Facts Make Fiction Come Alive

Not long ago I was considering purchasing a novel from the Amazon Kindle store. The setting was Alaska, and I love novels that take place in the last frontier. As is normal for me I always read the sample pages offered. The novel has to grab me, for lack of a better term, in the first few pages. More than just grab me, any novel I choose to read, even though it is fiction, must also have a realistic tilt. I’m a stickler on facts. Especially flora, fauna, and geography. If a writer says a mountain is there, I expect the mountain to actually be there. This is what makes fiction come alive. Facts and realistic characters and plot.

In the aforementioned example of the novel I was considering for my Kindle, right away in the sample I read a glaring discrepancy. The author was describing a log cabin that was built from cedar trees in the surrounding forest. Except for one thing, there are no native cedar trees in that part of Alaska. Log cabins that are built of native trees in that part of Alaska are spruce. There isn’t a native cedar growing any closer than several hundred miles away. Obviously the author hadn’t done her research. Somehow, this took something away from the story, so I didn’t purchase the novel.

Then I started wondering if the author had actually visited the locale. Or even visited Alaska. In my opinion, an author, in order to have powerful and effective prose, must have physically visited, and researched the area they are writing about. The famous Louis L’Amour once said if he wrote about a spring in the desert, that spring was really there.

I concur.

I get the exceptions to this rule when writing certain genres such as fantasy or sci-fi. I once wrote a novel that was a figment of an older man’s overactive imagination. I acknowledge the exceptions.

I’m talking about the high majority of novels in all genres that take place in actual physical locales, with realistic plots and characters.

I once read a novel where the author wrote a scene about a character flying a light airplane. It was obvious this author didn’t know much about how a light airplane works. Which is okay. I don’t expect writer’s to be pilots in order to write flying scenes.

But the scene still should be fairly accurate. IMO. Perhaps an author could take a demo flight at a local flight school. Or stop and talk to a flight instructor. I’ve yet to meet an instructor who wasn’t willing to talk and answer basic questions about airplane operations. Especially to an author. At least watch a couple YouTube videos about a new student taking a flight lesson.

It may sound like I’m nitpicking. Perhaps I am. Still, for me, and I believe many readers, realism makes fiction come alive. Makes fiction plausible. Makes the story a page turner that a reader like me gets lost in. Like a movie going off in front of my eyes.

Just my opinion as both a writer and most of all, a reader.

Dennis Pence