Good Fiction is Credible Fiction

Share

Good Fiction is Credible Fiction

So you want to write a good story? The kind of fiction that resonates with its readers; the kind that lasts longer on the shelf than the milk at your grocer; the kind that keeps people up at night like a narcotic? Well, then here’s a little advice my fifth grade teacher, Ms. Pendergast, gave me: do your homework. But you don’t like research, you say. That’s why you write fiction and not non-fiction, you say. With fiction you can just make everything up. You don’t need to do any research. OK, so how is that working for you? Before you answer, let me also ask you this: ever hear of Michael Crichton? How about The Da Vinci Code?

I could go on and on, listing authors and titles that most anyone has heard of, besides maybe Osama—though I bet even he has read The Da Vinci Code. And though there are many reasons why these authors are so successful, there is at least one thing they have in common. They do their homework. Their works are rich with research. Think about it. If Dan Brown just made everything up in The Da Vinci Code would it have become a #1 world bestseller? Absolutely not. The Da Vinci Code’s success is directly related to Dan’s ability to convince the reader that in fact it may just be that Jesus had wed, born children, and that his lineage exists down to the present. Despite all the churchyard signs, documentaries, and nay-saying experts to the contrary, Dan’s book is credible, at least to the reader. And that is the kind of fiction that sells—credible fiction.

Now keep in mind that credible isn’t synonymous with absolute truth or fact. The Da Vinci Code is by no means a historical textbook, nor should anyone read it as such. Even Crichton’s work, as authentic as many of his may be, should never be mistaken for absolute truth, facts, or any form of non-fiction. They are all works of fiction. But they do speak a truth of a different kind. They speak of emotional, moral, and even universal truths. And it these truths that readers hunger for, not necessarily the facts. Works such as Crichton’s State of Fear and Brown’s The Da Vinci Code ring true, feel true, and in a metaphoric sense are true.

And the key to earning this sort of credibility, this authority to speak a subjective truth, is building a story upon a foundation of in-depth, exhaustive research. Readers are intelligent, in a street-wise sort of way if not in an academic sense. They know when they’re being lied to, when an author is faking it, or when she is flat out wrong. And readers also recognize sincerity, subject matter expertise, and especially when an element of a story overlaps with their own personal experience. You don’t have to discover an ancient secret that rewrites history, understand the complex workings of nano technology, or even travel beyond your city library. Your story can be a simple detective story or genre romance. But there is research that can be, and should be, done to tell that romance or who-dunit with authority and credibility.

To give an example, one I’m quite familiar with, my first novel was a thriller about Sasquatch or Bigfoot. Now I knew two things going into this project. First, most of my potential readers already believed Sasquatch to be a hoax or simply a myth at best. Second, the scariest sort of monster is one that is real, one the reader can’t simply dismiss as pure fantasy whenever the tension gets too tight for their comfort. So my task was to convince the reader that Sasquatch might not be as fantastic as they believe. Perhaps it may even be alive and well in their own backwoods. And the only way to accomplish this was through research. I had to create an authentic creature on the page for the reader to behold. Not only that, I had to graft my story into the very world the reader knew to be their own. And I accomplished that be doing a little homework on Lewis & Clark, specifically the possibility that the two legendary explorers may have actually discovered Sasquatch. The end result was Cryptid: The Lost Legacy of Lewis & Clark.

Osama may not have read Cryptid yet, but it is on bookstore shelves, and for far longer than the milk at my grocer. And I guarantee you it’s not because of my vivid imagination and ability to make-up a good story about Bigfoot. On the contrary, it is because I made-up very little, just enough. The rest came from over a year of thorough research. Readers care about the story because it feels true. And it feels true because in a large sense it is true.

So listen to Ms. Pendergast, Mr. Thatchet, or whoever your fifth grade teacher was. Do your homework. You might be surprised to find it easier to keep me up at night reading your book if you had researched it rather than faked it.

So you want to write a good story? The kind of fiction that resonates with its readers; the kind that lasts longer on the shelf than the milk at your grocer; the kind that keeps people up at night like a narcotic? Well, then here’s a little advice my fifth grade teacher, Ms. Pendergast, gave me: do your homework. But you don’t like research, you say. That’s why you write fiction and not non-fiction, you say. With fiction you can just make everything up. You don’t need to do any research. OK, so how is that working for you? Before you answer, let me also ask you this: ever hear of Michael Crichton? How about The Da Vinci Code?

I could go on and on, listing authors and titles that most anyone has heard of, besides maybe Osama—though I bet even he has read The Da Vinci Code. And though there are many reasons why these authors are so successful, there is at least one thing they have in common. They do their homework. Their works are rich with research. Think about it. If Dan Brown just made everything up in The Da Vinci Code would it have become a #1 world bestseller? Absolutely not. The Da Vinci Code’s success is directly related to Dan’s ability to convince the reader that in fact it may just be that Jesus had wed, born children, and that his lineage exists down to the present. Despite all the churchyard signs, documentaries, and nay-saying experts to the contrary, Dan’s book is credible, at least to the reader. And that is the kind of fiction that sells—credible fiction.

Now keep in mind that credible isn’t synonymous with absolute truth or fact. The Da Vinci Code is by no means a historical textbook, nor should anyone read it as such. Even Crichton’s work, as authentic as many of his may be, should never be mistaken for absolute truth, facts, or any form of non-fiction. They are all works of fiction. But they do speak a truth of a different kind. They speak of emotional, moral, and even universal truths. And it these truths that readers hunger for, not necessarily the facts. Works such as Crichton’s State of Fear and Brown’s The Da Vinci Code ring true, feel true, and in a metaphoric sense are true.

And the key to earning this sort of credibility, this authority to speak a subjective truth, is building a story upon a foundation of in-depth, exhaustive research. Readers are intelligent, in a street-wise sort of way if not in an academic sense. They know when they’re being lied to, when an author is faking it, or when she is flat out wrong. And readers also recognize sincerity, subject matter expertise, and especially when an element of a story overlaps with their own personal experience. You don’t have to discover an ancient secret that rewrites history, understand the complex workings of nano technology, or even travel beyond your city library. Your story can be a simple detective story or genre romance. But there is research that can be, and should be, done to tell that romance or who-dunit with authority and credibility.

To give an example, one I’m quite familiar with, my first novel was a thriller about Sasquatch or Bigfoot. Now I knew two things going into this project. First, most of my potential readers already believed Sasquatch to be a hoax or simply a myth at best. Second, the scariest sort of monster is one that is real, one the reader can’t simply dismiss as pure fantasy whenever the tension gets too tight for their comfort. So my task was to convince the reader that Sasquatch might not be as fantastic as they believe. Perhaps it may even be alive and well in their own backwoods. And the only way to accomplish this was through research. I had to create an authentic creature on the page for the reader to behold. Not only that, I had to graft my story into the very world the reader knew to be their own. And I accomplished that be doing a little homework on Lewis & Clark, specifically the possibility that the two legendary explorers may have actually discovered Sasquatch. The end result was Cryptid: The Lost Legacy of Lewis & Clark.

Osama may not have read Cryptid yet, but it is on bookstore shelves, and for far longer than the milk at my grocer. And I guarantee you it’s not because of my vivid imagination and ability to make-up a good story about Bigfoot. On the contrary, it is because I made-up very little, just enough. The rest came from over a year of thorough research. Readers care about the story because it feels true. And it feels true because in a large sense it is true.

So listen to Ms. Pendergast, Mr. Thatchet, or whoever your fifth grade teacher was. Do your homework. You might be surprised to find it easier to keep me up at night reading your book if you had researched it rather than faked it.


Article Source: http://www.redsofts.com/articles/

Eric Penz is the author of Cryptid: The Lost Legacy of Lewis and Clark. Visit his Web site to learn more, http://www.ericpenz.com


Click here to return to the index of Articles


Facebook Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Help

wp-puzzle.com logo

 

Share