I have to admit that I sometimes avoid research like the plague. I've had a few of those moments where a good idea comes along, and my next thought after “cool” is “too much research”. The two factors in whether or not I want to do it are:
- Does the topic or area of research interest me?
- Do I know how to find the information I'm looking for?
The littlest things can trip up an author when writing about a world they're not intimately familiar with. It's one of the reasons I really want to go to a shooting range. Not only to be able to write from personal experience about weapons, but because I may notice something I'd never thought of.
On the other hand, if we all wrote only what we knew, there probably wouldn't be very many books getting published. Who wants to read about a former manufacturing engineer who runs errands, works out, helps with homework, and writes all day?
In the end, I do a lot more research than I think I'm going to, and sometimes it's all for naught if a scene or scenario gets cut, but I choose topics I want to know more about. I'm currently writing books about DEA agents. I read books about going undercover, I watch documentaries and the DEA TV series, and look a lot of stuff up on the Internet.
I don't think I've ever even met a DEA agent, but I do happen to have a helpful source who used to work as a cop assigned to a DEA task force. Without him, I wouldn't have any confidence that I could pull this off.
I hope that any errors I make are small enough to be forgiven by the few who would recognize them, and that it won't jar them from the story too much.
We've all probably found errors in a book we've read or movie we've seen, but what I hate are the blatant errors where the writer or director just said “screw reality”. Like in Transformers 2 where Shia and company go into the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum in Dulles, Virginia to find the ancient Decepticon, Jetfire (the SR-71). They run through the hangar doors right out into the airplane boneyard in Tucson, Arizona. WTF?
That wasn't an accident, that was blatant in my mind. Even if you were only familiar with one of those locations–I happen to be the perfect storm of a movie viewer who has lived in both areas–I think you'd know something was up. If they'd explained it, by saying he teleported them there, I'd have been fine with it. Maybe that part was left on the cutting room floor…
As a writer, it's all in the details. If we pull the reader out of the story with those types of mistakes too many times, they'll quit coming back for more. In this competitive market, we can't afford to skip the research.
Can you think of any book or movie mistakes that really irked you?
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