Author Topic: The Importance of Fact Checking  (Read 2209 times)

bardsandsages

The Importance of Fact Checking
« on: February 07, 2019, 12:03:53 AM »
I am in the process of editing a novel for one of my authors. The good news is that the difficult things like pacing, character development, world building, and mood are all on point. So, YEAH! No major revisions.

But the facts, man, the facts...

Yes, fiction is about making stuff up. But in order for readers to suspend belief, particularly with spec fiction, you can't do things that are obviously, hilariously wrong that are going to make people go "Uh, WAHHHHH?"

Lines like:

"It was tracked back to somewhere in South America. Possibly Mexico City."

Now unless there is a Mexico City somewhere in Brazil that I don't know about, well...

If your professional psychologist is talking about hypnotherapy, that person should be using the language of a psychologist, not a pot-head hippie. Particularly when talking to a professional peer about a patient's professional treatment.

The thing is, when the obvious things are wrong, it makes it hard for the reader to accept the things that are "made up" for the story. If I keep getting tripped up over obvious errant facts, it is as bad as getting tripped up over constant bad grammar or messy formatting. It distracts from the story.

Which means even if you THINK your facts are right, you should confirm them anyway. Most people don't have personal experience talking with psychologists, and may just be mimicking what they saw on a TV show. So many read a few articles on hypnotherapy in academic journals to get a feel for the jargon. If you are going to reference a specific place, double check to make sure you are remembering it correctly. Heck, I do this ALL THE TIME even when I am writing about places in South Jersey where I live, because I sometimes misremember things (Oh, right, that bar is in LAWNSIDE not OAKLYN).
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Maggie Ann

Re: The Importance of Fact Checking
« Reply #1 on: February 07, 2019, 12:28:20 AM »
So agree with you, Julie. A wrong fact can throw me right out of the story. Multiple wrong facts and I have to fight the urge not to throw the book across the room.

I once had a "fact" that everybody who knew that period in history accepted as correct. Just before I wrote that final chapter, I double checked my sources and there had been a recent archeological find that disproved that "fact". The new information had just been released a few months previously, and I used that, but I was careful to add an author's note, citing the article.

You never know what your readers know that could turn them right off you as an author.
           
 
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VanessaC

Re: The Importance of Fact Checking
« Reply #2 on: February 07, 2019, 01:57:50 AM »
I've heard quite a few sci fi / fantasy authors talking about this - readers will completely accept magic, space ships, and "hand wavium" explanations of weird stuff, but if you get some basic fact wrong, there will be complaints.

I've ended up checking a lot of weird stuff for my fantasy novels from "do wolves have whites around their eyes" to "how to put snow chains onto car tyres" to "how much pressure do you need to break a man's neck" (note: no specific individual in mind, purely research!).  For things like that, in the age of Google and YouTube, it's so easy to check.

Of course, I am not saying my books are error-free, but I'd tried to avoid as many howlers as possible.
     

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Bill Hiatt

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Re: The Importance of Fact Checking
« Reply #3 on: February 07, 2019, 02:23:51 AM »
I don't see this as much in books, but as a former teacher, I often wince over how schools are portrayed in TV shows. The most common patterns that irk me are teachers getting fired on the principal's whim, or students getting expelled the same way. In both cases, there are processes involved, and particularly in the case of student expulsions, the offense has to be pretty serious. I guess it doesn't occur to directors that a technical adviser might be helpful in situations like that.

Several of my novels are set in an area where I used to vacation, but I haven't been there in a while. In cases like that, as well as cases in which I'm dealing with a real-world locale I've never been, I use Google Earth. I find a spot as near as possible to the area I'm writing about, go to street view, and virtually walk around for a while. It's amazing how much that helps. Even though I don't use most of the detail I see, I know that what detail I am using is accurate.

Research has also shown me how many misconceptions are common. For instance, our idea of medieval armor is often derived from those suits or armor (full plate mail) which were really used primarily for jousting--they were too heavy for ordinary combat. Similarly, the replica swords you see for sale are often as much as ten times as heavy as the real thing. You hear "thirty-pound sword," and it makes sense because the average man could certainly lift more than thirty pounds. But using a thirty-pound sword in actual combat? The typical warrior's arm is going wear out quickly, and it would be difficult to swing fast enough or high enough to accomplish anything. I didn't know any of that before I started writing.


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LilyBLily

Re: The Importance of Fact Checking
« Reply #4 on: February 07, 2019, 04:53:47 AM »
I recently winced and gave up on a book that claimed the South Side of Chicago in 1940 was a sinkhole of poor people. Well, no, it wasn't. Not then. And don't get me started on that pop song from years ago about the "East Side" of Chicago. The east side is the lake. And longtime residents of Chi-town still call the commuter rail line "the IC" even though it has a new official name.

I pass what my PTSD characters do by a psychologist. Sometimes more than one. The interesting thing is that most of us already know a lot about it; we just might not know how psychologists characterize their clients' behaviors when not writing up a DSM-5-compliant diagnosis for insurance purposes. 

Online research is the bomb. You don't even have to know where to look. You just start looking.
 

spin52

Re: The Importance of Fact Checking
« Reply #5 on: February 07, 2019, 05:21:10 AM »
I have to laugh at that. The east side of Seattle is also a lake, but there the term East Side refers to the wealthy suburbs on the far side of it.
     

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notthatamanda

Re: The Importance of Fact Checking
« Reply #6 on: February 08, 2019, 01:09:06 AM »
I love doing this type of research.  I had to check to see when elevators went from operators to buttons.  People were scared.  They would hop off in a panic before they got trapped inside.  Google is using this history to try to ease the self driven car into the public psyche in a more gentle way.


 

OfficialEthanJ

Re: The Importance of Fact Checking
« Reply #7 on: February 08, 2019, 01:27:14 AM »
And don't get me started on that pop song from years ago about the "East Side" of Chicago. The east side is the lake.

Het hem: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Side,_Chicago

IIRC Ed Vrdolyak represented the East Side back in the "Council Wars" era.
 

dikim

Re: The Importance of Fact Checking
« Reply #8 on: February 08, 2019, 03:36:08 AM »
Research can be huge fun, and there's nothing to beat personal experience. I once had a scene about a ride through a wood that my editor wanted to be more authentic. So I phoned around all the local riding stables, explained what I needed and signed up with the one who managed to come up with a woodland ride for me. It helped me pick up tiny details like the sound of the horses' feet on dry leaves that eventually brought my scene to life.

I find that people are amazingly cooperative when you tell them you're an author researching a book. Some of the best things I've done over the years have been  going backstage at Phantom of the Opera, watching casts put on in a fracture clininc and sitting in on a pilots' briefing for an air  race. Life action role play (larping) is great research for sword and sorcery fantasies. I learned so much about battle tactics fighting fake goblins with a latex sword. It brought terms like "shoulder to shoulder" and "hold the line" to life.


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LilyBLily

Re: The Importance of Fact Checking
« Reply #9 on: February 08, 2019, 04:09:05 AM »
And don't get me started on that pop song from years ago about the "East Side" of Chicago. The east side is the lake.

Het hem: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Side,_Chicago

IIRC Ed Vrdolyak represented the East Side back in the "Council Wars" era.

There is a community with that name, but the geographic east side of Chicago is still the lake. There's a difference between, "I live in East Side" and "I live on the east side." But now I'll have to listen to that song again and decide which it's really talking about. And I don't like that song.  :icon_think:
 

Eclectic Dan

Re: The Importance of Fact Checking
« Reply #10 on: February 08, 2019, 04:32:37 AM »
There is a community with that name, but the geographic east side of Chicago is still the lake. There's a difference between, "I live in East Side" and "I live on the east side."

By that logic, the east side of Illinois is Indiana, the north side is Wisconsin, the east side is split between Iowa and Missouri and the southern side of Illinois is Kentucky and a bit of Missouri, so basically Illinois doesn't actually exist at all.  :icon_think:
     
 

bardsandsages

Re: The Importance of Fact Checking
« Reply #11 on: February 08, 2019, 07:22:39 AM »
By that logic, the east side of Illinois is Indiana, the north side is Wisconsin, the east side is split between Iowa and Missouri and the southern side of Illinois is Kentucky and a bit of Missouri, so basically Illinois doesn't actually exist at all.  :icon_think:

I'm pretty sure Kentucky is everything between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh,,,
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David VanDyke

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Re: The Importance of Fact Checking
« Reply #12 on: February 08, 2019, 09:13:29 AM »
The reason SFF (and most fiction) works is, things don't have to be right.

They just have to be "not wrong."

That's why it's called "suspension of disbelief," not "belief."

I read a book recently (published in the last 5 years) where the author described in detail the former Soviet Embassy in San Francisco at a certain period of time--and it was clear to anyone who knew the building that this guy simply made it all up. Nothing was right about it, yet 5 minutes on Google brought up plenty of info.
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Dennis Chekalov

Re: The Importance of Fact Checking
« Reply #13 on: February 08, 2019, 11:40:00 AM »
I've just finished editing a dystopian thriller, and one of the main messages of the book was uneducated people are easy to manipulate and oppress. It's so true. There's an interesting and thought-provoking (although very toxic) thread in the Asteroid Field about Trump, gun control, etc. And I was shocked, really. If you support Trump, or Clinton, or Gandalf, or Winnie-the-Pooh it's okay. But how can people ignore facts? Let's say, many people claim that Trump is antisemitic. Trump? Antisemitic? He supports Israel in everything. Please, I strongly ask everyone not to start a discussion about politics in this thread. [And you just did it yourself, Dennis, you would say.] However, the low level of education isn't something that came from nowhere. After the USSR was destroyed, the new Minister of Education and Science, Fursenko, said: "The goal of the Soviet system was to raise creators. We don't need creators. Our goal now is to raise consumers." And that's what we have all around us raising consumers.

I know that we are just tiny Hobbits in the grand scheme of things, but I want to believe that we can change something. Every single book, every single message matters in this fight.

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bardsandsages

Re: The Importance of Fact Checking
« Reply #14 on: February 08, 2019, 11:56:10 PM »
I know that we are just tiny Hobbits in the grand scheme of things, but I want to believe that we can change something. Every single book, every single message matters in this fight.

 :clap:

I actually enjoy arguing politics with people who at least have a grasp of the facts. When everyone is using the same information, then it is just a matter of discussing how to handle the situation. But when people don't have an understanding of the FACTS, then you can't find common ground to solve the problem.

And basic facts matter even more in fiction. In the story I am editing, it is a paranormal murder mystery that references a real world cult. In such situations, getting BASIC FACTS WRONG can actually anger readers, because it can look like you are attacking someone's religious beliefs of culture. And when people think you are attacking them, your larger message will get lost in everything else.
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David VanDyke

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Re: The Importance of Fact Checking
« Reply #15 on: February 09, 2019, 02:10:34 AM »
We're living in a time of useless-information overload. The facts are out there--but they're obscured by the noise, so people who don't think critically (90% of the human race) simply find and absorb what confirms their own ideas. Confirmation bias.

For writers, it's an age of defensive writing. I do it all the time. When I put in something I know some people will instinctively knee-jerk kick against, I make sure to put in a line or two of exposition in a character's mouth, like "Most people don't know this, but..."

It weakens the writing, but most of my stuff is deliberately aimed at the common reader, who's said to have a tenth grade education, not at the literary reader--because I want to sell books and make a living.

Fortunately, I've gotten to the point where I'm ready to write something a bit more erudite, and let the chips fall where they may as far as sales--but I'm sure I'll still end up writing defensively in some cases.
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DrewMcGunn

Re: The Importance of Fact Checking
« Reply #16 on: February 09, 2019, 02:23:46 AM »
I write alternative history and there's a certain subset of the readers within the genre that expect you to know your stuff before you attempt to twist it around in your story.

I've spend an inordinantly large amount of time fact checking most of my stories. To a point that I get a little behind on my writing goals.

In my first book, Forget the Alamo, the book's payoff is a series of battles between the Rio Grande and the Nueces River in Texas in which the siege and fall of the Alamo is circumvented. (ergo the title, Forget the Alamo)... I spent time researching the Camino Real in South Texas in the early 19th century. I spent time researching the depth and width of the Rio Grande in the general area where historians believe Santa Anna crossed the river in 1836. As meticulously as I could, I reconstructed (with a little bit of author's license) the river at that time.

I also had several scenes set in San Antonio. I downloaded every map I could find of the town at that time and used them religiously to get the setting right. Now, I write alternative history and stuff changes, history gets twisted around. By book 5 in my series, San Antonio doesn't look much like it would historically. But the baseline from which I started was as meticulously researched as possible.

As a reader, I can be a little unforgiving to authors who cut from whole cloth their historical settings, especially if what they're describing is historically known. I like David Van Dike's example of the Soviet consulate, where a little research would have given the writer the correct answer.


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Al Stevens

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Re: The Importance of Fact Checking
« Reply #17 on: February 09, 2019, 02:50:32 AM »
Stephen King gets his facts wrong a lot. His technical dialogues between the MC and an auto mechanic in Christine are hilarious. Then he confuses Fords, Chevies, Mustangs, and Camaros. In The Dome he starts out with a student pilot learning to fly in a complex twin-engine airplane. (She crashes into the dome.) Those are just examples. There's more. Of course, they'll publish anything he writes. But such nits are annoying.
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Al Stevens is a retired author of computer programming books. For fifteen years he was a senior contributing editor and columnist for Dr. Dobb's Journal, a leading magazine for computer programmers. Al lives with his wife Judy and a menagerie of cats on Florida's Space Coast where he writes by da