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?