Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Fact or Fiction or Fictional Fact? When to make it up...

As writers we have a certain responsibility to maintain authenticity for readers. If readers can't relate to or believe something, then they likely won't be readers long.

When we craft stories, we make so many things up: people, plots, places.  It's fiction, after all!

But are there things we should NOT make up?  And where do you draw the line? How does genre play a part in this, especially as relates to reader expectation?

Historical romance authors research extensively to provide the most accurate portrayal of the time period in their books. I'm in awe of the details they weave into a story (without me even realizing it) and their ability to transport me through their creativity. Romance Writers of America (RWA) even has the Beau Monde chapter, which is primarily for the Regency period. Hearts through History is another chapter, and they will welcome you with open arms. These writers are learners, as I like to say, with an impressive dedication to historical accuracy.

All of the genres have RWA chapters to help encourage great fiction, just another sign that romance authors are trying to "get it right" for our readers.

Paranormal romance is on the other end of the fact versus fiction spectrum, as it should be. Writers create entire worlds and behaviors for our favorite supernaturals, sometimes creating a new type of supernatural to boot. Facts are still relevant in paranormal romance, but not necessarily in the same way. A writer will create a world of facts and then must stay true to that world.

Erotic romance authors pride themselves on portraying the facts of safety, mutual consent, and sex positive experiences. In these stories the characters and plots may be fiction, but a sex positive experience, for example, is the consistent fact.

Romantic suspense may be the most difficult balance of fact versus fiction due to well known settings or organizations. If the story is set in Washington D.C. and involves police, government, or official agencies, then a writer will need a good understanding of all of those things. A reader who loves military suspense wants the writer to honor the military hero's service with accuracy. Along the same lines, a romance writer probably shouldn't destroy a national monument in a book...although the threat could be used to move the story forward.

Inspirational romance maintains the facts of the belief system it incorporates. It is critical to these readers that facts stay true to their expectations.

Contemporary romance authors have to maintain the facts of daily life, the jobs people have and the way we live our lives in the current time period. However, there is plenty of wiggle room for creating places and scenarios. Is it likely that the new guy in the apartment next door is an MMA fighting champ? Probably not. But, I'll take that fiction any day!

So, what do all of these books have in common? The human experience. Whether it's an unwilling Duke in Regency England or a muscled cyborg on a distant planet or a military suspense set on Capitol Hill or two small town friends getting a second chance at love - we understand them through our shared emotional experiences in this crazy life we live.

We all love a man's reaction to a woman he's attracted to.  Right? That first spark between them when they recognize this could be MORE. We travel with them on their journey, falling for them as they fall for each other (sometimes even before!). Then, the moment when things couldn't be worse for them arrives, and we break with them. We root for them to work things out and get satisfaction from their happily ever after. We think about them weeks later if the author has done a great job, imagining the life they are living because the writer has made them real to us in our hearts.

Whether it's an emotion we've had before or have yet to experience, we understand. Emotion is at the heart of the human experience. A good writer can blend the facts we need with the fiction we want, giving readers a story that's fresh yet recognizable where it counts.

And that's a fact!

Where do you draw the line between fact and fiction in what you read or what you write?


Jillian said...

great post Ali. I love how you compared all the basic romance genres -

I write all over the place and when I do my historicals, I do leave out some of the worse things such as the lack of bathing a lot of those folks did, rotten teeth, bad breath, manure in the streets (although I do throw that in once in a while to add authenticity to a horse scene- LOL)

In contemporary, as a reader, not a writer, the fastest thing to turn me off is for the writer to make basic mistakes on something that would really never happen- I once read two chapters of a book before tossing it because the heroine's lawyer called her and said her ex husband was remarrying and asking the court to end his child support and he was probably going to win. This gave the heroine a desperate financial situation but that would NEVER happen. Courts do not let someone stop supporting their children like that. So, yeah, even in contemporary, it's important to get it right or risk losing the reader.

Susan said...

Great post! I always find myself stressing out over this kind of thing. I can make up a lot of rules in paranormal, but whenever I write historical, I do panic! I remember reading an interview with a famous historical novelist (the name escapes me at the moment), and she basically said that mistakes are just going to happen. When I read a historical, I'm not that obsessed with accuracy (unless it is just something nutty), but one thing that turns me off is inserting obviously contemporary slang into a conversation that took place in the past. Drives me nuts! Anyway, thanks for bringing all of this up!

Suzanne Johnson said...

Love this post, Ali! Even in my paranormals, I try to keep the "real world" as real as possible. I use real places, brand names (if I feel pretty sure they're not just short-lived trends), etc. Particularly where New Orleans is concerned, if I start a NOLA-set book and see stuff wrong, I stop reading.

I'm working on my first romantic suspense that involves law enforcement and wanted to make sure I "got it right" in how they'd behave in different situations, so I hired a retired sheriff's deputy in Louisiana who now works with wildlife agents to read the manuscript once I'd finished it. He gave me a lot of tips--everything from the fact that officers have to be clean-shaven (damn, I hated losing that stubble) to procedure and sounds and emotions in different types of situations. I think it's incredibly important to get the world right even if the characters themselves are fictional.

Carla Swafford said...

Wonderful, wonderful post, Ali. This is why I enjoyed writing my mercenary series. Besides the weapons and locations, I could do anything I wanted. No mercenaries or spies would come out and tell me I'm wrong. Now for my new series, I did read a few non-fiction books to help me with some facts about outlaw motorcycle clubs.

Ali Hubbard said...

Thanks, Jillian! And...thanks for leaving out details about the unwashed bodies. heehee. I know exactly what you mean as far as accuracy with contemporary jobs, especially if you have a lot of knowledge in it. That's something you HAVE to get right. Everything I've worked on has been contemporary/new adult, and I'm surprised at how much I have to double check. Turns out I don't know as much about the various jobs out there! But I'm learning....So glad you stopped by!

Ali Hubbard said...

Hi Susan and thanks for stopping by! I've stressed out over it too, discovering which things I can safely make up. lol. I think obviously modern slang in a historical should be an easy "no!" At RWA last year someone mentioned doing a New Adult Historical, and I admit to being completely clueless about how that would work! Interesting concept, but not sure how to pull it off.

Ali Hubbard said...

Thanks, Suzanne! You touch on a key point here...New Orleans is a beloved city and many people know it well. So, being accurate would be important in this case because it helps ground the reader. I took a hint from JR Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood and created a fictional town outside of a real city for my series.

Best of luck with your romantic suspense! I think it's a great idea to have an expert read through it. I also now have this image of a retired law enforcement guy reading through a romance in the evenings. lolol

Ali Hubbard said...

Thanks, Carla! I can't wait to read your outlaw MC series! I love those covers too. haha. As for the mercenary/assassin/spy point...wouldn't it be awesome to have someone to talk to? I think I'd be too scared though....I appreciate you stopping by!

Suzanne Johnson said...

LOL, yes my law enforcement guy's comments (in Track Change) fell strangely silent during the big sex scene. :-). I did warn him ahead of time.