How accurate does an author need to be when writing fiction? I found a variety of opinions on the topic. Most agree that a work of fiction is exactly that—not meant to be factual. One definition of the word explains that fiction “is a pretense that does not represent actuality but has been invented.” With that description, need I say more?
However, many writers argue an author of fiction needs to be at least correct in setting or in technology or about the era in which they write. I do as much research as I can before I weave a story, but even the most carefully-researched novel can contain factual errors. If you weren’t in the thick of the battle, or haven’t participated in the latest high-tech gadgetry, or have never set foot on a submarine, you are at a disadvantage compared to those who have or did. No amount of research can take the place of first-hand experiences.
One problem arises when intelligent, educated, well-read individuals take what they read in a novel as fact. And if they catch you in a fabrication, they may put your book down and never read anything you write again. The controversy that surrounded Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, proves that many “educated” individuals were offended by the concepts he presented in that work. Brown’s statement in the beginning of his book that claimed some of what he wrote was fact might have added to the chaos, but the book was fiction.
Another issue develops because information that someone may have considered accurate years ago may now prove obsolete. Evidence continues to break on the horizon, and our fast-paced, sci-fi, mechanistic society waits for no one. Getting our hands on the most accurate research is difficult, at best.
So how can a fiction writer satisfy the fact lover’s appetite and still retain license to create the story they want to spin? I say it’s a war we are almost certain to fail. But should we fret about it? A more accurate detail will always lurk around the corner or surface the day after your novel hits the bookstore shelves. Just check the essentials the best you can, stay true to your own accuracy-meter, and type like mad. But the most important element is to use your imagination. After all, you’re writing fiction, and I dare anyone to dispute that fact.