Getting your facts straight is as important as great pacing and dialog. All your reader needs to do is find is one fact they know is false – and they’ll put your book down faster than a hot handled-skillet.
Yes, editors catch some of these, but it’s not up to the editor to check for historical facts, gun specifics, or even when a ballpoint pen was invented. (The first patent for a ballpoint pen was issued on 30 October 1888, to John J. Loud, a leather tanner, who was attempting to make a writing instrument that would be able to write on his leather products, which then-common fountain pens could not.)
You should never consider referring to experts as ‘most’ or ‘the majority’ instead of presenting actual percentages or specifics. It’s more effective for the attorney in your book to say, “Medical experts will agree that in ninety percent of all rape cases. . .” instead of saying, “Most will agree that in a high percentage of rape cases. . .” Assumption is the root of all mistakes. It’s truly laziness to write in generalities than specific facts. Years ago it took a lot of time to find facts; it took book after book. Today there’s no reason for the lack of facts – the internet is at your fingertips.
Keep this in mind; if you make historic or general fact errors you can be pretty darn sure a reader won’t buy another one of your books. Why would you do this to yourself?
If you’re the kind of writer that doesn’t want to stop the flow while writing, mark areas you want to go back and check facts later. It’s as simple as that.
You can expect an editor to catch many things while reading through your manuscript, but don’t rely on them to catch the simple things; spelling, lack of quotes, using wrong word, misspelled names, etc. You, the author should submit the best-written book you possibly can.
Having said that, you also should never rely on your editor to make sure all your facts are correct. That’s your responsibility. If they catch a fact error, you’re one lucky author.
So let’s consider the comment, “It’s fiction and I really don’t have to worry about specific facts. It’s all make-believe.” With that attitude you should stop writing. A reader knows a novel is fiction – they pretty much mean the same thing – but that doesn’t mean you can take liberties with historical facts. Just the opposite is true. If you want to create believable characters and plot the best way is to create believable scenes and facts surrounding your story.
Here are some guidelines you should follow every time you write a story. . .
· whether you set the facts straight as the story unfolds or
· after you’ve finished the book and are working on your first edit and are smoothing all those rough edges.
1. Spell check.
2. Double check all historical facts with multiple sources.
3. Be specific; what kind of tree, flower, horse, treaty, etc.
4. Write tight – not every bit of interesting information you’ve found must be included in your story.
5. A pet-peeve of mine - watch those long sentences. I’ve read books where each paragraph has turned into a long sentence – with commas for pauses. Say what??
6. And finally, have your facts straight.