Doing Your Homework

One thing I worry about with the settings of my contemporary novels is getting it right. That’s why I tend to use fake cities, but usually name a state. And even then, I’ve looked up temperatures and sunset/sunrise times: things that are specific to that area to make sure I get things right.
When I run across little setting mistakes in novels, it won’t make me hate the book, but I won’t enjoy it as much because I’m constantly thinking about the mistake. I’ve got a couple examples, and I’m curious if other people feel this way too. You may think I’m being a little harsh on the authors (feel free to tell me in the comments). But hey, sometimes things just rub you wrong.
First example
I came across a book that takes place in North Dakota. Cool, cause you know, we’re kinda considered boring, so you don’t see that often. Now I will say: I have not read this book. And it is a fantasy, but it should still be right. I wouldn’t read this particular book because I couldn’t take the author seriously.

The cover blurb makes reference to the backwoods of North Dakota. I about choked in laughter.
For those not familiar with ND, we don’t have trees. Not literally, I mean we have a few, but even people who live here joke about how little trees we have.

Image courtesy of exsodus /

So when I looked it up to verify I’m right, this is what I found. Yes, technically we have forests in ND, 5 state forests to be exact, but guess what. Forest land is 1.6% of the total land area (According to the US Forest Service).
Did you see that?
1.6%. That means that 98.4% of North Dakota is NOT forest.
We do not have backwoods in ND.
I went to Facebook to ask my friends if anybody knew where the backwoods of ND are. All I got were a lot of funny responses, because there are no backwoods of ND to us North Dakotans.
So, that is one book I just can’t take seriously.
Second example
I am going to be as vague as I can here because this book/author is pretty well known. And popular, so I don’t want to look like I’m bashing her. Especially cause you might think I’m being a little tough on her.
The main character moves from a southern state to a northern state in September. This northern state has similar weather to us in ND. It’s September, now remember. And there is snow.

Image courtesy of dan /

So I stopped reading. Snow? Really? I go back and check the month cause maybe I was wrong. Nope September. And this snow was enough to scoop up (not just frost). It was fluffy white snow (the best kind.) And from what I can tell from the story, it’s early or mid-September.
Now I’ll give the author this. The MC asks a native of the northern state about the snow. And he says it’s ‘rare’.
Hell yeah. Rare as in like it’s never snowed in September. Ever!
How do I know this? Well I looked it up, and the earliest snowfall of the metro area where this city resides is October 12th, 2006. (From the National Weather Service)
Now if the author was familiar at all with this state, she would’ve had the guy make a big deal out of it. Snow in September. That never happens. Like ever. But he didn’t. He said it like, yeah, it’s rare, but happens. Like it’s semi-normal.
So does this keep me from reading this author’s book. No. But every time I saw the word snow, I’d roll my eyes because it’s clear to me the author did not know anything about living in a northern state. Or snow for that matter.
Am I being too hard on these authors? Do little things like this bother you? Have you ever run into mistakes about places you’ve lived? And do you look up average weather temps and stuff for your settings?

5 Responses

  1. Hilarious! I know exactly what book you’re talking about.

    And I’m one of those people who pray I’m getting weather right. Because I’ve never been anywhere, I can only guess and go by what I find in research. Probably why I rarely specify where my stories take place.

  2. I’m really pedantic about my own writing. I look up the geology of a certain area so I can get the colour of the rocks at the beach right etc. My first novel was a fictional place within a real county and I did exactly the same as you – looked up sunset and rise times, weather on the certain days etc. etc. But my WIP is set in a city I know well because I’m paranoid about being criticised!

  3. Rachel Schieffelbein

    Ha! I probably wouldn’t even notice these types of things, unless it was set right near where I live. Although, I have rolled my eyes at ‘small town’ stuff before. Especially when the ‘small town’ is about 9,000 people and everyone literally knows everyone else. I’m from a town of about 2,500 and while I knew everyone in my grade, and the grades above and below me, I certainly didn’t know the entire population.

  4. I don’t think you’re being harsh. I get stuck on getting the facts right, too. When I started writing a story that took place at Yale, I spent a lot of time looking at maps, taking virtual tours, researching google images, and then started all over for US air bases in Europe. I couldn’t stand the idea that someone might read the story and have the same reaction you did, probably because I get really frustrated with how people portray my home state in media/books. It’s usually waayyy off.

  5. Ella Cvancara

    Hey, Suzi–I grew up in northwestern ND. One September, when I was little, it snowed (enough to scoop up) on September 2. I remember the date as it was a family birthday. I know this was back in the dark ages and maybe before the weather service was keeping records (!), but it has happened! I like your careful reading, though, and have seen some of these errors.

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