writing lessons
Research, by definition, is accumulating and aggregating data on a given topic. Writing, on the other hand, is skimming through the data to find a valuable piece of information and to use it to weave an engaging narrative. While it may seem like research will aid writing, often the Research itself can serve as a hurdle. Many a time, writers get carried away by the accumulation part so much that they forget the purpose of the research is to actually write.

When it comes to research, there are two strong viewpoints among writers. There is a breed of writers that believe less is more. They will gather a limited amount of pointers on the topic, then wing it as they go.

Then there are those who believe that more the merrier. Some wish to do their own research as a writer, while others consult Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) based on the topic. In fact, prior to the dawn of the Internet, Writers would interview SMEs to get their information. With the Internet, the trend has been dropped in favor of online research.

The key, however, is to strike the right balance. Just know enough to convince the audience that you know what you are talking about. The job of a writer is to engage the audience. If the audience feels you haven’t done your homework as a writer; they get disconnected from your story. On the other hand, if the audience feels overwhelmed by the information dump, they lose sight of the story. Either way, as a storyteller, you have lost your audience. End of the day, relaying facts is not storytelling.

There are some shows that do an excellent job of blending information and storytelling. While these shows may have other flaws, at least with the research part, it can be said that they nailed it.

Science

Eureka

Story involves a character who is surrounded by Genius, Scientists, and Inventors. Research would involve extensive study of various streams of science and technology.
Eureka Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi | July 18, 2006 (United States) Summary: A U.S. Marshall becomes the sheriff of a remote cozy little Northwestern town of Eureka where the best minds in the US have secretly been tucked away to build futuristic inventions for the g… Read all
Countries: United StatesLanguages: English


Numb3rs

Story involves a character who is a genius Mathematician. Research would involve extensive study of Mathematics equation, formulas and it’s real-world applications.
Numb3rs Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller | January 23, 2005 (United States) Summary: Working for the F.B.I., a mathematician uses equations to help solve various crimes.
Countries: United StatesLanguages: English


Scorpion

Story involves bunch of super-geniuses including a computer hacker, a mechanical wizard, an expert Psychiatrist, and a mathematician. Research would involve extensive study of geniuses, science, technology, psychology, and mathematics among others.
Scorpion Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller | September 22, 2014 (United States) Summary: An eccentric genius forms an international network of super-geniuses to act as the last line of defense against the complicated threats of the modern world.
Countries: United StatesLanguages: English


The Big Bang Theory

Story involves bunch of super-geniuses including Theoretical Physicist, Experimental Physicist, Astrophysicist, Aerospace Engineer. Research would involve extensive study of geniuses, graphic novels mania, science, technology, astrophysics, and mathematics among others.
The Big Bang Theory Comedy, Romance | May 1, 2006 (United States) Summary: A woman who moves into an apartment across the hall from two brilliant but socially awkward physicists shows them how little they know about life outside of the laboratory.
Countries: United StatesLanguages: English, Hindi, Italian, Russian, Mandarin, Klingon


Spy Trade

Burn Notice

Story involves a character who is a best-in-the-business Spy. Research would involve extensive study of real-world spy cases, extensive knowledge of trade and tactics in the spy business.
Burn Notice Action, Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller | June 28, 2007 (United States) Summary: A spy recently disavowed by the U.S. government uses his special ops training to help others in trouble.
Countries: United StatesLanguages: English


Arts & History

White Collar

Story involves a character who is a best-in-the-business Art Connoisseur and Art Thief. Research would involve extensive study of art, artists, museum business, art thefts.
White Collar Comedy, Crime, Drama, Mystery | October 23, 2009 (United States) Summary: A white-collar criminal agrees to help the FBI catch other white-collar criminals using his expertise as an art and securities thief, counterfeiter, and conman.
Countries: United StatesLanguages: English, French


Leverage

Story involves a character who is a best-in-the-business Art Connoisseur and Art Theft Inspector. Research would involve extensive study of art, artists, museum business, art thefts.
Leverage Crime, Mystery, Thriller | December 7, 2008 (United States) Summary: A crew of high-tech crooks attempt to steal from wealthy criminals and corrupt businessmen.
Countries: United StatesLanguages: English


Psychology

Lie to Me

Story involves a character who is a master in detecting lies. Research would involve extensive study of Psychology, Physiognomy, Kinesics, and Criminology.
Lie to Me Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller | January 21, 2009 (United States) Summary: About Cal Lightman, the world's leading deception expert who studies facial expressions and involuntary body language to expose the truth behind the lies.
Countries: United StatesLanguages: English


Forensic Science

Bones

Story involves a character who is a Forensic Anthropologist. Research would involve extensive study of forensic science as well as anthropology.
Bones Comedy, Crime, Drama, Mystery, Romance | September 13, 2005 (United States) Summary: Forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance "Bones" Brennan and cocky F.B.I. Special Agent Seeley Booth build a team to investigate murders. Quite often, there isn't more to examine than rotten f… Read all
Countries: United StatesLanguages: English, Spanish


Metaphysics

Fringe

Story involves a character who is a Fringe Science Experts. Research would involve extensive study of fringe science including various streams of metaphysical and occult studies.
Fringe Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi, Thriller | September 9, 2008 (United States) Summary: An F.B.I. agent is forced to work with an institutionalized scientist and his son in order to rationalize a brewing storm of unexplained phenomena.
Countries: United States, CanadaLanguages: English


There may be many other shows like these. Yet not all shows have received a different level of reception from the audience. There are also shows that have failed despite being developed by the same creators. Needless to say, a good premise can get the audience to take a seat and watch the show. But whether the audience will stick till the end is determined by how engaging the story is.

This is why the Storyteller must be like a magician. The audience might know that the trick is not magic rather a sleight of hand. Yet, they don’t want to catch the magician doing it. That’s the beauty of stories. The audience actually is willing to suspend their disbelief as long as the story guarantees engagement and entertainment. They are willing to be hypnotized by the fiction. If still the storyteller still fails to do it, then the flaw is in the story, not the audience.

But what makes a story engaging. Now that’s a topic for another day.

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