Bad facts in literature bother me. I’m not about to claim that I’m an ultimate source of correct information – or even that I don’t get things wrong a lot – but when I read about something I know well and find the info goes against everything I’ve read, I get very irritated. Best example (as my friends will attest to) is in The Other Boleyn Girl, where Anne is cast as the older sister. Never ceases to make me want to throw the book against the wall.
One of the perks of pure fantasy is that the need for research can be minimal. You want frying pans that can cook an egg on any surface? Pfft – you don’t need science (logic, what’s that?), just use magic! Anything goes, as long as it stays consistent (a subject on which I have written many an article here).
My current project isn’t as forgiving, and it’s a bit of a challenge. Falling solidly in the category of urban fantasy, my Daughter of Time series takes place in multiple cities across the present day world, as well as in pivotal events in history. I spend hours these days on Google Maps and official city web pages, picking spots for things to happen, and then doing a breakdown of how long it would take my characters to run in a mad chase from the cafe on the corner (which I choose very specifically), to the ravine that’s usually a favourite tourist spot, but at this moment is conveniently quiet. My biggest concern for the present is that readers from one of the cities I choose will get to that chapter and go “Pfft, well of course they get in trouble. I wouldn’t go into that area if I had my own personal militia.” At least I’ll know I’ve done the best I can.
In the past I get bogged down with other details in my crazy attempt to avoid anachronisms. I research the food they’d eat, the clothes, the styles of the inn, the family structure, to the point where I despair of ever getting it right and offending the ghosts of centuries ago by making the peasants eat ham, when the poor never would have eaten ham because it was too expensive (but I could be getting that confused. Again).
Eventually, mid-way through a chapter, I will give up this frantic desire to be right, and stick with “close enough”. The truth of the matter is that, while wanting it to be realistic, the ingredients in the evening stew do not have a bearing on the plot. I write fantasy, and while history plays a major element in my story, I do not write historical fiction.
When research starts to take away the pleasure of the writing, it’s time to rethink what you really should be researching, or why you chose to use the subject in the first place. Sometimes its just a case of getting hung up on the details, and losing focus on the important part of writing: the story.
Google Maps I will continue to play with. But just because it’s fun.