Writing fiction can be fun. You get to create your own world with your own characters and you can take your story anywhere you want to go. Right?
Well, that statement is true to a certain degree. You do have a lot of leeway but keep in mind your story has to make sense. It has to be believable to your readers. That’s where research comes in. Your plot may be fictitious but your details had better be correct.
Anachronisms-details out of place and time can break a readers suspension of disbelief if they notice the error. If for example, a character in ancient Egypt consults his watch, a reader would instantly be drawn out of the story and roll his eyes. That is an extreme example but I think it helps you get the point.
There’s no excuse for anachronisms or lack of detail. Once you know what you are writing about, immerse yourself in the subject. If you want to write about the police, you do a ride along or shadow a precinct. If your novel takes place in a school, interview teachers or volunteer.
You can also use social media to learn about people and places, by watching videos or listening to interviews. My novel is set primarily in the Carolinas but my main character is deployed to Afghanistan for a short period of time. I’ve never been to Afghanistan and have no intention of ever going there. For that short but important segment of my book, I watched a documentary with actual footage, interviewed someone who had been at camp leatherneck, and read pages set up on the internet by marines returning from the area. I found the information I needed to make that portion of my story believable through research.
It is always best to set your novels in cities that you know. A good example of this would be Nicholas Sparks. His books are set in North Carolina. That’s where he lives. He understands the culture and can provide the details his readers expect.
One word of caution is to remember your research and detail are the seasoning for the story, don’t make them center stage. Resist the urge to show off how much research you have done. You don’t want to overwhelm your readers with unnecessary information.