Fact-Based Fiction By Jed O'Dea
As a reader/listener of fiction, I enjoy novels by authors who master the ability to merge facts into their plots and storylines such that it is difficult to separate what is fact and what is fiction. As a youngster, I enjoyed books by Jules Verne, Agatha Christie, and James Michener whose craft excelled at introducing facts into their stories. In the historical fiction Hawaii for example, Michener’s factual description of how the island of Hawaii was geologically formed was exhaustive. As an adult I gravitated to Tom Clancy, Dan Brown, and Clive Cussler, each of whom cleverly mix facts into their thrillers.
To accomplish the art of fact-based fiction, authors may apply the following tactics:
Location in scenes should be real: Use locations with which the author is familiar including town, city, county, province, township, or commonwealth names; use real turnpike, street, highway, freeway, bridges, tunnels, or road names; and use actual restaurant, museum, military base, racetrack, play, building, or aircraft carrier names. Some readers/listeners will identify with the locations and relate to the author’s story.
Embed the names of famous people: As an example, an author whose subplot includes a narrative about Russia may choose to include the names of Putin, Stalin, Lenin, Gorbachev, or others to add an element of reality to the story.
Detail weather conditions: All readers/listeners can relate to weather conditions. Authors who imbibe realistic seasonal weather conditions into their scenes add an element of reality to their scenario. An author who describes the winds in Chicago, the dryness in Tucson, the humidity in Mobile or hurricanes in the Virgin Islands draws the reader/listener into the story.
Real timelines: Authors who embed actual events into their story in the timeline the event occurred bring the reader/listener closer to believing the story is real.
Science and Engineering: The author who researches the scientific premise for inclusion in the story attracts a sophisticated reader. Authors who describe forensic science findings, submarine propulsion systems, or ransomware attacks with accuracy improves the bond with the reader/listener.
Details: The ability to make an author’s novel seem real requires the reference of real items for vehicles, weapons, drugs, smells, personalities, physical descriptions, landscapes, health issues, and other facts.
As an author, I conscientiously weave facts into the storyline to achieve an overall sense of reality in an otherwise fictional narrative. If it is hard to separate fact from fiction, it is a better story.