In a recent post entitled Give Up The Research Excuse!, inspirational writing coach Jurgen Wolff warns against the danger of using research as an excuse not to write. Just because you haven’t done all the research on your to-do list, doesn’t mean you can’t start writing.
I couldn’t agree more. Certainly when it comes to writing fiction, research can often provide huge amounts of new ideas and fresh twists. In fact, my writing partner and I very recently experienced exactly this phenomenon.
We have been working on a particular screenplay on and off for a long while now, and we decided we needed to interview some experts in a particular field to make absolutely sure the climactic scene of our movie had sufficient grounding in reality.
We spent a couple of weeks desperately trying to bend the plot in order to keep the wonderful scene we’d had in mind for so long. We even considered adding a new character in order to set up the ending to fit credibly with the facts we’d learned from our research.
However, in the end, our conclusion was that it was just too contrived. It wouldn’t work. We had no choice but to kill our darling.
Out of this disappointment though, has risen a completely new version of this climactic scene, which we both agree is much better than what we had before! It’s more visual, it expresses the theme more precisely and it neatly pays off a number of things set up earlier in the script.
Without the research, not only would we have written a climax which might have knocked a few people’s suspension of disbelief, we would also have missed the opportunity to improve the quality of the screenplay as a whole.
The idea to interview these experts only came after we’d finished an outline, were a good way into a treatment, and began to wonder if that particular scene was making proper sense. If we had waited to start writing before “finishing” our research, we would never have thought to interview these particular people in the first place.
Research and writing can go hand in hand, each suggesting ways for the other to proceed, each feeding the other until all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place in the final draft.
And then it’s time for the director and his team to start doing their own research …