When we write something, whatever it is, we want to draw the reader in. We want them to trust us. We want them to agree with us, to suspend disbelief, and get lost in the story. We write fiction. In other words, “lies.” Pretty, witty, wonderful lies, but lies nonetheless. What’s even better? We make people believe them, if only for the short time it takes them to read the story.
How do you make a lie most believable? By surrounding it with truth. A good writer knows this and uses it. We use truths to make our lies credible. We want the reader to get lost in the mix, unable to separate the truth from the lies. But the writer must know the difference. We must not forget where the line lies and we must resist the temptation to casually make up the truths amid which we will hide our lies. A simple little mistake can bring the reader crashing back to reality and start doubting. It can destroy all trust in the writer, and every time it happens, that reader’s trust will get harder and harder to win back.
But I don’t have the time to research every little detail! I’m a fiction writer, of course I’m going to make stuff up. That’s what I do!
Indeed! One cannot expect to get every detail right all the time. Therefore, we need to understand which sort of details are most critical to the story we are telling and the audience we want to tell it to.
For example, if you are writing the sort of story that depends and pivots around action and a few well-placed bullets, it might be a good idea to get your gun facts straight. On the other hand, if you missed a few bits about the intricacies of needlepoint in the same story, I doubt it would cause as much difficulty.
If you are writing a cozy mystery, about the yarn store owner who ends up investigating the strange murder that involved a knitting needle and a piece of rare silk yarn, you might reverse the factual priorities. Your target audience will probably be more in tune with yarn textures than grip styles. Luckily, the sock-knitting gun-nuts who just love those knitting mysteries probably aren’t expecting you to have read every issue of Guns & Ammo. (They’d love it if you did, but they’ll probably forgive you.)
Writers need the readers’ trust, and a great way to do that is by fulfilling the readers’ expectations. Consider the expertise of your audience and the expectations/focuses of your genre. Then use that information to decide which mistakes your readers will forgive you for and which ones will betray you.