Last week I wrote about the importance of researching how your characters would talk or act so they come across as authentic. The same is true about all the details of your story. If you are going to have a police officer as one of your characters, you better know what type of gun she gas, what her uniform is like, and how she is expected to handle calls she’s on. If your farmer slaughters a pig for the family to eat, how does he do it? How does he get the skin off, wash out the blood, cut it up? What parts does he use for what? If your 19 year old, street wise teenager from New York City finds herself married and living in rural Arizona, how will her life dramatically change? What kind of snakes may be in her front yard when she goes out in the late afternoon? What will her neighbors think of her 28 piercings?

Whatever your character is doing or wherever he is going, you need to be able to supply the details of the chore or place. If you set the story in a location you have never been, you either need to visit the place or do your homework – and make sure it’s up-to-date. You can’t have Pamela at an antique shop in New Orleans that never reopened after Hurricane Katrina. You will have readers who will spot that immediately, and it will make them question your story. Once readers spot something that is inaccurate, they start spending a lot of time trying to figure out what else is wrong.

It doesn’t even matter if you are making up the environment for a place 40 years in the future. If you want to be authentic, you have to do your research and figure out what would or would not be realistic to include. How will people communicate? What will their jobs be like? How will they grow or purchase their food? What type of pets, if any, would they have? Certainly, a lot of this will be made up, but it needs to be based in some kind of reality.

You can be like Faulkner and make up your own town, so you don’t have to worry about the antique shop, but you still better do your homework to understand how a town of that size might work. How is power shared in the government? Does the paper come out weekly or daily, and what kind of news does it focus on? Is it a place for tourists, say a beachside community? Then how much power would the outsiders who buy homes that end up increasing property taxes have and how would locals be affected? What would the locals think of the outsiders? If it’s a coal mining town, what type of shops and restaurants would there be? How would the families react if there was a cave-in? If you grew up there you know these things. If you didn’t, you’ve got a lot of research ahead of you. Don’t assume you can wing it – your readers will catch you. They always do.

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