Saturday, March 21, 2015

Research: Getting the Details Right

Every fiction reader must suspend their sense of disbelief to enter and buy into a story, even one built on an implausible premise. One aspect of this requires me, as the author, to create a believable world where the details of setting and character agree with the reader's knowledge. If this happens, then stretching their imaginations and the limits of their belief become easier. This means getting the details right, and this often requires research. The thing to remember is all fiction is fantasy, and every fantasy needs a solid footing based on the perceptions of human reality.

All fiction genres take research for establishing details in the setting, even in contemporary settings where the reader might think that since the author lives in today’s reality, the writing of the setting is self-evident. Well, yes, it is, but it is also very changeable. If an author doesn’t have actual experience in a chosen place, they may not know local history, customs, and idiosyncrasies of that particular setting. On the other hand, if a reader does have familiarity with this place, anything that screams ‘untrue,’ makes them leave the story. Things as simple as how police departments operate can differ subtly or dramatically by location, just as laws can vary by community.

Historical settings make take gobs of research. I’ve been working on a story set in the Carolingian age where it seems on every page I find something else needs research. Other periods, like the English Regency era, are so popular books have been written on the peculiarities of the time for authors using that particular setting. This might be a pet peeve. Having studied and read history, I pick out inconsistencies in fiction right away and incorrect details of a particular historical setting will throw me right out of a story. I’ve noticed, however, characters presented as more modern in attitude and behavior don’t.

Which leads to this: suspension of disbelief involves more than just setting. Today’s Regencies often contain wild pre-marital sex, which was a big taboo for upper-class women of the time but seems to work in today’s stories. Perhaps making a character’s behavior more modern makes them more believable or maybe relatable. ??? Yet unbelievable behaviors and traits in characters can turn off the reader.  For instance, how characters act and speak often differs by age, and nothing drives me crazy like a three-year-old character using the vocabulary of an eleven-year-old child. I’ve noticed children are often miscast by dialogue in this manner no matter what their ‘age’ in the story.

Of course, I write science fiction. For me, science or scientific theory must create the foundation of science fiction; otherwise, it is future fantasy in the truest sense of the fantasy genre. For my novels, I’ve had to research everything from psychology to if bio-formation of a block of rock planet can work and turn it into a life-bearing planet. Another research aspect was how faster-than-light travel might be possible without falling back on Star Trek themes. My hope is that as long as I can get the reader to believe the possibility, they will suspend their disbelief to enjoy (and believe) the story.

AS ALWAYS with the Round Robin, more authors give their viewpoint on research. Please hop to the following sites and enjoy the posts.
Margaret Fieland
Beverley Bateman
Skye Taylor 
Rachael Kosnski  
Heidi M. Thomas 
Marci Baun 
Anne Stenhouse 
Helena Fairfax 
Connie Vines
Kay Sisk
Fiona McGier
A.J. Maguire
Judith Copek
Lynn Crain 


  1. Hi Rhobin, this is such a good topic. I haven't noticed any of the authors I've visited so far complain about researching - or bemoan how difficult it is to give it up and on occasion leave it out. I'm full of admiration for SF writers. Being entirely unscientific, I think it's such an achievement to create a world that captures readers. Anne

  2. Nice post, Rhobin. As someone who knows history, you must be driven nuts by some of today's errors (even in newspapers). My husband constantly finds mistakes pertaining to the second world war. Writing about the 50's and 60's is dicey if one wasn't around then. And thank you for putting together this blog roll.

  3. Rhobin I found your scifi and regency era info helpful (as I have not written either genre). We both like to conduct our research in a extremely organized fashion.

  4. Great post, Rhobin, and I so believe that a reader has to suspend their disbelief when reading or even watching a movie because this is entertainment. Authors try to get everything as accurate as possible but sometimes a leap of faith is necessary.

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. Loved how you began about readers have to suspend their disbelief. So true, because readers use fiction to escape reality. Howeverthey don't want to have the implausible in the story. Good research keeps the reader entetained. Enjoyed your post and the research topic. So much fun to visit the authors and read about their experiences in research.

  6. Loved your comment about suspending the readers sense of disbelief. I totally agree - with any story.
    I also enjoyed your premise for sci-fi writing being based on science or scientific theory. That's interesting. Great post.

  7. Great post. I love the research part of my writing both historical and contemporary. One learns such interesting stuff. My pet peeve is females who act totally modern in a historical setting so I guess I dance to a different piper here than most.

  8. Writing children is a challenge. My daughter did speak like an 11 year old at 3. Maybe because Mom is a publisher and her vocabulary reflects that. LOL

    Even if it's fiction, you can't describe a deployment in Iraq like Vietnam. Baghdad is not in the middle of a tropical rainforest. I have seen this happen. o.O

    Thanks for "hosting" our round robin again this month, Robin. Love the post.


  9. I think many authors use time-travel to put modern females into the past, so they have a reason for the females having a modern sensibility. What that fails to take into account is the attitudes of the men of the time were harsh against females acting "randy."

    Being a HUGE sci-fi fan, I love the world of Star Trek, which I watched on TV when it first came out. Many of the things that were fiction back then, have come to pass. Cell phones are mini-computers, which means my kids laugh at old shows where an entire room is a computer, with turning tapes and cogs, lights blinking, etc. For something that couldn't do a tenth of what their smart phones can do.

    And my husband just read an account to me about Boeing having invented a proto-type of a "force field", like what is used in sci-fi to protect star-ships. Things have to be imagined first, before the scientists can think, "Hey, that really can be done!" Then they invent it.