Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Making Stuff Up

As writers, we should want our stuff to be as realistic as possible within the worlds we create.  If your book is set in some place contemporary, it only makes sense that you base it in something easily verifiable.  In other words, you'll lose credibility if you write a novel set in New York and talked about how the Smithsonian is there.

However, there comes a point at which you have to ask just how much your commitment to reality needs to be.  I do a decent amount of research into the places my characters run around in, but sometimes the terrain doesn't match the plot, or the technology doesn't quite do what I need it to do.  That's when I take a stab and try to sound smarter than I am.

Let's say your novel is set in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Most folks might know that Bank Of America Stadium, home to the NFL's Carolina Panthers, is there.  However, does anyone know, or even care, that Sardis Road turns into Fairview somewhere near the old Calvary Church?  How many people really give a shit what the correct thrust to weight ratio for the Space Shuttle to achieve liftoff is?

The point is that there are times you might have to bend things a little...and that's okay.  As long as you don't go wildly overboard, no one will care.  I remember when I read Tom Clancy's book Executive Orders, he went into some detail about the terrain at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, and he got some of it wrong.  I've been to that god-awful desert, and some of what he wrote isn't at all accurate, but who cares?  Does anyone outside of myself and a small group of friends know that?  Will they ever know that?  Does it damage the book in an irreparable way?

Harry Turtledove wrote in the afterword of Guns of the South that sometimes geography has to bend to an author's narrative.  Remember, it's your task to shape this world.  Don't fret over the small stuff.  If you have to change a minor detail, no one but a very few are even going to notice, mostly because most folks are more involved with their own lives.  The majority are never going to go to Lincoln, Nebraska or work on the engine of a Lamborghini, so if there needs to be some level of fudging so that the story is better served, go for it.  Realism is important, but so is the story.

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