Quick Thoughts: Accuracy in Fiction

Ice Wash

How Important Is Real World/Historical Accuracy in Fiction

I guess the answer to this question should be simple—if the work is fiction then real world/historical accuracy should not matter. But for me, as a writer, this area has often disturbed me. I want to create a fictional world but certain things and subjects, such as royalty, culture, and environments have stumped me and made me feel that the story won’t be believable or that it won’t be taken seriously if I do not research and try to be somewhat accurate.

For example, in one of my stories that I have written, the characters are of royal descent. But I know little about royal titles and roles, so as I wrote the story, I made things up. Through reading the story back I felt, from a reader’s point of view, that it would be nice to know about the titles and roles that are within a royal life. So I felt I had to do research.

Another example is having characters of a certain cultural or ethnic background. In another story some of my characters are of Italian descent, although their background doesn’t have much to do with the plot of the story or how they react to situations—it is there mainly to introduce and describe them. I often wondered if it is even necessary to add information such as that if it will mean nothing in the story.

One last example is environment. In the current story I am writing, I created a fictional environment but I placed its location somewhere in the Middle East. Now that can change as I revise the story, but unless I do some research, I feel I would have to remove the Middle East and just make up an unknown and nonexistent land in order to make the environment believable.

These things and more make me think closely about accuracy  in fiction. From the books I have read, when I see descriptions of environment, culture/ethnicity, and titles, there has been research, even if simple, done to give the reader a sense of understanding of the plot that often can bring the story and character to life. As I think about it, research for accuracy does not have to be extensive, especially if the story is fictional and the plot is focused on other things than what is being researched, but it shouldn’t be completely ignored.

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7 Comments

  1. Yeah, I’m finishing up a novel set in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I did a pain…staking…. amount of research into history, culture, dialect, current events and issues, etc. Months and months of reading, watching movies and documentaries, daily reading of local newspapers and blogs, reading books by local authors…. It was grueling, but I wanted to make sure I was fair and accurate as an outsider who may or may not have the right to write this. I just kept thinking to myself, if someone from Belfast stumbled upon my novel, what would they think? Would they be horribly offended? Also, what am I teaching my readers about this place they’ve never been and know little–if anything–about? I actually did contemplate changing it to a mythical setting lol. So while the actual events in the story aren’t the focus (it’s the relationships between characters), all of them are based on actual historical events and written based on eye witness accounts. I started to feel more like a journalist at times! Now as I’m finishing it up and getting input and positive feedback from readers from the UK and Belfast, I’m really feeling all that work was worth it. I also feel much more confident in possibly sending it out into the wide world. Those are my thoughts on it, for what it’s worth 🙂

    Reply
    • barn7777

       /  May 6, 2014

      Thank you so much for sharing sjoycarlson! That has been my dilemma with being accurate in fiction. I think in cases where you are writing about a historical figure, landmark, even environment and culture, it is essential to do research because you are presenting something of reality to an audience that may not know otherwise. One thing I wouldn’t want to do in my stories is misrepresent or lead readers astray. I think it is easier when you are writing about something that is purely fictional to not do research–after all, it doesn’t exist so there is no research to do. But when it does exist, even if it does not hold a big or significant part of the story, research should be done. Of course, you can always have disclaimers if you want things to not represent themselves as they really are.

      Reply
      • Truth. Though for me it’s hard inventing fictional settings, too, so I think I’m just set to do lots of work either way lol. Oh the joy of writing 😛

      • barn7777

         /  May 6, 2014

        I understand what you are saying. Although it may be more work to do research, it is rewarding because you learn and in some cases experience so much in the process! It can be a gift in itself 🙂

      • Indeed!

  2. Accuracy is important, but in the end it is just a story 🙂 I think any glaring things should be accurate, and any obvious points. Research is important and can add a great deal of depth to a story, but if people wanted to know intimate details about royal titles, etc, then they can pick up a non-fiction book about it! 😀

    Reply
  3. barn7777

     /  May 7, 2014

    Harliqueen you prove a good point as well. Sometimes my dilemma on this issue comes from over thinking or over analyzing things too much. As a writer, what may be important in regards to accuracy in fiction is how accurate you want to be with the subject of interest and how important that subject is in reality. But sometimes the fun in writing is setting your imagination free and creating a completely new world or idea to something that exists in real life!

    Reply

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