I've have a problem with referencing "real things" in my fictional stories. This particular one is scifi/fantasy so it's removed from the "real world". It's not supposed to be Earth in the future. I need my characters to appear knowledgeable without referencing obvious things in existence like ancient Greek philosophers or medieval wars. Ex: What do I put in my characters bookcase? He's the type to read Marx but I can't say Marx. I could make up some names and titles. Is that cheap or detailed?
Is it really important to you that this planet isn’t supposed to be Earth? Because it sounds like it would be more beneficial to you if it was Earth, just way way in the future. Then you could reference real people.
I don’t think it’d be cheap to make up names at all, but they won’t serve any purpose as a reference to how intelligent your characters are if they don’t mean anything to your readers. The only thing you could do is make up different names for Earth historical people and events—like change all the names of the Greek gods and call them the XYZ gods but keep all of their stories the same.
But I would just make in Earth in the future, if it was me.
Anyone have anything to add?
On ze worldbuilding argument: What I try to do is read my scenes as if I didn't know anything. Example: Character picks up some sort of communication device. If I can read the scene without asking "Well, why did she use that weird thing?" or "How does that complicated mechanism actually work?" then I don't think it's necessary to add details about the functions of the device (even if I, as the omniscient author, know everything.) That's why having 1streaders is important. They point those out.
Research nonfiction and fiction. Find other books similar to what you want to write and pick them apart. What don't you like about them? What would you change? But also read nonfiction about conflicts and ways that historical problems have been solved because it will help you understand what real people do when faced with those circumstances.