With such a broad scope to explore as fiction writers we’re literally spoilt with the choices we can make when it comes to choosing sense of place, story arc, and character dynamics. Artistic license gifts us the opportunity to run riot with our imaginations in order to transport the reader into the worlds we create. But, there’s a key component to consider, and that’s the believability factor.
I’ve been a fiction writer for seven years now but prior to that I penned non-fiction and worked as an editor in numerous roles throughout my career. Both pursuits had a certain discipline to them, namely ‘check your facts’. It’s something that’s second nature to me, given my work history, but for those of us who come to market solely as a fiction writer this concept can be an often overlooked necessity. Aside from crafting my own works, in the last three years I’ve put together three charity anthologies and moonlighted as an editor for a handful of authors. As such, I’ve had eyes on a good number of manuscripts via the submission process and individual arrangements. One thing is clear, and that’s research appears to be a problematic area.
To be clear, when I say research what I’m really saying is a lack of it. Sure, there can be a number of reasons for that. With the amount of writing opportunities out there, and the pressure to hit deadline submissions before open calls close, writers are faced with huge time constraints. That’s especially true if writing is still a side hustle alongside holding down a job which actually pays the bills and keeps the wolf from the door. That said, it’s important to consider the old adage of ‘you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression’. Every publisher has an editor, regardless of scale, whose job it is to sift through submissions and make those important decisions regarding acceptance and rejection.
With fiction, as previously stated, we can apply pretty broad strokes but it’s important to remember the nuts and bolts are the things keeping the piece together. A reader will go with you provided what you’re presenting is underpinned with solid, authoritative insight into what you’re asking them to believe. And yeah, authors can’t be expected to know everything about everything. But, what we can control is our knowledge of what we’re talking about in any given piece of work. Gone are the days where researching a subject was a case of endlessly trawling physical media. Web access gives us instant results so there really is no reason why we can’t get things right.
In doing so, it’s important to check a good number of sources to ensure no contradictory information exists, so cross-checking is vital. Any site the public can update is a risky move so my advice would always be to steer clear. Of course, the obvious thing in all of this is using our common sense. Another way is to reach out to people we know are experts in their field. In a lot of friends and family circles there can be a fairly broad scope of career paths, and remembering the fact that ‘Bob is an engineer’ or that ‘Rita is a lab technician’ can be very useful.
I’ll close out by reiterating what I believe to be vital when it comes to keeping the reader on that journey through your story. Quite aside from all the other writing dynamics that keep them turning the pages, the fundamental ingredient is having them invested in the piece. In science fiction or fantasy, dependent on setting, you can subvert the norms and play around with physics. Your worlds can have different gravity, for example, or any other twist of an accepted reality. Earth-bound settings, however, are governed by it unless you alter that perception with tech or otherworldly phenomena. Everything that surrounds us has its established set of principles which are familiar and explained. If your work embodies these and is presented with authority on them, then an editor or a reader isn’t going to tap out on a piece of work. They may of course do so for other reasons, but that’s where your creative talent as a storyteller has got you covered.
And yeah, sometimes doing your homework is not that exciting but if you do it you’ll know what you’ve delivered holds water, whether it ultimately gets published or not.
In the Grimdark Strands of the Spinneret: A Fairy Tale For Elders by Keith Anthony Baird
Betrayal brings grave ending to a noble bloodline. Forced to flee, its sole surviving heir is spared this fate by the timely intervention of a haunter of the wilds. In his charge, the maiden embraces the lore of the dark arts and rises to become the watch-keep of the woods. As decades pass, with her legend growing, the ‘witch of root and earth’ weaves subtle deceits in a tangled web of vengeance.
But will there be a fairy tale ending, or will poisoned legacies and pacts with dark forces see ambition unravel in her relentless pursuit of power?
Bloody, and brilliantly realised, Baird’s dark fantasy nightmare spins a lavish tale of dread, desire, and fantastical fury.
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