“Oh, THAT Bookmarked Site? Uh…I Can Explain That…Really!”

I’ve often heard it said that you’re not a real writer until you’ve landed yourself on a government security watch list, and I’m starting to understand the reasoning behind that statement.

nsakittyRealism is an important aspect of any good novel, even if the subject matter in general is not particularly realistic. For example, I’m currently editing and revising my zombie apocalypse novel. To enjoy the subject matter you have to be able to suspend disbelief and have a bit of an open mind, but for specific details – things that you would actually see in real life – realism is key to keep your readers from pitching unholy fits. Imagine, for example, if I wrote a scene involving a character taking shots at zombies with a rifle and I completely screw up the way a rifle works. Any of my readers who have ever actually handled a rifle in real life are going to find themselves drawn away from the story, eyebrows twitching in annoyance, because it’s obvious that I wrote that scene awash in a sea of ignorance. It might not seem like much to anyone who (like me) knows nothing about guns, but if you screw up enough of those little details you’re going to have quite the angry reader mob beating down your door, ready, willing, and able to tell you exactly why your writing stinks.

Knowing that, we writers have an excellent tool on hand to ensure that these unrealistic scenes are kept to a minimum: the Internet. We live in a golden age where the information we need is never more than a few clicks away. There are webpages devoted to everything, and even if we can’t find the specific subject we require, there are forums, chat-rooms, Twitter, Facebook, and any number of other social sites where we can ask for help. The Internet is a writer’s goldmine.

So what does all this have to do with the first sentence of this post? Well, occasionally, when writers are researching details for their novel via the Internet, things get a little…unsettling.

As mentioned, I’m currently editing and revising my zombie apocalypse novel, and for that task I’ve taken to the World Wide Web to nail down a few important details. Imagine if you will, for a moment, if someone were to take a look at my browser history right now and came across the following searches:

“techniques used to tell how long a body has been dead”
“how much blood would there be if someone’s arm was ripped off”
“how to splint a broken leg with no medical gear”
“how to make a Molotov cocktail”
“how to butcher a cow”
“how long until a body begins to decompose”

Starting to see the problem?

There’s a certain level of insanity involved in being a writer, and I think that this is where half of it comes from. In order to make our novels realistic we have to research things that are otherwise creepy and/or upsetting. On the “Reference Desk” forums of the NaNoWriMo website (where writers help each other track down the info they need) I have seen some of the weirdest questions you can imagine, ranging from “what the hell do you need to know that for?” weird to “okay, give me your address because I’m calling the cops” weird.

So remember this the next time you’re reading one of your favorite books: we writers willingly make ourselves look like justifiable psychos in order to make that story the best that it can be.

You’re welcome.

As a reader, have you ever come across any small, incorrect details that ruined a book for you? As a writer, have you ever been accused of ruining a story with small, incorrect details? Have you ever found yourself searching ridiculous, scary, or downright disturbing things in order to make a story better? Please share!