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Wednesday, September 8, 2010


How Much Research is too much?


Unless you're only researching and not writing or your fiction novel reads like a text book.

Research is the way to make a story or book come alive, take shape, and educate while entertaining your audience. At least that's the way I feel about research. I think there is never too much you can research about anything you write about. I have the first book of a trilogy released that is set in the 1700's among a band of Nez Perce. I researched their way of life, found Nez Perce who were willing to help me make the story correct, learned about shape shifting for the paranormal element, and studied the myth and legends of the Nez Perce so when I wrote the story I could make it as authentic sounding as possible.

Now you say, all well and good, that was a historical story.

I'm working on a contemporary right now, and I've put as much if not more research into making it ring true. It's set in the Guatemalan jungle. So I've had to read maps, go to online sites about the government, read newspaper articles about what is happening there, and I've made a contact who has given me information not only on the country but the people so I can make the story as authentic as possible. Knowing they are a Spanish speaking country I could have just used Spanish words here and there, but I learned all Central and South American countries have their own slang. So I'm digging into that and asking the local person what words would be used for certain things. I also have one character who is Venezuelan. I've had to do some researching on that to make him ring true.

I could have just written the story with Spanish language and a few online sites as my research, but then the story wouldn't have been accurate. As my contact in Guatemala said, "I appreciate the fact you are going to great lengths to show the real Guatemala. Many books I read, the writer doesn’t have a clue what we are about and they lose me as a reader." So while the larger populace may not have a care about the difference in the language, or the fact the rain forest has been getting smaller and smaller due to fires, those people from or who live in the countries will know I have taken the extra care to get it right.

Great research resources are your local, state, and university libraries; historical museums or societies; in the case of other countries, their government websites; or googling a certain area. For maps I like Google Earth and Mapquest. And always try to find at least two sources with the same information. Especially if you're using online information. And if you can find a person in a particular field you are using or living in a country you are writing about it makes the story come to life with tidbits that only someone in that field or that country would know.

Paty Jager

Wife, mother, grandmother, and the one who cleans pens and delivers the hay; award winning author Paty Jager has brought her husband of thirty-one years to maturity, along with four children. Currently the empty nesters farm 130 acres. She not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it.

Paty has been a member of RWA for twelve years belonging to several online chapters as well as EPIC, Women Writing the West, and Central Oregon Writers Guild.

She has five historical western romance novels, one paranormal historical, and one contemporary western available through The Wild Rose Press. Her contemporary western won the 2008 Best Contemporary Romance EPPIE. To learn more about Paty drop by her website: To purchase her books to go or any e-book or print outlet.


Kathy Otten said...

Hi Paty,

Like the new photo. Great tip about finding two sites on line with the same information. There is so much misinformation out there I'm always afraid I've messed up some bit of research and my book will become a wall banger. All the best for your new paranormal series and the contemporary in the jungle sounds intriguing.

Paty Jager said...

Hi Kathy,

Thanks! One of these days I'll bite the bullet and have a professional photo done. I HATE having my picture taken.

Yes, finding accurate information these days is tricky. You can't just believe the first thing that pops up when you google.

Tanya Hanson said...

Hi Paty, I love to do research and can really get lost in it. I am reading SPirit of the Mountain right now and not only love the details, but your voice. oxox Good luck with sales and hope to read many more.

Anonymous said...

Hey Paty! Great article on research. What's funny is, I just emailed you and asked how your research for this particular book has been going. LOL

Oh, and I agree with you about hating to have pictures taken. It's the worst!! UGH!! But, your pics are great so no worries for you, mate.

Good luck with this contemporary you're working on! Can't wait to read it. :)

Jody said...

As a historical researcher for authors over the year, I used to be anal about the history of a period or having the characters act within the norms of the period but I have recently seen the light. By this I mean yes you do research so that your characters are acting in the norms of the period and that the history is as close to the real history as possilbe but when so much history "correctness" takes away from the story then you have done too much research.

Case in point you have a hero in a kilt in the Scottish highlands in the 1300's but alas they didn't wear kilts then so you must put him in a plaide. Much more authentic but a word like this to most readers will stop them dead in thier tracks trying to figure our from the context of the sentence what it is. Unless your story revolves around what he is wearing, to a reader the word kilt evokes an iconic image of a Scottish Highlander which is what you want, plaide though correct doesnt' do quite the same. After all you are telling a story so on details such as this go with the iconic image even if it isn't right for the period.

The story should come first, after all the reader is reading for the romance with the history secondar, if they want "history correctness" they should probably be reading historical fiction where the history is as much the main charcter as the protagonists.

Paty Jager said...

Tanya, I'm glad you're enjoying Spirit of the Mountain. And I agree research is the best part of writing a book.

Hi Piper! Glad you stopped by and found out about the new book. Now I don't have to tell you in an e-mail. LOL

Joey, I agree sometimes you have to bend the history a little to make the story believable to the reader and not have them wondering what you're talking about without you writing a paragraph that read like a text book.

Cate Masters said...

I agree, Paty, you can never research too much! Those little extra details are like finding gold in the story.
From another camera-shy person, Cate :)


From reading your books I know you do a lot research because it shows in your books.


Lauri said...

Great article on research! As you know, I can get lost it in! I always seem to have plenty 'left over' tidbits when the story is done, but, I then use them as seeds for the next book.

Mimi Barbour said...

Hi Paty,
I know I should probably do more reasearch for my books, but if I do, I find that I want to write all I've found into the story, and then it's just too much information and setting and not enough plot, conflict and characters. How do you know when enough is enough?

Paty Jager said...

Hi Cate! I love digging up the nuggets of history that are hidden, too. Another cameraphob. We should start a club. ;)

Thanks Loretta!

Hey Lauri! I do that too, find enough researching one project to spark ideas for another.

Hi Mimi, You don't have to use everything you dig up,just the tidbits that enhance your story. Either to help your plot, define your character, or set the stage. Then don't over tell it, show it.

Lani Schonberg said...

Hi Paty,
Thanks for sharing your detailed ideas on research. I love the way your stories are encouraging you to meet people from all over the world :-) Its a great bonus to your process of collecting information!

Sarah Raplee said...

Hi Paty,
One of the reasons I enjoy your books so much is that telling details about the period and place make the story come alive for me. The nonfiction children's book I wrote about Osprey taught me to make those difficult decisions about what to leave out based on my audience and reader expectations. In fiction writing, those two considerations are still important, but your advice that the information should "help your plot, define your character, or set the stage" is spot on. Great post, as always!

Paty Jager said...

Hi Lani,

I agree! I'm enjoying getting to know people from all over.

Paty Jager said...

Thanks Sarah.

I'm thinking about coming up with a workshop on research and knowing what to glean and what to leave out. What do you think? Good topic?