The art of fiction is making it believable. Whether you’re writing a crime thriller, historical fiction, or science fiction, the realistic details are what allow your readers to suspend their disbelief and follow you into your ‘make-believe’ world.

While there are many ways to research for your story, including interviews with experts and using historical archives to find information, there are some wonderful authors who have pulled together some of the most common myths, misconceptions and blunders to help us avoid getting it wrong.


Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders: A Writer’s (and Editor’s) Guide to Keeping Historical Fiction Free of Common Anachronisms, Errors and Myths, by Susanne Alleyn

For historical fiction or medieval fantasy writers, this book is a great starting point for understanding the basics of medieval life. Part of the blurb reads:

‘you’re wondering if your medieval Irishmen would live on potatoes, if your 17th-century pirate would use a revolver, or if your hero would be able to offer Marie-Antoinette a box of chocolate bonbons…
(The answer to all these is “Absolutely not!”)’

Alleyn doesn’t just point out the common mistakes that both beginners and professionals make but also advises on how to go about fixing those mistakes. The book covers everything from food and plants to dialogue, slang and money. And of course, underpants.

Let’s face it, this book would just be fun just for the trivia!


Putting the Science in Fiction: Expert Advice for Writing with Authenticity in Science Fiction, Fantasy & Other Genres, edited by Dan Koboldt

Science fiction isn’t the only genre that utilises science. Fantasy, thriller, mystery and even romance can and have all drawn on science at various stages. Editor Dan Koboldt runs a blog series called ‘Science in Sci-Fi, Fact in Fantasy’ in which he invites various experts to discuss common misconceptions about their field and offering advice to writers who want to get the details right.

Including scientists, physicians, engineers among many more, this book pulls together all that knowledge and more into one handy guide that aims to help writers craft better fiction ‘whether writing about mutant monsters, rogue viruses, giant spaceships, or even murders and espionage’.


Police Procedure & Investigation: A Guide for Writers, by Lee Lofland

We all know that crime drama is often overstated. When a DNA test is completed in mere minutes and suspects always happen to be somewhere in someone’s database, well, if it were true surely crimes would take a lot less time to solve!

Lofland comes from a career in law enforcement and wants to help crime writers set the records straight. Covering defensive moves, prison cells, autopsies, officer training, con air procedures, crime scene investigation techniques and drug bust scenarios, this is a compendium of information for the budding crime writers.

Just remember that while this book is lauded as the bible for crime writers, law and police procedures differ depending on location, and the latest edition of this book is now over ten years old, so use it as a launching pad for further research rather than relying on it completely.


Using Medicine in Science Fiction: The SF Writer’s Guide to Human Biology, by H.G. Stratmann

When a nuclear cardiologist wants to teach you about human biology, well, why would you say no?

Stratmann explores the real science of how our bodies adapt to being in space, the adaptation of nano-technology and suspended animation, and future prospects for improving health and prolonging life. Each chapter addresses a common science fiction subject and combines factual information with examples from fiction and the media. Stratmann also provides recommended reading if you’re feeling particularly drawn to a concept and want to take it to the next level.


The Writer’s Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction, by Benjamin Sobieck 

Making your fight scenes realistic can be tough, but two of the most common weapons get misused an awful lot.

Sobieck goes into the basics of how knives and firearms work, why they work, what they look like, and how to depict them accurately in your stories. It encompasses what training or skills the wielder should have, safety tips, common police tactics and helps you learn the lingo. What’s the difference between a shotshell and a slug? A pistol and a revolver? Or a switchblade and a butterfly knife?

Accompanying the book is an associated website, regularly updated by the author, with all sorts of handy information so if you want a sneak peek on what you’ll learn you can head on over and check it out.


This list is just the beginning of the wide array of reference materials out there designed to help writers avoid embarrassing blunders. Do you have a reference book you always cling to? Let us know and we’ll include it in the next roundup!

Underground Team

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