by Raymond M. Coulombe
Steven King has a reputation for sometimes not doing enough background research. A college buddy of mine was considerably upset about the fishing scenes in one of King’s short stories. I believe it might have been The Man in the Black Suit. My buddy, an avid fisherman, was upset at the things King got wrong about fishing.
Now King can let such criticisms roll of his back. His publishing successes allows him a certain leeway. I pick on King to show that inattention to detail can affect even well known writers. Also, King can certainly weather mild complaints from a minor publishing house’s small blog.
I suspect that King is one of those writers who enjoy writing a lot more than research. There are authors who enjoy research more than writing. Those authors are not nearly as prolific as Mr. King. It is possible to get lost down the rabbit hole of interesting background details.
Beginning writers are told to “write what you know.” That’s sound advice. Before you write anything, you need to have something to write about. A side benefit of writing what you know is that you don’t have to do a lot of research. You can devote time and energy to writing. Any small gaps in the writer’s knowledge can be quickly and easily filled.
The less a writer knows about a subject critical to the story, the more effort it will take to come up to speed. It’s worth doing. There will always be readers who will be experts in everything. If you get something wrong about a subject like fishing, they will notice. You may not know much about a subject when starting your story, but if the details are critical, you’d better educate yourself. That way by the time you finish your story, you will be writing what you know.
There are writers who can tackle subjects they know nothing about. However, they learn enough to become experts in that field of study as part of the writing process. Most of us are pretty lazy. We are better off writing about something we already have a background in. That way we only have brush up on the subject and investigate a few odds and ends.
So in the end it’s all about writing what you know. Doesn’t matter if you know it before starting a writing project or if you learn for the project. Unless you are Stephen King. He gets away with that stuff.