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Researching a Story

This weekend I finally got my head back into writing my current novel, "Born Loser."  I was happy to have worked on a fairly substantial scene.  The one problem I kept having was that I couldn't tell if it was accurate enough.

The scene takes place at a famous landmark in Baltimore, which I've never actually inspected close-up.  My familiarity with it is passing at best.  The scene doesn't rely on exacting detail - it's not like the characters are going on a National Treasure styled hunt for a clue where one minor slip-up would render the adventure pointless - but since it invokes a real-world thing, I have a strong inclination to make sure I'm not writing anything that is at odds with reality.

I'm sure this is prompted by past moments of incredulity during movies, TV shows, or books where an error has taken me out of the story's momentum.  You've probably had the same experience a few times.  The characters are in a city you've been to, leaving one notable building and walking around the corner... then appearing near another famous building on the complete opposite side of the city.  That sort of thing.

Consequently, I kept interrupting my writing in order to look for pictures of the landmark and trying to find out more details about its history, its day-to-day workings, its entire character.  Something that should have taken me only about an hour to write took about three because I kept stopping to say, "Could this happen?"

I'll leave it up to the rest of the world to decide if it was worth it in this particular case (if or when "Born Loser" is ever made available).  In the meantime, I'm still wondering what the relative value of research is for any other writing.

Sure, a poorly-researched story can be irritating when the characters talk factually about things that are nowhere close to correct.  ("I'm able to move objects with my mind because I can use 100% of my brain!")  But do we as the audience really need terribly much accuracy in our fiction?

The number of times characters have done impossible things in a story - not even counting scientific impossibilities, just basic contradictions of fact and history - is easily weighted on the "I didn't notice" end of the spectrum.  The simple fact is that, for me, whether something is accurate doesn't actually matter to whether or not the story is told well or whether or not I can enjoy it.

So again, I'm sitting here fretting over minor nitpicky bullshit instead of actually writing a complete draft of my story.  I'm running out of time, too.  I promised myself I'd finish the first draft of "Born Loser" by no later than Halloween so that I could have a blank slate to try NaNoWriMo again.  (I know.  This is nothing like my original goals for 2014.  What can I say?  I'm inconsistent.)

I'm curious what the rest of the world thinks.  Writers and readers alike - how much does accuracy matter to you?  Is it worth derailing your novel to read some history?