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WHY DO YOU HAVE TO BE TECHNICALLY ACCURATE WITH YOUR FICTION?

March 13, 2019

Technical accuracy is a question that’s come up often in conversations with other writers. Most recently, my friend David brought it up, and I want to thank him for the inspiration to write this article. Along with his questions plus a recent thread on one of the forums I follow, I found it a great inspiration.

There were several points David brought up about technical accuracy, but the one I especially want to address was the glaring difference between movies and books.

Why?

To use a well-worn cliché, why isn’t the goose always good for the gander?

WHY DOES ACCURACY MATTER IN BOOKS AND NOT ON TV OR MOVIES?

This has been the key, burning question a lot of writers ask. Some assume, while others question. Movies and TV are so often bad at accuracy that it’s taken for granted they’re going to be inaccurate. At least to most people. That’s a big caveat.

There ARE some people that, unfortunately, believe what they see, hook line and sinker, to quote another well-worn cliché.

As PT Barnum used to say, “there’s a sucker born every minute.”

Even visual media that uses the standard “based on true events” or “inspired by true events” qualification starts with that old tongue-in-cheek qualifier “based” or “inspired.” That gives the creators free license to veer from actual facts for “dramatic purposes.”

In other words, what it means to you, the consumer is: don’t believe what you see and hear coming out of your screen.

The solution?

Read about it, research for yourself. Find out the truth, if you so desire.

Uh oh! What did I just say?

READ.

READING VERSUS THE VISUAL MEDIA

When it comes to reading versus the visual arts, there’s a certain inherent truthfulness expected, even from fiction.

Yes, that’s what I said.

Even from fiction.

While we’re not writing history books when we write fiction, what we’re doing is suspending believability. We’re taking reality and altering it a bit to make it believable.

That means we’re taking the real world and altering it a little bit to make it a good story.

The thing is, we’re also taking on the inherent task that what we use from the real world has a certain expectation of reality in it.

In other words, when someone reads about real stuff within our fiction, there’s the assumption that it’s been researched and is accurate. It’s an aftereffect of non-fiction.

While it’s a somewhat distortion of reality, story-wise, the setting is reality-based.

Visual media gets its reality on the visual aspect, not on the story itself. The producers and writers ignore reality in the story and rely on visual to create what reality they have. Their reality is less real because all they’re concerned with is getting people in their seats. It’s a more immediate medium. Books need to draw people in because it’s more of an intellectual pursuit. People are smarter, take their time to read, and tend to be more educated. They’re more likely to spot egregious and even small errors in detail that would go unnoticed in visual media. Besides, once again, we go back to creative license with visual media.

HOW DOES THIS APPLY TO FANTASY?

For those of you that write fantasy, where everything is based on your own made-up world, it’s a matter of you following your own rules.

If a reader is going to take the time to sit down and read your book, they’re also more than likely to have a memory. That means if you create a rule, you’d better stick with it. This is something I’ve stressed over and over again in world-building. It’s fine to create something technically improbable in the real world. However, if you do, you’d better stick with it or sharp readers, readers with memories, are going to remember it, and you’re going to lose credibility. This is the same as not doing your research.

The same goes for any kind of fantasy that uses real-world things such as swordplay or weapons. If you use them, either do the research on real-world use, or find a way to negate the real-world effects and stick with it, so you don’t get called on it.

In the movies when the hero shoots a six-shooter thirty times at the bad guy, people don’t usually call the producers on it because what’s the point? Nobody’s going to care except a few people on reviews. If others love the movie, it’ll just go down to a few Negative Nellies. However, if you have a sword fight in your fantasy and nobody gets tired (unless some form of magick negates this), you’re going to get called on it by a lot more people and you’re going to get slammed for credibility. Your reviews are going to more than likely plummet no matter how good the story is. Just look at your Amazon numbers and wonder why your big star rating is sitting at three instead of four or five.

Reader ratings mean a lot more than watcher ratings.

SUMMARY

Technical accuracy in your writing is key to getting and keeping an audience.

You can only do your best.

For what you miss, you can always put the standard “Any errors are the fault of the author” statement on your thank you page. Some do, some don’t. Nobody’s perfect. Just try to ensure that you don’t have a LOT of errors and they’re not egregious.

Happy writing!

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