- Jodie Renner, freelance editor and craft-of-fiction writer
As a genre author, my goal is to immerse the reader in the story. I want you turning the pages late into the night, knowing you should put the book down and go to bed but unable to force yourself to do so. I want you so involved in my fictional world that if the phone rings, you don’t even want to take your nose out of the book for three seconds to check the caller ID.
That’s my goal. And without putting words in anyone else’s mouth (or on anyone else’s keyboard), I think it’s probably a pretty safe bet that’s the goal of everyone who writes fiction.
In other words, I want to achieve a measure of realism you will accept as a reader. Since I’m only expert in a small number of subjects (people who know me might suggest that number is zero), a certain percentage of my time as an author must be spent in research.
I hate research.
Let me clarify: I like learning new things but don’t enjoy doing research for research’s sake. When I’m writing, I would much rather be writing than researching. I want to learn enough about a subject to ensure that you, as a reader, are not forced out of the story by a lack of realism in the writing.
My new thriller, Parallax View, is set late in the Cold War, in 1987, and action takes place inside the Kremlin, as well as in East and West Germany and the United States. The plot revolves around a secret communique, written by Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, to be delivered to U.S. President Ronald Reagan by beautiful and clever CIA clandestine ops specialist Tracie Tanner. A shadowy cabal is determined to ensure that communique never reaches the White House, and the chase is on.
As I mentioned before, there aren’t many subjects on which I could be considered an expert. What few subjects there are do not include KGB operations. Or CIA operations, for that matter. I’ve never been to the Kremlin. Never met Mikhail Gorbachev, although most of a couple of chapters in PARALLAX VIEW is spent inside his head.
To prepare for writing the book, I could have immersed myself in research; the subjects were certainly fascinating enough. But doing so could have meant taking years to write this one novel, rather than months, with only a minimal net gain in realism, if that. The stark reality of being a genre author early in the 21st century is that taking years to write a single book is not economically feasible.
So what’s the solution?
God bless the Internet. Instead of studying scholarly tomes on the history and construction of the Kremlin, instead of spending thousands of dollars I can’t spare to fly to Moscow (although I would love to do so some day), I was able to go online and inside of an hour’s time spent on the right websites, gain sufficient knowledge to allow me to write scenes with (hopefully) enough realism to keep the reader immersed in Tracie Tanner’s and Mikhail Gorbachev’s world, rather than our own.
The same thing goes for Soviet sniper gear. Soviet cigarettes, televisions, monitoring equipment. All these things required research, which I was able to do online in significantly less time than it would have taken twenty or thirty years ago. And my editor, Jodie Renner, collaborated by keeping an eye out for any possible discrepancies for the time period of the novel.
But here’s the point: you’re reading fiction. Ramstein Air Base is going to look like what I need it to look like to advance the story. My goal as a writer is to draw you into the fictional world through steadily increasing tension, and through characters who live and breathe and become real to you. If you’re looking for a detailed historical account of the Cold War, you should probably look elsewhere. If you’re interested in a detailed description of U.S. military bases in Europe during the Reagan years, you should probably look elsewhere.
But through the magic of the Internet, any writer can become well-enough versed in almost any subject to enable him or her to write compelling fiction. Because, after all, the cliché says authors should “write what you know.” With the web at your fingertips, you can now “know” almost anything.
That’s my opinion. What’s yours? Is it cutting corners to do all of your research online? Copping out? Are only ex-Soviet Red Army snipers capable of writing about Russian sniper activity?
Allan Leverone is the author of the Amazon Top-25 bestselling thriller, THE LONELY MILE, as well as four other novels, including the brand-new PARALLAX VIEW. He's an air traffic controller in the real world and lives with his family in Londonderry, New Hampshire. Connect on Facebook, Twitter @AllanLeverone, and at http://www.allanleverone.com/.
Click on these titles to go to Allan's novels on Amazon: Parallax View, Revenant, Paskagankee, The Lonely Mile, and Final Vector.