This was first published on my old blog in February 2015
FACT VERSUS FICTION
Writing Contemporary Romance
Just howimportant is it to stick to the facts when inventing the background for your story?
This question never really came up for me until I submitted Tales of the Dragonfly Book II: In Flight for a Wisconsin Romance Writers contest back in 2013. Overall, the rough draft had scored fairly well in the Chicago Fire & Ice RWA Contest a few months before.
Since time is an issue in my life, it’s difficult for me to participate in workshops, even when they’re online. These RWA contests have proved to be some of my most valuable learning tools when it comes to assessing my writing. I try to take advice from my judges and work it into my manuscripts as I revise and edit.
I’d like to think I’ve conquered the majority of my problems I’ve had with my POV and fondness for adjectives. But a couple of unrelated comments from the judges from a Wisconsin really threw me!
In Flight takes place in the lovely growing resort town of Crystal Rock, Wisconsin. Loosely resembling the small town in Northwest Wisconsin where my family cabin was once located, this setting is purely fictional, and larger than life.
Since I created a fictitious town as well as The Dragonfly Pointe Inn, I thought—why not invent fictitious transportation? After all, with the emphasis I put on the enchantment of Dragonfly Pointe, there’s a slight element of fantasy running through all of my stories, anyway.
Coincidentally, it was kind of a family joke that there was no other means of reaching our cabin other than to drive, since the final leg of our journey, until
recent years, had always been along a narrow two lane highway.
Well—when scoring my manuscript, two out three judges drew attention to the fact that there was no train running through that region of the country at the time period in which my story takes place. One of them even went so far as to research the railroad and bus schedules.
Okay—when developing my characters, I do agree that it’s essential to get the facts straight when it comes to creating their background. In fact, I’d give it a 10/10 for its importance.
In the novella I’m currently writing—Two Hearts Surrendered—the hero of my story will be one of the pilots responsible for dropping bombs used to contain terrorists in Iraq. And he’ll return to his hometown physically and emotionally scarred. I won’t go into too much detail about the war—after all, it is a romance. But I’ll validate facts like the branch of the service he served in, as well as the actual timing of the attacks to coordinate with my character’s homecoming. I’ll even research the design and color of his uniform, since he’ll come home on leave to attend a wedding. These details are important to make your characters believable.
But, did I go back and rewrite my prologue for In Flight, and eliminate the train, just because two Wisconsin judges told me to stick to the truth—even though one of these judges actually subtracted points from my score sheet? My answer is no. Don’t be intimidated into thinking that the advice from those who critique your work is an absolute.
But do go back and analytically evaluate their suggestions before you make any final decisions to ignore them. If five out six judges point out problems with your sentence structuring or POV, then you know you have a definite problem and need to fix it. But when it comes to advice that’s not related to your writing, itself? You need to think carefully.
First, I considered my target audience. My Tales of the Dragonfly is romantic suspense, and meant to appeal primarily to women—but within a broad age group. Would my readers really care that there wasn’t a train running through Wisconsin when they’re reading my story?
My answer was no. In fact, out of all the critiques and reviews of my book, not one single person seems to have noticed it. And then there’s that one remaining judge from Wisconsin, who gave me my highest score, and mentioned nothing about it at all.
Secondly, I considered the train as I’d used it in the prologue of my story.
Murphy had his nose back in his paper when he suddenly became aware of another presence rising up from the very rear of the deserted passenger car. Odd, Murphy frowned, with a confused shake of his head. He was slipping. He could’ve sworn he was the only one left in the car. Of medium height, the individual held his head down as he quietly shuffled by, seeming purposely to conceal himself.
Suddenly, a calculated movement from further down the station platform snapped Murphy’s eyes back through the window. Hovering only a few yards behind the woman, the stranger in the hooded sweatshirt stealthily pulled out from the shadows of the dimly lit stationhouse.
Impulsively attempting to draw the woman’s attention, Murphy knocked on the window of the train. Apparently aware of the knocking, tauntingly challenging Murphy, the stranger in the sweatshirt met his gaze through the window with a shattering, bleak hollow stare. Helplessly, Murphy watched while the woman entered the stationhouse, the shadowy figure in the sweatshirt following closely behind.
Would I have been able to substitute this train with a plane or an automobile?
This time I answered with an emphatic no. This change would’ve impacted my entire novel. How would I have been able to build this degree of tension on a plane or in a crowded airport? And would the villain of my story have even been noticed?
Expert though the person or persons critiquing your work may be, you need to remember, when it comes to advising you about conceptual details, it’s largely their opinion.
It’s important to stick to the truth when at all possible–I’d give it a 7/10.
But, as a writer, the first thing you should do is eliminate your self-doubt. The key to believable and effective writing is to always be true to yourself. This is what makes your story unique.
Thank you very much, Tamara, for this brilliant guest post. I enjoyed it very much!