Thursday, October 4, 2012

Facts Are Overrated

How much creative license do you take with the facts to make everything fit into your story? Do you adjust facts to fit the story or adjust the story to fit the facts?

“Facts? Facts? You don’t need no stinkin’ facts!”

That’s a direct quote from one of my early writing instructors, Mark Twain (or was it Ernest Hemingway?). I took his advice to heart and never let facts get in the way of a good story (or blog post).

I write fiction. Which, by definition, is “made-up stuff.”

So I do my best to make stuff up. Now, I try to stay within the laws of physics and try to keep the space-time continuum intact, but I figure if I can make something fit logically into the world I’ve created, then I’ve done my job.

I do strive for verisimilitude (I love that word—go ahead, look it up if you need to, I’ll wait). I want my story to seem real and believable. When I write a scene, I want to paint a vivid picture, and to do that, I will use facts and salient details in the same way a chef uses seasoning. To make the rest of the story edible. To give depth and flavor to the story. And verisimilitude.

Looking back on what I’ve written over the years, I don’t think I’ve “adjusted” facts to fit my stories, but I have used facts as starting points for my flights of embellishment.

On the other hand, if my story doesn’t fit irrefutable facts, I’ll change my story, mostly because I don’t want to get a hundred emails from readers who might get ticked off if I play too loose with reality (What do you mean? There’s no Metro in Baltimore!).


And here’s a fact: I’m at Bouchercon! If you see me milling about the lobby or wandering aimlessly around the hotel, please stop and say hi! If you’re in the mood for an entertaining (I hope!) panel, try this one:

Date/Time: Saturday, from 1:30 p.m. - 2:20 p.m.
Subject: Writing snappy dialog that keeps a reader turning pages
Panelists: Me, Michael Sears, Kira Peikoff, David Freed, Gail Lukasik, and Jessie Chandler


Meredith Cole said...

Wish I could go to your panel at Bouchercon, Alan--a discussion about snappy dialogue is sure to be very witty and entertaining!

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Have fun at B'Con!