Thursday, April 28, 2011

Don't let the facts ruin a good story

Have you ever told a story in a group setting when friend or spouse or family member interrupted you and said, "That's not the way it happened!" And then they correct some minor part of the story with a "fact" that didn't really matter to the point of the story.

Here's an example: (completely factious of course, to protect the innocent, namely me) I'm at a party with TV co-workers for the holidays. The subject of typos or on air mistakes gets brought up. I start to tell the story of when we aired a tease that said, "Gigantic Monsoons Ahead!" and instead of video of stormy weather, there is video of ladies getting mammograms.

As I'm telling the story, I say, "It was about 6 months ago when we had these tease that said ' Gigantic Monsoons Ahead!' when. . ." I'm interrupted by a co-worker who says, "It couldn't have been 6 months ago because I was on maternity leave and I remember that happening."

"It must have been more like 4 1/2 ago," she continues, "because if you think about it, that would have been closer to monsoon season."

I'll stop the story there. But hopefully you get the point. Was it 6 or 4 1/2 months? Does it really matter to the point of the story? Does anyone else get frustrated when this happens to them?

Of course, this carries over to my work as an author. Since my first two books take place in a made up land during the Medieval time frame, I'm sure historians would go ape do-do over all the words in the book that wouldn't have been used in that time period. (Side note: I did take all the "OK"s out of the book on my own because that is a fairly modern term).

However, does it really matter?

I love the saying that we must "suspend our disbelief to be entertained". To me, that doesn't mean throwing all logic out the window--like having King Arthur use a laser gun to kill Attila the Hun. But rather, ignoring little things here and there that may not be perfect, or even 100% accurate, to enjoy the overall experience.

So the next time you hear someone telling a story, think about the point they are making before you interrupt and say something along the lines of, "It wasn't really a purple dinosaur, as much as it was magenta."


  1. It wasn't purple, or magenta ... it was plum.

  2. I can see what you're talking about, and I agree to a point. The issue I have with the facts not being straight in a book is because it pulls me out of the story. I feel like my brain is a stretched rubber band that has been snapped back into a double take.

    While not everything is going to be 100% accurate, especially while writing about fields or things I don't have experience in, I think it's my responsibility as a writer to make my work ring true so that it pulls in the reader. I do want my readers to suspend belief, but not to have to work at it . . . much. :)

  3. I think we are on the same page, Rebecca. My point is that if we were to go back to the end of the 14th Century to speak to the people in England, I seriously doubt we could understand them, and vice-versa.

    My wife once memorized part of The Canterbury Tales using the proper way they pronounced it, and I had no clue to 99% of what she was saying.

    So, instead of me trying to come with how they would talk back then, which I think would REALLY distract readers, I use more modern language. It's one of the "facts" people have to ignore to enjoy the story.

    Another example: I actually enjoyed Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves with Kevin Costner when it came out--even though he didn't talk with an English accent. I didn't let that fact keep me from enjoying the ride. :)