Regardless of what I'm writing, I'm a stickler for accuracy whenever possible. With the Internet at our fingertips, we can research from the comfort of our homes, and to me, there's no excuse for sloppy writing. Nothing pulls me out of a story faster than coming across inaccuracies. (For the record, I'm not discussing fantasy or science fiction here, although in those genres, the author still needs to build a world and stick to the rules.)
And, believe me, I'm an 'easy' reader. I don't stop while I'm reading to look stuff up. I put my faith in the author to be within the realm of reality even in fiction. If you write historical fiction, I'm your reader, because what I know about history would fit in a thimble (does anyone even use those anymore?). So if you tell me the Duke of Wherever was carrying a reticule, I wouldn't flinch.
But if you're writing mystery, I trust that you won't have your character thumb the safety off his Glock, because THAT I do know. (That happens to be the most common mistake concerning firearms that writers make—and I've seen some Big Names make it.)
When I was researching Finding Sarah, I wanted to make sure I had the right stars in the night sky when they strolled on the porch after dinner. I spent time with the on line Farmer's Almanac to make sure Randy could point out Cassiopeia to Sarah. As it turned out, I didn't need that scene, but I knew I had it right.
The hardest part of research is knowing what you don't know. I needed to thwart Sarah's escape attempt, but I didn't want her to be a meek, 'wait to be rescued' heroine. How to sabotage her plans? The only vehicle available to her was a stick shift, and she didn't know how to drive one. To further complicate things, I had it parked head into a tree, so she'd have to use reverse.
Unlike the car I learned to drive on, a newer model stick shift can't be started unless you have the clutch depressed to the floor. She wouldn't know this, so I felt that I'd given her a believable reason to have to find another escape route. What I DIDN'T know was that the make and model of the car I chose, a Highlander (as an inside joke, since I began writing with Highlander fan fiction) doesn't come in a manual transmission. Luckily, a crit partner knew this and I was saved the embarrassment of having a glaring error in the story. I doubt my editor would have caught that one, since she was Australian.
And as authors, we can't rely on busy copy editors to fact check all the details. After all, they might not know they don't know it either!
Sure, we take liberties in fiction. As Harlan Coben said, "I get to make stuff up." But I think our readers appreciate it when we try to stay within the boundaries of reality. If they're familiar with what you're writing, they'll give you that mental fist pump. But if you get it wrong, you run the risk that they'll stop reading your books because you've lost that bond of trust.
How about you? Do you simply want to escape when you read, facts or not? Or do you want to believe what you're reading is real? Even when it's made up?
Terry Odell is the author of five romantic suspense novels, all of which are available in both print and digital formats. She also has written numerous contemporary romance short stories, which are available as digital downloads. Please visit her website to learn more, including free chapter reads and behind the scenes peeks, and follow her blog, Terry's Place, where she shares what she's learned (and is learning) about the craft and business of writing. You can also follow her on Twitter and find her on Facebook.