Saturday, August 1, 2020

Fiction, facts, and the virus... by Liz Flaherty #WindowOverthSink

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood... Yeah, I'm singing and I really shouldn't, but it was raining when I came out to the office this morning. Coming straight down and darkening the shades of green that come to Indiana with August.

About writing. And the virus. And fiction. And real life. And facts.

I'm glad I write fiction as opposed to true-life, because fiction is negotiable. It's pliable and you can be assured of a happy ending. Although you're led by the characters you write, in the end the pen is still in your hand.

Another thing about writing fiction is that one of its primary rules is that you check your facts before you put them on paper. If you're going to mention someone having six heart bypasses (which I did), you need to make sure it's a possibility. If your hero in 1865 is going to be singing "Little Brown Jug," he needs to reconsider--it hasn't been written yet. If you're writing about the Revolution, don't use the word mesmerize--no one did until 1829.

There's more than one reason to be careful with facts in fiction. One is that you can be sued for defamation. Another is that many readers believe if something's in print, it must be true. (You can mess with that statement a lot. If it's on Facebook...if it's in the National Enquirer...if it's on YouTube...or my own choice--if it's in People...)

Unfortunately, there are too many pens in too many hands in the virus, aren't there? Too many "if it's in..." quotations.

Another facet of writing fiction is characterization. The better you are at it, the better your stories are. If you have a bad guy, you need to make sure he's not all bad, or the reader can't sympathize with him. If you have a hero and/or a heroine, you need to give them flaws so that the reader can be him or her. (I'm always relieved when a heroine has bad hair and some extra pounds.)

All fiction stories have an arc that shows the growth of the story's protagonists from start to finish. Of course, the arc more often looks like a roller coaster, because it swoops up and down and goes in loops and occasionally goes completely off the rails, but, when you're coming down that last screaming drop, it's still an arc. The thing to do is not quit in the middle or there you'll be. Just hanging there, not sure whether to believe YouTube or science, this doctor or that one, a Facebook meme or a journalist.

We can't quit in the middle--I still have grandkids to watch grow up so that I can take the credit for what fine people they are, don't you? We need to continue to search out the truth, to do our best to take care of others (whether we like them or not, no matter who they voted for), and to be really careful of what sources we quote from. I love People. It's probably my favorite "social media," but it doesn't pretend to be science. I love YouTube, too--it's where I listen to music. (And sing along, although, like I said above, I really shouldn't.)

But if I quit reading in the middle, before I've looked at other sources and weighed them out, I shouldn't quote anything I've seen. I can't do that as a fiction writer; I most certainly should not when it comes to true-life.

Have a great week. Stay safe. Be nice to somebody.


  1. Lovely blog. As a former journalism student from decades ago, we had to have four independent sources to back up a statement. Now, most journalists and students go with one. Which often means they are quoting someone who is unqualified and may have an axe to grind. As a retired teacher, I wouldn't let students use Wikipedia as a source because anyone can write the entries and often amend others without any actual factual data. This was demonstrated to me by one of my students who often inserted Ericka was here in several Wikipedia entries. Years later, I come across an entry with her name inserted. LOL

    1. It's hard to explain the importance of "getting it right," but you've done a great job, Morgan. Thank you!

  2. Keep singing, whether you should or not:) A fun blog.