Facts Don’t Make A Fiction


It’s abnormal and absolutely strange for me not to be reading a book a week – or nearly so. The knee – my new metal one – is the duly appointed culprit in this “good habit breakdown.” If you’ve never had a modern knee replacement and gone through the discomfort of physical therapy, you don’t know pain a’tall.

But not to worry; I am slowly finding the time to read and the ability to concentrate on a book, and so I’m now wrapped up in a historical novel concerning one of the U.S.’s most famous personalities. Without naming names – I’ll do that at a later date – I can say that the author is, in my estimation, one of the better historical researchers, at least where research meets fictionalized history.

As much as I admire this writer and respect his work, this book is boring. Why, you ask? Because there’s too much attention to minor details. But wait! you exclaim. Minor details are important. They’re inactive characters that give a richer feel for the historical era and those who live within the era.

True, and I can cite two reasons this objection holds water, even as I object.

It’s a question of context and proportion. If the central character is a world famous whittler, then there’s no need to drum up big, Hollywood-esque scenes. In that case, your literary camera can quite rightly zoom in on the most minor details, first to give a microscopic view of the whittler’s rather staid life. And second, done properly, that sort of scene will make almost anything the whittler does seem high drama.

If your protagonist is a wildly active person, a gangster, perhaps, scenes and narrative passages concerning this guy should virtually take care of themselves by depicting the antics as simply themselves, but perhaps a shade larger than life. In a scene charged by such character actions, the minutiae details should settle into the background the way a brick wall would in an Eastern U.S., gentrified community.


And so you get the idea. It’s perfectly fine in historical novels to have strategic “information dumps”that give the reader a better feel for the era, a sense of the main character’s connection to the era, and the facts that would be awkward to display in a scenic way. Overdoing historical data in such novels is largely a by-product of research: You’ve ferreted out all this neat info, and it’d be a shame not to plug it in somewhere.


As above, remember: it’s a question of context and proportion.


Visit my website here. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

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