Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Just the Facts, Ma'am

I love reading, especially fiction and political biographies.

One of my personal rules when it comes to biographies, I try to read at least two on a given subject because even the best writers are subjective and that leads to different sets of "facts." Some of the information in a book is flat out incorrect, but sometimes you can't tell that until you read multiple works, but mostly it is a matter of what is revealed versus what isn't revealed. For example, my favorite president is Theodore Roosevelt and I've read at least 20 books on his life. I've read authors who have TR as a near diety; I've read authors who think he is the antichrist. The facts themselves aren't wrong, but the authors are sharing their perceptions of the facts.

But there are some things that are unforgivable. Like the time I began reading an anthology on First Ladies and the author stated that Jackie Kennedy was our youngest first lady. That's flat out incorrect and after that, I had no trust in the author and I tossed aside the book. (Actually, I banished the book from my house.)

Fact, or lack there of, in fiction is my real peeve. My book discussion group thinks that I'm too anal about it, but honestly, the smaller the issue, the more it bothers me. For example, the novel I'm reading right now has a character who is on the evening news. The story itself takes place near Chicago, in Central Time. So when the character says something about watching her broadcast, which is over by 11:03 pm, I paused. Now, I live on the east coast (as does the book's author), but every time I've been to Chicago or in Central Time, the evening news came on at 10 pm, following the network shows. Unless that changed since the last time I was in the midwest, that's an easy little fact that somebody could have caught -- enough of a fact issue that it made me pause and go "huh?" I hate that in novels.

I recently read a book that was written by a famous, prolific novelist, a book group read. The book takes place, in part, in my town and mostly in areas that I'm fairly familiar with. I'd be willing to let go the liberties she took with my town -- we'll just call it poetic license. But the errors piled up as the book progressed, to the point that this author has been totally discredited in my eyes.

My book group didn't have issues with the facts in the book, saying it was just fiction. Maybe it was the way I was taught in my writing classes, but I feel that fiction has to work harder to make sure even the smallest details in the book are correct because the point is to make readers want to buy into your story and be transformed into these other lives.

What do you think?


writingprincess said...

Hip Hip Hooray for the sticklers! I totally agree with you. Even in fiction you have to be authentic. The best fiction writers are like historians, they're great researchers. Why do you think people love Charles Dickens? His stories were made up but the characters, the people were real. I think its lazy writing not to pay attention to detail. So here's to all the anal retentive readers out there. :)

Nola said...

Totally agree. Our book group recently read a book where one of the characters was (apparently) trying to commit suicide by stuffing his shirt into the exhaust pipe of a running car. That doesn't work.