Monday, April 8, 2013

Fact or Fiction?

“Readers suspend reality when they read works of fiction.” Nonsense!

Some people think writing fiction means the writer can conjure up any old notion, and the reader will blindly accept it. I’m sorry, but that is just not true.

I used to enjoy Superman comic books when I was a kid, never questioning how he breathed while in space or deep under the sea. Old cowboy movies showed shoot-outs where one guy’s “six-shooter” fired an endless string of bullets without reloading.

Why didn’t this lack of realism ruin the stories for me?

Andre Norton wrote a wonderful sci-fi story called Galactic Derelict. It’s one of my all time favorite books. Travis Fox, a young Apache Indian, wanders into a top secret government technology race between competing American and Russian scientists. Swept back in time to the recovery site of an alien spaceship, Travis hides inside the vessel and is transported back to the future. A technician inside the vessel accidentally triggers a homing navigational program. The alien ship takes off, but is twenty thousand years past its real space time. Travis and the technician experience numerous hostile environments as the ship stops in strange worlds across the galaxy. Former advanced civilizations that created the space ship have long since devolved into sub-intelligent species living among ruins of ancient technology.

Her story is wildly exciting as Travis relies on his Indian skills and sharp senses inherited from his genetic lineage to deal with strange new animals. Throughout the tale, the technician works to get them home while Travis explores and hunts with the reader at his side. It is a wonderful juxtaposition between advanced technology and primitive culture.

Suspend reality? Sure, that's part of fantasy. How did the alien space vessel cross vast distances when physics tells us nothing can exceed the speed of light? Don’t know. I don’t care. What was the scientific foundation for the time transportation? Again, I don’t need to know. There are lots of areas where the reader MUST suspend reality to enjoy this story.

So, what about this story kept my interest?

Facts, not fiction, made this story compelling to me. The Apache Indian used skills and knowledge unique to his heritage to survive. The author did her homework. Travis Fox came across as real . . . as believable. The technician deconstructed the alien ship’s control systems using familiar technical and scientific principles. Again, I could believe this character. And, the interaction between the men ranged from friendship to frustration, yet, mutual respect never waivered. While the setting was fantasy, the characters were real.

I just wrote a western-romance <with a secret subset> story. Of course, the plot is fictional, but I studied Native American lore and real history of the old west in the 1870’s to make sure my plot is completely believable. Old photos of the region provided me amazing descriptive detail. History research surprised me with accountings of a small gold rush that happened shortly before my story’s setting. I even studied classic Mexican weaving designs so my written accounts of old blankets in the story come across real.

It is true, readers must suppress reality to some extent when they read fiction. But, they also need realism to make characters and settings come alive. That’s why research is so important in fiction. Facts make fiction real!


  1. Enjoyed this. When I was researching DC of the 1920s, reading four months of newspapers from the summer to autumn months, two things shocked me: how much it had grown from a sleepy town (40 times as large), and how completely different America was. I recommend if one is to undertake the task of writing historic fiction or fact, they imbue themselves in the best sources and delve into what and how it felt to be alive during that period

    1. I agree. Facts used in any style of fiction enhance believability, even in such pure fantasy-based genres as sci-fi and paranormal.

      Thank you for your compliment...Dean

  2. You're right on target with your post, Dean. At least as I see it.

    And, a writer has to be consisten with the 'facts' they made up in their fictional story, too. Sometimes keeping that straight is more challenging than keeping history and events in the real world straight. Can't can't google search what you made up to verify.

    1. Terry,

      Your accurate descriptions of Stuka dive bombers in a fantasy story made the tale that much more believable. Flank Hawk (Terry's awesome fantasy story) is an excellent example of blending fact with fiction to create a story that is easy for a reader to enjoy.

      Thank you for your comment...Dean.

      FLANK HAWK by Terry Ervin, II


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