Friday, June 8, 2012

Just the facts, Ma'am.

My step dad isn't much of a reader. That being said, he has this unfathomable notion that fiction has no intellectual value. (*Sigh* If only he had been exposed to Isaac Asimov before he became set in his ways, then we wouldn't have had an argument on this particular topic.)

What really irks me is that he couldn't be more wrong. It doesn't matter if the story is set in modern day Chicago or on a planet a trillion light years away, the facts behind the fiction matter. You can't have a star-faring hero that pokes holes in the hull of his ship when he gets bored. (If you did, you would have a really messy ending.) Similarly, you can't slice open a human body in a single stroke with a boot dagger. In both cases, you don't have to be a physicist or a physician to know that these scenarios are impossible.

Sure, you can write those scenes anyway, but if you do it, a reader will take one look at these scenes, call you a hack, and toss your book in the donate bin.

So, how does one avoid death by donate bin? Simple. Do your research.

Diana Gabaldon does her research. In fact she does A LOT of research and she's well respected for it. I've read a fair amount of historical romances and I've been consistently disappointed. You see, I'm a bit of a history buff, and while these romances were good stories, their history was abominable. Diana however, got everything right. (And I do mean EVERYTHING.) When I pick up one of her books, my inner nitpicker can relax and the rest of my brain can simply enjoy the story.

Laurell K. Hamilton is another writer that does a wonderful job checking her facts. She won't put a gun in Anita Blake's hands that she hasn't fired on the range. Laurell also talks to local law enforcement to make sure she has the police procedure right. Thanks to Laurell's work, I know more about how to conceal weapons than any good Mormon girl has a right to. In fact, a few years ago I spotted the Govenor with two gentlemen at the mall. The two gentlemen were wearing oversized sport coats, and because of Laurell's work, I could instantly identify these men as armed bodyguards.

It would probably take me a year to list all of the things I've learned from reading genre fiction, both intellectually and as a writer, which is perhaps the biggest argument I can make.

Perhaps my step dad underestimates the varied interests of the average reader or how much work a writer has to do to in order to avoid a heap of "you were wrong" e-mails. Perhaps he doesn't know that some truths are so universal that they can't be ignored. Maybe he doesn't know that in order for the fantastic to be accepted, the reader needs a safety blanket woven out of facts. In any case, it pains me that he's blind to the gospel truth of good writing:

Without fact, there is no fiction.


  1. so what you're saying is that having lots of facts equals intellectual value? I'm pretty sure that's begging the question. Any facts or truths provided in the body of a story are either a part of the story and therefore fictional or not a part of the story and therefore exist outside the realm of the story. If works of fiction can be said to have any cognitive value then such a claim cannot rest solely on the presence of facts.

  2. That's not the point, but I suspect you knew that. I'm also not going to argue with you this early in the morning.