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Welcome to my blog! This is my journey, my first steps into the world of fictional writing. This blog is an online journal of sorts, where I share the progress of my work as well as what I have learned along the way. I hope you enjoy your time with me and that my experience may be of some use to you.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Checking your Facts!


Welcome Back!

As we have seen in my previous posts, there are many different types of details that writers can use to tell their story. It is the author's job to control this flow of information in order to pull readers deeper into the narrative. However, the quality of this information also has an impact on how it will affect readers.


In this post, we will see the importance of checking facts and references. This post is of particular importance to me at this moment, as fact checking is playing a major role in the creation of my main character. My protagonist happens to be an immortal, therefore I am having to look up historical events, figures and locations, going as far back as Ancient Egypt. It is proving to be a challenge, so learning how to properly check for mistakes became a priority.


Using the right tool for the job.


There are many details that can add authenticity to a story, but using the wrong or erroneous information will break immersion for the audience. If the details being used don’t match the time and place of your story, this will create a contrast which will be obvious to some readers, pulling them right out of the fiction. Elements to avoid contrasting with are the setting, the timeline and the characters. Here are a few easy examples of contrast to avoid:
  • A caveman lighting a fire with matches.
  • An eskimo chasing a kangaroo.
  • Caesar discussing art with Picasso.
  • An astronaut using a flamethrower in space.


As writers, we carefully choose our words when creating the narrative. This level of attention also needs to be taken to the crafting of details. It is a good idea to research facts before including them in your story. The purpose of double checking details such as social practices, available products, level of technology or slang of a setting is to avoid making mistakes which would hurt the narrative. Examples would be looking up historical records when writing about past events, or interviewing people who do jobs you plan on talking about. Be sure to respect the source material, unless you are making a point of not doing so (like a “what if” story).


When building our story, every detail should help answer questions or support facts about the when and where of the narrative. The following is a list of common areas to verify in order to confirm their accuracy and how they would affect your characters or story.


Timeline:
  • Historical Events: Verify the dates and locations of any historical events mentioned in the narrative for consistency. Search for any historical events taking place in the setting that was not mentioned in order to avoid conflict. Verify how these events have an impact (or not) on your story.
  • Historical Figures: Verify the dates of birth and death of any historical figures mentioned in the narrative for consistency. Search for the locations visited and contributions made by these historical figures in order to avoid conflict or misquoting them. Verify how these figures have an impact (or not) on your story.
  • Time tracking: Verify that the method of tracking time in the narrative is consistent with how time was tracked in the setting or by the characters. Check to confirm if your character would have access to these sources.
  • Holidays: Verify that the celebration of holidays mentioned in the narrative are relevant and consistent with the time and location of the setting, or if they are practiced by the characters. Research the various traditions and practices of these holidays.


Setting:
  • Present Fauna: Verify that the animals mentioned in the story are native to the time and location of the setting. If not (for narrative reasons), confirm if they could survive under the settings conditions. See what animals are present in the setting at the time of the narrative. If captive or domesticated, research how these animals would react.
  • Present Flora: Verify that the vegetation mentioned in the story is native to the time and location of the setting. If not (for narrative reasons), confirm if they could survive under the settings conditions. See what vegetation is present in the setting at the time of the narrative. Research where and when (i.e. season, location) these plants, flowers, or other vegetations grow. If cultivated, research what tools and methods are required to do so.
  • Available Resources: Verify that the resources mentioned in the story are available at the time and location of the setting. Research building materials (i.e. masonry, carpentry, iron works, fabrics, plastics, etc), and how they are made. Confirm if your character would have access to these materials.
  • Weather: Verify that the weather conditions mentioned in the story are possible in the time and location of the setting. If not (for narrative reasons), research how they would manifest themselves and how they would affect the setting and your characters.
  • Natural Disaster: Verify the dates and locations of any natural disasters mentioned in the narrative for consistency. Search for any natural disasters taking place in the setting that was not mentioned in order to avoid conflict. Research how these events would manifest themselves and how they would affect the setting and your characters.


Characters:
  • Language: For consistency, verify that the language mentioned was in use during the dates and locations in the narrative. If slang or jargon is mentioned, research how it was used and if it is relevant to the narrative in order to avoid conflict. Verify how the language has an impact (or not) on your story.
  • Social Classes: Verify that the social classes mentioned in the story are relevant to the time and location of the setting. Research how social classes can affect a character in their actions and responses. See how these classes have an impact (or not) on your story.
  • Education: Verify that the level of education mentioned in the story is available in the time and location of the setting. If not (for narrative reasons), verify if the information could exist elsewhere in the setting and how it may be obtained. Research different forms of education, and how the level of education can affect a character in their actions and responses.
  • Beliefs: Verify that the religious elements mentioned in the narrative are relevant and consistent with the time and location of the setting, or if they are practiced by the characters. Research how different religious backgrounds can affect a character in their actions and responses. See how religious beliefs have an impact (or not) on your story.


Science:
  • Technology: Verify the dates of discovery of any technology mentioned in the narrative for consistency, and if it was present in the setting. If not (for narrative reasons), verify if the technology could exist elsewhere in the setting and how it may be obtained. Search for the requirements or the abilities of this technology in order to avoid conflict. See how this technology has an impact (or not) on your story, and if your character would have access to it.
  • Communication: Verify that the level of communication used in the story is available in the time and location of the setting. Research different forms of communication (phone, radio, satellite, smoke signals, etc), how they function and where they are available. Verify how these methods of communication have an impact (or not) on your story, and if your character would have access to them.
  • Travel: Verify that the level of travel mentioned in the story is available in the time and location of the setting. If not (for narrative reasons), verify if the method could exist elsewhere in the setting and how it may be obtained. Research different forms of travel (i.e. planes, trains, automobiles, etc), how they function and where they are available. Verify how these methods of travel have an impact (or not) on your story. Confirm if your character would have access to the mentioned form of travel, or if it is logical they know how it operates.
  • Products: Verify that the products mentioned in the story are available in the time and location of the setting. Research different products (i.e. food, weapons, toys, storage, alcohol, tools, beauty products, books, etc), how and where they are made. Verify if your character would have access to these products or know how to use them.


Society:
  • Government: Verify that the form of government mentioned in the narrative is relevant and consistent with the time and location of the setting. Check how different forms of government (i.e. Democracy, Monarchy, Dictatorship, Democratic, etc) can affect a character in their actions and responses. Research the justice systems and political views each type of government enforces. See how the government (or lack thereof) has an impact (or not) on your story.
  • Entertainment: Verify that the forms of entertainment mentioned in the narrative are relevant and consistent with the time and location of the setting, or if the characters participate in them. Research how different forms of entertainment (i.e. theater, gambling, TV, Sports, etc) can affect a character in their actions and responses. Verify how entertainment (or lack thereof) has an impact (or not) on your story.
  • News Transmission: Verify that the forms of News transmissions mentioned in the narrative are relevant and consistent with the time and location of the setting. Research how different forms of News (i.e. TV, Newspapers, Radio, Internet, etc) can affect a character in their actions and responses. Verify how the News (or lack thereof) has an impact (or not) on your story. Check to see if your character would have access to these sources.
  • Country: Verify that the country mentioned in the narrative was present and in power at the time of the setting. Research its political situation at the time of the narrative, who its allies were and where were its boundaries. Verify how this country has an impact (or not) on your story.


Another important fact to keep in mind is knowledge; not that of the reader, but that of the writer. In order to remain true to the narrative, the author must approach facts from the point of view of the story, not from their own. If the narrator of a story is a mechanic, then the author will need to brush up their knowledge of car repair, or else their descriptions of car repairs will be unconvincing to the audience.


I hope this list will prove to be useful in your future editing process as much as it will be in mine. Checking facts is important in order to make convincing fiction, because if the information you used turns out to be erroneous or unconvincing, then your reader will be distracted and will lose interest.


Until next time.


Cheers,

Patrick osborne