How much do I need to know before writing a chapter?

Instead of actually writing the chapter (for now), I’m going to write (and think) about writing the chapter.

The scenes I’m working on in my not-yet-finished first-draft novel are pivotal ones. They’re intended to introduce two characters from previously unrelated storylines, and that meeting is going to affect almost everything that happens afterward. I know these characters and, once they’re introduced, I know, the way any writer or storyteller knows, how they’ll react and what bits and pieces of themselves they are willing to share with each other. I am not nervous at all about the interpersonal part of the scene.

The two characters are: a 3 term US Congressman who is facing an increasingly tough re-election campaign, someone who has a code of honor about his civic duty but might be willing to break some rules “just this once”; and a heart-broken woman serving in the US Army under DADT who regrets leaving the love of her life behind because she felt she had no other options for a career.

The parts that are giving me pause in writing are all the details of the setting in which they’re meeting: in and around, to the north and the south and the east and the west, of Baghdad, Iraq, during the height of US occupation.

All I know about the area is what I’ve seen in movies, and on TV. I don’t even really know much about military structure. What ranks would be doing what work? Who would she report to? Who would be there to meet the Congressman and his staff? How much leeway would each of them have to actually have a face-to-face conversation?

All these questions are nagging at me. I don’t want to fuck this up. I’m confident about the emotional elements of the story; the military and setting details, however, scare me. I don’t want to write things so poorly it kicks people who do know these matters out of the story.

I remind myself, however, that this is a first draft. I just need to get something down on paper (well, pixels), and when it’s done, I can have more knowledgeable eyes go over this (and every) section and tell me how to fix it. First draft is a long way from finished book. I can just focus on the parts I know.

Fingers, fly! Time to write.