Readers of The Deadliest Lie and The Deadliest Hate often comment on their having been transported to Ancient Alexandria, that the words disappear and instead they witness or even participate in the action. An author fosters this experience by providing the details that contribute toward the reader’s being able to imagine the sights, sounds, and smells of a setting.
Long before conceptualizing a story, I study the landmarks and institutions, history and architecture, commerce and industries, traditions and customs, climate and governance of the setting. Then, as I progress through the writing, I bring each story to life with details. For example, I needed to know what flora and fauna graced the gardens, harbors, and streets. To write The Deadliest Lie, I needed to know not just that papyrus was made from the stems of a wetland sedge but how the strips were pressed into sheets in the factories along Lake Mareotis.
For The Deadliest Hate, I knew that hydrochloric acid would be a significant alchemical agent in my story, but once I learned that it was commonly used as a digestive aid, I could justify Miriam’s having a ready supply. Likewise, I needed to find out how an Egyptian cobra slides on a smooth surface, how a gladiator moves his feet along the sandy floor of an arena, how a tincture of opium tastes, and how mandrake root smells as it burns.
So researching the details is key to bringing readers into a story, but no author can anticipate all the details until immersed in the actual writing. And that’s part of the fun, never knowing what you’ll be studying that day.