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Your Novel in 13 Weeks, Part 5: How to Escape the Blackhole of Endless Research

With these tips you can avoid dying buried In books and focus on writing.

Sarah Hoyt


April 9, 2013 - 2:00 pm
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Finish researching! Start writing!

Make your question concise and articulate. You don’t ask “Tell me everything you know about glass manufacture in the seventeenth century”; you ask – as I did for one of the Musketeer Mysteries, “How big a mirror would a middle class woman in seventeenth century France own? And would it be glass or polished metal?”

(It is, however, a bad idea to call your local police and ask: “If you have a corpse, massing around 150lbs, where would you hide it in the metro area so it’s never found?” Another novice writer who was part of my group 15 years ago did that. The police did let her go after two hours.)

Accept that your time is finite, and that you can’t research every detail. Research just enough to write a first draft of your book, and any missing information will be both obvious and accurately pinpointed. Fix any missing information in revision, then hand it to your experts to read for accuracy before the publisher ever sees it.

When you’re done, remember to thank all your human sources of information.

But the most important thing is to know when you’ve researched enough and when to set the research aside and start writing.

You know enough to begin. What you don’t know can always be filled in. The alternative is to spend the rest of your life researching the perfect novel you will never write.


Check out the previous installments in the series:

The Thirteen Weeks Novel Writing Program

3 Questions To Ask Before You Write Your Novel In 13 Weeks

Your Novel in 13 Weeks, Part 2: First You Catch Your Idea

Your Novel in 13 Weeks, Part 3: The Plot Wars

Your Novel In 13 Weeks, Part 4: How To Find The Time For Writing

Images courtesy shutterstock /  Stefan Schurr / Tsurukame Design / Foto Bouten / leedsn / i4lcocl2

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Sarah Hoyt lives in Colorado with her husband, two sons and too many cats. She has published Darkship Thieves and 16 other novels, and over 100 short stories. Writing non-fiction is a new, daunting endeavor. For more on Sarah and samples of her writing, look around at Sarah A. or check out her writing and life blog at According to

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I'm usually writing "make believe" so I never feel like I need to research. And I'm usually wrong, but even realizing that doesn't help me know *what* to research. So what happens is I start writing and get stuck right away. Making the notes in brackets helps quite a bit. Or putting a note in asking myself if I want to make some major change about what I just wrote instead of going back and making that big decision before I go on.

The little thing I trip on most is not knowing what to name anyone. It's amazing how many bit characters walk through a scene and of course the protag knows who they are, so the protag is going to say "Hey, Bob..." and there I sit completely paralyzed because *I* don't know that his name is Bob. An author (I don't recall who) once said that what she does is make a list of bit-part names, just a list, and when she needs another name she's got one. I have pretty good luck with that.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Useful advice. Definitely bookmarking this in my writing links folder.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
As a reader, I don't like to see novels devolve into pedantry. If one is using a real culture as the centerpiece, yes it's probably better to have some fundamental grasp of that culture. If someone has electromagnetic pulse bursts to disable a space plane in atmosphere, and the same weapon used the same way in outer space where there is little means to convey EMP, and if the acts are relatively divorced from the rest of the novel, then I don't care.

Relentlessly crossing "T's" and dotting "I's" can kill a story for me. Science fiction is equal parts both things, not a scientific theory that needs to pass muster with an academic journal. Verisimilitude and artistic license can cross paths in many ways in SF and we shouldn't forget how dumb it is to make a perfect science about things that don't exist in the first place, like a specific alien culture.
1 year ago
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