Monday, June 27, 2011

Really, You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Recently, I asked fellow writers: In A Novel, Should the "Facts" Ring True?

Most authors perform in-depth research before completing their work. They do not want readers drawn out of the story by information that is blatantly false. In some genres, Science Fiction and Fantasy for example, an entire world is created by the writer, and truth is whatever the author creates for that world. But in genres such as Mystery, Romance, and Thrillers, generally accepted truths matter. That is why a newspaper article I read yesterday took me by surprise.

For my novels, research includes reading newspaper articles at the local library (local to the novel's setting), for the dates and locations of the story. As the tale progresses, I also check the Internet and various reference books to verify dates, medical facts, and name derivatives. I don't want a reader to wonder, "Where did she ever get that idea?"

In that frame of mind, I read with disbelief a detailed news article. A man walked into a hospital ... sounds like a take on the old joke, a man walked into a bar ... but this is no joke! The hospital checked his medical coverage, checked his I.D., then checked his heart and told him he was a “ticking time bomb.” He scheduled and they performed heart surgery on him. Days later the man died. His family plans to sue. Only one problem, the man used someone else's medical card and I.D.

If an author used this scenario in a novel you were reading, wouldn't you have a few misgivings about the feasibility of such an occurrence? What is the first question that pops into your head?

After sharing your answer, you can read the full story here:


  1. 1. Nothing surprises me anymore, so if you want to tell me that vampires really exist and they drink fake blood from a bottle, I'll probably believe you.

    2. This is why we need DNA testing and electronic medical records. :-)

  2. I have read of some shocking real life situations. A story I wrote ages ago came from a tiny article about a woman who got frustrated in a parking lot, took out a pocket knife, cut another woman's nose off with it and walked away. Plus, have you ever seen stupid criminal articles? It is unreal what people will do! That's where the term stranger than fiction came from, though, right?

  3. There are often true life events that don't work as the basis for a fictional story. It's the nature of fiction that the reader is aware of an author in control of events, and so whereas a man about to lose his house suddenly winning the lottery is an amazing thing if it happened in real life, in a book it would be laughably convenient.

    That difference between real life and fiction is why truth is not as important as believability.

    Moody Writing

  4. E.J., I agree medical records should always be recorded electronically for easy access; DNA testing for everyone is a bit trickier. And neither will work if there are bottles of fake blood laying around!

    Yes, Shannon, stranger than fiction describes so many popular news stories.

  5. Wow. That's a wild story.
    IMHO, it's no different than the robber who gets killed while committing his crime. This guy was in the middle of theft, pure and simple.

    But of course, his family will probably win and we all will end up paying for it in higher medical costs.

    Yes, truth is stranger than fiction.

  6. Wow, that's a crazy story. What popped into my head was, "What the-"
    Thanks for sharing.

  7. Yep, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. It's up to the author to make it believable.

  8. Bryce, RaShelle, and Lynda,

    Thanks for visiting and offering your comments.

    I agree that believability trumps truth, especially if fact pulls the reader out of the story to ponder its credibility.

  9. Yeah, that would sound completely unbelievable. And they're suing? Wow.
    Edge of Your Seat Romance


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