Monday, July 2, 2012

Research When You Write!

I served for a few years as a graduate thesis adviser. During an introductory lecture,  I recommended to my students they pick a topic of which they are knowledgeable. This way they would have a strong foundation to start from.

Writing fiction is similar. There is a common phrase,  "Write what you know." Not every writer follows this rule. For example, I am always impressed with the literary skill, the imagination, of those who write fantasy and science fiction. Thus far,  I am not in this category. My first two novels are on subjects that I know intimately.  

Proximity follows a fictitious version of a  U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) detachment that I served on. The Recipient's Son takes place st the U.S. Naval Academy during the time that I was a midshipman there. The main character is even assigned to the same companies and lives in the same rooms where I dwelled. This is because for me, there are subtleties of living as part of 14th Company that are unique. Describing them served as a touchstone to my experience. It gave me a point to start from.

From that foundation,  it is important to maintain authenticity.This is accomplished through detailed research. For example, in The Recipient 's Son one of the main characters lives on a sailboat. To make sure even the most discerning eye is convinced of the stories realism,  I conducted exhaustive research on the sailboats available during this time frame. I started by looking at common boats of the right size and price. I wanted something that a JAG with a small inheritance could likely afford. After I settled on a Beneteau 43,  I searched for diagrams and photos on the internet.

A second layer of research that is important to the book's accuracy is verifying days and dates. For example, if an author writes that a character went to Mass on June 25, 1989,  it had better be a Sunday!

Finally, it is important to make sure that your writing does not include technology that was not yet available. For example,  I noted to a group of midshipmen in the class of 2012 that when I was a plebe we used an intranet at Navy,  and (at least I) had no knowledge the internet.

So,  do your will make for a much more interesting book and prevent readers from thinking,  " Hey, wait a minute!"


Anonymous said...

Hello Mr. Phillips, I came across your book doing research about Navy EOD. I have just become very good friends with a Navy EOD tech. He has been in the service for 16 years and with EOD for 6 years. I believe he is up for promotion (possibly) up from E-6. Anyway, I have been thinking of what to get him as a gift and I know he loves his job, so even if not promoted, there's always Christmas! Would it be possible to get an original signed hard cover copy of your book to give to him? If so, feel free to contact me at Many thanks to you. ~Zoe

Stephen Phillips said...

Zoe, I'd be happy to sign a copy for you. I will send a message to your email.

- Steve