I so enjoyed Laura Crum's blog post the other day, Research... Or Not?, because that topic has been on my mind a lot lately: how necessary is realism?
I love realism in my entertainment. I hear the argument that books are an escape, but I'm not so sure that I read books to escape. I think I read books looking for greater understanding of my own world, searching for like-minded folks to see how they're handling the same struggles I am facing, hoping to find a kindred spirit amongst the masses.
I'm always looking for the nuggets of truth.
Books that don't faithfully describe the places that I know and love are especially upsetting to me. I enjoy Carl Hiassen books because they're set in Florida, and I grew up there. But I love Tim Dorsey books, because not only are they set in Florida, but the settings, from St. Petersburg hotels to turnpike service plazas, are really there. I can read Florida Roadkill or Stingray Shuffle or any of his novels and actually picture about 75% of the locales that Florida history-buff/serial killer (he's a really cool guy, I swear!) Serge A. Storms visits. And I love that.
On the other hand, I couldn't get through critically acclaimed Swamplandia! in part because geographically it was all wrong, mixing up Florida's Gulf and Atlantic coasts in a way I just couldn't wrap my head around. (I also thought that I'd like the idea of the girl dating the ghost in the swamp, but it turned out it was just too strange for me to handle.)
And they might seem like the opposites of realism at first glance, but I count richly written epic fantasies like The Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire among my favorite reads because the author went to so much trouble to create a believable, consistent world. I might not have ever been to Middle-Earth or the Seven Kingdoms, but I bet I could find my way around if I ended up there.
When I wrote The Head and Not The Heart, I was so devoted to getting the facts and details right that I actually stopped writing it for a while (back in 2010) and moved to New York to gallop racehorses. I'd done all the Ocala bits already, managing broodmares and starting babies and training two-year-olds, but I hadn't actually been backside at an operating racetrack. So, we all moved to New York and went to work at Aqueduct for six months. And then, once I was satisfied that I knew what I was talking about, I rewrote the New York sections of the book.
That's the kind of research I think any author can get behind!
The novel I'm working on now is set in Three Day Eventing, another sport I know first-hand. But I'm starting to pull back on the details a little bit. I don't want the book to be about eventing, after all, I want it to be about people who happen to be eventing. I want it to be about their passion and their drive, but not every fence on the Rolex course. And so I'm a little more willing to fudge facts and figures in order to create a compelling read that will draw in more than just the people who have always lived and breathed eventing. And therein lies the challenge of writing with less worry about research and realism. It's great to know your subject, there's no doubt about that. But can I get the story to stand above the setting?
Just looking at my bookshelves, I guess I can say that my favorite books are those that are very true to life, with a happy ending, and if there's any sort of crime, it has to be funny. I suppose that's because I love my surroundings, I expect a happy ending, and I try to avoid drama at all times! How about you? Do you escape by reading about completely different settings, or do you seek out your own life in books?