9. Research and Believability

Page 5 of 5 | Getting Real | How to Research | Internet | When to Fake It | Remember |

Getting Real
We've talked a lot about the importance of making your story seem real to the reader. In the last section, in particular, we discussed the need to make your science believable - and not just your science, but all of your background detail. If you're going to include much detail about fighting with muskets, you'd better learn something about how muskets are used. Zero-gravity kung fu? Better learn something about both zero-g and martial arts. The more you know, the more real it's going to feel to your readers.

Conversely, the more errors you make, the more likely it is that the illusion you're creating for your reader (the "suspension of disbelief"), will collapse into dust.

You've heard the old adage, "Write what you know." Well, let's try a new version of it: "Learn about what you're going to write."

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Using What You Know

There are a number of areas in your storytelling where research might be particularly important. Here are some examples:

. The basic premise - if, for example, a scientific idea or a detail of history is important to the story.

. World building - if the physical character of your world is important (an unusual or non-Earthlike planet, for example); or if your world-building is drawn from mythology or some source other than your own imagination.

. Regional language and geography - if you're setting a story in Boston, there will be details that are very different from a story set in Caracas.

. Details to make your scene believable - whether your characters are riding a horse, loading a musket, felling a tree, fueling a rocket, diving to the bottom of the ocean, or surveying a black hole, you should do your best to get the facts right. (Some of it's guesswork, of course. No one has ever orbited close to a black hole, and there's a lot we don't know about them; but there's a lot we do know about them, and you need to take that into account before you start making up the additional details.)


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