Thursday, August 2, 2012

Accuracy in Fiction


By Randy Rawls

        Now, that's a headline that might have you thinking ol' Randy has lost touch with reality. After all, the first definition of fiction in my Random House Webster Unabridged dictionary is: 1. the class of literature comprising works of imaginative narration, esp. in prose form. So, if it's imagination, what's with the accuracy bit?

        Well, I love history—don't claim to know as much as I should (or could), but I enjoy the parts I have studied. High in my interest is the history of our country, pre and post-Revolutionary War—and that includes its possessions and territories.

        Fortunately, we live in an age when research of our country's history is as easy as hitting a few keys. So, I'm amazed when an author makes a glaring historical error in a book—an error that plays a large part in the story. Then, I am doubly amazed when I consider that the manuscript went through an agent to a publisher, through the publisher's editing process, and made it onto the bookshelf. Yet, it happens—all too often.

        I recently started a story that drove this point home to me again. Since I don't want to get sued, I'll change a few particulars as I whine about it.

        Let's say the book opens in 1830 in New Mexico. An immediate problem. The area we now call New Mexico was a part of Mexico in 1830, and New Mexico, even New Mexico Territory, did not exist. Continued: a person is accused of violating U.S. law by importing an illegal substance. Problem. It's Mexico, so U.S. law is not in play. Furthermore, there is a reference to Russian spies and several other facts I'm now doubting. A few paragraphs later, I'm well into "Huh?", the book goes flying, and the author has lost a potential fan. To add insult to injury, these facts occurred in the first few pages.

        The writing (or the bit I read) was tight, seemed to open an interesting story, and the dialogue was believable. So why didn't the author take a few minutes and make the historical aspects of the story accurate? And why didn't someone in the chain catch his flagrant errors and demand he fix them?

        Beats me, but I refuse to read a book where an author is as lazy (or whatever) as this one.

        How about you?


Morgan Mandel said...

Too, true. Readers do not want to be reminded that what they're reading isn't really real. The better you are at world building and drawing them into a story, the better you are as an author.

Morgan Mandel

Earl Staggs said...

Absolutely right on, Randy. Any writer with common sense and even a little experience should know better.