Research Leads to Believability

Writers create new things, new people, new worlds.  They give readers a new life to be involved in.  They can immerse themselves in another world.  They can experience life in another time.  That is an amazing thing writers can do.  I love getting myself lost in a book and seeing that world through new eyes.

But there’s something that really grates on my nerves.  When I’m reading a science fiction novel about space travel in the near future and the author makes a glaringly obvious mistakes with basic scientific principles, it pulls me out of the story so fast I have mental whiplash.

Last year, I read such a book.  There were so many scientifically incorrect statements that I just couldn’t get back in that world.  I felt like a distant observer of a bizarro world that has become a cartoonish mockery of the real thing.  Earthquakes in the Bahamas?  Um, no.  Complex zigzagging maneuvers in space?  Nope.  Artificial gravity that goes the wrong way?  Uh, check this out.

Can you see the problem here?  Which figure is correct?
Can you see the problem here? Which figure is correct?

If you chose Fig 1.2 as the correct one, give yourself a cookie.  When you have a toroidal or ring-shaped space station, the artificial gravity is directed toward the outside walls, away from the hub.  The book I read had the artificial gravity going toward the hub, as the author apparently thought that rotation of a planet creates gravity, so the rotation of a space station must create gravity toward the centre.  No.  No no no no no!  That’s not correct!  In a rotating frame of reference, the centrifugal force creates the illusion of gravity toward the outside walls of a space station.  Just look here. Yes, it is Wikipedia, but it’s correct.  Check the references.  Do web searches.  You’ll find the same explanations.

This is why authors need to do research.  If you want a story that is not only engaging and captivating, but also believable, you need research.  Don’t know about how fast peregrine falcons fly?  Search it.  Don’t know where the Lagrangian points are around the Earth?  Search it. Don’t know how anaesthetics work in surgery?  Read about it.  Are you writing a crime novel and don’t know a thing about forensics?  You better read about it.  Are you writing a fantasy novel?  Well, you have a lot more freedom about this kind of thing, but to be believable, you may have to do some research on things like ballistics, weaponry, battlefield tactics, psychology, medieval architecture, and more.

Even though my university degree has been invaluable in my writing, there are things I don’t have knowledge of.  So, I get on the internet and do some searching.  I look for legitimate sources.  The star that my fictional planet orbits is real.  I researched about it.  Not only am I doing research on the internet, I’m also taking online open courses offered at various universities to strengthen my knowledge about extrasolar planets, astrobiology, evolution, and even war.  This is all very important when considering I’m creating a whole new world with alien animals and plants, as well as a whole new society being established.

So, my advice to all of you aspiring authors is to do your research.  You’ll have a stronger story, better reviews, and better sales.  This goes for all of you authors who have difficulty with creating believable stories, too.

I apologise for the crudeness of the image I created.  I used Paint.  But it illustrates my point.

Comments are always welcome.  I’d love to have some great discussion on this topic. This post is perfect for WordPress’ Daily Prompt, Teach Your (Bloggers) Well.

14 thoughts on “Research Leads to Believability”

  1. Lol at the misconception of the toroidal spaceship. The comment comparing it to planet gravity made me laugh.

    I have the same issue, though it’s more noticeable for me in movies and shows. The medical ones reeeeeally grate me. There’s a Voyager episode where a virus uses host growth hormone to become giant-sized (like between dog and horse size), and it’s like, “did anyone so much as google search this before they wrote it?”

    I worry how much my readers will suspend their disbelief for the parts where the real science ends and turns fuzzy. Hopefully I use enough real science to balance it out.

  2. I understand your point. However, when I’m writing a zero draft. When I’m rushing through a draft trying to get the story out I don’t bother to research. I use carrots and caps and in put a phrase or two that mention where I need research.

    1. Oh, that’s fine. I’m talking about the final published book. That’s where it’s important to have everything all cleaned up. Well, it should be done before that, but I wouldn’t be concerned about a zero draft. A lot changes from then.

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