Fact checking is a key part of the editing process, and it’s a bit more involved than I had anticipated. The most obvious fact checking is simply making sure the information you provide is accurate. Each genre has key aspects that must be presented with authority to satisfy the careful reader. For example, police work in a mystery novel had better be accurate. Mystery readers will most likely have read enough cop scenes that they would catch a sloppily written investigation. There is a mystery subgenre called police procedurals that specializes in getting the details of the police experience dead-on. The reader gets to experience what it’s like to be a cop. A romance novelist wouldn’t need the same level of detail and accuracy for a scene involving the police, in fact, a reader of a romance novel would most likely be bored with the details. Understanding your genre and its requirements is critical.
Fact checking often gets taken care of through quick and frequent trips to Google. The internet makes it easy to research almost any topic for any novel. One of my favorite parts of writing is the research. I write about topics I want to learn more about. The problem is, it’s easy to get lazy and rely on Wikipedia for content. It’s at the top of the Google search results, and it usually sounds legitimate. That doesn’t mean it is though. Peer reviewed is just that – it isn’t always expert reviewed.
In working through my first edit I discovered it isn’t just the facts that need checked; it’s how the facts are used. For example, in a scene early on in the book I mentioned a half-moon. Later in the book, I used a full moon to light up an important night scene. Mr. Joseph, editor at Thomas Dunne Books, asked me to check the phases of the moon to make sure the timing made sense. I got lucky. The phases worked, but I had not thought to check the details in the book to that extent.
Just as important, make sure to check the fiction-facts. In the various stages of revision it isn’t uncommon to change character names, ages, jobs, where they live, etc. Often these changes are made to clear up some inconsistency or problem in the storyline. However, it is often hard to catch all occurrences throughout the novel. When the reader catches too many inaccuracies it pulls them out of the story, and can ultimately ruin the experience. As a reader, there’s nothing better than settling in with a carefully crafted story, one that is written so carefully that the words fall away from the page.
Next week – connecting