It’s been an age and a half since I listened to an episode of Writing Excuses, but I just finished episode 24 of season 1, about doing research for writing fiction. I think they made a good point about doing some research, but preferring to sound like you know what you’re talking about, but not everything.

The general idea seemed to be that it’s actually better to know a lot, but not everything, because, and especially in fantasy, you want enough to make something sound believable, but not so much that there’s nothing left to say on the subject. You’re an entertainer, not an educator (though you can still easily do both).

I’d like to add a couple bits of wisdom to the mix, which weren’t necessarily explained, though they were covered somewhat. “A magician never does the same trick twice.” You don’t want the reader to know exactly what you’re going to do, but you still want to build anticipation. If you repeat an idea, make sure it varies ever so slightly.

If you’re clever about it, you can show the audience the same thing several times, giving a different presentation each time. You don’t want to do the same thing more than three or four times in a given story, and you want to make sure the presentation really is different, or you risk disappointing your readers.

Still, people like to see something more than once, and they like things they’re familiar with — if you have a strange new idea that you’re bringing up in your story, show it to your reader a couple different ways, and then step back and give them room to speculate other possible applications of your ideas. Which leads to…

“Less is more.”

As I mentioned above, it’s a good idea to sound informed about the things your characters do, so you can describe their knowledge and actions accurately, but you still want to leave things to the readers’ imaginations. Fiction is a shared delusion, and your readers need space to project themselves into your fantasy world.

Described in the podcast, every person has something they’re an expert of, and when you do anything you want to lead with your strength. Whatever you do, write around that, and pick a topic or two that you can research and use to accentuate whatever it is you already write well. Find ways to make the two work together.

Ultimately, you want your research to improve your writing, not replace it. If you can’t write, no amount of research will help you write better. In that case, you’ll want to write as much as you can, and once you can write, then research will be of help to you.