Those Pesky Details

Getting facts straight in a story isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it.

This time I’m not sharing a tidbit I’ve learned, but just ranting.

As John Adams said, “Facts are stubborn things.” I agree.

Granted in SF/F, we ask our readers to suspend disbelief. It might be to accept faster-than-light travel, time portals, flying dragons, or magic, but we ask it and readers grant it to be drawn into a new world, a new story. But that suspension of disbelief should not carry over into every-day reality. A blaze in a fireplace will only last a few hours (tops – and I’m being generous!) without needing logs thrown on it. A writer shouldn’t ask me to believe that the fireplace has been banked to last three days – unless perhaps magic is involved.

One author put a disclaimer in the front of one book of a series, stating something to the effect that if she states in one book it takes three days by horse to get from city A to city B, and in another book that one can walk the distance in half a day, who cares? It’s only a story.

But to me, little things like this are important. And I think they are to most readers. If this weren’t true, why do so many research lists and forums exist where writers ask questions to get details right? And why do so many fans get their knickers in a twist when they catch inconsistencies or scientific facts that aren’t right: “Hey, helium doesn’t explode – hydrogen does!”

This brings me to my dilemma and rant.

I am a stickler for reality being followed where it possibly can. And some facts have gotten in the way of my story. I’m considering various solutions to this, but it’s put my series of stories on hold until I have a satisfactory answer. Grrr! *bangs head on keyboard*

So I have no advice to share from my own school-of-hard-knocks-writing this time, just my opinion that despite the royal pain in the neck it can cause when facts obstruct your story, work through it, don’t dismiss it. Save your suspension of belief for those times it has to be used.

originally published in The Sword Review 2005-10-21

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