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!

1 comment:

  1. So true! Readers will come back with inaccuracies and that is not fun. Well said E.D.