When writing fiction, I believe there has to be truths to ground the reader—and whatever those truths are is up to the writer to convey them (because I detest most research, I find my own Truths to focus on what does not require hours and hours and hours of research, say, for example, as historical novels would require.
Personally, if I’m writing about a real town, I need to be accurate about that town to honor its people and sense of Place. If I’m writing about a fictional town based on a real town, I have a little more flexibility, but I still need to be careful. If I’m writing about a completely fictionalized place, then I would insert truths to make it grounded in a reality, and in that place I create, I have to be consistent. Consistency—we’ve talked about that.
I use my own instincts, along with some research, to convince my audience I know what I am talking about—you’ve seen me write this before: Convince your audience and you’ve done your job, no matter how, what, where, when, who you write. Throw all the danged ole rules out the window for all I care—just convince me, or you lose me as your reader.
I admit here that I sometimes look up the weather. I think it’s fun. Was there a significant weather event that would change something with my characters or their Place? Or make something interesting? (Like the Hurricane mention in TG when Mee Maw comes to visit—category five grandmother.) Or, if in the holler there was a bad snow storm, Katie Ivene wouldn’t be flying to that West Virginia town in her Rambler with the windows open yelling “wheeee!” But, that’s just me; I like doing those kinds of things and I found sites that show historical weather—the exact weather on any particular day! I love those little details even if only I know that on April 13, 1976, it really was 82 degrees and foggy in a town in South Louisiana (I use weather more as a mood or as Place or whatever, not that I go around quoting weather).
If I mention a movie or a television show or a football game, then I want to make sure I have it Right, and again, sometimes I have fun with it. In TG, VK mentions an episode of Lassie, and there really was an episode of Lassie just as she mentions. I can’t have the movie Rocky coming out in March of 1976, because it didn’t release until December 1976. I can’t have my South Louisiana town’s team playing Old Miss in September when they didn’t play until later in the season, or have them playing in town when it was an out of town game (if I even get that specific, and that’s what you have to decide on—when to be vague and when to have specific details).
Sometimes little details help the reader to “Be There” with the character, to ground them in a place or time or mood, maybe even to have readers say, “I know that place/event/area/whatever!”
In my research, I don’t just check one source; especially when dealing with the internet. I do the best I can to make sure I have everything as accurate as possible—because you are worth my time and care, you being the reader. Will someone find an error if they go through my book(s) with a fine-toothed eye? Maybe, but it won’t be for lack of me working hard and doing my job best I can. I don’t respect lazy writing and I know it when I read it.
By the way, when and how you do your research is up to you. Do what works.
Don’t cheat. Don’t be lazy. It’s worth it to get some things right. You don’t want your reader to stop and say, “Hey, wait a minute! This isn’t right . . .” and bump them from your world, your story, and more important to me: I want my reader to trust me as the writer by forgetting about me and only focusing on the narrator and the story.
Do you make sure you have things Right when speaking in specifics instead of vagaries?