Research - when not to use what you learn
As I'm editing, I'm circling back on the research I did to make sure I'm presenting things as they are (or at least close enough that artistic license doesn't make it unbelievable). I'm also weighing what needs to be on the page versus what doesn't.
Today's example lies in one of my venues. There is a crypt. An underground vault. It is very singular, and a fascinating place that was used in Game of Thrones. The main vault has vaults on either side that are presently closed to the public. I confirmed that knowledge, although I didn't know why they were closed until I went back to double check my research. The main vault holds a cistern that captures rainwater that was once used as the water source inside the palace. The vaults on the sides are known as galleries because they were lined with paintings. Interesting! The sides are closed off to visitors largely because the paintings have been moved for restoration. In the environment they were kept, they were deteriorating rapidly. Can I incorporate that into the story? Should I?
First, my character is unfamiliar with her surroundings as it is. The paintings aren't there, so she wouldn't know they were supposed to be. Secondly, she doesn't know the history behind the locale. The setting in my book is a meeting place, one she didn't know existed until she was told to go there. She can see the galleries--the passages alongside the main vault--but access is closed off. She doesn't know why and she doesn't know what's missing (the paintings) so this little bit of research, while interesting, has no place in the story. What DOES have a place in the story was the research I couldn't find. The cistern is the central focus inside the crypt. I was doing verification to find out how deep this cistern was, which at one time was rumored to be a bath for a king's mistress. Yeah, that story doesn't belong in my story, either, but that was something I learned. How deep was her bathtub? Swimming pool size? Or bathtub size? I couldn't find that information online, so I went to my local source for help. Someone who lives there, someone who knows (thank you, Stephanie!). A pivotal scene in my book takes place there, so I really kinda need to know that information, as does the reader. An additional bit of information Stephanie shared with me, she could see coins in the cistern (tossed in to make a wish? Or for luck?). Should I include that in the story? Hmmmm. Need to muddle that for a bit. My brain is racing to Three Coins in a Fountain, or other movies that include fountains with coins. Unless the story revolves around the coin(s), not sure they're worth mentioning.
Or are they?
That's the fun of researching. You learn interesting tidbits. What's interesting to the author, however, doesn't always move the story forward.
One of my critique partners wrote a couple of western books set on ranches. She added dead cows in all the books because there are dead cows on ranches. True fact. But as a reader, I don't need to see those dead cows unless they have a reason to be there. Her rationale is that it shows the rancher doing his job. Agreed. But to me, it's like saying the main character has to pee. I don't need to know that/need to see that unless it creates conflict or tension. There are plenty of other things a rancher does rather than notice dead livestock. Keep in mind I read about her cows in the development process, first drafts. Some of those dead cows did relate to the plot, so they DID have a reason to be there.
And then there's Anne Rice. When I read The Witching Hour, there were chapters and chapters filled with backstory/research. Long, tedious chapters which, when I'd finished the novel, I reflected on as interesting. 🤷 What can I say?
I have included unnecessary research in some of my stories, sure. In the early drafts. Only later, while reviewing what I've written, have I looked at it and realized the information is superfluous. It doesn't need to be there. Or maybe only a sentence instead of two paragraphs. Yes, the information adds authenticity, but if it doesn't move the story along, it turns into "blah blah blah."
Have you read a book that had fascinating research to share that had nothing to do with the story?