Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Virtual Resources

By Mark W. Danielson

These days, the availability of instant information has made fiction writing simple. However, it also means there is no excuse for inaccurate subject matter. Authors cannot be experts on every topic. However, unless they are writing fantasy, they must have enough knowledge on the subject to create accurate and plausible stories.

Recently, I was disheartened to read a book by a big-name author who wrote countless inaccurate and unrealistic situations that involved flying. While it would have been easy for him to contact someone in the field to review these scenes for accuracy, he apparently believed he could fool his audience. Since I fly for a living and have over forty-five years of experience in that field, I sent him an e-mail offering to proof any flying scenes on his future books, gratis. I never received a reply, but the offer still stands.

Although the Internet has its limitations, it is a priceless tool for authors. Knowing my limitations, I frequently use the Internet to link up with experts. In my last story, I contacted a federal DNA expert. In my current story, a paranormal expert and physicists have given me sufficient knowledge to write my story with confidence. I also find Google Earth’s bird’s eye and street level views significantly aid in scene description. In this regard, the Internet makes accurate writing a breeze.

But there is a significant difference between expert information and Internet articles. The down-side to the Internet is there are no filters. As such, there is no way to guarantee an article’s accuracy. Any credible fiction writer can craft a believable bogus document. My goal is to always create fictional stories plausible enough to make the reader wonder whether it actually happened. Using real events, names, and locations adds authenticity and makes it easy for my readers to identify with my story just as movie audiences do when seeing familiar landmarks.

Since I know my limitations, I write expert characters into the scene rather than have my protagonist appear all-knowing. Doing this allows professional information be presented in a manner similar to how it was obtained by me. My protagonist, Homicide Detective Maxx Watts, is an average guy with good instincts, but has his weaknesses and isn’t always right. As such, most readers can relate to Watts, and by following his thought process, can understand how he reached his conclusions. For me, this works better than a shootout at high noon where everyone conveniently gathers on Main Street.

The Internet is a tremendous asset, but must be used with discretion. While researching topics, carefully consider their sources and read as many articles from as many authors as you can find before believing the information to be valid. My experience is experts are nearly always available and willing to assist authors. Without accuracy, the author loses credibility, and loss of credibility is not only distracting to a reader, it can lead to loss of readership. Research is only as good as the effort you put into it. Getting it right means no side effects.


Jean Henry Mead said...

I agree, Mark. There's no excuse for sloppy research. The Internet is always a good place to start. A veteran librarian (who also writes historicals) told me recently that the Wikipedia is as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica, if not more.

Mark W. Danielson said...

I agree, Jean. Wikipedia is an excellent resource. With all of this available information, there is no excuse for sloppy writing.

June Shaw said...

Yep, Mark, research is terrific. For my last book, DEADLY REUNION,I needed to cruise in Alaska and interview the captain, doctor, executive chef and others onboard. Great fun!

Mark W. Danielson said...

Ah, the Alaskan cruise. Braving the last great frontier on isolated seas where people can disappear and go unnoticed until the first serving. Where brown bears can slice visitors with surgical precision. Where people board as passengers and disembark as cargo. Where mystery authors write off the cost under the guise of research. Fair winds and following seas, June. Everyone who has sails Alaska loves it.

Jaden Terrell said...

The fifth book in my series is to be set in Alaska, and I do hope to go there for research. Or "research," LOL.

Mark, you might enjoy a book called FLAT SPIN by David Freed. The hero is down-on-his-luck flight instructor with a background in special ops. Freed is a pilot in real life.

What is that remarkable photo at the beginning of the post?

Mark W. Danielson said...

Beth, that image is a representation of the Internet, although it could just as easily be the wiring in our brains.

Alaska is awesome, no matter what time of year. I've been going there pretty regularly for 16 years and will be in Anchorage on Thanksgiving. You'll love it.

I'll check out the book. I've done flat spins in my airshow days (way back when), but avoid them in the MD-11. Sounds interesting.