This is an idea that has been bouncing around in my head for a while, and it was recently brought up on Twitter by Laura Fitzgerald (@Laura_FitzG), Digital Marketing Coordinator at Tor, in a #torchat. Laura asked, “Research: do you love it or would you rather be writing over world-building?” I don’t think you need to separate the two.
The way I see it, before a writer sits down to write a longer piece, he or she must do some research in order to build a detailed world. Histories must be created, rules for magic determined, limits of technology determined, geography and culture considered, etc. To a large extent, many of these details will never be explored in depth in the longer piece, but their influence is certainly felt. Therefore, at some point, writers must be aware of the diminishing returns of research and world building.
But must that work just be filed away, never to see the light of day? I don’t think so. Why not use it as the basis for a short story? Perhaps your story’s history contains coups, alliances that come and go, the rise and fall of empires, the settlement of new colonies on distant continents or planets, myths or legends, or a hero who invents a faster than light drive. I’m sure some of these could be written about in short story form.
I think this tactic could be particularly useful when experiencing writer’s block. When I get stuck writing one piece, I like to start writing another. Remaining within your world or universe, but exploring a different detail is sometimes just the thing to help spark a new idea and overcome the block.
What do you think? Where do you come down on the research vs. writing question?