Fact in fiction

Just because the characters and the story have come from your imagination, there is still a place for fact in fiction. Getting that right is key – and is also just one of a number of things that your editor will be checking.

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Let’s begin with time. Novels set in the real world also have a time. That could be hundreds, or even thousands, of years ago, right up to the present time. The timing of your novel is important to consider. It’s no good suggesting that your character answers their mobile phone when you’ve quite clearly set your story in the 1950s!

This is a rather extreme example and one, I doubt, many authors would actually make. However, there are more subtle things. You wouldn’t take off from Heathrow Airport in 1955 (it wasn’t called that until 1966) and you wouldn’t hear Cliff Richard’s Summer Holiday song either (it was released in 1963).

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Going further back into history, you have to be aware of what technology was used and what cultural references could be used. You might have characters running around 1400s Paris but it’s no good referring to Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa as it wasn’t pained until 1503.

Which brings us to place.

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Fictional places are all well and good and, perhaps, stop people from being distracted by geographical inaccuracies. Having said that, being able to identify with a place is strong there is a strong argument for setting stories in real places.

Recently, I read Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London and found I could follow the story perfectly as the places I knew were described perfectly. It meant I could focus my imagination on character and plot; the setting was already in my memory.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As an editor, I need to check whether that road you’ve said takes you from London to Norwich really is the A4 (it’s not, it’s the A12). I need to check that the river actually flows through the town and if that mountain really is as tall as you say it is.

Facts of history and facts of place are big facts and easy to check, both for the editor and for the author. But there’s also other, smaller facts, that are just as important to get right.

Characters frequently end up in hospital. This can be a real minefield for writers and editors! Is that really the right procedure for that diagnosis? Is that the right medication for that disease?

As for crime procedural … I’ll leave that to a specialist crime editor!

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But we’re talking about fiction, why do these facts matter?

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As with any writing, it’s important for the message to be as smooth as possible for the reader. Anything that makes the reader pause, think and say “that’s not right”, stops them from being immersed in the world you have created.

And someone will know. Someone will remember that Heathrow wasn’t called Heathrow then, that Summer Holiday wasn’t out or that it’s not the A4 to Norwich. And that stops them from enjoying your story for a beat. And that’s all it takes to pull them out of the fantasy and into the real world.

That’s why, as an editor, I have to check your facts as well as your spelling, hyphenation, grammar, punctuation, consistency …

It’s important.

That’s why hiring an editor for your novel is crucial. If you’re traditionally publishing, your publisher will ensure that all the processes are covered. But if you’re self-publishing, you need to copy those systems, replicating as closely as possible the professional interventions that take place in a publishing house.

If you’d like to find out more about how I can support your writing, making it factually accurate and free from other distractions, please get in touch. I am now offering free Google Hangout calls to discuss your needs!

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Published by Nick Taylor | Editor & Proofreader

Fiction editor and proofreader.

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