I spotted this article, a quick and simple summary of the different sub-atomic particles.  If you want to write a character who is a nuclear physicist, they will know this stuff, and lots more.

Personally, I don’t have time to become a nuclear physicist, or a botanist, or a horse-riding champion, just because I want to write believable characters.  But I do want to write believable characters.  The question is, how far do you go to get the level of knowledge right?  It’s got to be simple enough to not lose your audience, but correct enough that you don’t piss off any nuclear physicists, botanists or horse-riding champions who happen to read your book.

Here are some ideas:

  • Have a friend who is a nuclear physicist explain whatever concept you need to have in your book to you in simple but correct terms.
  • If you don’t have any friends who are botanists, go to your local university and find theirs.  Chances are, they’ll be happy enough to explain things to an interested person.
  • Once you’ve written the scene, get that person to read it and tell you if your character is believable to a horse riding champion.
  • Then give the scene to a “normal” beta reader and they’ll tell you if it’s too complex.

Why this order?  Experts tend to over-complicate things.  It’s much more likely that they will insist you include that one extra vital detail – which is likely to be the one detail that confuses non-experts.  Since most of the people who read your book will be non-experts, they should get final say.  After all, you’re not writing a textbook.