In a way research was simpler before the internet. A trip to the library or the encyclopaedia if you were fortunate enough to own one, or a phone call to some authority, and you felt safe. You had done your due diligence and could feel fairly secure that you knew more about whatever it was than the majority of readers.
Research, research and more research. Some things are pretty immutable and easy to find out - the date of a battle, for example, or the reaction between two common chemicals. It gets a bit dicey, however, when you get into more esoteric stuff, for example, when did metal-spring hoop skirts become indispensable to ladies’ fashions? It’s fairly easy to find out the date of their first release (England, 1855 is the best date I can find) but when did they cross the pond to become available to Southern belles? What was a common recipe for home-made ink during the 1860s? And my own personal bête noir, did the 1916 Jordan Sport Marine automobile have a self-starter or were they only available with the old-fashioned and very dangerous crank? (Aeons of research have never yielded a definitive answer, so like my betters I have taken refuge in weasel words, saying that my heroine’s machine is an ‘experimental model.’ However, once the book is released I fatalistically await some reader to excoriate me for not having the correct answer. Sigh.)
I am beginning to appreciate why so many writers are now choosing to do urban fantasy, pure fantasy, science fiction, etc. Their world, their rules.
There are two main problems with research - one is that it takes time from writing, but this can be countered with the absolute necessity for at least believable accuracy. And yes, accuracy is important. I point to a Regency romance in a contest I once judged where the hero reaches into his pocket and pulls out a fountain pen, which although primitive ones were first patented in the 1830s were not commercially available until the 1850s, some thirty years after the Regency. When I counted this faux pas against the writer that absolutely furious young woman wrote me back, demanding to know why, especially since it was an old fashioned pen and who would know the difference anyway? Double sigh.
The second problem with research is its seductivity. You flip over to the internet to find out the date (say) whalebone was first used in corsets or the chemical formula for gunpowder and three hours later you are engrossed in reading the life cycle of the water nymph (dragonfly larvae) without really knowing how you got there, since neither dragonflies nor nymphs (insect or mythological) have anything to do with your story. Seductive, indeed!
Unfortunately, there is no cure that I know of for such a predilection to wander off into the arcane pathways of interlocking knowledge. After years of trying to discipline myself I have given up and allowed my mind to dive down the rabbit hole and follow the seductive lure of unknown fields. At least, for a while. You never know when you might find a nugget of knowledge that will enhance your story, or even give you a new one. (Yeah, like we really need new story ideas to add to the 200+ year stockpile we already have, right?) Besides, it’s inevitable. There is just too much fascinating information out there. We’re doomed.
(And I apologize for any weirdnesses in formatting - this new Blogger upload interface and I are not getting along well together! I don't see why companies insist on changing things for the worse!)