Remember to Fact Check Story Details!

Everyone loves a story told with rich details. Even I say that a story has to be 80-90% factual to be believable. The other 10-20% gives room for "fiction", or the made up part.

But lately I've been thrown out of stories by physical details not in line with reality. They were innocent, but made the reader blink. In baseball terms, they would be counted as errors--which means they were avoidable.

Go the Right Direction

For example: I read a book set in Seattle, where I live. In a moment of hurry, the hero and heroine travel from Gas Works park area to Queen Anne hill. So they backtrack to Eastlake and go around Lake Washington. Uh, wrong!

My art studio is just up the steps from Gas Works park, and I regularly have emergencies for my mother-in-law that require me to drive to her assisted care facility in Queen Anne. The fastest route is to cut through Freemont neighborhood and loop up to the Aurora Ave Bridge, which is also Washington State Route 99. Her book's route and my route go in opposite directions around the lake.

The point is that the moment I read this weird route, I broke out of the book. After that, all details about Seattle were suspect to me. And I caught a couple more errors. But they were all avoidable. Either because the detail was unnecessary (we didn't really need to know the route they took to Queen Anne) or there exist plenty of resources to verify such facts. Better yet: a few beta readers in the locale where the book was written might have caught the blunders.

Anyone who's lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and watched The Graduate can attest to the fact that Dustin Hoffman's character drives the wrong way across the Bay Bridge. The lanes on top of the bridge go INTO San Francisco. The lanes on bottom level of the bridge go OUT of the city.
Now go watch the movie and try not to get thrown out of the story by that error. Heck, they should have had him go across the Golden Gate, where both lanes are on top, and had a more colorful visual shot! Of course, that would have been the longest route to the East Bay. Maybe not...

Take Classes, Interview Experts, Visit Your Locale

Frankly, I'm in the same boat with my book set in New York. My visits to that great city are old, useless, and my travel is mostly for family right now, so I'm not able to go test my book routes.
So I use a lot of maps, guide books, travel blogs and Google Maps street images to verify details.

If I'm not sure of a fact, I either skim the detail or write around it. Or I just delete it when the information isn't really necessary. I also watch documentary footage at times for scenery or visceral details and ask folks who live there for confirmation.

And then there's the kind of details that require more advance fact checking, like police procedures, weapons usage or general physics of an action scene. I've take classes with different law enforcement agencies and read about their world a lot! But the best source I've found for such details is the CrimeSceneWriters group on Yahoo. Or I go interview an expert. Either way, I feel safer knowing I've done what I can to fact check my story with people who know better than I do.

Apply Editing Tips & Tricks

Remember, when editing details, ask yourself:

1. Is this detail absolutely necessary to add color to the scene/character or believability to the story?
2. If in doubt of the detail, can you find a definitive verification of its accuracy?
3. Do you know an expert in that area who can help you get the info right?
4. Can you delete the detail and use some other known/accurate detail?

Good luck, my little devils, and keep writing!

Secrets of the Smirking Editor

Welcome, Eilis Flynn, who's here to give her insight into how editors think and operate based on her years of vast, colorful experience working as both an author AND an editor.

She's also arranged a sponsorship from Grammarly for her post and is offering a $15 Amazon gift card for one lucky person who comments on this post (see details below). Take it away, Eilis...

“I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because we all need to have our work checked!”

Unnecessary Introduction

When I was laid off from my job as an editor and Editor Devil Christine Fairchild kindly offered me a slot for a blog post so I could tell her readers about my editing history, I thanked her and said I would come up with something. And the months went by, and I kept starting and stopping on what I wanted to write. My own fiction writing I could tell you all about; I’m used to shilling my fiction. The part of my life that’s paid the bills for more than thirty years? I was struck dumb. For a few seconds.

Well, it was longer than that (a number of months, I’m embarrassed to say), but I finally remembered that I was giving a presentation at the end of October about editing. Hey, I should get started on that, I said to myself. If nothing else, jot down at least some random notes about editing, and why editors can sometimes be caught smirking. That I can do, I decided. The contents will change as the time grows closer for the workshop, but the intent will remain the same.

Secrets Behind the Smirking

On occasion you’ll notice editors smirking a little. You may ask yourself why. Are they making fun of you or your work? Are they thinking of cruel things to do to their clients’ work? No, not at all (as far as I know; at least that’s not why I smirk). Here’s my theory on why other editors may smirk: they know you’re scared of grammar.

At least some people are. There’s no good reason for it (being frightened, that is, not grammar. No, we NEED grammar, as you’ll see). I think it’s more likely there’s a tiny little bit of childhood in us that doesn’t want to be made fun of if we get something wrong. Everybody has that fear in them, for something or other; for some people it may be a horsey laugh they have, or a funny way they run through no fault of their own, or a tendency to mispronounce certain words (“Schenectady” and “Cinderella” were mine). Editors face that fear every single day and do battle with it. Sometimes it beats us, but more often than not, we triumph! So that could explain the smirk you may see on our faces. We not only meet our fear, but we know we have the means by which to overcome it!

On the other hand, that smirk may be there because while we hold the means by which to give your work a makeover, we know you do too. But because you allow your fear to get the better of you, you may hypercorrect (editors have been known to smirk when they read statements like “There’s nothing between Oliver and I,” because they know the author of that sentence isn’t clear about when to use “I” and “me”). Editors will tell you things like that can rip them, and the reader, away from the story. You have the power to keep the reader focused on your tale by making sure the grammar, the method by which your story is built, remains in the background. If your reader gets jarred out of your wonderful story by clunky grammar, you may never get him or her back into the groove, and the experience of reading your story goes down the drain.

Believe it or don’t, grammar comes naturally to us. It’s how we learn to think; it’s how we communicate. Without grammar, essentially, we devolve into beasts—and even wild beasts have it easier than we do at that point, because they know how to communicate without grammar. Our problem as humans is our fear of being laughed at re: grammar. Grammar should come as easily as breathing or as telling a story. It’s only when we doubt our instincts that we have difficulty deciding what’s right.

Favorite Quote About Grammar

Finally, I have a quotation from a book titled Genie: A Scientific Tragedy that I’ve always had taped up in my office. I’ve kept it in mind through the years whenever someone complains about grammar:

“...[W]e are physically formed by the influence of language. An essential part of our personal physical development is conferred on us by others, and comes in at the ear. The organization of our brain is as genetically ordained and as automatic as breathing, but, like breathing, it is initiated by the slap of a midwife, and the midwife is grammar.”

To Think Clearly, Know Your Grammar

You need grammar to think clearly. So the next time you find your thinking in a muddle...well, think grammar. And that’s why editors can be seen to be smirking: you think you need us to make sure your thoughts are clear, but the secret is, you don’t. You could do it all on your own. And that’s our secret.

And the grammar website Grammarly has kindly offered to sponsor this post, so if you leave a comment, your name will be thrown into the running to win a $15 Amazon gift card! So comment away! (Remember, the best clever/funny reason for using Grammarly each month wins a $100 Amazon gift card!)

Before we go there, though, it’s time for the commercial:
Check out for editing services and pricing.
My latest book as Eilis Flynn, cowritten with Heather Hiestand, is the steampunk vampire historical fantasy, Wear Black:

To find other books by Eilis Flynn, see her Amazon Author page.

About Elizabeth

Elizabeth Flynn worked in Wall Street and Wall Street-related firms for almost 35 years, so why should she write anything that’s any more based in reality? Published in a number of genres (fiction and nonfiction), she writes fiction as Eilis Flynn and lives in Seattle with her patient husband and the ghosts of her spoiled rotten cats. She can be reached at, at Facebook, and at Twitter. She can be reached at As Elizabeth Flynn, she’s taking editing clients, so drop her a line at or