If you've been in the writing community for very long, you've probably heard it suggested that you should "write what you know".
But there's also a different school of thought in that, as long as you research properly, you can write what you don't know.
Which group do you fall under?
I tend to lean more in the middle. I received a reader letter this week from a male (waving to Vince) who liked my writing and in fact said book two had the most intense opening of any book he's read in awhile. How kewl is that?
But he also in a kind manner brought to my attention something that I had already known (thanks to fellow Author Donna Fleisher who was also in the Air Force and had brought it to my attention) but found out too late to fix. That I probably should have made the hero in my PJ series a Tech Seargent or a Master Seargent. Though I did research this series intensely for five years prior to writing it, then also continued with the research during the writing, I still might have erred with this detail in the end.
As a rule, I have at least three different research sources (human) who are in the profession I'm writing about to go over it and answer any questions I have. In this case, I did have military people go over the work, but they were in a different branch than my main character. So in hindsight, I should have asked an Air Force person to double check my ranks. I needed the airman to be special operations and over the team yet low enough in rank to still go on missions. To this day, I am not 100% sure if I under-ranked him or not. I get varying answers even from Air Force people and even those in the PJ pipeline...who say his rank is fine. So, honestly WHO knows. LOL.
My point to this post is, sometimes...no...often...you will get differing answers. And most publishers do have fact checkers who will thankfully catch most of these errors. But still, the burden of proof still rests on the author so be sure we get this research right. Now, because of my books, I do have actual Pararescuers helping me with research. But before, I just had regular Air Force people and special forces from other branches. How can we be sure the information we're getting is accurate?
What are your methods for researching?
In addition to having at least three human sources to verify my research, I have actual real manuals and training videos from that profession and books and articles as well as other media that I use for research. I also ask to join private discussion forums so I can "hear" how they talk and become familiar with terminology. I did this with my F-22 story since I'm so obsessed with fighter jets. They actually let me on there. I didn't talk other than to ask questions. And I received a wealth of information. To the point that two editors swore I had to of been not only male but a pilot at some point in my life. No, I assure you I have never been either. LOL!
Nothing beats having a human being IN that profession currently to check your research. That will be kind of hard if you're writing special forces heroes or a sniper heroine (yes, I have one). Or CIA or FBI. Because most people actually in those professions don't tell people. If someone brags about it, probably they really aren't. LOL!
As a former labor and delivery nurse, it always bugs me to see scenes play out about a heroine having a baby...yet no one cuts the cord or dries the baby off. I know there is such a thing as fictional liberties, but also we have to keep in mind that readers in those professions DO care if we get the details right. They also care if we paint their profession in a good light or in a bad one.
Another thing that bothers me is when I read a word in a historical novel that I know didn't come into use for fifty or so years after the setting takes place. Yet it doesn't ruin the story for me. However it does distract me from the story for a moment while my mind tries to discredit the author's research. Until I remember all the mistakes in my own work and mercy kicks in. LOL! Of course I was never a critical reader until I started writing. And being in the writing community and seeing the high standards that the industry requires tends to make writers more critical readers I think.
Though most readers didn't pick up on the error in ranks in my debut novel (I promoted Joel in later books) the mistake still lives in infany. LOL! Most times story will trump the details. But details DO matter. So far the folks who have noticed it have been people who did serve in the Air Force. The reason it bothered them is that it stopped the flow of reading because they couldn't believe this guy was in charge of the team and going to retire in 8 years and ONLY a senior airman. So he should have probably been ranked up one more at least.
The reason my error hasn't bothered most Air Force personnel (or they're too shy to say so! LOL) is because (according to reader letters) the fact that I honored them and their great profession and the sacrifice of their service with the book and how I wrote the characters thankfully outweighed the oversight on my part.
But, of course it still bugs me that I made an error.
Once a book is in print, there's no going back to change stuff unless the book is reprinted. Even then, you may have slim chances of a do-over.
So I'd like to hear from you readers how much does it bother you when you do find research errors in books?
And from you writers, what are some ways that you "full proof" your research?