Saturday, August 27, 2011

Getting the Story Straight

By Keith N Fisher

I’m sixty-five thousand words into one of my stories and I just found out my protagonist collects crystal bells. No big deal except in one scene, she drops her purse on the floor and breaks a bell her daughter in law gave to her. I had to rewrite the first parts and establish the fact that she is a collector, hence the reason for the gift.

Don’t you just love it when you have to go back and get the story straight? In fiction, adding facts in the middle of the story can be confusing. In Non-fiction, being wrong can cost your credibility.

Lately, I’ve been reading a non-fiction book that deals with Utah history and I’m a little put out by some of the author’s interpretations. I’ve read many of the first hand accounts and I’m finding discrepancies.

It makes me wonder how many inaccurate facts have been written into the record. I’m sure you’ve heard that history is often written by the victorious. If that’s true, then can we trust it?

Thinking forward makes me wonder about fifty years from now. How will today’s news be reported in the history books? I sometimes doubt it will be accurate since I often hear reporters twist facts to make the evening news entertaining. Because of that guidepost I have to ask, is it okay to sacrifice correctness to make a book interesting?

Have you ever been in a room full of family members and listened to a story that is different from the way you remember it? Just because someone was there doesn’t mean they haven’t embellished the facts. The standard who, what, when, and where gets cut from the narrative.

My mother loves to talk about when her kids were young. I cringe when she talks about me because she often gets the story wrong. When I try to correct the facts my brother asks, what does it matter? Just let her tell her story. Would it matter to you?

In the book I’m reading, the author writes about the supposed Hiram Beebe connection to the Sundance Kid. He tells the story as if it were fact. Now, many of us believe Sundance was living in Fountain Green, Utah and went to Mount Pleasant for a drink in the bar. He killed a deputy who was trying to prevent him from driving drunk and died in the Utah State Prison.

The problem with telling that story is that it was never proven. If I forget to go back and establish my character as a collector, it will confuse my readers. If an author includes the Hiram Beebe speculation in non-fiction, a footnote is imperative. Getting the story straight is essential. Also, if there are several versions of a story the author needs to say that.

Often, non-fiction becomes a source of reference that textbooks are derived from. If the source is flawed, then so are the facts. People tend to believe everything in print.

I used to shake my head during church meetings when people stood at the pulpit and quoted from The Work and The Glory, by Gerald N Lund. Some of those people believed it was all historical fact, even though the author took great pains to separate the fact from the fiction. Some people actually believed the Steeds were a real family who lived during those times.

That’s a great testament to the author’s character building ability, but it also emphasizes the need to be accurate in non-fiction.

Whether we write fiction or non-fiction, because readers want to believe, authors often become an authority on a subject simply because they wrote about it in their fiction. The News commentator, Paul Harvey used to talk about the time he was called upon to report about something that happened in England simply because he’d just returned from there. Later, he claimed his information was gleaned from an AP Teletype, but he was the authority. Can you imagine what would’ve happened if the AP reporter had given the wrong information?

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

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