The television show the Office is set in Scranton Pennsylvania. I live 35 minutes outside of Scranton. Some things they did were really cleaver and well researched. They had stickers from local radio stations, and businesses which was really cool, and the opening of the show had footage from Scranton. The characters mentioned certain shopping places and pizza places that are actually located in Scranton. So the researchers did their job pretty well. It was fun to hear about things that came from here. Some will argue that the mall they went to looked nothing like the Steamtown Mall, other buildings and such were not in Scranton, and the way they seemed to make quick trips into NYC was not realistic. I have to admit it wasn't perfect, but overall I think they did a pretty good job. Much better than the Scranton Airport in Home Alone!
I'm also going to briefly touch on Historical Fiction. Do your research! I read a great series called Children of the Promise by Dean Hughes. It took place during World War 2 and I read it right when I was taking a class on World War 2. The book was extremely accurate. I was actually able to take details from the book to help me do better in the course. In the author notes he said that if he said a certain movie was playing at a certain theater, it was. The author and his team did a fantastic job and it really enhanced the book.
So if you are writing about real places, it is really important to do your research, it might be helpful to actually go to the place you are writing about, or pick a place where you are familiar.
What about fantasy?
In some ways fantasy is easier to write because you make up your own world. But there are certain aspects that you still need to do your homework. In an article titled, Hot Dot, Katsa! Kristin Cashore, author of Graceling wrote, "Writing Fantasy happens to be all about limitations. It's about keeping to the rules; it's about building a world that's believable to the reader because it's both comprehensive and consistent."
In Denall (the world of Stones of Power) I wanted to have people able to read, so although most of the world is in a semi-medieval-type setting, the majority of people can read. That was a decision I made early in the writing process, and I stuck to that throughout the trilogy. My current work in progress I have a world where the nobility can read and the lower classes are not taught how to read. That is one of the pieces that keeps the lower class oppressed. Whatever you create in fantasy, make sure it is purposeful and be consistent.
When you incorporate something from our world into a fantasy world, try to be as accurate as possible. I know a little about archery, but while writing Stones of Power, I realized that I needed to have more information. I was able to speak with Kaleb, who shoots with the Junior Olympic Archery Development (JOAD) program, we talked about the book and about archery in general and he was able to help me get my distances more accurate. I was also able to ask Mishaela (Totally Horse Girl) several questions about horses, riding and tack. Hopefully by asking some questions the details in the book make sense, or at least they are not distractingly incorrect.
Research doesn't need to be searching for hours through old dusty books in the basement of a city library, it can be as simple as talking to a friend, or relative. Whatever it takes, be sure to have some facts set straight and it will enhance your writing and help make it more real for your reader.
Picture from http://www.lehman.edu/orsp/