Using Facts in Fiction – an Author’s Perspective

I recently re-edited my third novel in The Last Prophet series, and one of the interesting comments the editor made at the end of the book addressed what she phrased as a “well-known phrase in fiction” – it is the author’s job to suspend disbelief. The editor further cited K.M. Weiland’s quote, “Readers open a book with the understanding that everything to follow is fake. But they also open that book with the understanding that the author is going to do [her] darnedest to make part of the reader’s brain believe it’s true. Enter suspension of disbelief.” I have a tremendous respect for editors because I know their job is never an easy one. But I respect readers even more because they have entrusted themselves into my care for the brief moments they choose to read my book. This editor noted a comment that was posted about Weiland’s remark stating, “When the facts are wrong, I feel led astray.”

After reading Weiland’s quote and the posted comment, I had to sit back and reflect on how I use facts in my fiction writing. Over the last year, I have received no less than one comment a week on my Facebook Author’s Page for The Last Prophet book series from people who look only at the title of the series and not the content. Some of these comments were very critical stating that I should not be writing about anymore prophets because the last one was already named in a certain sect of religion. I very calmly and tactfully reply back to the commenter that what I have written is a work of fiction and used for the purpose of entertaining. However, the content of my writing does have quite a bit of research and facts woven into the story. I take K.M. Weiland’s words very seriously, and I do listen to my readers.

As an avid reader myself, I do not appreciate when an author presents erroneous information in his or her book that is common knowledge (e.g., looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, but author says it’s an ostrich?). When writing about factual pieces in my books, I carefully research and interview others to find perspective and to make sure I do not lead my readers astray. Since this last round of edits on the book, I am even more cautious about what I include in my books, how I present myself and my work to my readers (especially on social media), and carefully consider how my facts can either add or subtract from my readers’ experiences with the stories. Overall, I want my readers to come away from my books feeling a sense of being taken on a journey of discovery… with the characters, with the story, and how it all relates to their own lives. Rather than taking readers on a wild ride that leads them nowhere, I want readers to walk away feeling more enlightened while indulging in a world different from their own.

If you are a fellow author – What role do facts play in your work (WIP or completed)?

If you are a reader – Have you found more facts about unknown subjects in your fiction reading or in other forms of information (e.g., print media, internet research, television/radio, etc.)?

Post your comments in the space provided.

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