Getting the writing right
“Write what you know.”
What if you don’t want to follow that sage tidbit? What if you want to know more? What if you know exactly what you need to know to write? Well, I’m a librarian, so my answer to these questions is, “Research!”
Some people shudder at the thought. I know it’s not my favorite thing and I’m a librarian. I was even a reference librarian for years, but here’s the thing: I learned how to research efficiently so I didn’t have to do more than I needed to. Research and writing can be a tricky thing, however. Getting everything just right can mire you down.
JRR Tolkien is a perfect example of how world building can consume the writing process. His in-depth development of the history of Middle Earth and its people is legendary. Most of us don’t have to develop a language for our characters to speak (and couldn’t anyway). If you have twelve years to spend making up your world and writing the story that develops there, then there’s no problem.
Most of us won’t dedicate that much time to a novel so we have to strike a balance between research and writing. Even if we’re not going to spend years on the details, we can still get caught up in showing off all the things we’ve learned. Research is to help you situate yourself. It shouldn’t show up explicitly in your writing. It should be there in the incidentals, making the reader comfortable and accepting of the reality you’ve constructed, whether it’s entirely made up or the city you live in.