As a writer, I often find myself researching things which I suspect will get me placed on some kind of watch list. This morning, for instance, I am going to find out how to build an electromagnet strong enough to demagnatise a hard drive, pretty innocuous compared to some of the things I’ve been researching, like chat logs of groups wanted by the FBI, but something that might turn some heads.
Mostly in doing research like this, I am trying to build a veneer of plausibility. For instance, after I study electromagnets and figure out how my character built his, I will probably not be able to duplicate it. Then again, I’m not a motivated fifteen-year-old. I have a friend who’s an engineer, and I’m pretty sure he will say, “That wouldn’t work. However, if you use these different materials…” at which point I will zone out and start thinking about something else. Not every detail has to be perfect, just good enough so that the vast majority of readers don’t question it.
Details exist to help the story along. Beyond that, they don’t have to be perfect. Sure, hopefully the reader will learn something from what you’ve written, but if they are really interested in that topic, I hope they pick up more than a fiction book.
Recently, I read Robert J. Sawyer’s WWW: Wake. I don’t usually read “serious” books, and I wasn’t sure what I’d think of Wake, but I had gotten to know Sawyer through his excellent information on writing. I found the book fascinating, and I learned a lot about Shannon Entropy, Information Theory, and cellular automata. However, when Sawyer wandered over into my field of expertise, Computer Science, I could tell that he was making up a lot of it as he went along. Still, I was okay with that, because I was reading a story about characters, not a Computer Science textbook.
***This post was edited for Sunday morning grammar.