Inaccuracy. It’s something that really irritates me. It distracts from my enjoyment of a book, and it could influence my review. I’m not sure whether it should, or not as much as it does. But I’m sure that authors who set parts of their book in the real world could really get help to make it accurate. After all, we live in a digital age and have hundreds of friends we hardly know – and they live everywhere!
I nearly always have somewhere in mind (somewhere I’ve been to, and know) when I’m writing my books – and flash fiction – although I usually displace it to a fantasy world. That’s my preference. But if I was writing about a landmark, say the Taj Mahal, or Machu Picchu, it would be sensible to get it right. How do you do that if you haven’t been there? Yes, you read a lot of things about it. That helps you find the key things you need to know about describing it, and how it fits into your plot. The rest is assumption – especially about the feel and smell. Guidebooks rarely go into those (not even the Rough Guide does smells that can be described in a book!). The same applies when travelling from A to B. If you describe how to do it, or the view from the window, you could be in trouble if you haven’t done it yourself. Maps can be misleading.
I’ve been really irritated by some of the poor place descriptions in things I’ve read over the last year. The trouble is, most of the books concerned have lots of details to take in, as befits mysteries, so taking in detail that doesn’t match local knowledge is disorientating at best. It distracts me from the plot. Of course, I’m just an insufferable know-it-all, but I think we could do better… whether in Paris, Egypt, Machu Picchu, Oxford, Edinburgh, Cromer or Ayers Rock.
Am I being picky? Probably. These are novels, not guide books. But a professional editor would make sure, and these days, surely we could ask our friends? Our followers? Surely somebody we know could check it for us? The thing is, you might not have been there, or not for a long time, but so many people have, they might include your readers.
Now, does anyone reading this have first-hand experience of asteroid mining?
Picture is one of mine.
4 thoughts on “On writing real places”
Perfect post, Jemima. You really have to do research for what you’re writing, and if you can’t go there, the internet provides a great portal. I prefer being there, but must admit Maine in February was not a great choice!
Oh, I don’t know, Noelle. We visited Maine in January a few years ago. It was VERY educational for this California a family!
Totally agree about the need for research. Like Jemima, I tend to make up my places, which gives me some leeway. Still, I try to make them right for the places they would be if they really were places 😀 and I’m driven nuts by real places that don’t match up to what I know of them.
For some reason my reply to you disappeared. I just thought that Maine in Feb must be a little like Aberdeenshire in August. (or in Feb). I still want to visit Crab Apple Cove one day, though.
No problem! August in Maine is the BEST. You should plan a trip -we are always there for a week or two! I’ve always wanted to visit Hawkeye’s home, too.
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