Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Too much research?

by Carola

How much research is too much?

I'm presently writing about a car chase across Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. I have two old Ordnance Survey* maps, 1/2" to the mile, of the area. They're really useful to show the roads the way they used to be, before they were straightened and widened. They also show the contours, so I can tell whether a road goes uphill--in general terms--or downhill. One has contour lines at 50 foot intervals. The other is tinted from blue (sea) through greens to various shades of brown, making it more intuitive but less precise. They show every tiny hamlet, with its name, and even many farms.

 And I have Google and Bing maps and bird's eye/satellite views, and in some places (but by no means everywhere) "street view." These maps tend to ignore narrow lanes, while the satellite pics don't show them when they run beneath trees. They don't show tiny places.

 But for some places they show you exactly what's there.

So both types have their uses. The question is, do I really need all that information? I've heard from a few readers who get out a map and follow the tracks of my characters, but for most people a few evocative village names and a few words of description of the scenery and the state of the road are sufficient.

Nonetheless, I find myself obsessively checking whether there's a crossroads between villages A and B, and whether the chasing car at point A would have a view of the quarry when it reaches point B. Too Much Information available!



Bill Kirton said...

Old maps are fascinating. I set my book The Figurehead in 1840 because the library had a map of Aberdeen dated for that year. It was so interesting seeing which bits of the city existed then and note how areas now full of streets, houses and the rest were open fields. On the other hand, it was great to wander round the harbour (where most of my action is set) and note that nothing much had changed. As an aside, it was also fun to see, in the local newspaper of the time, reports on the chaos caused by having several roads converging on one narrow bridge over the river Dee - the same bridge that's still a bottleneck today.

Liz Straw said...

I love the research part of writing. Love looking at maps. Now if I could only live the revising part as much...

Jean Henry Mead said...

I also love research and old maps and usually spend too much time researching when I should be writing. I'm also one of those readers who enjoys details which bring the plot to life.

Jackie King said...

Like most mystery readers, I love the details and new information. Very interesting post.

AMOffenwanger said...

There is no such thing as Too Much Research. And that's one of the things I love about your books, the accuracy of detail. I can trust your writing that if you say it's so, it'll have been so!