>> Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Now, I'll admit, I love research. History, science, engineering, psychology, medicine, weaponry, architecture, I love it all. I love to find out stuff. It's great. One of the good things about loving to learn and writing is that one fits tidily into the other.
Ironically, since I mostly write fantasy and science fiction, I need very little for my writing. Having said that, if I use science, it's sound. If I describe weapons, I can visualize the weapon and know how it's used (if I haven't used it myself). I understand the basics of combat. I understand geography and geology. If I have armor, I know what type it is and its limitations.
Because nothing yanks you out of a story like stumbling across something that's patently untrue. Even fantasy. Definitely science fiction. Absolutely history. If you write a novel set in the past, you'd better know your period and well. Know the clothing and the terminology, the customs and mores. Knowing historical facts is not enough.
Now, a writer could say, oh, well, what are the odds. . .
Well, see, readers know the darnedest things, particularly voracious readers. What's more, the same people prone to read fantasy are the ones most likely to know weaponry and terms and magical mores. People reading science fiction probably know more than their fair share of at least basic science. These are the folks you want to read more of your books. Yanking them out of your story, however clever it is, with mistakes that a little research could prevent is not a good way to build an audience.
Heck, I closed the door on Tom Clancy not two chapters into Patriot Games because he had a fact (with no real purpose I could see) wrong and I happened to know it off the top of my head. Also the book was bothering me, but that's another story. Haven't been tempted to read him since. Note, however, that he's managed to be successful without me. But it's not the sort of thing one can count on.
Of course, to minimize your research, if it doesn't give you the same thrill it does me, you can keep things general, no specifics, no details. Still, many readers are put off by the lack. But, in my opinion, better to keep it vague than to fill the book with glaringly inaccurate details that set the knowing's teeth on edge.
Take a few minutes. If you don't know if the word "allergic" existed in Regency England, look it up. You can find that data (Dictionary says it became part of the language in 1910, so no). If you think you can have a geostationary satellite hovering over the north pole, look up orbital mechanics (you can't). You want to use nuclear fuel in your space ship? Make sure you have a good cooling system and the right fuel.