Blending Facts Into Fiction: Author Toolbox

It’s time for my April contribution to the #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop where dozens of authors post their thoughts on subjects of writing.  This month I discuss Blending Facts Into Fiction.

Fact vs Fiction - Copy

I write fiction novels and short stories, mainly suspense, but I dabble in a variety of genres.  One of the many challenges fiction writers face is how factual their novels should be when events occur in a real time and place.

There are two ways to approach this challenge.  The first is to assume authors of fiction have the literary freedom to develop their characters and tell their stories any way they please.  It is fiction after all.  The primary objective of fiction writers is to develop compelling characters and thought-provoking plots.  I’ve read books where authors have completely altered historic events or places to fit their characters and story development. If it’s done intentionally with the reader fully aware, there’s a good chance it can be done successfully.  However, if descriptions of people, places or events appear as mistakes to the reader, the author can come off as uninformed or lazy.  Anachronisms can kill a reader’s interest as quickly as boring characters.

The second approach, and one I have found preferable, is NOT to ignore the reality of times and places in writing fiction.  My goal is to have my descriptions of real events and locations be as accurate as possible.

The five novels I’ve written have all taken place in the future, giving me complete freedom to describe people and places as I see fitting the story.  But my current work in progress, ROUND PEAK MOUNTAIN, and many of my short stories, take place in present time and familiar locations.   Round Peak, North Carolina is a fictional town placed today in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  An unsolved murder and rumors of buried moonshine money at the center of the novel are fictional, but real geography and historic events are woven throughout the development of the story and the characters.  Interstate 77, the Blue Ridge Parkway, nearby cities, the history of moonshining and the Civil War are all real.  Failing to describe known times, places and events correctly would  diminish the plausibility of the story.  Accordingly, time spent researching places and events to ensure accuracy is time well spent.

Blending fiction with reality is an art in itself.  Some novels require more fiction than fact, some more fact than fiction, but I believe achieving plausibility in the development of compelling characters and an entertaining story is the goal.  It’s a goal I’m still striving to achieve.


To enjoy other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, click HERE.  Happy blogging!Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2


You can check out excerpts of my work in progress, ROUND PEAK MOUNTAIN, by going HERE:

Round Peak 3D-Book-Template

30 thoughts on “Blending Facts Into Fiction: Author Toolbox

  1. I agree. There’s a very real pitfall when it comes to upsetting audience expectations.
    In some ways it reminds me of genre conventions.
    If a story is going to veer away from historical accounts, or put their own “spin” on a well-known event or individual, then it’s important to establish that “distinction” early on.
    For example, Hellboy and Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. Hellboy involves World War 2 Nazis and the occult, and Abraham Lincoln involves…Abraham Lincoln.
    They both set out in their opening (or title) to establish that this is clearly “not” historically accurate, ensuring that audiences are prepared for that eventuality, and those who don’t care for it can walk away before they get overly invested.
    As you said, few things are worse than situations that leave the audience wondering if the author made a mistake.

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  2. Interesting article. My problem – when writing historical fiction – is not dumping tons of historical information on readers. Instead you have to somehow let the historical events happen as if you are experiencing them. It’s difficult. Thanks for your thoughts.

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  3. “Anachronisms can kill a reader’s interest as quickly as boring characters.” Excellent point. When I read historical setting novels, I prefer the information to be as accurate as possible (except when it is obviously fantasy and was made clear from the start that the author would take artistic liberties).

    Ronel visiting from the Author Toolbox blog hop. Latest post at Ronel the Mythmaker

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  4. Blending fact with fiction is a real art and so worth the research. I struggle with it myself and how much fiction I can add when dealing with really locations and settings. Thank you so much. I do enjoy real place and settings.

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  5. I’m actually a fan of stories that “alter” history and make it obvious–I think it’s a fun way to explore things that might have happened. Writing in the future, and in imaginary places is much easier, but I agree, you have to add some facts in there too.

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  6. Great post! My co-author and I write a series that spans the 1930s to the late 70s/early 80s (we haven’t made it to the last book in the series yet!). We decided to include accurate historical events and facts to keep it as true to real life as possible. Readers often tell us how many of the things we included are familiar and bring back memories. BTW, your current WIP sounds very intriguing. 🙂

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  7. I like to write my stories in places I know so I can add real details and details I make up. Historical is another matter. I wouldn’t want to change historically known facts to fit my story. Rather, I’d use those facts to work with my story. But…Megan Morgan had a good point. I do enjoy stories that purposefully show what could have been. Like a time travel story or alternate reality story.

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    1. I, too, like writing about familiar times and places, mainly in my short stories. I tend to do this for me more than readers. I have many fond memories that will never be recreated, but they need much embellishment to be interesting for others. Thanks for your comments and for stopping by.

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  8. I agree with you that there must be fact in fiction. But, a lot depends on the genre. As you pointed out, some genres have less fact (science fiction, fantasy) and others have more fact, historical fiction. I write mystery, but I try to be sure that my places ring true. I’ve learned with contemporary fiction it’s best not to mention current events because they date your book. But, when writing about the past, those events are a must.

    One reason I disliked Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (which won the Pulitzer) was he completely distorted history. The book was a fantasy but was labelled historical fiction. Personally I found that offensive.

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  9. Good points. I thought “11/22/63” by Stephen King was a great mixture of fantasy and history, where his main character, Jake Epping went back in time to attempt to save JFK. I’m no historian, but I found his account of Oswald to be captivating. It was easy for the reader to sort fact from fiction.

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  10. I think finding a balance between fact and fiction is important for any genre. Even the most fanciful worlds still use ours as a frame of reference for the reader to understand. The importance of accurate facts only increases the closer the world is to our own. Thanks for your great insight into this topic, Donn!

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  11. Victoria Marie Lees

    “Achieving plausibility in the development of compelling characters and an entertaining story is the goal” is such excellent advice, D.R. Erika is correct. This should be true in all genres. I’ve shared the post online. Thanks again for sharing this insight with Author Toolbox. All best to you, sir!

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  12. Sorry it took me so long to come and read your post! I’ve already given myself recriminations. “Bad hop host!” 😉 This is such a great discussion. I was speaking about this with a critique partner of mine recently, because I really want her plot to deviate from historical fact in order to make it a plot that will sell. Maybe I am wrong…

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    1. You’re clearly not a bad host. Thanks for taking the time to do this. As far as deviating from historical facts, I think whatever makes the story more interesting for the reader is the guide, so long as they’re aware it’s fiction.

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  13. I love to write fantasy because I can make the rules. Sometimes, reality creeps in. Like my current protagonist—one day she started smoking a pipe. Apparently, there’s tobacco in this world now.
    My 2017 NaNo project was historical fiction set in WWII. I did a massive amount of research, and have booklinks and a shelf of books to prove it. I made it as accurate as possible. Fingers crossed a reader doesn’t take exception to the facts as I presented them.

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  14. I’m one of those readers who gets annoyed if the author ignores historical or current fact without a good explanation.

    As you say, the key is to prepare the reader if you are going to bend facts. The problem I’ve found as a reader is where should the author do this? Some choose an author’s note. If this is at the beginning, it often reads like a spoiler (what? The Titanic doesn’t sink?). But if the author’s note isn’t until the end, it can be too late.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Excellent post. I used a made up town for my Stone Mountain series, but it’s very close in description to a real town. I did this so I could visualize it but not be kept to constraints of what really existed. It was a ton of fun changing my town into a fiction town. Thanks for the insights.

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