Years ago, before the advent of the internet of today, story research was archaic and time consuming. It usually meant trips to the library to thumb through card catalogues or look at old newspapers on microfilm. Once you found what you needed, you could turn to writing. But dragging a typewriter around isn’t quite the same as putting a laptop in your backpack.

The great thing about the internet is that you spend less time researching a particular topic as a multitude of resources are available a click away. The bad thing about the internet when it comes to research is that we can fall through the rabbit hole of going from link to link. Not only does this overwhelm us by seeking out too much information—and we know how reliable some information on the internet is—but invariably our clicks take us off topic altogether.

At some point, you have to just STOP… DOING… RESEARCH…    

The fact is, we’re creating stories. And most of them are works of fiction. Sure it’s important to get it right when one has a technical aspect to consider, especially in a police thriller or drama, but we don’t need to have every procedural detail in place to start working on a screenplay. That can come later in the next rewrite after you’ve had time to discuss details with experts or, if you are in pre-production, with a consultant brought in to make sure things are correct.

When it comes to story research, consider the following:

  1. Make a list of items you need to research. This will allow you to be more diligent about only researching what is necessary. If you come to a place in your script that needs to be researched, put a note to come back to it and continue writing.
  2. Set a timeframe for allowing yourself to do research. This way, you won’t look up at the clock and realise you’ve spent half the day on research and no writing.
  3. Stick to your story. Sometimes, we research so much that we start to doubt our story. Unless you are so off-base with facts, believe in your story first. A love story set in the past shouldn’t be sacrificed if you have a few facts about the time and location wrong.
  4. Get off the internet and talk to people. Having a conversation, be it by phone, email or in person, with someone who has particular knowledge about a topic is a much better way to do research and add personal elements to your story.

Getting bogged down on the smallest aspect will only hold you back as a writer.  Spending hours researching historical events is important but do not let it become all consuming.  Getting that all important first draft finished is paramount and that above all must be a writer’s goal!  So get writing… and google later!  

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Writer and Screenwriter

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