I think writers are more adept about taking various things and combining them into a new and strange configuration. Of course, writer’s experiences generally come out all over the place in their writing.
I was thinking about this because I remembered an incident from the first Raven of Iskandar book: Raven: The Call from Central. Not really a spoiler, but at one point, Raven describes the harpsichord that Grabby buys. In it, she describes how the two lowest keys are split horizontally, so that you can play two different notes in the same location. This description is what I actually saw way back in college (at the dawn of the Cretaceous) when my music teacher brought in her personal harpsichord to show the class.
The rest of the description of the harpsichord was due to research. Even when creating a society from scratch, you still have to do some research.