Research and technical details in fiction

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Fiction writers are often well-known for delving into research, but I’m sure many a reader has found technical errors made by authors either as a simple slip-up or by a lack of thorough research.

As someone who likes technical details, yet also good fiction, I wondered how an author strikes a balance between thoroughness and good flowing prose. As writers, we need to keep readers interested in the story and the characters. I feel, however, that writers need to strive to be as correct as possible when they include certain researched things.

A recent example of an almost excessive amount of technical detail I’ve encountered, was Franklin Horton’s apocalyptic novel, The Borrowed World. He includes in some scenes very detailed descriptions of the characters’ guns and gear, this being a story about survival. To be clear, I am a firearms enthusiast and I participate in sport shooting, yet I found some of the detail being a bit unnecessary. (You can read my review here)

This topic really interests me, so I decided to ask some other authors for their opinions on the matter.

K.M. Weiland (@KMWeiland), from helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com, who writes historical and speculative fiction, had the following to say:

My goal is always to be as thorough as possible in my research upfront. As I’m then writing, I’ll bold any issue about which I’m uncertain so I can research it more particularly. And whenever possible, I try to get an expert to read my work over.

After that, I just have to let it go, hope I got 90% of my facts right, and let the chips fall where they may.

Joseph R. Lallo (@jrlallo), probably most well known for the Book of Deacon trilogy and whose steampunk novel, Free Wrench, I reviewed (find my review here), said:

I absolutely feel that a writer needs to get the research right. I don’t think it makes a difference which genre you write, the facts need to be solid. Obviously historic fiction and things set in the real world need to ring true, because people can check your facts. In sci-fi, everything should have at least a basic connection with reality, if only as a jumping off point. And even in fantasy, the more reality you can fold it, the better. Even the things you have created from scratch and don’t need to conform to reality should still be consistent, so I spend a lot of time going over my earlier stories in a setting to make sure the rules don’t change. As a writer, your job is to let your readers get lost in your stories. When you don’t get something quite right, that’s a surefire way to knock someone out of the tale.

And last but not least, I consulted another author, my very own brother, Stefan Fouché (@Fouche97) who blogs over at noveltray.wordpress.com. I spoke to him via Skype so there’s no text to quote. Nevertheless he emphasised the importance of researching properly and being thorough when you include technical information. Story, however, is most important and both he and I agree that your writing shouldn’t bore your readers with excessive info dumping.

So there it is, more than just my own opinion on research and the specificity of the details a writer should include. Overall it seems that correctness of the details is pretty important and that the amount of information a writer includes, should not detract from the reader’s experience.

I would like to conclude with a big thank you to all three of the authors who very kindly shared their opinions with me, although I kind of think Stefan is obligated to do so as he’s my brother. 😉
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