Note: This blog was first published in Carolyn Wilker’s e-newsletter: FineTuned.
When I began writing fiction, I discovered myriad methods of handling details, from charts and graphs to worksheets and templates.
But does accuracy really matter in fiction?
Accuracy includes not only details of setting and history, which are significant, but also character and plot development, which are more important, in my opinion. Inaccuracies put the author’s integrity in question. Having said that, there are limits.
Cristina Hartmann states in “Authenticity in Fiction: It’s Not About Accuracy,” that “if you’re reading a story for the factual accuracy, you’re in the wrong aisle of the bookstore.” She suggests that small flaws in accuracy that don’t affect plot or character don’t matter all that much.
Hartmann goes on to say, “a work must be accurate enough to create a believable world that allows readers to suspend their disbelief.” Whatever world we introduce to our readers, we are responsible to maintain consistency, and to avoid mistakes that make them stumble.
If we step into a stream of unsubstantiated facts, we might reconsider our direction. Moira Allen suggests in “Does Accuracy Matter in Fiction? – Part I” that “when it comes to research, if you don’t know and you can’t find out, it’s probably better not to write about it at all.”
In my experience, I’ve had to make educated guesses as to the validity of particular research. If several sources suggest varying perspectives of a historical character’s motivation, for example, I must weigh the facts and decide on the most probable scenario. A matter of opinion is just that and cannot be proven.
There will always be readers who know more about our topic or setting than we do. We should acknowledge correction with grace and carry on, or fear of imperfection can cripple our writing.
Does accuracy in fiction really matter? Yes…but not to the point of stalling our creativity. If we commit to do our best, that will be what matters most.