Sunday, May 20, 2012


I write fiction, therefore I can make up anything I want, right?  After all, readers have willingly given me carte blanche to create something out of nothing, so I can invent anything that comes to mind.

Well, not exactly.

Writers exist only within a narrow bubble.  Although readers want to be dazzled with tales that would make your hair stand on end, they only have so much capacity to suspend disbelief.  A story still has to at least sound credible.  Although relativity says that there's no way to go faster than light, science fiction writers break that rule every day.  However, their spaceship can't just use conventional rockets and continually speed up or sci-fi readers would abandon the book.  Instead, the writer has to delve into fantasical theories about warping space or traveling through black holes, and the only way to do so credibly is to have a modicum of knowledge about black holes and what physics says about folding space.

This is one of the aspects of writing fiction that most who aren't writers don't understand.  There's more to a story than just getting it down on paper.  You have to get the stuff behind the story, the magic behind the curtain.  The amount of research I needed to conduct was one of the more surprising things I've discovered since I became serious about writing.

A large number of important characters in Salvation Day are demons from Christian lore.  The Council of Satan is comprised of those in the highest levels of the demon hierarchy.  In order to make that more believable to the reader, I had to research demon mythology.  It became necessary to understand the various names of the devil - Ba'al, Mephistopheles, Dioboles, Lucifer, Samael - as well as the female in the highest circle(Lilitu).  And you'd be amazed at the amount of information out there on the physical layout of both Heaven and Hell.

However, that amount of research was nothing next to what I had to do for Akeldama.  That novel rested largely on the framework of the Catholic Church.  Unlike some stories where the reader will give you a fudge factor because they don't know the technicalities either, there was no wiggle room here.  There are nearly 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, and an even larger number who know a great deal about Catholicism.  Unfortunately, most of what I knew revolved around snippets on TV that were about as in depth as the thought put into the second season of Jericho.  I had to learn about the Roman Curia, the Swiss Guard, the various cities that had Archbishops in the United States, and even that the seat of Catholic power is not St. Peters, but rather the Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran that technically lays outside the boundaries of the Vatican.

To top it off, the hunters that work for the Catholic Church have to interact with hunters from a different church - the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Mormons.  Here was something I really didn't know anything about.  I went through reams of material on the governing structure, from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to the First Presidency, plus quite a bit about the Mormon faith itself(truly amazing the amount of distortion out there).

There were a multitude of other things that I won't go into, but let's just say that I learned quite a bit, all of which was necessary to write credible fiction.  No, a practicing Catholic might not know or care about the inner working of police stations in Japan any more than a Mormon would know about the menu of Phillipes on North Alameda Street in Los Angeles, but a person who knew something about any of these apparently disparate elements would laugh at obviously untrue portions.  They would likely either put the book down, or they'd spend the rest of the book finding other parts that didn't match reality("The True Crime Section of the Richard Riordan Library isn't on the 2nd floor," they'd scoff.  "It's in sub-level three.")

Dan Brown did so much research for The Da Vinci Code that it took him nearly two years to write the novel.  Tom Clancy's research for The Hunt for Red October was so in depth that he almost got arrested for espionage.  But it's these elements of the stories that make them so compelling.  Even an absurd premise, like using a time portal to go back to 1958 in order to stop the Kennedy Assassination in 11/22/63, becomes a better story if the author can tell us what the correct price of a root beer was in a dime store in 1958(Stephen King did meticulous research for the book and later said he was surprised at how much he had to look up).

Believable snippets of information woven into an otherwise insane tale help the reader get into it.  "I can totally see this happening!" they'll shout.  The ability to break that barrier is the difference between Harry Turtledove's Guns of the South and L. Ron Hubbard's Battlefield Earth.  It can also be the difference between a book that sells and one that looks pretty gathering dust and rejection letters.  Either way, to write good fiction, you have to do the research needed to make stuff up.

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