Sometimes, folks are surprised to know authors need to spend quality time researching fiction. Writing a novel means I get to make things up. But I want to — I need to — know what I’ve made up and what’s real.
For it to be believable, it needs to be grounded in reality. That can take a lot of work.
Once when I was researching at the Old Courthouse in St. Louis, I got into a discussion with a National Park employee about historical research, nonfiction, fiction and how they fit together. He said something I always remember – “Fiction has to say what could have happened, not what did happen.”
I love that distinction. It leaves room for imagination. And it keeps the story grounded in reality.
I was reminded of that last part when I restored the history of a couple browser windows on my desktop, and found almost sixty tabs left over from my final fact-checking pass on Where Love Lives: The Inheritance (Wyoming Wildflowers, Book 6.)
These were all sites I’d found on searches when I first had an idea or a question or a fear – yes, fear. The fear that something I’ve blithely written ends up being egregiously wrong. When I was writing my first book mumble-mumble years ago I was doing final edits and saw a reference to characters walking up granite steps to a courthouse in Wisconsin. Reading that, the fear hit. What if there were no granite steps in Wisconsin for some reason? What if everyone in Wisconsin knew that there were no granite steps in front of courthouses? What it was one of those strange laws that most states seem to have?
With very little time, I quickly called a circuit court clerk in a county near my fictional location. It took a moment to explain and she was surprised I was researching, but then this wonderful human being told me there were definitely granite steps in front of the Wisconsin courthouse where she worked – she knew that for a fact because her son was a geologist. Hallelujah!
So, I thought I’d give you a glimpse into the necessity of researching fiction with my Granite Steps questions/concerns for Where Love Lives: The Inheritance (Wyoming Wildflowers, Book 6):
Lewis and Clark and phacelia
This was a sidetrip. Didn’t get to use this info … in this book. Maybe the next.
Horse trailers (Like HGTV on wheels!)