Taking Research Too Far

We all want our novels to be realistic and believable. When something doesn't make sense or isn't realistic, it stands out to us as a reader. As writers, we want to avoid this. We want people to believe in our characters, our plots, and in our story.

But, there is a point where you can take research too far. Knowing what you're writing about is important. That's why there is a saying “Write what you know.” It comes across as far more believable and real when the author knows what they're talking about. It can really enhance a novel.

However, there is a point where you can take research too far. Most of us have been told if you want to understand what it is like to wield a sword, borrow one and swing it around for a while. Learn from someone how it is held. Develop a few callouses. Understand the heft of the blade and what a balance point is.

This is something that can be controlled in a safe environment. The likelihood of injury to yourself or others is slim. The same applies to shooting, archery, and many other subjects commonly found in fiction novels.

However, there comes a line where experimenting with research is taking it too far.

For example, take a chase scene in a thriller novel, where several drivers are speeding. At intense high speeds. There is something to be said about understanding how a car moves when someone is driving at 80, 90, or 100 MPH. There's definitely something to be said about how a car moves driving at 120 MPH. I know. I've driven at all of the listed speeds.

I've had cops pass me at all of the above speeds. Because those very specific roads were designed for vehicles to drive at those speeds.

Most roads in the United States, and around the world, are not designed to handle cars moving at those speeds. First, the roads aren't banked appropriately. Second, the cars aren't usually designed to go at those speeds. Third, it's bloody dangerous.

There comes a point where doing research is too dangerous for you and for those around you. So, you have a scene where your character is driving at high speeds? Go into a police station during a quiet hour with a pad of paper and a pencil. Introduce yourself as a writer doing research. Ask if you can speak to someone, for five or ten minutes, about the risks of high speed driving, the training a police officer has to go through for pursuit chases, and get the research second hand.

You are a risk to yourself and a risk to others if you decide to try this on your own.

If you absolutely must experience the g-forces of a car moving at high speed, there are ways to do so safely. You can take a recently tuned and checked out car to a roadway designed for speeding. IE: Buy a lesson with a race car driver at a track. It'll cost you a few hundred bucks, but many tracks will do this sort of racing.

If you must feel the real road in your car, get prepared to drive a long way. There are some high-speed stretches of road in Montana. There is also the Autobahn, if you're willing to fly across the pond.

The race track is the cheaper and safer option.

Do you want to feel what it's like to get hit with a blank? This is bloody dangerous. Even a blank bullet can cause bruising. It's not safe. If you want to experience what it's like to be shot with a bullet-proof vest on, you need to hire a professional to handle the weapon, handle your kitting with vest, and ensure your safety at all times.

Do you want to learn what it is like to fall off a horse? Take lessons. A lot of lessons. Learn how to ride a horse properly. Then, wait. You'll fall off eventually. Try show jumping. Your chances of being thrown are pretty high.

Alternatively, you can jump off a low fence onto sand while you're being spotted — after you learn how to fall off a horse from a certified instructor.

(Yes, there is a proper way to fall off a horse!!)

There are some things you should never try for the sake of research. Drinking and driving is one of them. High speed driving is another one, unless you're at a track with a certified instructor.

You don't just run risk of hurting yourself. You could hurt and kill another person.

Think before you do. Don't take your research too far. It can be lethal. It's stupid, ignorant, and it will not enhance your novel.

If you need to know the information on how to write this type of scene realistically, research a professional. A stuntman, a race car driver, or a policeman. Many of these individuals will be extremely happy to answer your questions.


Because they know if they talk to you, you won't try it at home. It's dangerous.

Writing your novel is not worth putting yourself and others at risk. Don't be stupid. Don't take your research too far.

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1 comment
Tori Brooks says August 16, 2013

For some things, you can hit the forums at NaNoWriMo.org in November. A ton of writers spend time there while writing feverishly and they answer questions on everything. Other writers are great at describing the details at what a compound fracture feels and looks like, or what it feels like to get shot with a 45 in the thigh. My favorite was a few years ago a question to the men about what it felt like to have male genitalia. The female writer had a female character that woke up in a male body and she had trouble detailing the little problems her character had to overcome. It was a long thread with a lot of people chiming in about different problems she’d run into, not just crossing her/his legs – her original concern.

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