The Importance Of Getting Your Facts Straight

We need to be careful when we write that we get our facts straight.  ESPECIALLY if historical fiction is involved.  At least this seems to be what readers have been complaining about from my own writing, and the character in the novel I’m currently reading (A Widow For One Year from John Irving).  Ironic, yes, that the novel that fell into my hands happened to be very pertinent to the conflicts I would encounter while reading it. But how far do we really need to go into researching when we’re writing fiction?

Fiction is something made up; a story that was created through our imagination.  How far can we go with what we make up in our story before readers start objecting?  In my own experience, it seems you need to get your historical and geographical facts straight. The two things I’m awful with. While editing my second novel, I realized that maybe some of it won’t fly with readers. I keep choosing to write about particular things I don’t necessarily know a great deal about. In this case, farming. In Tearing Honor’s case, religion. Why do I do this? Because I want to see how far I can stretch my imagination. Does that make me a bad writer? I wouldn’t think so.

How much research do you do when you’re writing fiction?  I may have Googled a few things to see if I was on the right track. Perhaps my next goal should be to spend more time researching before I dive into writing.  Writing as a part of NaNoWriMo eliminates that extra time you can spend researching.  So far, I’ve only written novels as a part of NaNoWriMo, returning to it a few months later to give major edits.

So my next novel, I plan to try a more traditional approach to writing. Set my own deadlines so that I can do that extra research. We’ll see how readers react when my facts are straight.  Our society has been raised to rely on facts for everything, I’m not surprised readers want to hear the truth.

Ruth, from the John Irving book I’m reading, only writes about what she doesn’t know.  She gets dozens of pieces of mail from people who have actually experienced what she’s written about, tearing down her work for being inaccurate. Is it wrong to make up facts? I can see it being a problem when you’re claiming it to be true, but if you label it as fiction, then what’s the problem?

*I currently don’t have a stance on this.  I need to write a little bit more to get a better feel for whether researching my facts or just having fun and making them up makes for better writing. I can see myself leaning toward research being better for writing, but at this moment, I don’t feel I can claim that.*

Go ahead, discuss. How much fiction is too much?

-Renee

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About Renee

I'm a self-published author searching for her place in the publishing industry. I seek out inspiration through yoga and the world around me to transcribe into my writing. I work retail in the daytime and escape into my writing at night.
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6 Responses to The Importance Of Getting Your Facts Straight

  1. Sara says:

    I’m not the researching type, but I’m trying to get better about it. You can’t write steampunk without a LITTLE historical accuracy thrown in there, but I was letting characters run around dressed as plague doctors (18th century) and brandishing flintlocks (17th century) in a genre primarily cribbing from late 19th century history! *facepalm* I’m taking some creative license because I can’t help myself, but folks really should research more than I do. *facepalm*

    • Sara says:

      Er… ignore that second *facepalm*. I must be tired today.

      • Renee says:

        Haha, no problem. Yeah, I can see how at some point, you need to do some fact checking. Maybe if it was set in a completely different world (like a different planet or a fantasy world) in the 18th century, you could get away with mixing your historical facts.

  2. David Welsh says:

    The fiction, especially as it relates to history and geography, should be reserved for you story and characters. Whenever the setting veers from known history, then it’s going to stick out and become a distraction.

    It’s only important to get the major points though. For example, most readers won’t know that a plague doctor is out of place, especially if they look cool. The people who call you out on that stuff are just jerks.

    Saying that the bubonic plague itself was tearing through the 19th century could be a problem though, unless you were working it into the story.

    • Renee says:

      Yeah, true. I wasn’t being nearly accurate enough when there was some travel between England and Turkey going on in my novel, and I want to go back and fix that if I do a second printing at some point.

      On your point to make sure at least the major points are accurate, I’m sure even small things could bother readers, specifically if they had a large background in the field. But that audience would be smaller than the general audience you’re going for. Though, if you intend to only reach out to the smaller audience, then checking all of your facts would be the smart thing to do. So on that point, I think it’s important to decide what audience you’re intending to reach out to and work from there.

  3. Hi Renee, thanks for the follow :-). I write historical fiction too. I did 6 months of just straight research and notetaking before I began writing Sword of Mordrey. I needed to know exactly what the era of medieval history was all about before I could begin to dream up the plot, and who the major political players were at the time the story is set in…1099 – 1101. I had to stop and do a day of research here and there as I wrote the first draft, which took me 9 months. For the last year I have been rewriting and polishing the novel, but I haven’t had to go back and correct any of the ‘facts’ so I think the time taken to get the research straight is well worth the effort. Knowing what we are writing about facilitates the flow, and saves an enormous amount to wasted time afterward – not to mention being able to thumb our noses at those folks who think they know more about the periods we are writing about than we do. Perhaps the ultimate satisfaction :-)

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