June 27, 2011
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Research and Fiction

Laurie R. King compares the constraints she faces as a writer of historical mysteries with the benchmark of A. S. Byatt:

Maybe the problem is, I need to embrace my inner A. S. Byatt.  Her 2009 Booker Prize shortlisted novel Children’s Story is, in addition to being a gorgeously written book, a huge information dump of Life Among the Fabians at the Turn of the Twentieth Century.  Fairy tale publishing, politics, sexual mores, pedagogy, the chemistry of ceramic glazes, Victorian clothing, life in the trenches—the number of note-cards that went into the making of this book could fill a small park with trees.

I, however, write crime fiction.  Research is great and good, particularly since what I write is often historical crime fiction, but the hard reality of genre fiction is that publishers really, really like you keep to a schedule, ideally a book a year.  And a person can only fill so many note-cards before she has run out of time to write the actual book.

King brilliantly captures the perils of too much research:

I tell myself to get on with the plot, for God’s sake, or the book will never end and it won’t matter whether X was made of brick or stone or saltines glued together with peanut butter because I’ll be living on the street and hanging around libraries, using their free Internet connection to hunt down one more dim photograph that seems to indicate…