Write What You (Don't) Know, Part II
Earlier this week, I wrote about writing what (or who) you know, where I looked at the ways an author's background and circle of associates can influence her characters and setting. Today, I'll be dishing on writing what you don't know on subjects about which you haven't an earthly clue.
At the moment, this is much on my mind because I've bitten off a humongous challenge, taking on a really exciting project that deals with some pretty tricky legal and psychological concepts - concepts about which I have only an interested layman's knowledge and no credentials whatsoever to write about. Unless you count chutzpah, which counts for plenty in this business.
You've gotta have some serious audacity to take whatever expertise you can glean from books, the 'net, and interviews and convince your reader that you know far more than is appearing in the story. I've found that if you lay in enough real facts to gain the reader's trust (the earlier, the better), you can fudge a little (or fictionalize) and bring your merry bands of readers along for the ride.
The trick is doing enough research that you can convincingly BS your way to the reader's Willing Suspension of Disbelief. A skilled novelist is often a bit of a con artist, subbing in borrowed jargon, collected factoids, and, perhaps a more expert acquaintance's opinion in place of a real depth of knowledge.
There are dangers a-plenty in failing to do one's homework. When knowledgeable readers are jerked out of the story, they'll seldom give the author a second shot.
But over-researching is equally dangerous. If you substitute the joy of researching (this is directed to my fellow library nerds) for the joy of writing, the manuscript simply never happens. Worse yet, you might succumb to the temptation to wow the reader with every speck of trivia you've gleaned. Not only does nobody like a show-off, knowledge dumps, usually in the form of narrative, can seriously bog down your story.
How do you maintain a balance between not enough and too much research? Do you prefer sticking with familiar topics, or, like me, do you enjoy writing about what you truly wish to know?