Book Research – How Thorough Should An Author Be?

Posted on February 8, 2010. Filed under: Books, reading, Romance, Style | Tags: , , , , , , |

I’ve been reading a book on my book list lately, and while I already know the ending (end reader thing again), I haven’t finished it. So I’m not going to post a full review or anything resembling that here. However, I am going to talk a little about the book in the context of research.

Authors of almost any genre have to research things for their books under most circumstances. I’m doing it, and I know a lot of other authors who are doing the same things. Unless you’re an absolute expert, there are always things to be researched.

So my question today is this: How thorough should the author be in researching topics for novels?

The reason I ask is because of the book I’m reading. It’s called Everyone Worth Knowing and is written by Lauren Weisberger. If you haven’t heard of her or her book, perhaps you’ll know her from another of her more popular novels: The Devil Wears Prada.

In Everyone Worth Knowing, Weisberger writes about life for Bette Robinson, a small town New Yorker who quits her job as a banker in New York City because it’s become tedious. She ends up working in public relations as an event planner for some of the biggest names out there.

It’s obvious to me that Weisberger’s done a lot of research for her story. She drops names left and right: Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Lauer, Katie Couric, and Hugh Heffner to name a few. She knows her designers and labels, and she mixes it up with the clubs, restaurants, and companies of only the best areas of NYC.

I’m a fan of people who take the time to research things well, but I noticed something in Weisberger’s novel that irks me just a bit. I’ll admit it’s nothing big and probably not something most people would notice. In fact, there’s a possibility it’s done for effect more than anything else.

Despite all that, I read it and was a little disappointed. I’ll quote it here for you.

“I’m getting a coffee, and then we can figure out the event details. Can I get you something?”

I shook my head and pointed to my coffee cup.

“No grande sugar-free vanilla extra-hot no-whip skim latte?”

This is from page 153 of my copy of the book, and I read it again last night. In fact, I read it twice.

The scene takes place inside your favorite and mine: Starbucks. And our heroine, Bette, is talking with bouncer Sammy. Aside from the fact that I feel his little comment deserves a few extra commas, I have to give Weisberger some credit.

I used to work as a Starbucks barista, and one of the things you learn rather early on is how to call an order. If you’ve ever sat down and looked at the boxes on the sides of the cups, you’ll notice there’s a certain order to them. The trick to properly reading them is starting from the top and working your way down. So, for example, when I order one of my favorites, I ask for a “grande three-pump-vanilla, breve, extra caramel, caramel macchiato.”

Weisberger gets props in my book for knowing the lingo and structure of an order. However, she does something that bugs me just a bit. I won’t harp on it for long, so bear with me.

It’s the “no-whip” part of this quote that gets me. I’m a perfectionist, and this might be a stylistic thing, but lattes do not get whipped cream. Period. Sure, you can order them with whipped cream, but they are not normally made that way. The trick to making a latte is to steam the milk and create a bit of foam at the top. When you’ve finished pouring the milk into the cup, you scoop a bit of whip out of the pitcher with your spoon and place a dollop on top.

That’s a latte.

Ordering it with no-whip is redundant.

Ah well, I’m not here to really argue the point. I’m really just curious how much everyone else thinks an author should research for a book. And let me point out that I’m not claiming Weisberger didn’t research enough. Just, in general, I would be interested in how much authors put into their research and how much their readers think the authors should know.

Thoughts? Comments? Snide remarks? Let me know!

-Rae-

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4 Responses to “Book Research – How Thorough Should An Author Be?”

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Hi book wyrm. I can’t speak for Weisberger, but I know for myself that research brings a concrete authenticity to your work that “winging it” may have never created. I’ve written a novel about insects and was interested to everything from crypsis, to life cycles, and even mating patterns for craps sake! Of course, you have to know how much is important/interesting for the reader to know and how much is information overload. I don’t know. I think it helps with creating a sense of immersion in the novel. Anyway, I’m new at this but that’s my 2 cents.

Hi, and thanks for the comment! I agree with you about research bringing concrete authenticity to a work. It’s very true. Knowing that a person has taken the time to read and search for information about a topic before they simply jump right into it gives you confidence in the author.

And now I’m curious… you really wrote a novel about insects? That’s something I haven’t really heard before. (Except on one rare occasion.) I’m intrigued. 😀

Thanks again for commenting! I’ll have to check out your blog.
-Rae-

Thank you for the kudos and the comment. Yep, I’m the bug girl. I’m sorry however, I can’t tell you how Bombardier beetles like their lattes… ~_^ I hope to get an agent. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see. Thanks again Rae.

I think research is important for the reasons already stated. Even with a fantastic novel, some minimal research is necessary. I can’t honestly say research is my strong suit. Nevertheless, when writing my rough draft I was already very familiar with Shakespeare but looked up quotes, bio, etc. to get details so I could fill in the blanks. Also, I made myself watch ‘Dawn of the Dead.’

Yeah, I know. Don’t ask. 🙂


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