You are writing what you think is a terrific story. You have done all your research – you think. Then, you find something crucial in your plot just would not happen in real life. You do have some leeway in fantasy and science fiction, but I’m referring to mysteries, romance, historical fiction and other commercial fiction, as well as literary. Let’s say you are writing historical fiction and a real-life character, well-known from the time you are writing in, is a part of your plot – maybe even crucial to the story.
But you goofed. Your story is set in the same time as this historical character lived, but you have just found out in re-checking your research, that no way could your famous historical character be in such and such a place when you have placed him there. At that time, he was living in France and your story takes place in England. You have set your story in the Victorian era, so you can’t just have your character take an airplane from France to England.
What can you do?
Delete this historical character from your story completely? Keep him in, but just as a reference to the times and something in your plot (music, government? Move some of your plot to take place in France? Change the historical time of your plot? Or?
Whatever you choose to do, it will require some re-writing. But you need to be accurate. True, for the purpose of your story, you have some leeway, but you can’t lie about history. If it were me, I would go for moving some of the plot to France, unless I decided this historical character didn’t need to play an active role in your plot.
I don’t write history – exactly. But my Beyond mysteries take place in the late 1990s, although the current one I’m writing just gets into the 21st century. So for police procedure and anything else – such as computers and cell phones, and medical (as there is some of that in the story) have to be what they were like back then. So I have to be careful with all that – including laws and even the names of courts. Gets tricky.
Currently I am fact-checking my research as it is incorporated into the novel. One of the characters suffers from a concussion. Fortunately there is a lot of information about concussions, both on the Internet (I’m referring to respected medical sites such as the Mayo Clinic) and books on the subject because of the current concern about sports-related injuries – many concussions.
The problem here is to make sure what the medical professionals do now was done in 1999. And also my character’s concussion is not from a sports injury.
Fortunately, the books on sports concussions go into details about past diagnoses and treatments. Studies and the like posted on the Internet often have references footnoted by number. (they all should have references), and I can cross-check the dates on those with the information in the study text.)
I also checked to see how the person’s head was “x-rayed” and found that CAT scans were around in 1999 – in fact they started being used widely in 1980. So my character had a CAT scan.
It never hurts to double-check your research. And remember, you may think you have done all your research before you write, but you probably haven’t. As you develop your story, “things” come up that you have to check on.
Now, I have to go back and research something in my novel’s climax for what one character does. What would she be charged with or would she be charged with anything? And in 1999, not 2016.
Back to my police consultant and to the Canadian Criminal Code in 1999. That might mean a copy of the CCC for a year or two before that, unless amendments were made and published in 1999.
But whatever the correct answer is, I should be able to change that part of my plot as needed.
Sharon A. Crawford