During the initial writing segment of my two novels, especially the first one, I went to infinity and beyond to make sure that when I made reference to a real event, an actual location—whatever—I checked and double-checked to make sure what I wrote was accurate. Having adopted this mindset, I have had a difficult time meeting this challenge with the story I am currently writing. Sources to verify that my descriptions of a particular occurrence, this time, are not available. They exist; I simply haven’t found access to them. It’s been a real learning experience.
The occurrence I am writing about is a person going overboard on a cruise ship in the year 1982. Usually I peck around until I find documentation or an actual person who can fact-check what I am writing and ensure me that it is accurate and things I’ve written closely represent the way they were or could actually be. The problem is, the cruise ship industry is especially sensitive about the subject matter and will not provide anyone or anything to address the topic of people going overboard. It has been a struggle to make sure my overboard incident is described in details that represent the physical and procedural aspects of the way things were in 1982 when someone fell overboard on a cruise ship.
The result of this shortcoming, is that I have not been able to create the scenario of the event as elaborately as I would normally. Nope, I’ve had to make generalizations and assumptions that I think are accurate, but I cannot confirm as absolute and positive. I’ve been on a half-dozen cruises since the late 90s so I am reasonably knowledgeable about the environment, but not necessarily about procedures and how an overboard incident was handled in the year 1982.
Now, most readers will whizz on through this chapter in my book without pause or hesitation to question what I’ve written…unless they are actually very familiar with cruise ships in 1982. But even then, I have stayed so general that I doubt they’d uncover any serious misstatement. That’s the beauty of writing fiction—you can always fall back and justify anything you’ve written by simply acknowledging that, “Oh well, it’s fiction—I made it up and that’s what fiction is all about.”
As a journalist for a good number of years in my past life, writing fiction and simply making things up has been both exhilarating and uncomfortable. On one hand, it’s great not having to worry about describing a scene with sensitivity to every detail while, on the other hand, I’ve always paid attention to the truth. Does that make me a liar if I say a bridge is gray when in real life it is green? I’m not sure fictional writers can lie. They can say anything they want. They can distort, misalign, or otherwise ignore the facts and create people, events and things in any way or manner that suits them. That’s what I find so great about writing fiction—I am unshackled from the ball and chain of accuracy.
For those who remember the television show, Dragnet, or even the radio version before it, writing fiction would drive detective Sgt. Friday nuts. As he always demanded when a witness was elaborating too much: “Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.”
Here’s a list of some of the folks who stopped by marc’s blog recently and left a “like” or even made the ultimate commitment of signing on as a follower. Why do I list you here? Because I want to brag about what kind and gentle people you all are and how much I appreciate your taking the time to read what I write. THANK YOU Eric Damkoehler, Damyanti, Ron Carmean, Patrick W. Marsh, Meghan Miramontes, Lynette Noni, Lee Ann Kuhn, Kathleen Neiman, Sara Hornbeck, Antoinette Prato Shreffler, Ellen Rothstein Weiner and Rita Petrushansky-Mastroni.