Last Wednesday I wrote about my relationship to Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson and I made a mis-statement which I have gone back and corrected. Originally I stated that there were no direct decendants of Stonewall Jackson, This is not true. I was corrected by my aunt, Nancy Jackson, who is a past president of the Jackson Brigade.
Actually Stonewall's daughter Julia bore two children before dying at age 26. These two children had several more children and this line continues to the present time. When I made my original statement I was relying on faulty memory which I backed up with an incomplete geneological chart which I have in my possession. The chart does not continue on with Julia's offspring so along with the data from my misinformed memory bank and this chart I came to the conclusion that no descendants continued on Stonewall's line.
This is only a blog post, but nevertheless I like to know that what I state here is accurate. I suppose my mistake was a fairly minor offense, however if this had been done in a published article or a book this would have been quite serious. A historian or an author of a nonfiction work would be subject to derision and loss of credibility to have made such a serious error as this. Solid research from multiple sources is imperative when citing claims as factual.
So what about fiction? If a writer makes major errors in a work, the suspension of disbelief can be severely impaired if the facts aren't straight. A glaring error might cause a reader to become distracted from the story and shake their head at the author's carelessness. Especially if you are dealing with real places, people, or events, you should take care to research everything you can about those devices you are using in your work.
In the novel I am currently working on, A Desert Place, I continually refer to an atlas to make sure my locales, highways, and travel distances are accurate. I also refer to various online resources to obtain details about cities concerning neighborhoods, demographics, crime statistics, and other detailed facts in order to make sure that the feel of the settings I use are realistic. Whenever possible, since my story deals with events of 30 years ago, I have consulted meteorological information sites to make sure the weather that I describe on specific dates in specific locales is accurate. I am trying to create a sense that the story I am telling is something that might have really happened.
When writing fiction, how far do you go to be detailed in accuracy? Am I being too picky about my details? What are some of the sources you like to use for obtaining accurate data? Have you ever made a glaring inaccuracy in your writing that was funny or perhaps caused a problem?