Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Little Reality With Your Fiction

Stewart Butterfield/Flickr
Sure, fiction is supposed to be made up. But when you write contemporary or historical fiction, you can pull a reader completely out of your story with a fact you might think is incidental and unimportant.

For example, my husband and I are huge geeks, and we both work in computer fields. Every time we watch movies and TV shows with unrealistic depictions of computers/software/technology, we begin to play more attention to the inaccuracies than to the story the show or movie is trying to tell. I once read a romance novel in which two teenagers are friends, and one moves across the country with his parents. The other friend says there are no worries, because they can Skype all the time. Only one small problem: Skype wasn't initially released until eight years after the chapter supposedly took place. Why do I know it was eight years? Because I knew that these kids couldn't possibly Skype, and I stopped reading the book to fact check it myself.

When writing a story, make sure the facts back up even the small things you're saying. In my story "One Last Road Trip," I used Google Maps to map out my character's trip back home to Georgia, finding places along the way to have him meet up with various family members. I made sure the teams, schools, and jobs everyone had made sense based on timeframe, location, and character age. I didn't want a reader to lose the story because I'd put the wrong person in the wrong place doing the wrong thing based on reality and history.

Feel free to completely make up cities and towns. Invent new NFL teams or colleges. After all, it's fiction. But if you reference persons, places, or things that actually exist (or existed in the past), make sure that your facts line up with reality. Otherwise, you may have someone like me still telling people three years after they read your book that you made teenagers Skype before Skype was invented.


Aidee Ladnier said...

I haven't read so many instances of this as seen it in movies. I hate when I'm watching a movie and they get the science wrong. It makes me hate the movie when I probably would have loved it.

Ali Hubbard said...

Totally, true, Kerry! I do the same thing, especially if it involves a car crash or something related to a vehicle. Or materials like concrete or plastic. I get really distracted if I think it may be wrong. I was a history major and inaccurate references kill me. I left the kid movie Mr Sherman thinking, "Gah! Aside from not 1 positive female character, Agamemnon was INSIDE the Trojan Horse." Nooooooooo.

Chris Bailey said...

Ha! I do it, too! I'm still mad that a wonderful author and her attentive editor allowed a setting with pansies and day lilies blooming along the front walk. On the Florida panhandle. Not happening.

Carla Swafford said...

I remember Stay Hungry (published 1972), the book, not the movie, said that Birmingham Police cars had flashing red lights. No. Even back then they were blue. There was a possibility in the 1950/60s some cities had red. I guess I should ask my dad as he was a cop back then.

Anyway, the other side of the coin, I have a paranormal WIP that I entered into a writers contest some years ago. I placed a "magical" castle in the middle of a forest in northern Alabama. A judge said that there would be no way to hide a castle in northern Alabama. I guess she never really thought our forests are that big - they are (283 miles Bankhead National Forest) - and she obviously didn't' understand the word/concept "magical."

Louisa Cornell said...

I write Regency set historical romance and I have nearly 300 research books and counting about every aspect of life in the early nineteenth century in England. I have to get my facts straight because if I don't the Regency Police will come and arrest me! :)