Thursday, July 29, 2010

Facts in Fiction

Yesterday I was speaking to a coworker—ever notice how many of my posts start from my conversations—and I’d made a comment about a technicality my sister caught in my current ms. I’d mentioned something about a character firing three people without a severance or their 401k. My sister—a human resources director—told me that’s against the law. So I’d needed to change it. No matter what happened, the person was entitled to their 401k since it was money they invested.

This is another example of the value of “readers” because I would’ve never known that. Well, my coworker was like, “Who cares, its fiction!”
I had to explain to her that even in fiction you need facts. Everyone on my job, with the exception of those few who have actually read my writing, think I write nothing but Harry Potter type novels, when in fact, I’ve never written anything remotely close to the Potter universe—other than fanfiction.

To make this coworker understand, I had to point out all the inaccuracies in hospital shows—as we are medical professionals. It’s frustrating for the doctors and nurses I work with to watch their work being so inaccurately portrayed on screen. I said, “That’s fiction, but you want to be accurate, right?”

She understood, I guess, but I have a sneaking suspicion that when she thinks of my writing she envisions people flying around on broomsticks, worried about their 401k’s.

*Le Sigh*

This scenario had me thinking about how much we are willing to suspend our belief while reading fiction. Or watching movies and tv. I just recently saw Salt and, as with most action movies, you have to suspend your belief somewhat so you can go on the ride the director has planned. Watching people accomplish impossible feats and come out unscathed is sometimes hard to sit through without rolling your eyes, but when it’s done correctly, we buy it.

With my current novel, the main character has psychic dreams. Is this real? Who knows? I can honestly say I’ve never met anyone who could tell the future through their dreams. Have I had foreboding dreams? Yes. But out right showing the future, nope, never had, never met anyone with that ability. So to me, everything outside of that one paranormal activity needed to be grounded in fact for this particular story to work. It may change with other novels I write, but as I’m probably always going to write earth bound novels, there will be certain facts that I’ll have to keep intact.

How about you guys? Do you think a lot about the facts you put in your novels? Do you research, ask people who may be in the know, even if you’re writing fantasy and sci-fi? If you have some examples, leave them in the comments.


Palindrome said...

I try to be as accurate as possible. I figure my fine details will be hammered out in my second draft. for my upcoming nano book, I've been reading a ton to research so I can effectively blend fiction and fact. We'll see how that goes. :)

Jemi Fraser said...

I try for accuracy as much as I can too. My story's set in Victorian England, but I can take some liberties because it's steampunk :)

Karen Denise said...

Palindrome, I do the same. I research, but then hammer out the details in my edits and revisions. That way I don't stop my flow of writing to do research.

Jemi, I take some liberties too. My current novel is set in Monterey California, a place I've never been, but I've done research and describe it as best I can and then make up some other details. Hopefully, it worked.

Nicole MacDonald said...

Yep it has to make sense :) Even in the fantasy world if I'm going against the 'laws of nature' it actually has to fit into it some how

Jill Elizabeth said...

Hi KD, thx for stopping by my blog! I had to laugh at your broomsticks comment--when I tell people I'm working on a YA novel, gotta love the response "Oh, like Twilight?".

Mechelle Fogelsong said...

About a year ago, I finished a YA novel set (in part) in a Japanese internment camp during WWII. I did GOBS of research for it. I read statistics, I visited museums, I consulted people who actually lived in the camps, and I perused old World War II letters from various online archives.

But the best thing-- This sounds crazy, I know, but it worked great! The best thing I did was find a 1940's thesaurus and use it to help me write period dialog with common idioms of the time.

I got two agents to ask for a full on that one, but no takers yet. I've been querying a new novel lately, having put that historical fiction piece on back burner. But after all the work I put into that internment camp novel, I really, really hope it eventually makes it to publication.