Hi – J here. Authenticity is important in books, whether they are set in reality or some made up world. If your world is made up, you can imagine the authenticity, but you still have to include those details for the reader. If your book is set in an actual place, do what I do: plan vacations to those places. Or conversely, set your books in places you have visited.
When you are away from home, be sure to take special notice of the local flavors and differences. For example, when I decided to set my first novel in Philadelphia, my husband and I actually took the train (as did my characters) to Philly. Many details of our trip found their way into the book, which made it a better story.
I just concluded a family vacation in Nashville, Tennessee. I found lots of interesting things that were different from my Connecticut home. Some things may not be Nashville things, but rather other interesting details (all of the faucets in the ritzy home where we are staying turn backwards – what I naturally think of as “off” was “on” there.) Others are absolute – the rock that lines the side of the highways isn’t the granite I’m used to at home, but some kind of sedimentary bedrock thing. I must investigate to find out what it is so that I can drop it in a future novel set in the area. The food so far has been um…Wonderful! I’ve had biscuits with white gravy (who ever heard of white gravy?), waffles with strawberry marshmallows in it, and fabulous flautas. We ate at Jack’s BBQ which we found by following our noses for two blocks.
JK Rowling might do this best. The Harry Potter books are full of fun interesting details that make the stories great but aren’t actually required to tell the story. She could have gotten by without inventing a slang term for non-magical people, but I think the world would be poorer without the term, “Muggle”. Don’t you? PS: If you haven’t heard, she’s got a new announcement coming out next week. Check out Pottermore for the count down.
Scribes’ Secret Unlocked: your stories can be richer when you include a few interesting details that may not actually move the story along. It’s OK to do this – even though you hear time and time again, “If it doesn’t advance your story, cut it out.” You can be sure that somebody in a future novel of mine will be scalded by backward-turning faucets.