Do you hate research? Are you okay with being ‘close enough’? Does it really matter if you tell us what kind of trees we’re looking at?
Before you answer any of those questions, be sure to remember that small distinctions make a huge difference.
Being specific can separate bad from good from great writing. Am I looking at a bunch of tall and large trees? Or am I looking at a forest of towering redwoods?
Yeah, research sucks. It’s homework, and who in the history of the world has ever liked homework? Nobody. But having the right information is important. If you’ve convinced yourself that getting a book 90% right is enough, that you can make up the rest and people won’t notice, you need to get that thought out of your head immediately. Because it’s the details that often make the book.
Details are what lend authenticity to your story and make it real. You story should have enough specific information in it that your readers think you can’t possibly be making it up.
In Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages, he says, “We must remember that reading is as much about education as it is entertainment, and even small flourishes can help serve this function and add a whole new dimension to a text.”
If you take this to the extreme it’s bad news, but if you’re careful about it your reader will want to come back for more. How many times have you read a spy book and thought about how cool it is to learn about the world of espionage? How many times have you read something with a little science in it and been happy to finally understand how it works? Can you remember the last time you actually appreciated how master thieves operate, what you call the sail at the front vs. the back of a ship, how the law works, what politics and culture are like in small towns and foreign countries, why your mind or body work the way they do?
There is a ton of information sprinkled into the fiction we read. We don’t consciously notice that we’re learning, but we are. And we like it.
So be specific. Teach your reader something. Make your book real. Put in the work to go all the way, because if you don’t, your reader will notice the 1% that’s wrong instead of the 99% that’s right.