Saturday, May 5, 2012

Don't Let Facts Get in the Way

Being a history buff, I am naturally drawn to historical fiction. It gives me a perfect excuse to spend hours loitering in museums, interviewing local historians, and snapping photos of deserted old buildings. (I love to do those things anyway, but now I can tell my exasperated family that I'm researching for my next novel!)

But when I started writing my first novel, one of those carefully authenticated facts soon dropped a roadblock across my way. I'd set my story in a real place, at a time that many locals still remember. Some pivotal scenes occurred at the town's train depot, which has now been moved to the county seat. But at the time of my story (1929), it stood on its original site -- about a mile west of where I needed it to be.

What to do?

I could relocate the entire story to another town with a train depot that stood next to its mercantile, as required by my plot, but what other obstacles might I find there? I could move the story to an imaginary town, but then I would lose potential marketing tie-ins to the real place. I could redesign the plot. (In fact, I actually tried that. But plot problems multiplied, due to the extra time required for characters to run back and forth between the store and the depot.)

Then it dawned on me: This is fiction. My readers know it's a story based on fact, not a journalistic record of the facts. If the county historical society could move that depot to another town, why couldn't I put it exactly where I wanted it?

As a history buff, I want to know exactly where the factual lines are. But as a storyteller, readers give me permission to color outside the lines.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, even fictional prose deserves some poetic license. If you so choose, you could include a note about this in the end of your novel, but that's not really necessary. Since a novel can be read anywhere across the USA and in other countries, the number of people who can spot this tiny adjustment is miniscule.