I’ve been mulling over the importance of details in a story. Mainly because I sometimes get hung up in details and doing research. The other day, for example, my MC made the comment, “Perhaps I can come back when I’m a journeyman.” So I spent a half hour researching apprenticeships, and levels thereof, to make sure the statement would be correct. In this particular case, it had absolutely no bearing on the plot, the MC was merely using the suggestion as a ploy, and I actually cut the whole scene later that day. Wasted research? <shrug> Depends if I ever use it again.
But how much detail do readers pay attention to? Krista Walsh over at The Raven’s Quill, did a good post about research a while back, in which she stated:
“when I read about something I know well and find the info goes against everything I’ve read, I get very irritated.”
I’m the same way. Because I’m familiar with them, and adore them, my biggest gripe is authors getting horses all wrong. (If you’re writing something in which horses are involved, even obliquely, I suggest you read Writing Horses by Judith Tarr, it will help you immensely.)
And I think that’s they key thing to keep in mind. What do our reader’s know? What are they familiar with and passionate about that we could screw up? Even in a made up, magical world, things have to make sense and be consistent. If you fabricate everything, including clothing (no pun intended), then as long as you’re consistent and things make sense, you’re probably okay. If the reader can buy into your world, and it’s rules and terminology, all will be good.
But if you’re touching on the familiar ~ castles, horses, armor ~ you’ll need to do a little research to get things right and add that flavor of authenticity to your work. Will anyone notice? Hard to say. But I can almost guarantee, if you get it wrong, someone WILL notice . You’ll get the e-mail pointing out that a garderobe is a medieval toilet and not something your lovely princess would wear to the ball, and if your knight is going to try and swing his sword by grasping the pommel he’s going to have a hard time winning. On the subject of armor, Fantasy Armor and Lady Bits is an entertaining and informative look at the good, and bad, in armor depiction.
For me, research is fun! Always has been. I have shelves of books and spend oodles of time (maybe too much) scouring the web for information. But be warned, all that research can sometimes make you re-think your plot, or cause you to re-write a scene, when it turns out to things don’t work the way you were counting on. You may even find yourself lead off in directions you never even thought of, when one fact leads to another. And, no, not all details will even get mentioned in your story, but they’re there; the sub-structure behind your world, they make things a little more solid.