Can I Make it Snow Today?
This is for those of you writing any genre of fiction that takes place in the real world.
When your story takes place in the real world, how accurate do you have to be? How much research do you have to do? Can't you just make stuff up as you go along?
Yes and no. When your writing takes place in the real world, you need to follow the rules of the real world, which I touched on here. But you need to be careful about more things than just time. You need to think about physical elements of the real world, too.
For example, if you were in Michigan last winter, 2019, you probably remember the polar vortex. The ice storms. The stupidly cold temperatures. You probably remember that it was still snowing in April. Now, if I wrote a story that took place in 2019 in real world Michigan, but made it a mild winter that ended in March and never dropped below 30 degrees, I'm no longer writing in the real world. I'm writing in an alternate Michigan in an alternate 2019.
Which is fine, you can do that. But you have to own it. If that's the only thing that differs from the real world in your story, you're going to lose credibility fast.
But does that mean you have to make it snow on the days it actually snowed? Or rained? Or do you need to make sure that it was a high of 62 in your story on May 15th because that's what it was in the city you're using? No, you don't. You just need what you do in your story to be within the realms of possibility of the location you've picked. As in, don't make it snow in May. But you can make it rain if you want.
What about outside of weather? What else needs to be accurate?
I'll keep it at this: unless you have a dang good reason not to follow the rules of the real world, you need to keep them.
Speed limits should not be 90 mph on highways. A loaf of bread should not stay good for 3 months. Schools should be closed on Christmas. Eastern bluebirds should not be flying around Oregon. Polar bears should not be found in Oklahoma. There should not be a Chicago-sized metropolis in North Dakota.
There's times when all of these could be true, but you need to have a reason to make them be. Maybe speed limits were raised. Maybe climate change drove the polar bears to Oklahoma. Maybe in your story, North Dakota becomes home to the new capitol of the United States. All of that is fine, but then you're writing an alternate world, not the real world.
So stick to the rules, but also keep in mind you have wiggle room. Things need to be believable, not completely perfect and normal.
For example, It shouldn't take only sixteen hours to drive from New York to California, but it doesn't need to take the exact time Google maps tells you it will. You don't need to have the weather be exact, as I mentioned above. Towns don't have to look exactly like they do in real life.
You also have the option to create a fictitious town in the real world. That's what I do. Any place my characters have lived in the past is real and the city they currently live in is based on a real one. But it has a made up name so I can put the streets and buildings wherever I want. But since it's in the mid-west, I still have to follow the rules of that area.
Yes, it's fiction. Yes, you have the ability to change things. But if your story is in the real world, you need to play within those boundaries. You do have room to play, you just don't have room to remake the rules of reality. Not when you're writing in the real world.
What did you have to research for your story? Is your story actually in the real world? Or is it an alternate reality?