How much research is enough?

I’ve struggled with this question right from the start, although I think I’m closer now to finding the right balance between necessary authenticity and unnecessary tedium that slows down the action and gets in the readers’ way. I’m trying in this trilogy – based where I live, within living memory – to inject fictional characters into real places and events. It’s not easy, especially when the places and events are as technically complicated as a fire in a nuclear reactor. I need to know how the core was constructed, where the weak spots were and why it went wrong, but all the reader is really interested in will be is what happened to the people they (hopefully) care about before, during and after the fire, rather than the fire itself. I suspect that there may be some that want more technical detail, but more who would be bored or irritated by it. Not for the first time, I’ve thought of writing a companion volume with the background detail, but quite separate from the novel itself.

For the time being, I struggle on. When the crisis happens, we have to know enough about both the characters and the circumstances to appreciate the tension, understand some at least of the dlilemmas and share the worries about how things might develop. It would make a great movie, but I may be getting ahead of myself. One step at a time.

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