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WriterInChains
06-10-2007, 11:09 AM
I've been wondering about something for a long time, & thought I'd pose the question here so everyone can chime in.

What do you-all think (as writers & as readers) if a story set in the real world takes license with facts?

For example: an author (can't remember his name, sorry!) was criticized a while ago because -- The Ramones didn't play a concert in such-and-so town on whatever-date-he-chose [?!]. Or if a building in your hometown appeared in a story set in 1990, but wasn't actually built until 1999?



BTW, Mac was nice enough to change my handle today -- in case it's not obvious, it's caren1701.

scottVee
06-10-2007, 11:19 AM
If it's fiction, it's fiction. You could even say it's an "alternate history" where the Ramones DID play that gig on that day.

Complaining is the national pastime - good luck writing something nobody will complain about. Just tell your story.

Cassie
06-10-2007, 11:51 AM
If it's fiction, it's fiction. You could even say it's an "alternate history" where the Ramones DID play that gig on that day.

Complaining is the national pastime - good luck writing something nobody will complain about. Just tell your story.

I agree: Fiction is fiction, and you should feel free to create your own current reality. Don't we all, in many ways?

Some will complain. But, if filmmakers like Michael Moore can sell their own versions of current events (and claim it's "fiction"), why can't writers?
;)

Anne Lyle
06-10-2007, 12:45 PM
I think if it's important to the story (e.g. your character is a Ramones fan and finally achieves his ambition to see them play live) and minor enough not to be reality-breaking, then it's fine. If we weren't prepared to make things up, there'd be no fiction at all!

WriterInChains
06-10-2007, 12:54 PM
Thanks! This is exactly what I thought, but when I asked a couple of industry professionals at last year's WW con they both said, basically: readers will tear you a new one if you do that.

I wish I could find the book w/the Ramones concert -- maybe that's all they could find to complain about? :)


In case anyone was wondering, I haven't changed my ms based on this question -- it is fiction, after all, & it's nothing that resolves the plot or anything pivotal like that. Was just wondering what everyone else thought. :)

Stijn Hommes
06-10-2007, 03:59 PM
First thing I'd ask is if there's a good reason to do it. With the building, why take a building that wasn't built yet if you can make one up altogether? Same goes for an entire town.

lkp
06-10-2007, 04:10 PM
I'll be a dissenting voice here. Maybe it shouldn't make a difference. It *is* fiction and you do control the world and if you want to say the Ramones played there then, no one can stop you.
But if any of your readers discover a slip like that, it will throw them out of the story for a moment. Do you want that? What if your prospective agent grew up in that town where the building or, or your prospective editor is a massive Ramones fan? I remember Miss Snark in her crapometer ripping into someone's query hook because of mistakes about Portland. It can be just another reason someone will say "no."

Puma
06-10-2007, 04:21 PM
In historical fiction accuracy is critical and even though you aren't writing historical you are writing things that could be considered historical. I agree with Stijn - make up a fictitious town and building. Readers do tend to check things like that. Puma

Pagey's_Girl
06-10-2007, 05:57 PM
If you want the date to coincide with an event and it doesn't (or you're not sure,) make up a town/place. People do pick up on those things, and it won't make a good impression on your reader if you don't do your homework.

But then again, I am a Ramones fan, so yeah, I would have picked up on that one, big time.

Shady Lane
06-10-2007, 06:44 PM
I've plunked a college in the middle of the town next to me, that without a doubt does not have room for a college.

I don't care. It's my book. I'll do what I want. And how many people are really going to be concerned with the actual geography of this city? (Not very many.)

Azure Skye
06-10-2007, 07:37 PM
If you want the date to coincide with an event and it doesn't (or you're not sure,) make up a town/place. People do pick up on those things, and it won't make a good impression on your reader if you don't do your homework.

But then again, I am a Ramones fan, so yeah, I would have picked up on that one, big time.

As another Ramones fan, I would have picked up on that as well. Hanging out on a certain bands message board, I can tell you that the purists out there will care.

rugcat
06-10-2007, 07:49 PM
I agree: Fiction is fiction, and you should feel free to create your own current reality. Don't we all, in many ways?
There's a difference between making things up and getting things wrong. You can make up a mythical bar, restaurant, etc., and locate it anywhere you like. You can make up an entire city if you want.

But if you take a well known bar or restaurant and decide on a whim to move it to a different street, I think you've got problems. If your character has a meal in San Francisco at Chez Panisse, which is in Berkeley, someone's going to notice and ask WTF?

Jamesaritchie
06-10-2007, 07:56 PM
I think lazy writers get blasted, and they should. Of course you can take liberties in fiction, but when an actual historic event happened at such and such a time, laziness is the only reason not to portray it this way. When a building wasn't built until 1999, laziness is the only reason to say it existed in 1990.

It's your book, and you can do what you want. But agents, editors, and reader can also say what they want to about it, and they will.

Many things can be made up, but facts remain facts, and these need to be correct.

FennelGiraffe
06-10-2007, 08:04 PM
If it really is an important plot point, you stick a note at the beginning that explains you've altered the factual Ramones concert schedule to accommodate fictional needs.

Otherwise, any reader with the knowledge to catch something like that will probably have a book-meets-wall moment. Of course, you can't spend 20 years doing research for one novel, either. Sometimes you have to accept that a small number of experts are going to know you're wrong. There's only one question: How esoteric does the detail have to be before the number of experts is small enough to not matter?

No, I'm sorry, there's a second question as well: How likely is it that one of those experts will mention your lack of research in a venue which reaches other potential readers?

Plot Device
06-10-2007, 08:26 PM
I see nothing wrong with the Ramones being made to play a fictional concert. But I would find it kinda stupid if the Ramones were made to play a fictional concert during a year when the Ramones weren't even a band (either before they formed or after they broke up). So dates are more my schtick.

But that's just me. So there are instances of license that I don't care about, and others that will set me off. As I said, I'm very touchy about messed up dates or historical anachronisms. Your example of the building appearing in 1990 vs. 1999 is a good example of my intolerance for that. In fact, read on:

Another example of an anachronism that gets my goat: The Sean Astin film Rudy was shot in 1993. Yet it took place in the late-1960's and early 1970's. One scene showed him sitting in the Greyhound bus station with his dad, waiting for his bus to take him to college (this scene was supposed to take place in 1970 or 1971), and behind them a wall mural of famous American landmarks inside the Greyhound station included the World Trade Center. But the World Trade Center wasn't finished until 1973. So that mural couldn't have been possible. (Actually, it COULD have been possible, but not very likely). I get picky about stuff like that. I guess you can't please everyone.

I'm wondering if some writer or editor somewhere has written out a set of official guidelines for allowed instances of license and the not-allowed kind.

Gigi Sahi
06-10-2007, 08:33 PM
The novel I'm currently working on makes reference to Barney. Y'know, the big purple dinousaur? One of my betas called me on that because Barney wasn't created till two years later. I felt really embarrassed; a little research would've saved face. But I'd rather hear it from him than hear it from an editor or agent in the form of a rejection slip. Needless to say, Barney's outta there!

Plot Device
06-10-2007, 08:42 PM
If it really is an important plot point, you stick a note at the beginning that explains you've altered the factual Ramones concert schedule to accommodate fictional needs.


I think that's a good move. It's honest and diplomatic and shows a respect for the general principles of accuracy. (And every last Ramones fan will buy a copy of the book and stick it in their collection. :D)

The end of the film Gosford Park (a work of utter fiction which took place in an English country manor in 1931) includes a LONG written-out disclaimer scrolling on the screen at the end of the credits concerning a real person who is depicted in the film. Specifially, the real life singer/songwriter/actor/movie producer Ivor Novello (played in the film by Jeremy Northam). They had to declare in that disclaimer that the real life Ivor Novello most likely never stayed at the English country manor house called Gosford Park, and yet "for dramatic purposes" the producers incorporated him into the plot.

Plot Device
06-10-2007, 08:44 PM
The novel I'm currently working on makes reference to Barney. Y'know, the big purple dinousaur? One of my betas called me on that because Barney wasn't created till two years later. I felt really embarrassed; a little research would've saved face. But I'd rather hear it from him than hear it from an editor or agent in the form of a rejection slip. Needless to say, Barney's outta there!


Yeah. Dates are a bigger issue for me than anything else I think.

Plot Device
06-10-2007, 08:47 PM
I've plunked a college in the middle of the town next to me, that without a doubt does not have room for a college.

I don't care. It's my book. I'll do what I want. And how many people are really going to be concerned with the actual geography of this city? (Not very many.)


I think the TV show Law & Order constantly incorporates a fictitious college called Hudson University.

::EDIT::

Just checked Wiki:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hudson_University

Not only does Law & Order make frequent use of that make-believe college, so does DC Comics.

Lisamer
06-10-2007, 09:35 PM
As a former New Yorker, I can tell you that the addresses in Law and Order are indeed fictitious. ;)

In my own contemporary novel, the Red Sox win the World Series. I could not mess with that year, even if I wanted to. On the other hand, here in Summit County Colorado, there is a Russian Orthodox priest who dances on the sidewalk in the town of Silverthorne. For the purpose of my novel, I moved him to the neighboring town of Frisco. I don't think anyone, with the exception of Summit County residents, would get too bent out of shape.

My guess is that if you are talking about a group that would have a big fan base, such as a baseball team or a rock group, you might want to stay close to reality, but otherwise, you're okay.

WriterInChains
06-10-2007, 10:24 PM
Thanks for your responses. I didn't expect to get so many! :)

My ms that prompted this question a year ago has enough elements that push the boundaries of normal reality that having the Portland Central Library renovation finished a few years early probably wouldn't be an issue. The one I'm getting ready to edit had me thinking about it again. It's firmly rooted in the possible. I'll probably change Portland's name & take all the license I want, just to be safe. That's what I did for the small town I used to live in, that's also a setting for the novel (but that was motived by my self-preservation instinct - if it's ever published, I'll need deniability). Portland has a big fan base too, and most of them know a lot more about it than I do (only living here for 17years) -- those are NOT people I want to tick off, some of them are my friends. :)

Tish Davidson
06-10-2007, 10:26 PM
Anything that takes you out of the story is bad. If a person identifies something set in a real place or time that is wrong (like the Chez Panisse example above) it will shake them out of the grip of the story and start them thinking about your error rather than the plot.

Ali B
06-10-2007, 10:29 PM
I say go for it. Unless the reader is a Ramones freak he won't notice. If your reader puts down a book to go look up that little fact then you are doing something else wrong.

Fingers
06-10-2007, 10:30 PM
I guess this is one reason why Im not a writer. As a reader I have never, ever gone online to check the facts of any book Ive read whether its fiction, non fiction or what have you. I read books to be entertained. Nothing more, nothing less. If the story is entertaining me then I dont really care about the facts. Thats just me though. In my mind if someone reads something in a fiction book and then runs to verify the 'facts' in it then whats the use in reading the book at all? This is not to gainsay any of the advice given in this thread because there are some very intelligent people in here who know a lot more about writing than I ever will its just my opinion.

yer pal Brian

zahra
06-11-2007, 12:08 AM
In Stephen King's short story, 'Crouch End', the young police constable calls his older, but equally ranked colleague 'Sir', yet speaks to the Sergeant, his superior in a completely inappropriate, rude way, as does the older man. It always irks me and makes me wonder if SK is confused about police ranking in the UK, and yes, it pulls me out of the story.

WriterInChains
06-11-2007, 01:02 AM
Anything that takes you out of the story is bad. If a person identifies something set in a real place or time that is wrong (like the Chez Panisse example above) it will shake them out of the grip of the story and start them thinking about your error rather than the plot.

This reminds me of another question I often ponder while reading book reviews (okay, while procrastinating):

In your mind as a reader/writer/both, do errors made by characters count as author-errors?

Example: If, in 1st-person POV/dialogue, a character said they went to Chez Panisse in SF because they mis-remembered or are otherwise unreliable, would you hold it against the author? Would you see it as laziness, or as character development?

(Yes, I write mostly in 1st, but I've seen this rant in reviews of bestselling novels.)

Plot Device
06-11-2007, 01:10 AM
I say it's an author error. Unless it's plot-critical for the character to make an error (in information, in facts, etc) then it's the writer just making a goof.

To suggest otherwise is to attribute a level of neo-autonomous "aliveness" to the characters that I personally don't subscribe to.

Pagey's_Girl
06-11-2007, 01:13 AM
In that case, no. There's a difference (at least to me) between the character relating the story and not remembering the details quite right than if it's presented in third-person and the author isn't getting the details right. The first one becomes part of the character, the second can, unfortunately, come across as sloppy researching.

chartreuse
06-12-2007, 05:02 AM
There's a difference between making things up and getting things wrong. You can make up a mythical bar, restaurant, etc., and locate it anywhere you like. You can make up an entire city if you want.

But if you take a well known bar or restaurant and decide on a whim to move it to a different street, I think you've got problems. If your character has a meal in San Francisco at Chez Panisse, which is in Berkeley, someone's going to notice and ask WTF?

Hmmm...In both of the novels I'm working on, I have taken a well-known rock club (which was my home away from home for many years) and described it in detail, but changed the name. The two novels have nothing to do with each other whatsoever, but as it happens both had scenes that took place in a nightclub, and it was sort of my own little tip of the hat to this particular place to describe it in enough detail that anyone familiar with the Portland scene (at least of the 80's and 90's) would recognize it.

I can't imagine anyone having a problem with it...but I guess you never know.

Steven Howard
06-13-2007, 03:26 AM
To illustrate a point, I'm going to ask a rhetorical question and then, to save time, answer it myself: Why would you put real people and places into a work of fiction in the first place? Verisimilitude. You make your fictional people and places feel a little bit more real by placing them in a context of reality. When you get something wrong, either through ignorance or a deliberate decision to "fudge" the facts to fit your story, it has the exact opposite effect, at least for those readers who are familiar with the subject matter in question. It makes your story feel less real, not more.

Taking myself as an example, I'm willing to forgive small errors of the sort we're talking about here, as long as they don't affect the plot of the story, but I do notice them. On the other hand, I really like it when the author gets the little things right. Setting a scene in a local (and non-famous) restaurant or bar that I've been to, for example.

Going back to the example of the Ramones concert. Even if only one reader in a thousand would know whether you looked it up or made it up, would you rather have that reader think, "Wait a minute. The Ramones never played here in '87" or, "Hey, I was at that show"? One response pulls the reader out of the story, the other pulls them in.