All fiction writers must do research. It’s an inevitable fact. Even if you are writing contemporary fiction, you must still research your venue. The reason for that is that fiction, unlike reality, has an obligation to make some sort of sense. When we write stories, we are expressing truths about the world around us and our place in it. And that’s really hard to do if randomness constantly flings your characters from one unrelated event to another. On the other hand, if you as a writer can take a string of random events and at the end, wallop the reader with a revelation as to the cleverly sublime way they were related, it’s a crowning moment of awesome, and you need to let me know where to buy your book!
But to the subject at hand. The title says TMI, and in the parlance, it means Too Much Information. And it is very, very easy for writers to want to give readers too much information. We love researching the subjects we’re interested in, and we love sharing that interest. We’ll do it at parties if you’ve had the misfortune to get stuck in a corner with us and no clear escape route (I suggest faking a coughing fit, for future reference).
All that research we do has a purpose for us–to place our heads (and our hearts) firmly in the world of the story. For the reader, it’s quite different. The research expressed (different from the research actually done) must serve the story. As writers, we have to filter out the information and distill it into what it means to the reader and why it’s important.
I have reams of research on burial practices for world cultures, including the seventy days of prayer and ritual in ancient Egyptian burials and the proper orientation of the false door in a tomb. I have years of research on medieval lifestyles from the lives of the luminaries down to peasant number three in background, stage left. It’s my job as a writer not to bore you with all that because it doesn’t mean much of anything unless I somehow craft it into an expression of human truth. Unless I am telling you a story that expresses the truth in the soul remaining uncaged by the burdens and bindings of sin, you do not need to know that the Weighing of the Heart in the Hall of Double Ma’at involves a negative confession of 42 specific individual sins.
I am a writer, and it is my job to make sense of the world, even if it’s one I’ve created on my own. I take it very seriously.