It might be fiction, but it has to be right

July 21, 2011

Things I’ve reserched today:

Ullapool to Stornaway ferry times.

Daylight hours in northern Scotland during winter.

Topographical features of the Isle of Lewis.

The Callanish standing stones.

Any guesses on where my characters might be headed right about now?

I really enjoy research. It’s like travelling without moving, only less Dune-like. I love to set my stories in interesting places and put my characters into testing conditions. In this case, far north eastern Scotland in winter. But it has to be right. I can’t just guess this stuff, even though I know most of the details above to some degree. If the story is going to seem real and convincing, the little details need to be right. Not about right, but exactly right.

What times does the ferry to Stornaway run during winter? Can I match that to the storyline? What time will it get dark during that part of the story?

These things are important. The best bit is that all those things are easily found. The website gives me sunrise and sunset times anywhere I need them. The Calmac ferries website has a downloadable PDF of their summer and winter timetables. The Internet is just about the best thing to happen to research ever. I still use books. You know, the old-fashioned method. But I love being able to look facts up as and when I need them.

It’s fun to be a fiction writer.


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8 Responses to It might be fiction, but it has to be right

  1. Damien on July 22, 2011 at 9:41 am

    Great point Al. Nothing irritates me more when reading a book (other than the obvious like masses of typos and whatnot) than when someone is dashing around somewhere I know very well and then they head somewhere I know for a fact isn’t right or even there. Unless they’re entering some strange, hidden world or something it just grates.

    Conversely, stories seem so much more real when the details are right. I remember reading The Da Vinci Code shortly after visiting Paris. I was reading about them gallavanting all around town and thinking “Hey I know a great cafe just around the corner from there” which always makes for a very enjoyable read.

  2. alan on July 22, 2011 at 11:27 am

    Absolutely. And you can always invent things here and there, when you need them, if the framework is solid. For example, in my second novel, MageSign, there’s a youth hostel in Sydney that doesn’t exactly exist. I describe pretty much where it is and anyone visiting would see a hostel that might be the one in question, but it’s not. The internal layout wouldn’t match with the story. But the facts all around it are solid enough that it doesn’t need to. That’s where the fiction comes in.

    You mention the Da Vinci Code and it’s a good example. One of the reasons it’s so successful is because people can recognise the factual nature of the settings and believe the story is real!

  3. Jen Brubacher on July 22, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    It is fun. :) I love getting to guess about a person’s story by what they research.

  4. alan on July 22, 2011 at 6:39 pm

    Fairly sure you won’t guess this one, but feel free to try!

  5. Sean the Blogonaut on July 23, 2011 at 12:11 am

    Even better when you can mention things like well known services ie Sydney and Cityfail.

    Barry Eisler actually tries to walk out his characters routes, so he gets street names and locations right. He stuffed up on one of his later books though by referring to Australian Sailors as Australian Marines.

  6. alan on July 23, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    I recently proofread something for a friend of mine. He’s American and had some English scenes in the book and wanted me to proof the dialogue. I picked up a couple of things – like sidewalk when the English say pavement – and it’s all good now. In this internet age there’s no excuse any more.

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