Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Writing Tip: Get Your Facts Right

With fiction, you want to absorb the reader into the dream, which is the setting, characters, and plot of your story. You never want them to pull out of that dream, and nothing will pull them out faster than reading something that they know is not true. It not only pulls them out of the story, but it undermines their trust that the author knows what the hell they are doing.

I started reading a novel the other night, and twenty pages into the story the protagonist flies to Bangkok, Thailand, a destination I’ve been many, many times over the past dozen years. I got excited because I love Thailand, and wanted to read this author’s interpretation of that setting.

The author described the protagonist muddling through customs, and then going outside and being smacked in the face with a wall of humid heat. I chuckled because that is so true any time of year.

Then the author described the protagonist seeing a line of tuk tuks waiting at the curb to take passengers into the city. I pulled out of the story and said, “No way!” There are hoards of tuk tuks in Bangkok, but one never, never, sees them at Suvarnabhumi airport, only taxis. That’s because it is a forty-five minute drive on an elevated highway into Bangkok, and tuk tuks never go on the highways, only surface streets. I shook my head, knowing this author had never flown into Suvarnabhumi airport.

Still, I continued reading. The author described the protagonist being taken to a hotel in Silom, the gay district. Then he described the tuk tuk driver pulling the protagonist’s suitcase out of the luggage compartment behind the passenger seat. “NO WAY!” I said again. Tuk tuks don’t have a luggage compartment, or a trunk, or anything other than a bench that customers sit on. The only thing behind the passenager seat is a license plate.

At that point I knew two things: 1. This author had never been anywhere near Thailand, and 2. The author didn’t take the time to do his/her homework.

So twenty-five pages into a three hundred page story, I threw the book in the trash, where it belonged. If the author couldn’t be bothered to do research, I couldn’t be bothered to read his novel. I was not about to get pulled out of the story every other page with more untruths.

So, take the time to research. Always know more than your reader does.

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