“Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;
For ‘tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carrying them here and there; jumping o’er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass:”
William Shakespeare (Henry V)
For the writer, nothing much has changed since Shakespeare wrote that plea for the audience to free their imaginations to help his work take flight. Samuel Taylor Coleridge used the phrase “a willing suspension of disbelief”to say the same thing a few hundred years later. Every writer wants their reader to let themselves go, and be carried away by the story, forgetting the outside world.
If the book is set in the real world, historical inaccuracies, geographic errors, misusing science or technology, can all make the reader lift their head out of the pages and go “Hey, wait a minute…”
You’d think that writers of pure fantasy wouldn’t have that problem, but if anything, it can be even worse, as Terry Pratchett explained in his 1997 Desert Island Disks radio interview.
SUE LAWLEY: But that’s the nice thing really, it can be anything you wish it to be…
TERRY PRATCHETT: Well, no. Fantasy doesn’t mean that you can do anything you want. There must be a structure. There must be limits that you cannot overstep.
SUE LAWLEY: But you can set those limits yourself.
TERRY PRATCHETT: You can set those limits yourself, but in a sense that makes it harder. If you’re writing a book set in London, in the present day, the limits are already defined, and everyone knows what they are. In a fantasy universe, you are responsible for the entire construction, so you must build all the underpinnings of the world, even before the story can really commence.
SUE LAWLEY: And then when your readers get to know it as well, if not better than you do, you’re in trouble.
When your setting is the real world, but back in the eighth century Britain, not only is there a lot to learn about, there’s also a great deal of disagreement and discussion amongst the experts about what’s true and what’s conjecture. So it’s impossible to please everyone, because different readers will have different views, depending in what they’ve read beforehand.
Still, one can only do one’s best! The Research portion of my website provides a bit more information about the worlds in my books, and some thoughts about how human beings tick. It doesn’t pretend to be scholarly or definitive. It’s a pretty light summary, specifically to accompany my books. There are plenty of terrific books and dedicated internet sites you can check out if you want to get serious about things yourself.