Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Truth in Fiction

Montgomery's Law # 7:
"Everyone is dissatisfied when the subject is their own area of expertise. But no one else cares."

The topic of discussion is "truth" in fiction and what responsibility the author has to get it "right."

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Lawyers get upset about legal inaccuracies on Law & Order.
  • Nurses & doctors get peeved by ER.
  • Cops laugh at NYPD Blue.

  • As for the rest of the audience, they neither know, nor do they care.

    Writers should be slaves to the plot, not to the "facts." (That's almost important enough to rate a Montgomery Law all of its own.)

    Unless the viewer/reader is an expert, they will never know. And thus they won't care. (Assuming the creator isn't a lousy writer -- and if they are, the story will be bad for other reasons.)

    Authors make up stuff all the time and as long as they do it reasonably well, it's not a problem. Whether or not what they write is strictly "true" isn't really relevant. Certainly it has to be at least plausible, but that's all it has to be.

    For the dissenters in the audience, please note: there is a big different between "errors" and the invention of convenient "facts" to drive the plot. Errors should always be avoided, but making stuff up is always fair game.

    999 out of 1000 viewers (or readers) won't know the specific legal procedure, nor will they know the proper treatment for an obscure (or made-up) disease, nor the proper investigative method for a homicide.

    That 1 out of 1000 who does know will still watch because they will enjoy spotting your mistakes and feeling superior.

    So why should a writer sweat the "facts," at the expense of the plot? They shouldn't, of course. A writer's first and most important obligation is to create an interesting and entertaining story. Getting it "right" must be secondary -- or else you'd be better off writing non-fiction.