I find, for me, that being true and accurate on the things I write about is important. For example, my stories involve things that do not exist in the real world but in my stories, these unreal beings & objects are set in our real world. For the real-world part, I want to be sure to be as accurate as I can be. The mythical creatures or tools with other world powers can be anything I want because they don’t exist in our world but the world in which they are being used is in our world so those details need to be as my readers know them to be.
For instance, I may write about a unicorn living in the English countryside but I will be sure that the details of the English countryside are spot on. If I wrote about a winged person that lived at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, the being could be or look like anything I choose. The area in which this winged man lives on Mt. Kilimanjaro needs to be as it truly is in the time period of the story. I believe it brings realism to a story if the true to life features are as accurate as people remember them. Or if they decide to look up something from your story to see how accurate you were (and they will!), wouldn’t you rather be spot on than off the mark? No need to open yourself up for unnecessary criticism and give those that love to criticize any mistakes to jump on. Social media can be brutal so do not supply the ammunition! There are a lot of cowards out there that speak boldly on social media but would never say those things to you in person.
The fun of writing fiction and creating things not real in our world is the freedom to get as creative as you’d like, as creative as your mind will wander. I love reading fiction because it creates unreal circumstances in our very real world. When I first read Salem’s Lot by Stephen King when I was younger, it was so believable that vampires existed in this small town in Maine. Of course, I knew that vampires only existed in books and movies but it was so believable and I think much of that is because of the landscape, the small town, the people that lived there and the character returning home after 25 years of being away. Besides the vampires, everything else is rooted in the real world, places we have all seen, and people we have met or know in our own lives.
Stephen King hails from Maine and from what I have read, he modeled Jerusalem’s Lot after the town of Durham, Maine, a town he was familiar with from his youth. More specifically, it was the area in which he lived as a youth known to locals as Methodist Corners. This area contained a house of the same name that is used as the vampire house in Salem’s Lot, the Marsten House. Stephen and his friends explored this abandoned house as children. You can’t bring much more realism than that to a story!
With that assumption, the town in the story was very real. The new inhabitants, not so much, but it works and feels very real. Keep what you know or what you can research for things that are real and accurate. People can relate to realism as many of your readers will have experienced a place just like the one you describe. Add the fictitious monster/creature/alien/killer and the setting will bring the story to life in your readers' eyes.
Much of everything I write, in every novel, holds so many real aspects of my life. It might be the place I grew up or one of my characters based on someone I knew or one of the crazy adventures my friends and I lived through. Use all you have, all that you have experienced, and all you have been through in life to incorporate those aspects into your story to give it that realism that people can relate to from their own lives. We have all lived different lives but so many aspects are the same. Growing up in a city setting, a rural country setting, or in a small town/suburb setting. We can all relate to one of those because we all grew up somewhere. Incorporate it into your story to build that relatable setting. Think of your neighborhood and use that same setting for the setting of your story. The nosy neighbor that drove you nuts as a kid because she/he was always in your business, incorporate her/him into the story.
Growing up, we all got into trouble of some sort. Could have been something small or something monumental. Whether it was in school, in the neighborhood, or while on vacation, we have all done things we should not have done. But those experiences can be such a thrill and are the strong memories you remember, the fun stories you tell as an adult. Use those stories in your work. No one outside of the circle that joined you on those adventures will know they are part of your past. Because you lived it, you can give detail and realism that someone who made up a similar story could not give. You were there, you saw it and experienced it live. Doesn’t get any more real than that.
Now add the dragon or leprechaun or flying monkeys to the story and things begin to take shape.
Happy reading, happy writing!