"A writer that delves into topics he doesn’t know has three choices, research, be vague, or learn to lie convincingly. The art of writing fiction is not so much being right, it is convincing the reader he is right, or entertaining him at a level where he simply doesn’t care."
I read the above quote in a writing forum recently, and it made me stop and think - especially since it was on a thread about the alternate history genre and the importance of research in stories. I read this and stopped, because ultimately, I think it's right. I DO think research is important, especially for a really convincing alternate history... But I'm also a perfectionist. That has an impact on many areas of my life, but it's particularly obvious in writing, and is the reason I stay away from writing historicals or alternate historicals.
Why? Because I'll never know enough. This is what my mind is convinced of, anyway. No matter how much research I do, no matter how many books I read, I'll still never know enough to present another time period convincingly. Which is rubbish, I know, but the thought is strong enough that, as I said, I shy away from writing in the history genres.
I'm having this problem with Jesscapades, too. Jessc is set in England and I've had suggestions from some readers that the setting needs to be more specific, less vague and handwavey. Pick a real location already, they say.
Except if I do that, I'll need to research the location, investigate climates and weather patterns, learn the history, study the neighbourhoods, find some locals and quiz them on the atmosphere, the habits of the population, figure out which area my MC is most likely to live in and where she would go to work and why... And it's so. much. work.
I've tried the vague route; obviously that didn't work. I've tried the research-the-heck-out-of-it route too, spending hours with google maps, browsing everything from real estate websites to online fast food menus. In the end, all I got was frustrated, and even after those many hours, I'm no closer to knowing where Jess might live or any of it.
So I guess the next option is option 3: learn to lie convincingly. Because ultimately, the final sentence is right - readers read to be entertained, not for the veracity of the setting. So I can quit stressing over the fact that Coventry, UK doesn't have a warehouse exactly like the one I need for Jesscapades; really, it's my story, and I'm allowed to plonk a warehouse down where I need one if I need to. And perhaps the issue the betas had is not so much that I need to pick a real world location, but more that I need to make the sense of setting sharper, clearer and more detailed - make the world of the story come alive.
Do you have a preference for recognisable, real world settings over 'vague' real world settings? I'm curious, because a few of my stories take place in actual places in my head, but I'm not sure whether or not to make that obvious in the text, or whether to leave it ambiguous... What do you think??