Thursday, April 12, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge: K is for...


For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work.

Today, the topic is KNOWLEDGE

My first 'real' topic for this A-to-Z Blogging Challenge was "Believability" back on April second   As a writer who mostly dabbles in mysteries and speculative fiction, believability is vitally important to me.  

But how do I achieve it?

Well, even if I'm writing outlandish things, I've still got to know what I'm writing about.  If I'm working on a mystery where someone is killed with a hard-to-identify poison, I can't just go, "Um, yeah... arsenic's a poison, isn't it?  That works."  Well, no it doesn't.  Arsenic was used historically as a murderer's poison, but tests such as the Marsh Test have been used to detect it since the 1840's.  It has long failed the "hard to detect" criteria.

This applies to everything in my writing.  If I'm setting my story in Cleveland, Ohio, I can't mention that it sits on Lake Huron (it's Lake Erie).  If I'm creating a character who's running for president, I can't talk about how the first primary election is in California (it's in Iowa, and actually it’s a caucus). 

Even with wildly-speculative topics, I need to get it right.  If I want to write about an alien invasion, I can't just throw out half-assed details: "The evil Rutabegians left their home planet of Kumquat in their carrot-shaped rockets and traveled the 900 parsecs to Earth.  Two days later they arrived and began feasting on human flesh."   

Rockets? 900 parsecs? TWO DAYS???  Um, no...  A parsec is approximately 3.26 light years.  So even if these vile vegetable beasts could accelerate a chemical-reaction rocket up to 99% of light-speed (around 300 millions meters per second), it would take over 2900 years to get to Earth.  And there's no way could they hold enough propellant in a rocket to achieve that level of acceleration.  

My point is that in order to make my writing believable, I have to do my homework.  I have to gain the knowledge of what I want to write about beforehand.  This means research and relying on my own real-life experiences.  I have to do my due diligence to anchor my story in reality, even when I'm writing about things that aren't real.  If I need those rutabegians to arrive in two days, I need to research faster-than-light travel and at least propose a believable way that they could make that trip.  Wormhole? Hyper-warp?  Maybe, but whatever it is, I need to do my research in order to make it plausible.

My reader has to at least believe that I know what the hell I'm talking about, and I have to do all I can to maintain that illusion...    

You know?

Thanks for visiting -- see you the rest of this month for more alphabetical fun!

Don't forget to visit HERE to see all the bloggers taking part in this A-to-Z challenge, and try to drop in on as many of them as you can!


Susan Flett Swiderski said...

I'm trying to remember a saying my husband and some of his fellow engineers used to say years ago... something along the lines of,"If you can't convince them with facts, dazzle them with bulls**t." (But the BS DID have to be based on facts.)

But you're right about the necessity of grounding a story in facts. I hate BS that's merely based on more BS. Like one book I read: the good guy killed the bad guy with a small good luck charm capacitor that he'd been carrying around in his pocket for decades. Know how? He threw it into some water and "electrocuted" the guy. (And I wanted to throw the book!)

Jessica said...

Excellent thoughts! You do have to be knowledgeable, even in universes that aren't real. It has to feel like it's real.

Though I would say - rough drafts don't count. ;)

A to Z Blogger & SF/Fantasy Writer @ Visions of Other Worlds

Nicole said...

The ability to trade knowledge is another huge benefit of crit groups. I remember one guy who knew just about every fighting stance you could think of...he was such a great resource for knowledge I didn't have myself!

Duncan D. Horne - the Kuantan blogger said...

Hi Chris, that was a good post, and you're right, a lot of background research has to be done when writing a novel. While we are free to write the thoughts of our hearts, we also need to know what we're talking about!

This is me, Duncan D. Horne, visiting you from the A-Z challenge, wishing you all the best throughout April and beyond.

Duncan In Kuantan

Chris Fries said...

@Susan: Thank you so much for the visit and the comment! I really appreciate it. And you've got to be kidding about the capacitor of death, right?!?! I mean even MacGiver couldn't make that happen, lol! I'd have thrown the book... ;^)

@jessica: Thank you very much for the kind words!

@Nicole: That's a great point! I totally agree -- having other writers around that can share arcane knowledge is awesome.

@Duncan: Thank you very much for the visit and the comment!

.jessica. said...

Ah, yes. RESEARCH. I can't tell you how many things in my current WIP are marked with something like "[Uhhh... figure out whether this is actually even a remote possibility.]" :) Clearly, not my favorite part of writing. But essential!

Chris Fries said...

@jessica: I hear ya! Thanks for the comment!