One of the first tenets that one learns in studying public relations is this: Perception is more important than Reality. In other words, it doesn’t matter how honest, how authoritative, or how sincere you are. If your audience doesn’t believe you, it’s all for naught. You see this all the time in political campaigns. It’s not the person who is most knowledgeable. It’s the person who people believe.
The same goes with writing novels. People want the facts. They want their author to know what he or she is talking about. But more importantly, they want an author who can write a good story.
Case in point: Tom Clancy versus Daniel Suarez. Yesterday I wrote a review about Suarez’s book Kill Decision. He is compared to Michael Crichton, but in a lot of ways, I find him more like Tom Clancy. All of them are authoritative in their writing; you believe they know what they are telling you. But the biggest difference is, Daniel Suarez is better at telling stories. You don’t feel the author is trying to overwhelm you with technical background, but it’s there. There’s a place for that, and some geeky readers live for details, just as some Trekkers have schematic details of the Enterprise hanging in their rooms.
But most people don’t bother to check every detail. They are there simply for a plausible story. What matters to me is when I catch the author in a lie. If the fact is verifiable, and I know that there are 32 NFL teams instead of 28, then I have a hard time believing other things that author might have to tell me.
So do your homework. Research everything. But there may come a place where you just don’t have all of the information you need. That’s where creative license comes in. Make it sound as credible as possible and make it shine.
And be prepared to back it up–or back up–if readers call you on it.