Saturday 27 April 2013

Research - Essential or Just Showing Off?

   I have just finished reading the first book from a non-indie author that I have read in a long time. I enjoyed it, but wouldn’t say it was any better than most of the of the indie books I have read in the last year or so. 
   While I was reading it a thought crossed my mind. How important is research and technical knowledge in a book that is meant to be complete fiction? I’m not talking about a story that is based on real events. I’m talking about complete and utter fiction verging on fantasy, bearing in mind that all fiction is fantasy of one form or another.
   This book was an action packed horror/thriller. It was full of interesting story lines, twists you didn’t expect and many varied characters. It was set in a facility which was a cross between medical facility and sanctuary. But in parts I felt that the author had swallowed a pharmaceutical directory before he sat down to write each day.
   Why? Because he kept naming specific drugs that were being used. Instead of simply saying a  patient had been tranquilised he gave the name of the tranquiliser. The same with half a dozen other drugs for different treatments.
   Does this show the writer had done his research or did it just slow the action? For me it was the latter. I can’t remember the names of the pills I have to take (don’t worry, nothing serious) let alone what any of the drugs mentioned in the story were called, or their purpose. In this particular story it made absolutely no  difference to the reader whether the names of the drugs were real or made up. If the author invented them he must have spent hours trying to think up weird and wonderful names. I have enough trouble thinking up names for the characters in my books let alone a dozen or so drugs.
   If they were real medicines, and only qualified clinicians will know that, then was the author simply showing off? Was he trying to impress his readers with his knowledge?
   If a novel is going to be based on true facts or events, then good research and knowledge is required (although many fiction books have been published with flawed information).  But something that is complete fiction can surely get away with less detailed information which keeps the story moving and doesn’t slow the reader down trying to work out how to say the name of something. Or am I the only person who does that? And if the readers are going to skim over words like ‘tamazipan’ (heaven alone knows whether I’ve spelt that correctly) then what is the point of putting them in?   
   So my question for today is : does using technical research make for a better book or can an author rely on a fertile imagination?

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