Keeping Our Facts Straight


Although I’m not eager to encourage bears near the house, I love to watch birds. Unfortunately, attracting them with strategically located bird feeders has the side effect of also catching the attention of hungry bruins looking for tasty granola-style morsels, as I mentioned in a earlier post. We no longer keep the feeders out during the summer, but wait until hibernation time before refilling them.

Natural sources of food around here also appeal to both birds and bears. We have a row of blueberry bushes bordering the garden, but rarely get to enjoy the berries before they are stripped off. I sometimes wonder why we bother to keep the bushes, but when they burst into their autumn colours I remember why.


Our garden wasn’t planted with wildlife in mind, but it still seems to provide a menu enjoyed by butterflies, birds and black bears. One tree, not on our property but in the neighbourhood, is often host to a number of varied thrush – a ‘Pink Pagoda’ mountain ash. They weren’t visiting when I snapped this shot, but I’m sure they’ll be back, and even without them the tree is glorious.


As I worked through the revision of a novel scene, I was reminded that it helps to have knowledge of the local flora and fauna when including them in a story’s setting.  Author credibility is jeopardized when we place grizzly bears instead of black bears, or wild scarlet indian paintbrush flowers in the suburbs of a southern BC city. We’d better go back and do our homework if we think we can show a heavily spotted bobcat racing over deep snow on his large paws.

We may resent the constant admonitions to write what we know, but there’s no disputing we’d better have our facts right.

Did you know it’s the lynx that has large feet and can cope with deep snow, not the bobcat? What kind of localized details are important in your current w.i.p.? How do/did you research for their accuracy?



Published by Carol

A freelance writer of fiction and non-fiction living on the West Coast of Canada.

11 thoughts on “Keeping Our Facts Straight

  1. There’s really no substitute for actually going to the place. But in the absence of that possibility, there is a great deal of information available on the internet. And don’t forget the local library. Books are still a good resource no matter how much we are told of their impending extinction.

  2. Carol, like you I enjoy putting flora and fauna in my stories. I think this helps a reader “see” the setting.

    How neat that you live in such a beautiful place and are able to watch the wildlife.

  3. Great post! Readers can be pulled right out of the story by one wrong detail. In my current WIP, temperature, characteristics of the snow, hours of daylight, and type and size of trees are all important. I’m lucky in that this is a write-what-you-know setting for me, but to be sure my memory isn’t failing me, the ms is being vetted by someone who knows the setting inside-out.

  4. We cannot always rely on our memory of course. I am currently working on a chapter where my main character visits Hampton Court. It has been 15 years since I was there and at the time I didn’t take many pictures. I wasn’t happy about what I found on the internet. So I contacted a facebook friend from the UK. He so kindly connected me to a friend of his who is an expert on Hampton Court. She sent me, through facebook, some great pictures and interesting information. The wonders of social media and the kindness of strangers helped me with my research.

  5. Enjoyed this post, Carol. Even though many of my stories are set in NYC, I never rely solely on my memory. I research different historical events, use correct names for streets and places (unlike a made up town, a mis-step here can be a major problem) and I have used “Live Google Search” to actually to go the exact street and find the exact house I want to write about. When I venture to the outer counties or up the Hudson River to the place where my mother was born, I am even more careful about places and events. Good advice, write it once, check it “twice” or maybe three times 🙂

  6. Morning…I’ve been to places or read enough about them to have a general idea of where most of my modern story ideas (exact locations maybe not so much)but being fiction I feel I can use my imagination. What has been my main problem are the proper “behaviors” for my characters which has meant * interviewing* to find out what would happen if this/that occured. And I’m not good at **, although I realize it’s importance.

  7. It definitely wasn’t a bear costume, Diana, but he did look funny standing there scooping out “handfuls” of seed. We removed the feeder later that day, and he came up to the deck hunting for it, so then we got a good look at him on all fours.

    I’m glad everyone agrees on the importance of keeping our facts straight so stories don’t lose their authenticity. Whether the setting is imaginary or real, details have to be believable.

  8. Great advise, Carol, and so fitting. I won’t bore you with details, except to say that I did approximately 4 months of research for my Vietnam novel, and I’m so glad I did. I had a vet ask me once when was I in-country.

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