I've been reading Elements of the Novel by Eileen Charbonneau each week for these posts. Today's is on Research. Something necessary but something that can be a lure and steer a writer away from what they're supposed to be doing and that is writing. I used to be one of those ones she talks about and would try to find one more book and one more fact. One day I finally said enough is too much. Now my research is based on what I need to know.
The interesting part of research is uncovering that one fact thaat triggers off an idea for the book. One little bit in a research book on Egypt set me off to write one book and then to write a series. I can't quote it now but I could find it in the book where I found the small sentence. When I first uncovered this fact about the time of the Hyksos invasion and the chaos in Egypt with a lot of men wanting to become pharaoh I knew there was a story there. This led me to recall my love of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and how as a child I thought the woman was foolish for throwing herself in front of a train. This led me to writing a reincarnation series of stories that became a united book. That fact also led me to a current trilogy I'm writing, but another fact made me change this from a time-travel to an alternate ancient Egypt. There were no camel in Egypt during the time period I was writing about. Thus I needed to shift my focus. All this because of research.
In Elements of the Novel, Eileen lists the reasons for doing research. There is the Why. This is using the real facts to make the novel sing. She also talks about the When of research. Before you start writing will help bring your story into focus. During will help you find a fact that helps explain why or how the character faces the event. After the book is done and you've sent it out for the first readers or to an editor, sometimes honing is necessary. A scene may need to be changed because you've assumed something could be true when it's not.
Another thing Eileen talks about is chosing sides. Sometimes two bits you're found when you're researching contradict each other. Choose a side and go with it. Use your imagination to see which of these facts fits your story or leads your story into new territor.
So, how much research do you need to do. Enough to make the story sing.