The writers of non-fiction already know: getting your facts straight is at least half the battle. But other writers may not know that it's true for fiction as well. Research is the less glamorous side of novel and story-writing, but it's an essential step, not just for satisfying that one nit-picking reader out there who knows the difference between sorrel and chestnut horses, but also for narrative richness.
Here are a few reasons why getting your facts straight is crucial.
Facts give you authority.
The first challenge you are facing in the beginning of a story is to make the reader trust you and have confidence in your authority as a narrator. If that sense of authority is not established early on, the reader will scoff at every new turn of the plot, not believing that event would really happen. One straightforward way to achieve that authority is to show the reader that you know your stuff. Start right off the bat with information about the world, such as technical details about how to build something, or info about the history of the time you're capturing. Research the interesting, little-known stuff. That information will give your narrative voice a tremendous amount of confidence that the reader will pick up on.
Facts are enjoyable to read.
Confidence isn't the only reason that readers read; they want pleasure in what they're reading, and pleasure comes easily when reading about detail and specificity. We love to read about the inside details of a new world; we practically lap it up. If you've done a bit of research about your world, you can delight us with those details, deeply enriching your prose. It's far more satisfying to see concrete things playing out and informing the story than to see the narrator telling us what the story is about in vague generalities.
Facts give you something to talk about.
Sometimes the nature of your drama is so intense, heavy, or roiling that you need to step away and take a little pressure off of it. If the story is too heavily plotted, or melodramatic, it can begin to feel very claustrophobic for your reader, as if there isn't room to breathe. Facts and detail can give a story that needed air. Allow your reader to relax into detail after a particularly emotional moment, and your story will seem much more connected to real life, less pounding down the tightly focused plot of a writer and more meandering through the normal rhythms of reality.