Get your facts straight in your fiction



We must convince readers that the “real facts” are true so they will believe the “fake facts” we present in our novels. You've got to get the facts straight in fiction if you expect readers to believe your lies.

As writers, we must strive for verisimilitude. (Repeat after me: vera suh MILL uh tood. I learned that from Charlie Sweet and Hal Blythe.) That’s a fifty-dollar word meaning: “The appearance of being true or real.” 

We must convince readers that the “real facts” are true so they will believe the “fake facts” we present in our novels. You've got to get the facts straight in fiction if you expect readers to believe your lies.

Like the damned hit man who screws a silencer onto a revolver.

The gasses [hence the noises] escape through the cylinder, not the barrel.

Putting a silencer on a revolver is like putting a rubber on a banana. 

It looks interesting but does nothing at all.

If you have a character walking south on 61st Street in Manhattan, where all numbered streets run east and west, you can be sure someone will let you know.

When we authors make a mistake in research, when our facts aren't correct, our readers may lose their willing suspension of disbelief and never get it back. They may stop reading. They say, “If he can’t get the damned gun right, how do I know anything else is true?”

The relationship between a reader and a writer is one of trust. Readers trust you to help them suspend their natural disbelief so they can enjoy your book. They want to enjoy your book. They want to believe you. However, anything you do to remind them that this story is really not true will jolt them back to reality and it can be enough to make them stop reading.

No matter how arcane or narrow the subject about which you're writing, there’s going to be someone, somewhere, who knows all about the subject.

In fact, it’s not what you don’t know that hurts you. It’s what you think you know. Because you think you know it, you don’t bother to check it out.

I use three basic forms of research: online fact-checks, talking to experts, and taking photos of real places and things.

I wait to do the majority of my research until I've written my first rough draft because then I can tell what it is I need to know. In other words, I only research what I need to know to start writing the book, then I wait and do the rest of the research after I have finished the secret draft.

A friend of mine spent his afternoons researching police procedure because he was writing a mystery. I suggested he begin writing the book, then research what he finds out he actually needs to know.

In other words, don't study The History of Clothing Removal to write about a stripper. Don't spend weeks pouring over everything you can find about police procedure in North America just because you're going to have one scene in your book featuring a police officer. You’re better off talking to a police officer once you figure out what you need to know.

Another primary research tool which I depend on while trying to get my facts straight is photographs of my settings. 

As the late Robert Ludlum once told me, “When I decide where the settings of my book are going to be, I travel to the locations and I'll come back with all these crazy pictures I've taken, and they help me keep the details, the feelings of the locations.”

Of course, if your books are set in Paris or in the 18th century, you'll have to do a Google search for images. But you can still take shots of small details like costumes and such.

When I launched the Veronica Slate series of mystery novels, I took photos of all my locations.

I took nearly 100 pictures of the Don CeSar Resort Hotel where much of the action of Extreme Close-Up takes place.

All of my books were set in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. Obviously, this makes it easier for me to select and see in person the settings for my stories.

But the important factor here is photographing the settings and using those photos effectively. The purpose of the photographs is to capture things you'll use in your book so that you can recall exactly how they appear when you're back home in front of the laptop or tablet.

However, and this is important, once you have gained the info, you must avoid the trap of using all of it.

Don't tell readers more than they want to know. In other words, don't use the information just because you have it.

You do not describe a setting in exact detail in your book. You use only the telling details which give readers the opportunity to fill in the rest of the scene. It’s better for you to know too much in order to write just a little bit. At least the little bit will be accurate and accuracy is important in fiction. If you only have a little bit of information, you tend to use everything you've got whether it’s important or not. When you have lots of information, you can be selective and choose just the best most telling details and your work will improve.

In fact, when they were painting the cover for Kill Cue, my editor actually asked me to email the photos I had used for Veronica. The cover artist then used them to design the cover. I also cut photos out of magazines that look like my characters as I visualize them.

While beginning Father Figure, I collected more than 100 pictures of Sharon Stone, the model for my protagonist, Kate Mandolin.

Experiment to see what works best for you, but remember that readers expects accuracy and will often stop reading if your facts are not straight.

Get your facts straight in your fiction and readers will suspend disbelief and enjoy reading your book.

If you thought writing fiction was going to be easy, and all you had to do was just sit around and make up things, welcome to the Real World of Writing Novels; where facts are important so that readers believe your lies.

----- (From NOVEL SECRETS available in paperback and Kindle form.)




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