Research is good - even for fiction.
These days it's often important to put your story in the real world, where real things happen in real locations.
Readers can be fussy.
They'll go along with your story about a werewolf who falls in love with an advertising executive and whisks her off to a fairy castle in Patagonia - but if you screw up the bus timetable or mention plants that don't grow where you say they do, your dear readers will be all over you like a rash.
Or like white on rice, as an old producer friend used to say!
There's a fine line between veracity and invention.
The thing is that if you get your real world facts right, you make your fiction more believable - this is something that modern thriller writers like James Patterson, Kathy Reichs and Lee Child know all too well.
And not just facts about cities and roads - but also institutions and organizational structures like the CIA, FBI and police jurisdictions can become important and crucial to your plotting.
This is why you'll often need to research these things prior to building your novel template.
The last thing you want is for a smart reader to question your logic or your version of reality.
Even when school breaks happen can be significant to teenage novels where much of the action may take place between study periods and during semesters.
Plus, things like the weather can help you.
In the book version of Twilight, the fact that the town of Forks is almost permanently overcast is fundamental to the credibility of vampires being around in the daytime.
Conrad, Dickens and Austen used the weather often to set the mood of their set pieces - which is why they wrote about places they knew or had visited.
Research is important, yes, but it can also be a delaying tactic if you don't know when to stop doing it.
Long time ago I wrote a supernatural fantasy set in modern day London that had references to the Great Plague of 1665 and to the famous character of Thomas More.
You guessed it.
I spent literally months of valuable writing time boning up on the plague and the life of Thomas More.
I had stacks of notes and became really well informed about a subject that was probably only relevant to about one percent of my plot.
Though the information was useful, it stopped the writing of the book in its tracks.
Especially when a year passed and I'd lost the thread of the novel and basically had to start again.
Also, interestingly, I discovered during my research that Thomas More used to torture people in the basement of his house - admittedly on rare occasions.
Apparently this was some kind of sport the rich and powerful indulged in during those dark (Tudor) times, even when they claimed to be pious and God-fearing.
Of course I included this fact in my novel - and have since been accused of making it up!
The moral being: too much research can be dangerous.
Research is about balancing facts with veracity.
Fiction must be believable first, accurate second.
No amount of accuracy will help a dull story.
But veracity can propel a story into a something more, even if not all the facts are true - just ask Dan Brown, whose Da Vinci Code has been savagely attacked over the years for its bending of the truth!
Far be it from us mere writers to have to remind people it was always meant to be fiction...
Anyway, the trick is to allot time to research - give yourself a time limit, beyond which you will not continue.
If that doesn't work for you then do what I do these days.
Write first, then do the research after.
In order for this to work well you need to keep abreast of your general knowledge - and stay interested in the topics you write around.
Use your spare time to research - and don't let it encroach on your writing time.
That's way too precious to waste!
(c) Rob Parnell
Rob Parnell's Writing Academy