Monday, January 5, 2015

Accuracy and Realism In Fiction

Although the term fiction means it is made-up, authors in all genres need to insure their stories are as close to a realistic world as possible. It is sometimes easy to slip on the authenticity of the material you put into the story simply because you are so focused on getting those characters through the plot and some of those details slip by. Unfortunately, far too many of your readers are going over your stories with a precision we all wish we had. To add to this, they aren't that forgiving either.

Let me give you a quick example of this that happened just last week. I was prepping a small session for our church on Christianity in artwork. I had the Powerpoint just flying and things were looking really great until my wife leaned over my shoulder and pointed out a "small" flaw in one of the facts I had included dealing with burial practices in the 1st through 3rd century. Ouch. Fortunately though, we caught it in the nick of time.

Some of the more obvious mistakes you have to look for will show up in sub-genres such as historical, medical, and the criminal stories. For each of these, if you are not a specialist in the area, in other words, you hold a degree in that field, you might want to really work on those research skills. You cannot simply work out of a "general source book" or websites such as wikipedia. While the information might be close to what you need, you really have to go to the specialty sites that you can find on search engines such as Google Scholar.

If you are writing medical romances and stories, these have to be amazingly accurate. You have to remember that TV shows such as Grey's Anatomy even have specialists working with all of the writers and actors to make sure the material is great. Even Big Bang Theory have scientists making sure that Sheldon and his colleagues are not making horrific mistakes.

These are not the only places where that accuracy has to take place. Even basic plot issues will come back and haunt you. I was recently editing one of my client's stories and she had done some cutting and pasting in an earlier version of the manuscript. This is obviously something a lot of authors do. Unfortunately, when she did the cut and paste, it shifted a bit of the plot sequencing around. Suddenly the hero was asking for her hand in marriage AFTER he had already done it in an earlier chapter. Woops!

Time sequences are really some of the biggest mistakes. These are situations where the character leaves one location and then mysteriously is across town just minutes later, Apparently the time to drive was not factored in! Another mistake is when we see characters start something at one point in the day and then are dealing with dinner or the skies have simply gotten darker. Woops! missed that one too!

One of my other client's had an issue where she had a character that had made an appearance in an earlier book, and then showed up in a book 3. It was amazing, but his eye color shifted between book 1 and book 3.

Now while some of these points might not seem that significant, (and really for the most part they aren't) your readers WILL pick up on those mistakes. Even here on the blog, I honestly don't know how many times I have had someone respond back catching a single typo. In some cases, people completely become obsessive over something like this. Yes, it is important, but some days... Anyway, it is for this reason you need to do several things:

  • Know your strengths and weaknesses. 
  • Use reliable and credible sources for your research
  • Edit, edit, edit
  • Keep track of small details and facts.
  • Cross reference each of your details as you write.
You will find you will be much happier in the long run, and your readers will really love you for it!

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