One of the more difficult things about writing fiction is making sure that the settings you write about seem real to those who’ve been to the places you’re writing about. For example, if your book takes place in Los Angeles and your character lives on the city, you need to make sure readers who are familiar with the city feel like your charter lives in L.A. too. That means he/she needs to know the best way to get around the city and what different places look like. This can be tricky to pull off if you’ve never been to the places you’re writing about.
Over the weekend I was reading Lee Child’s Without Fail. Near the end of the novel the protagonist, Jack Reacher and a colleague Frances Neagley, are on his way to the fictional town of Grace, Wyoming which is a couple hours north of Casper – a town I lived in for two years. Reacher and Neagley take a plane to Denver and decide to drive to Grace.
Child describes the drive as thus:
They entered Wyoming after dark, driving north on I-25. They turned left on Cheyenne and picked up I-80. They rolled west to Laramie and headed north. The town called Grace was still five hours away, well beyond Casper. The map showed it nestled in the middle of nowhere between towering mountains on one side and infinite grasslands on the other.
“We’ll stop in Medicine Bow,” Reacher said. “Sounds like a cool place. We’ll aim to get to Grace at dawn tomorrow.”
Here’s the problem with the above section. I’ve done the drive from Denver to Casper dozens of times. There is no logical reason to take that route. The fastest way to Casper and areas north is to stay on I-25. Any map as well as all freeway signs will bear that out. There are plenty of small towns along I-25 that Reacher could have stopped at if he was too tired to make it to Casper. And the next day Reacher and Neagley drive thought Casper and get back on I-25 anyway. And it wasn’t like the page or two of text about their stay in Medicine Bow was vital to the story. It could have just as easily taken place in Wheatland, Douglas, or any of the other small towns along I-25.
I don’t know what Child was trying to accomplish with this but that above section really ruined the last 60 or so pages what was a very exciting novel. All I could think about was that if he didn’t know the fastest way from Denver to Casper, what else in the book did he not adequately research?
Don't get me wrong. I love Child's books. This error just really bugged me.