As writers we never stop learning (See H is for Help!) and as such we all have our very own learning curves for each new subject we tackle. Some of these curves may be steep, meaning we pick up new material quickly and with ease. Others may be flat; some subjects are tough going and we don’t always have the spare time to learn about particular fields of research.
But whether you’re a fast learner or a really, really, slow learner you will have to accept that there will always be limitations to the amount of information we can absorb and use. Of course I’m talking about writing research here, the things you feel you need to learn in order to improve your novel. You might want to delve into the murky underworld of organised crime, or learn all about firing guns, you might even want to know exactly what’s involved for the poor people who have to spend all day dressed up as Pluto and Mickey at Disneyworld theme parks. Whatever the subject the point of the exercise is the same – to add a touch of realism to your novel.
But I digress; the point of this post is learning curves. Just how quickly you will digest all the data you find is a personal topic. It doesn’t matter if you’re Mrs. Smarty McHugebrain; certain subjects may still be extremely taxing for your poor, oversized cerebral cortex. Imagine someone who was brought up at the finest private schools trying to research gangland culture in Compton, California. It’s not that they can’t do it, or that they aren’t smart enough to do it, the difficulty stems from the wild differences between their life and the life they are researching.
However, their learning curve could still either be steep or flat. It all depends on how far they delve into the research. They may pop onto Google, do a quick search for “gangs US what’s the shiz withCompton?” and Wikipedia will tell them the main gangs in that neighbourhood are the Bloods, the Crips, and Sureños. That could be it…job done. Just have the police officer protagonist of the novel mention those names when he’s having a rant about gangs in the neighbourhood and you’ve added a small touch of realism to your novel.
But what if you want to go deeper? Why only these three gangs? What’s their history? What’s a typical day like for gang members? The depth of research is unlimited; you could spend years looking into a certain subject making it the most realistic novel ever written.
Of course it’s up to you how complicated you make the learning process, just try and make sure your learning curve isn’t flat lining!