Don’t put all your research into the book

For years, people have made fun of The Da Vinci Code for containing so many mini-lectures about subjects having to do with the Holy Grail. I suppose Dan Brown thought readers wouldn’t understand the plots and themes without all the background material. I thought it was distracting.

A laptop computer next to archival materialsI just finished another book by an author I like whose main character kept calling an expert about cults in an attempt to learn which ones are harmless and which ones aren’t. I don’t really think the extended information advanced the story. The information did relate to the plot, but it didn’t need to be in the book.

It’s almost as though the author became fascinated by cults and decided that the reader would also be fascinated by them. Not really. And, if so, we know how to use Google, the library, and the resource books available at Amazon and elsewhere.

When an author does this, critics often say “your research is showing.” Some critics even might suggest that the author wanted an excuse to talk about, say–cults, and wrote a novel to include what s/he had learnt about them. How much is too much. That’s a hard call to make. The detail can add ambiance while making the plot more understandable.  And yet, you don’t want readers to feel like they’re reading a research paper.

Lack ops books are famous for including a ton of information about weapons and weapons systems. Perhaps publishers and readers demand it. I like black ops novels but usually, skim over the weapons’ specifications. They don’t matter to me.

Every genre seems to have reader expectations about this kind of detail. Books about famous battles are, of course, historical novels and are expected to provide that history. Other books are, I think, better suited to using a lighter touch.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “At Sea,” a Vietnam war novel set on board an aircraft carrier on which he served during that war. I included research-type information for background but kept it within the confines of what sailors in that situation would actually say in conversation. The cover picture comes from a photograph I took of the aircraft carrier’s flight deck.