A Fine Line

It’s that scene in a novel where a reader’s mood can quickly change from relaxed to agitated. It’s the point where the author inadvertently crosses a fine line, risking the loss of the reader’s attention. This can open the possibility of the book being put aside, never to be visited by that reader again. The line may be crossed when the writer decides to fill in background details without taking the time to thoroughly research them.

Integrating the characters’ stories may require hours of  research. Obviously, a story set in Kansas would not have a scene with the characters planning a trip through one of its deserts. Again…obvious. When writing a novel, it’s important to hit the books, and the internet, to gather valid, factual and historical data in an effort to present the work of fiction as accurately and true-to-life as possible.

The slip may not always be as easily identified. This can happen when using colloquialisms and slang. A couple of the most widely known regional differences are: in the Midwest, a carbonated beverage is “pop”, while this is “soda” when you’re in one of the southern states. In northern states you might pack your lunch, or groceries in a “bag,” while in the south, they would definitely be in a “sack.” Make certain the word, or term you’re using is one that’s used in the region of the novel’s setting.  Let’s face it, we all have a certain sense of pride for the area we live in and would definitely notice if the wrong term is used. Not only would most readers notice, but many would be annoyed at the misuse.

You may think extensive research is relevant only to non-fiction and historical fiction, but that’s not the case. Readers read comprehensively; simultaneously analyzing the book’s content, consistently and effortlessly. If something is presented that’s not in line with what the reader knows to be true about a place, or situation, it can immediately strike a negative chord. Consequently, a red flag of agitation can rear its head – straight and stern – directed toward the author.

In fiction, as in all published works, the reader trusts the author is presenting verifiable lines of data, life experiences and the human condition when moving the story forward. Even in the most extraordinary: wizard, fairy, monster, superhero fantasies, scenes presenting human emotion, life events, and known geographical areas should be presented realistically and factually.  When that robot (whether android, or cyborg)  falls in love with, or murders, its designer, the emotion taken on by that animated mass of glass and metal needs to be reliable. Even when disarmed, disabled, dismantled, this must make perfect sense. It must be in accord with anything known robotics has put forth on how that would come about.

Make no mistake; just as it’s true for non-fiction, a writer of fiction is not exempt from conducting research. It’s necessary in order to provide readers the authenticity and credibility they expect, and deserve.  It’s also necessary if the author wants to prevent the reader from crossing that fine line of novel abandonment.