We've all read them, those books where the writers have done their research on something -- fish farming in South Australia/hang gliding in the Himalayas/the life cycle of the lesser spotted warbler -- and are determined that the reader will know every scrap of what they found out.
I've tried to read a number of top-of-the-range thrillers and been put off by the high level of interest in the working of guns and computer crime -- but I must be in the minority, because these things sell by the bag load. I suspect, with the thriller, it may be a case of toys for the boys.
I don’t much care for the current trend for books that describe in loving detail all that happens on the autopsy table either, but again, that’s me, because they are very popular and successful.
Is the point where research becomes intrusive a matter of taste? I think it may be. I know that I am more likely to be interested in a description of the moon rising over Capri than I am the detailed working of the internal combustion engine. Sometimes there are points too where the author doesn't give you quite enough. I get particularly irritated when the heroine gives a dinner party, and I don't get a blow by blow account of the food served. But I've been told off by those critiquing my work for including too much detail about what everyone ate. Maybe the person doing the critique was on a diet at the time?
There seem to be fashions in what should and shouldn't be included. I've begun to suspect that there is a how-to book circulating out there somewhere, which suggests that to add authenticity to your manuscript you need detailed accounts of the routes used by your characters while travelling. I've lost count of the number of books in which I’ve waded through lists of street names and numbers, while the hero crosses Chicago/Manchester/Sydney. If I wanted a route, I’d get a map! Music is another of my little quibbles. References to groups I've never heard of add nothing to the story for me, and in fact can lift me out of it. I freely admit though that I know more about Leonard Cohen than I do about Coldplay, so again it’s a matter of taste.
Many writers will tell you how seductive research can be -- chasing up that elusive fact can be a lot more interesting than bashing the keyboard -- and you can always tell yourself that you are actually working. You can understand the desire to pack it all in somewhere. But in the case of research, less really can often be more.
Research, when it's done well, and included with discretion, can be a joy. A subtle way of learning something you didn't already know. I don't want to point fingers, and name names, because I do think that what you get from a book depends a lot on what you bring to it, but I would be interested to know what others feel is their research threshold. What are the details that make you love/loathe a book?
Research will no doubt be one of the topics covered at the Romantic Times Booklovers convention in Pittsburgh, now only just over a week away. Five of the Title Magicians will be there, so if you see us, please say hello. And of course the winner of American Title IV will finally be revealed …