I’ve read several blogs over the last few months that are very critical of any author who doesn’t provide totally correct details in their books. These bloggers claim that absolute accuracy is necessary, even in the smallest of points, and the related research just has to be done. A couple of these articles deal with one specific item, that in the writer’s mind has to be correct, but the rest consider any and all inaccurate details to be unforgivable.
These blogs confirm to all aspiring writers, that without absolute accuracy in the tiny details of their fictional story, they are forever doomed. Their readers will become violently upset, throw the book away, and never read their work again.
A real reader will consume almost any written word and enjoy the experience. They may quit reading a boring book, a tedious book and perhaps a book they just don’t find interesting. They might even delete one of those badly edited e-books for the same reasons. Regardless of how disappointing these books are, you can bet they will still give each one a fair chance. They will never quit or delete a book because a few minor points are incorrect. Intolerance of small errors reeks of arrogance and a true reader doesn’t look for mistakes. Their quest for information and their addiction to really good stories is what drives them to read, and read, and read.
Lots of books are riddled with small inaccuracies for a variety of reasons. Some writers may feel researching these tidbits not worth the trouble. Others think they know their stuff, but in reality their knowledge is lacking on a few minor points. Some consider certain details to be of no real consequence to the story and use them whether they’re right or wrong. There are a few writers who really have no idea how to do research and ultimately relay all manner of misinformation to their readers. If I’m trying to get an idea on paper, I add quick details to make things happen and give myself a starting point for later. Sometimes the nonsense works.
Have you ever read a book that was really interesting and suddenly becomes completely ridiculous – too many details. I’ve read a lot of books. When an author spends too much time using tiny little scraps of information to build scenery, or props, or even those inconsequential characters, I start to skim. I move quickly over even well-researched information, until I get back to a storyline and a pace that keeps my eyes open.
Let me be very clear. Research is always an important part of writing, but it shouldn’t require endless amounts of time searching those tiny details. I just wrote about a vintage automobile. It was an important part of character development so it did need to be accurate. I typed a few phrases into a search engine and was immediately provided with vast amounts of information. I researched that car to death before I wrote a word about it. I even learned things I didn’t need to know this time, but may use next time.
Besides specific items like that old car, research also plays a key role in story timelines. Avoiding errors in the timeline is always important. Things out of place or time can really botch a story when you get them wrong. Remember when you’d see pictures of highway signs, hydro wires, or jet streams in scenes from movies about the “old” west. The cultural situations that surround your story are very important and would never be considered minor details. On the bright side, it’s research that can be very entertaining. Check out the films, music, economy and politics before you write. You may be surprised how much really is affected by that research. What you learn about history may spark a whole new idea for another book.
As writers, we do NOT need to research every detail, only the ones that directly affect our story. The decision to research or not to research can really be a tough one. We are producing fiction, and we do need to decide how much reality is needed to propel our story forward. The concept of ‘Suspension of Disbelief’ only goes so far and should be restricted to things people really don’t believe exist. Say whatever you want about vampires, ghosts, accurate weathermen, and honest politicians, because correct details are not required.
These tangible situations generate a specific type of research, but what about the emotional details we throw at our readers. How do we research that? The human experiences in our stories need to be accurate in detail just to invoke the correct emotional response from the reader. When we show the right details, our audience shares our character’s feelings. This research is not about Google or Wikipedia. It’s about our ability to recognize and transmit in our words, our own emotional responses and those of the people close to us.
Some writers obviously lack the personal experience required to successfully relay those details. Some emotional descriptions are so badly done, I feel sad. The writer obviously missed some of life’s basic moments. Sadder still are those with the obvious experience, but unable to fully offer up those feelings using only words. A lack of successful emotional situations in any story result in two dimensional, boring characters.
Finding the right information demands you find the people who are feeling what you want your character to feel. Sometimes it’s just about watching sappy movies or even those long-running soap operas. Other times it’s tough to find exactly what you need. If all else fails use my technique. Imagination coupled with the scene your character must endure. Make it feel real to you and it will feel real to your readers. Learning how and where you want to take your readers emotionally is critical to bringing the audience into the story.
Every writer must be a ravenous seeker of new experiences and new people. Our written words should be reflective of our constant quest for real human characters, sense driven settings, unique dialogue and new ideas. Only then does our writing capture, even in the smallest details, real personal experience.
Research is a wonderful way to explore. New knowledge instills the confidence to take the written word to a whole new level, as we find new adventures, recall old memories, or relive our passions. When writing, we need to use all my senses and all the knowledge we can find, to write about anything and everything.
I hope to always enjoy this journey…