Research, writing, and info dumps…

Or how far down the rabbit hole do you go???

TL;DR everyone writes differently! Now that I’ve said that…

I started writing because I hated the perfect characters and how often the weapons were misportrayed (e.g. WRONG). Now I have a reputation for accuracy…sigh

How much research? Well, what are you writing? Alt history? Western? Fantasy? SciFi? Urban Fiction?

Each of those could require some level of research. I’ve been shooting for over 60 years, and an instructor for about 20 years. So I know a good bit, enough to know ‘I’ don’t know what I don’t know. I’ve gone down rabbit holes on guns to make sure I’m accurate, sometimes hours of research on the history or use of a particular weapon.

Alt history? What country, what era, steampunk or realistic? European Hanseatic League? Roman times? You want to talk about rabbit holes, each of those is a massive one! Have you been there? Any idea of how Europeans interact? Videos? etc…

Fantasy? Do you know your fae, your old gods? Who begat whom? Again, what time period?

SciFi? Do you understand math? Can you compute ballistics? Do you understand gravity in space? Orbital mechanics? Are you writing hard SF or Space Opera? Handwavium or reality based?

Urban fiction? Have you lived in a big city? Traveled to cities? Traveled around this or another country? Know the differences between and within cities? Good vs. bad, with all that entails?

Do you have experts you can reach out to? As an example, Jonna Hayden for fabrics vs. historic time period? A doctor if you’re dealing with medical issues? A lawyer? A pilot? A bartender? Whomever can help you make your story better is always good! One of my shorts had forging metal in it, I’d done the ‘book’ research, but lucked into a guy who actually makes things in a real forge and he was an immense help to get those bits I was screwing up correct. Never be afraid to reach out!!!

Now that you’ve done all that research, how much ends up in your book? The western example I used earlier was roughly 6 hours of research, and it ended up a one sentence entry in the book. BUT, I use very sparse descriptions and no info dumps, preferring to let the reader build characters and situations in their heads.

Is the information ‘critical’ to your story? If so, how do you sneak it in? A senior teaching a junior, a flashback, a challenge/response? That is up to you and your style of writing.

Do you ‘have’ to do research? No, you don’t. Should you? I believe so. Regardless of what you write, the more accurate you can make your background and interactions, the better it will be received by readers, especially if they are widely read in that genre.

Lastly, get your ego under control and be willing to accept criticism of your baby! Get alpha and beta readers if you can! You want folks that will honestly critique your work, telling you what they don’t understand or seems to be missing!

We, as authors, ‘know’ what is going on with the story, but those alpha and beta readers don’t, so they WILL find holes where you’ve written past a critical piece of information, changed a character’s name, description, or something really stupid (yes, I’ve done ALL of those)… sigh…

If you’re still here, what did I miss???


Research, writing, and info dumps… — 13 Comments

  1. I’m pretty sure that getting ones ego under control applies to a lot more than writing!

    Keep up the good work and I will chime in if something else comes to mind.

  2. Hey Old NFO;

    When I wrote my story for you, I used my background in Commercial Aviation as filler for my dystopian short story of “Cali”. You have to know something about your subject matter, because if your technical matter is in error, it will raise doubts in your story, sure people know that it is a story, but if is soo full of “feldercarb” it can take away from the story, peoples “B.S” meter will fill up and they put the book/kindle down and look for something else. You are known for your research and you make your story “believable”, that is why they do soo well.

  3. Being familiar with streets, places and businesses in a given location is important, I believe, in establishing a location for a story. And as you stated, it may be a throw-away line here or there but lends authenticity to the story’s setting.

  4. Keeping in mind that “city I went to” is not the same as “city back then.” Thanks be, a lot of historic maps have been digitized and are available on-line. One of Buda and Pest kept me from making a glaring error in the action in a book. (No bridge on that street back then! Oops.)

  5. Many years, Lo!, these many years hence, I still recall a geographical mistake Nabokov made in “Lolita.” He could have asked me, or consulted a Phoenix street map, but no…

  6. Jim…

    I’m probably something of a pedant, which is why I appreciate an author who knows their stuff and does their research.

    One thing I look for, is characters that are consistent. I should put that in capital letters. CONSISTENT CHARACTER. It is as important as the technical side of writing, if not moreso.

    I recently passed on a series with some good reviews, because the lead character – an officer with a high level of responsibility – deserted his post on hearing that the area where his wife was living had been over-run by the enemy. I GET loving your wife…. But deserting your men and everyone depending on you, for personal reasons? That’s not the way people of principle and courage behave.

    A similar issue that you and I’ve discussed before, is male-female interaction, both physically and emotionally.
    Physically in the sense that a 120lb female does not toss a 240lb male through the air without obvious superpowers and suitable anchors and leverage. In physical combat terms it’s about as realistic as bottomless magazines.
    Emotionally in the sense that people with the courage and initiative to achieve heroic things, will not lose these attributes when dealing with the opposite sex.
    One of my pet hates is a lead character who makes appalling decisions under emotional pressure, requiring the plot to hang on blind luck and/or enemy stupidity for a successful outcome.

    Another is female characters written as “men-with-tits”. I grew up around women of strong character. That did not make them bullies. They respected the men in their lives. Particularly their husbands. Above all, they were women. Men and women behave and interact differently. If an author cannot write a strong female character without making her less female….. well maybe he needs to think about that.

    Possibly a harder area to “research” than physical or historical aspects, but I think it’s critical to a good story. Penelope endured the suitors. Odysseus slew them. A modern scriptwriter would not write it that way, but one reason that The Odyssey is a classic story because Homer got his characters right.

    Regards….. Peter.

    • Peter, I am a survivor of 26 years flying an EMS helicopter, flying with an excellent (and professional) Flight Nurse and Paramedic.
      Some years ago I read “One Second After”) and discussed that book with my crew. We all agreed-
      IF… when the “Balloon goes up” my family is threatened, the job will go wanting.
      My family comes first.

      • Greybeard.

        1.You were not military. You did not accept on joining that your commitment would include that potential level of sacrifice. You were not deserting people who were going to stay AND DIE.

        There is a reason that we have national monuments for soldiers, sailors and airmen

        2. There was no firm information. This was an emotional-panic reaction to not knowing what had happened. Heroes make hard choices.

        3. Maybe you are not a hero. Very few people are.