Researching Such a Scale

The Chronicles of Enoch is going to be a true Epic. It will have a cast of at least fifty (if not more) and will cover a period of approximately eight thousand years. That, in itself, is quite the challenging proposition. When you add a conspiracy or several, complex plots involving the military, the police forces, several religions, experimental science, and secret government projects....well, we are not even sure if there is a Kansas to be in any more, although we are sort of familiar with Kansas as a concept...


Let me give you a list of some of the topics we have covered so far;


  1. The Hebrew Talmud

  2. Kabbalah

  3. Sumerian tablets and carvings

  4. Doggerland and other antedeluvian lands

  5. Every conspiracy theory on Atlantis and lost continents

  6. Fluid dynamics, thermal dynamics, and high pressure fluid dynamics inversions

  7. Astronomy, especially regarding the Moon and Mars

  8. Terraforming and how it could happen

  9. Micro-electronics and experimental electronic theory

  10. Every religion which has ever existed

  11. The titular Books of Enoch and other Apocrypha

  12. Jewish exorcism rites

  13. Aviation history, space flight, experimental space technology, and theoretical physics

  14. The Atlanta and Georgia State Police Force and SWAT Division

  15. Child psychology and criminal psychology

  16. ASD and Aspergers syndrome

  17. Eurasian and North American mythology

  18. Ballistics, sniper theory and practises, bullet manufacture

  19. Chemistry and materials science

  20. Esoteric lore from several sources

  21. Misha of Jewish scripture and questionable sources

  22. Almost every conspiracy theory I could find (except flat Earth because even the ancients weren't stupid)


I actually stopped because I don't want to overwhelm you. There is a lot more and I am only on the first book of a five-volume series.


On Appearing the Expert


If there is one person who does this well, it was Michael Crichton, he truly did an amazing job of appearing to be an overnight expert on his subject matter. Whether it was genetics and dinosaurs, aviation and accident investigation, law enforcement, or ancient arabian literature and viking migration and culture, Michael's books communicated a confident knowledge on the subject. One could read his books and not only enjoy the story but actually learn something. That is a rare talent and he remains sorely missed.


He was a remarkably intelligent man but he did not become an actual expert on every topic he wrote so convincingly about, he researched and made use of actual experts instead, which proves just how intelligent he was.


I think it is important, when setting your writing in real places, referencing real groups of people, places, and lore, it is important to give a sense of authenticity, a flavour of truth to your work. This, I feel, is vital in drawing your reader into to your story. There is that famous saying about 'the best lies/legends contain a grain of truth' and your story needs, I feel, to contain at least enough grains to quarter fill a small salf shaker or enough rice to set a fried egg on.


What about science fiction, you may ask? Good question.


I refer you to the Illium/Olympus series by Dan Simmons. He had a curious idea; combine the Trojan War with the science fiction of a terraformed Mars, involve actual Greek gods who were in fact posthuman superbeings, genetically enhanced humans, killer robots, advanced benevolent robots, Shakespearean monsters, and Lovecraftian gods. He added real theoretical science as well as decent historical research into the books and made them rather interesting indeed, while still keeping the fantasy and sci-fi elements alive.


My point is, research is king (or queen, or elected official) of writing; you need to add elements of reality into your unreality in order to draw people in. Even if they are not experts in the field, it is going to draw them in if done well.


Doing It Well..


In today's world, research is no longer as challenging as it once was. I remember the good old days of researching my now-abandoned first novel in my teens. You had to go to a library and first find the section of the library your book might be in, then you had to find one which suited your need, take it back because it was no good, come back overloaded with others, then spend hours leafing through them for the information you wanted before getting distracted by something interesting you found along the way. Do not get me started on microfiche archives either!


Today, you have Google. With the few strokes of the keys, you have access to everything, even Wikipedia...


There are a few problems with that. The old addage of "if it wasn't true they wouldn't let them put it on there" is not, necessarily, true. For some sites yet but Wikipedia is publically editable. of course, they curate it now, but we have seem a few worrying and a number of hilarious results of such editing. They catch it eventually, I should know, my backlinks lasted a week...


So; you have to be careful in what information you use, myou need trusted sources such as academic ones or verifiable sources of information when it comes to scientific or academic stuff, as well as historical events. Accuracy is key because trust me, you will encounter that one person who will pull you up on a fact and you can be sure that they will leave a review about it.


Spend the time, is my advice, check your facts and, check them again. You'll be amazed by the results. I know it's hard but, until we are famous, we can't court experts to interview or hire researchers to do it for us. I keep telling you that this job is no even remotely easy, do I not...


Of The Dumping of Information


Don't do it. That's the best advice I can give for you to follow. Dumping information is never good and dropping a pile of facts and figures on the reader's lap is going to make them feel like they are reading a text book. I know you spent a long time researching it, built some impressive knowledge and thorough notes on the subject and, if you follow my upcoming advice, may use a tiny fraction of it directly but it will matter when you retain rather than lose readers.


  1. Use natural-sounding dialogue. Think Star Trek without the eleven syllable words and pseudo-science speak. Two colleagues just chatting about things such colleagues would naturally discuss under the circumtances. Look it how it sounds, how it flows and if it feels natural. Practise it with a friend and see how it falls off the tongue.

  2. Short bits of internal dialogue. Again, watch the flow, fragment it with thoughts, feelings, or actions to break up what we call a WOT (wall of text). Think how you think and, if it's nothing close to that, then change it. You might be surprised to discover that most people don't think in paragraphs, some do but most think in short sentences. A whole page of thoughts is a definite no-no.

  3. Exposition in easy to digest pieces. Ideally mix with the above, by way of short and concise explanation. Think of PBS or BB2 (or your local equivalent channel) science programs. They keep their facts short and to the point and intersperse music and action pieces. I recommend you do the same. Attention spans these days really are not what they used to be. I had to figure out a similar balance when dealing with Dr. Webb's pieces in the ACARI facility in New Mexico and Asmodeus' musings on the ICARUS program in Darkness Within as well as Kalshodar phsysiology in the Hegemony drafts.


It is all about practise, I'm afraid. It doesn't come completely naturally and we have all suffered the consequences. Use the comparison to science and nature programs, it really does work if you visualise David Attenborough, Neil Degrasse Tyson, or Morgan Freeman speaking out your chunks of dialogue among the whistful nature shots and fancy special effects. If it sounds boring in Mr. Freeman's voice, then you must fix it because next to nothing sounds boring with that voice; he could (British reference) read the Saturday football (not soccer) results and you'd actually enjoy it (American readers, enjoy the video below, I give you two minutes before you scream and run out of the room....)




So, Why Research so Much?


I've used this one before and I use it again.


WETA Workshop, the special effects company behind such blockbusters as the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Bladerunner 2049, and District 9 are on record saying that there is a massive chunk of the props, details, and details they created in those movies that 90% of viewers will not even notice, consciously at least. Subconsciously though, it helps draw them into a fully realised world and immerse themselves in it because every item on every elf is a little different, because no orc's armour is the same, or because Deckard sees adverts in the right kind of Japanese or Chinese everywhere.


It's about the atmosphere it creates, how the nuggests you drop show that you know a lot more than that but chose, chose mark you, to keep them for another time. I work in Customer Service in a rather manic industry (online gambling) and have learned tone of voice and implied confidence go an aweful long way in inspiring confidence in the person on the other end of the phone. I am not a sports fan, I hate horses, and am blaise about football but I can make it sound like I know what I'm talking about because I've researched and trained myself to recognise key phrases in conversation. My customers think I'm just like them (I don't gamble) and therefore trust my judgement and what I tell tell them. Remember popular business maxim?


"It's not what you say, it's how you say it"

To continue from my previous point, people will trust somebody who sounds like they know what they're talking about before they will trust someone who sounds uncertain. You could be giving them completely accurate information but it you do not sound confident, they'll listen to the tone not the words. They ask for a manager and you put them on, the manager says exactly what you did but because they said it confidently and identified as a manager, the customer accepts it, humans eh?


If you mention a few juicy facts, handle their delivery well, make your characters sound natural as they speak, think, or experience them, then your reader feels confident that you know your setting and your job. They enter your world willingly and relax into the story. Anything that jars against the expectations you gave them will shatter their confidence and ruin their experience.


If you research well, have digested it, and somewhat understood it, this will be obvious in your writing because you will drop the right fact or comment right where it belongs. I had a scientist character of mine deliver a brief keynote speech on a certain topic to see how it flowed. It didn't appear in any of the books and it won't. The speech is mentioned in passing here and there, and a brief excerpt or two show up but the entire 20-minute speech itself (together with a Q&A session at the end) is buried in the texture of the story.


Conclusion


If you do not know it, learn. If you find the facts, look again. if your facts clash, keep looking. You are building a world so contrary opinions are going to exist however, make your facts solid before you use them.


Do not infodump or include overy-lengthy expositions that stop the story dead and advance it not at all. Think of Morgan Freeman narrating and do not, just do not make Morgan say something boring. He fought hard for that reputation, try not to ruin it for him.


Use what you have learned, digest it, and (using a popular revision techmnique) rewrite it in your own words to show that you understood it. Do not paste directly from your source or repeat verbatim unless what you're adding is an actual quote or there is a very valid reason to do so.


Use what you have learned and your ability to paraphrase it to sound confident and reassure your customer that not only have they chosen well and selected an author who did their research but one who knows their trade and can be trusted to deliver. Don't be lazy, we readers can spot it in an instant.


Remember when we were readers before we were authors. Remember what you love and hate in books you have read and try not to repeat any of the things you, yourself, hate. Respect the reader enough to ensure that they will not part with their cash for anything less than your very best work.


Respect them and they will see it and they, in turn, will respect you.

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Alan J. Fisher; Writer and Poet

chronicles@chroniclesofenoch.com