I am reading a book where the protag remembers going to visit Serpent Mound, in Ohio. She describes what she saw, as a young girl. And I said, "What?"
Now, the author had done her research, I give her that. In fact, I recognized her description from similar ones I had seen while researching the place myself. But I've also been to Serpent Mound, and what she describes the young girl seeing is impossible.
"Anya recalled walking around the edges of the mound with her mother. She hadn't been impressed at the time. The mound wasn't more than three feet high and it seemed to melt into the grass, like a sea serpent sleeping... Anya's mother pointed from the nose to the tail of the effigy. "This is the sleeping place of a great serpent. They all sleep underground."
What's wrong with this description is a small thing, but one which screams out to me. You can't see the entire serpent from the ground. You can't see much at all. weekendwizards.blogspot.com To see the serpent, you have to get up in the air. A three-story metal platform was constructed at the turn of the century for just that purpose -- and one would think that climbing such a thing, an open air metal staircase, would itself have made an impression on the narrator. But even from the platform you can't see the head of the serpent very well.
It seems to me that the author has never been to the place her character traveled to. Not that this is a major fault, but it begs the question: If you can't afford to travel to all the places you describe, what's the best way to describe them? How afraid should you be of getting details wrong? If I had never been to Serpent Mound, I would not have caught the error. Still, it makes me more nervous about setting my stories in places I have never been.
Score one for Fantasy. At least the Fantasy lands are all I imagine them to be, and nothing more.