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Writing tip: Write what you know, check what you don’t

Posted by Maria Murnane | December 14, 2015

There’s no rule in fiction that says everything – or anything, actually – has to be factually accurate. However, today I’d like to make a case for why you should be careful not to be too loose with details if you set your story in a real place.

I recently read a book that mostly takes place in my hometown. Unfortunately, within two pages the author mentioned a major street in a way that made no sense, causing confusion. I could have let that slip, but then it happened again, and again, and again, each lapse taking a different shape or size – yet each one distracting my focus from the plot. (For example, one scene described a quick cab ride to another town that took about ten minutes, a trip that in real life would take at least an hour, if not more.)

It was clear that the author knew very little about my hometown, which is hardly a crime, but as I read, I couldn’t help but wonder why the author didn’t just do a little bit of fact checking. (By the way, I’m not talking about a tiny little town in the middle of nowhere. Even Google maps would have done the trick.)

My latest book (Wait for the Rain) is set mostly on a tropical island that isn’t real, which meant I didn’t have to worry about any of the above issues. However, a few scenes take place in a Midwestern city I’ve visited but only briefly. To make sure I got everything correct, I consulted with two friends who live in the area. If you find yourself in a similar situation, I suggest you do the same. You want readers to get lost in your story, not fixate on inaccuracies that yank them back to reality.

-Maria

 

This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2015 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

 

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One Response to “Writing tip: Write what you know, check what you don’t”

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  • Carole Avila says:

    Maria,
    My second book in my Eve’s Amulet series is a historically based novel. The research has been snowballing and keeping a publishing date at bay, but it will be worth it in the long run. Not just town locations, but characters, castle architecture, terminology, and lots of other period details have to be accurate. I agree–we can’t confuse the reader when all it takes is some effort to produce a better story with a bit of research.
    ~Carole Avila

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