Details can be a killer when you’re a writer. There’s a fine line between giving enough info to make it interesting and move the plot along and just dumping a bunch of info on the page to show how much research you actually did. Then there’s the authors who put stuff down as fact when it’s just so far fetched you can’t suspend your disbelief.
I’m leaving out the Fantasy and other world type fiction here. Those are works which have their own rules, known to the writer and not always shared with the reader until needed. That’s a big job for anybody. No, I’m talking about writer’s who work in the real world of Thrillers, mysteries and police procedurals. One of the things I really like about Ben Aaronvitch’s Peter Grant series is, while Peter might be a Wizard in training for the, “Folly,” a little known division of the London Metropolitan Police Force, all of the police work is spot on (as are the rules for magic). If you haven’t checked out any of his books, you owe it to yourself to do so.
In the world of thrillers a good number of readers have extensive knowledge about a lot of what’s being written. So when a writer sort of glosses over the detail or pushes the boundaries of ability to cover a plot flaw, it’s really frustrating to read. Most of it could have been solved by some basic research. Not all research can or should be done on Google. My own research covers the usual written stuff (which also involves a lot of archive hunting). Interviewing people who are actually doing some of the things I cover in my books and when I can, getting hands on experience, which can be anything from learning to tie a certain type of knot to firing fully automatic weapons. How can you accurately describe firing a weapon if you’ve never done it?
One of my first go to research guys was involved in the more classified side of weapon systems. His favorite saying to me was, “That’s classified but physics is our friend.” Too many writers just discount physics entirely in their writing. Why? It’s another tool to make what’s on your page a richer experience for the reader. You should know that gravity is always in play especially when you’re dealing with guns and rifles. I just read a book where the main character makes a downhill headshot at extreme range by placing the crosshairs of his scope on the target’s forehead. Just the tiniest bit of research would have explained to the writer what those gradient lines in the scope’s view are for. Hell some of the Russian scopes even have a range funnel to aid in those extreme shots. There is no shortage of research material on any subject under the sun. How things work, why they were created in the first place and who makes them, all readily available. Heck last week I was doing research on light emitting panels and came across BAE’s Adaptive Camoflage, they can make a tank look like a Volvo on an IR scope, that’s nuts and terrifying but it does explain why the Volvo is sending 120mm HE rounds your way. I don’t have use for that in the next two books but you can bet I filed it under interesting tech to exploit later.
Characters and their work history are pretty critical as well. Knowing how long it takes to work your way up any particular ladder helps you form that character’s life, how driven they are or what things around them may have placed them in their particular position. You might have a very young Captain in the Army if he’s been in theater where there’s been a lot of attrition due to casualties but a police Captain is going to be in his mid to late forties at least just because of the nature of advancement. These might seem like minor details but it’s the minor stuff that gives the surface texture and that makes a story real to the reader.
Is it more work? Does it take a bit more time?
Sure but the end result is a better story and that’s something we should all aspire to.
You can find my thriller Devil’s Gambit on Amazon. It’s available in print and for Kindle.