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Monday, February 22, 2010

Persnickety Penman: Actual Accuracy

            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?


  1. Fortunately, that's why it's called fiction!
    I use real places and events in my books. I use Google Earth and other online sources for accuracy as well. Some of the events, such as college football games, are a little more vague, but that is done on purpose. I was trying to avoid my stories being placed in a specific year (although due to technology they had to occur in the 90's and 00's) and give them a sense of timelessness.

  2. No I don't think you're being too picky Lee,after all if one is writing something it should be right to the best of your knowledge. I'm not the world's best speller but always have a dictionary to hand to make sure the words are spelt correctly or to find alternative words to make a poem more interesting.
    Having said all that I enjoyed your post as usual.
    Have a lovely day.

  3. Lee, Here my two cents. I think in fiction we need to be as spot on as we can for accuracy in setting, events etc. But, and I have discussed this before with people, what seemed like the facts to me are not necessarily how someone else saw "it". But yes being picky is good.

    Oh and I just realized that writing fiction allows me to be the liar that I am. :)

  4. I am constantly being corrected for my posts too... but it's usually for the spelling ;0)

  5. I think this is why a lot of authors set their books in real places, but rename the place so they can add new things, like streets, restaurants, storms, etc.

    I have one set in Miami. I checked things like streets and neighborhoods, but added a club that does not in reality exist. Sometimes you can include, say, a restaurant, only to have it gone out of business by the time the book comes out.

    Straight From Hel

  6. I love Stonewall Jackson. From what I have read He was a godly man. Thanks for your comments and I enjoy your blog and committment to accuracy.

  7. In my first book, I made up the town, but made sure the surrounding area was accurately described. In my second, I used a real city so I had to be more careful. I'm sure I've made some mistakes, but none that any reader has pointed out to me...yet.

  8. In the small amount of fiction I have written, it seems I was always writing about places I was already very familiar with so in-depth research was not necessary. However, if I were to write fiction about a place I didn't know so well, I would undoubtedly be as careful with the details as you are, rLEE-b. I think you're doing the proper thing.

    What's even more dangerous is making mistakes in nonfiction writing, particularly in the realm of politics. This is why I am very, very careful in my political statements and never write something unless I'm certain I can adequately defend my position in debates - which HAVE been known to develop.

    I know that the first time I make an important error in my political writings I will have lost credibility. And once credibility has been damaged it's nearly impossible to repair. So, yes, I handle all of the details in everything I write very cautiously. And I'm glad that you do too.

    ~ "Lonesome Dogg" Stephen

  9. I try my best to get the details right. Even so, I'm sure I get some of them wrong. However, I won't ever just pop something in because it sounds good if there's a chance it could be wrong. When I research, I rely on a journalism rule and look for three reliable sources. If I use Wikipedia, I always, always confirm anything from there. Experts in the field are good. So are libraries and reliable online sites.

  10. No, you are not being picky. When I write fiction and I use a real place, I have to be correct. I have an atlas and I use the computer.

    You are related to Stonewall Jackson! That is so cool. I have done the same thing in my family, I misprinted about a cousin and I felt the same way you did. To other people it may be a small thing but to us it is very important to have the facts there.

    I am doing a manuscript about my father's life and I have come across some information that I am not sure that I want to share. I am at a stalemate till I can sort out my feelings about this (sigh)

    thanks for stopping by my blog, I am a huge time traveler fan too. I eat everything up about it :)

  11. I tend to do a ton of research when possible too. I've read and looked at a pile of Victorian stuff to immerse my brain for the Steampunk I'm writing.

    I am pretty willing to suspend my disbelief for a good book, but I don't like glaring errors in internal logic - drives me a bit batty!

  12. I don't write fiction, but as a reader, I never really worry about the accuracy of places, I read it (book) for entertainment, not facts. If that's what I want, then I will read a travel book.

    Fiction does not need to be credible for facts and places. Look at all the improbable movies, solving crimes in 1 hour, being at the right place and time for romance, lets not even talk about science fiction.

    Tell a good story, be entertaining, I don't care about the rest!


  13. thanks to all for your takes on this topic. I guess in the end accuracy depends on what you are writing. Plain out fiction, ambiguous in time and place, has a greater room allowed for avoiding spot on accuracy.

    Gregg-- thanks for your visit and I hope you will return. Yes Stonewall was a very Godly man from all accounts that I've heard.

    Looking -- please stop back again. When you're digging into people's lives you sometimes find things hidden that were kept hidden for good reason. But after a person is gone, for accuracy's sake maybe the whole story needs to be told objectively. It's harder to do if it's a family member.

  14. I don't think you can be too picky about details, because every detail brings the reader a little more into the universe you've created with your words. However, in the novel I'm currently working on, I created a fictional town in South Carolina that has lots of aspects from several small towns across the state, so I can do whatever I want with it.


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