A question about writing real-life settings

So I’m writing a novel that involves multiple real-life cities. But I am concerned that I’m spending too much time on researching settings rather than actually writing.

When researching real-life settings, when do you tell yourself “that’s enough research, let me just suck it up and write”?


The novel I have in mind is a financial thriller. A renegade video journalist dreams of a pretty girl hacker who reaches out to him online, and they join forces kicking the behind of a power-hungry banking cartel.

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My suggestion: if the amount of time you’re spending on research bothers you, then it might be time to start writing. If you have to go back and do a little more research, will that derail your writing?


In my experience, research is iterative. I think I have enough, start writing, and realize that I absolutely have to know when people switched from preparing deceased family members for burial at home to hiring professional undertakers. (Or something like that.) So I do more research. And repeat.

If it’s a location that you can’t visit easily, you might want to do as much writing as possible before you schedule a research trip, so you’ll know what you need to know.


Yep, iterative. "But to write this chapter I need to know XXX… Now there’s a cool fact… OMG, I wish I’d never learned that…" :slightly_smiling_face:


I deal with the city research by only ever setting stories in places that are familiar. London, Lisbon, Cambridge, New York, Stockholm, Paris being a few on my list. Refreshing my memory with some Google Streetmap work.

Although of late specific locations have been replaced with unnamed generalised places and regions that are reminiscent of actual places somewhat like Thomas Hardy’s Wessex or Jane Austen’s vaguely Hampshire/Dorset (where is .“Longbourn” in Hertfordshire for example?).

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Not necessarily — sometimes my writing happens when I journal or take notes on my research, which is partly web searches and partly my mom coming by with some random cute meme or horrifying video. Or conversation.

London and New York are among the locations I um scouted!

Thanks — almost forgot the spirally method of writing. Spiral in the sense of “research <=> write” and moving between the left and right sides of the double-sided arrow.

I envy you for reaching this stage. I’m not sure if I’d ever regretted learning certain things, even wrong things…

Sadly, there are some nonfiction passages that one simply cannot unsee… my illusions about space travel are shattered forever…

I agree 100%.
To that effect, I “designed” my own tags to use in Scrivener.
For example: using substitutions, --t gets replaced with =Transition> ; --dev gets replaced with =ToDevelop>

So basically what I am saying is that I don’t stick too much around if the details won’t come to me spontaneously. Writing is my priority.

Later, using search tools to locate “=” (that I only use for my personal tags), I go back and upgrade those parts.
→ I don’t think it’d be such a good idea to interrupt the composition process to rather do research. (Note that I am more of a pantser.)
The little you know, if it was enough to feed you an idea, should at this stage suffice.
→ Two different brain zones involved, and I don’t see how it could be productive to randomly switch off one to solicitate another.


@thegirlclaudia during my last visit to New York I experienced a major difference from London. I drink cappuccinos and when out and about that has to be Starbucks as they are said to be the most caffeinated of all the high street coffee shops, Except that in New York it is weak as dish water despite the extra shots I have; typically a grande with a total of six yes six shots. The London version is twice or three times as strong with the same number of shots. Oh and the McDonalds are as different too not that I eat there any more.

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Nah. That’s actually coffee flavored dishwater. I’m sorry for this experience.

Starbucks is not the best coffee in the US. It’s not even the best coffee in Seattle (their headquarters city). I’m sure New York can do much better.

Absolutely. NYC is the place to go for the world’s best cup of coffee.

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Dang, I see Will Ferrell everywhere. From Step Brothers to Anchorman

I’d like to know how the food (and thus people) differ between NY(C) and London, too…

That sucks. Star gates, portals and ancient civilizations are crazy spiritual, supernatural territory.

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Which is why I left that particular fact out of my hard SF short. But Mel Brooks would have left it in… :wink:

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