Recently, I walked through my family room to see an old western playing on the TV. I joined the western fan to watch the story play out. This old western starred because Stewart Granger. The plot was ridiculous. I always find it strange when an Englishman plays a cowboy. All that perfect diction. Westerns of that time were often fraught with inaccuracies.
The basic storyline was three tribes agreed to sell their land to poor immigrant farmers in exchange for food and the natives also promised to protect the settlers. I can’t imagine any tribe agreeing to sell their land for food and agree to protect the settlers. One of the tribes, the Navajo, was an agricultural community so why would they want the white man’s crops? The other two tribes by this point in history had already been shoved out of their own land by whites. Back when this movie was made the plight of the Native American wasn’t even accurately portrayed in history books. So, I suppose a story about everyone getting along would fly in theaters. Oh yes, there was a villain in a black suit, who wore white dress gloves all the time. He was trying to turn the groups against each other, so he could buy the oil rich land. Of course, the bad guy is found out and turned over to the natives for punishment. Another thing that would never have happened.
We’ve all seen movies where the details are wrong. Some so much so that we no longer care about the story. My dad spent 21 years in the Air Force, and he always pointed out the wrong planes in war movies. My son’s an army vet, and he tends to point out many irregularities in movies and TV shows that depict the military.
Movie makers can generally get away with it because the audience is there to be entertain. They might be on a date or watching the movie with a group of friends. But when one reads a novel in their favorite genre they expect more than just entertainment. Except for fantasies, the storyline needs a connection with reality. Do your research so the bones of the story ring true.
In the movie example above, the natives would never be allowed to kill the villain and all his evil henchmen as restitution for the death of the chief’s son. As a lover of historical fiction, I prefer accuracy. Granted, literary license can add to a storyline, but let’s not go overboard.
Some years ago I read a time-travel western. A modern man chose to live in the 1800s. The heroine learned to speak the local Nez Perce language. She and the time traveler marry. Because she can’t have children they decide to adopt. The orphan train was coming to a nearby town, and this would give them a great opportunity to find some children to love. Then it got ridiculous. The three siblings they adopted were. Nez Perce. I stopped reading. My history trivia mind went into overdrive. Why would native children be on the orphan train? The children on the train hailed from New York, Chicago and other major cities east of the setting of the novel. The author had already established the Nez Perce lived in the area. No native would willingly put their child in the care of white strangers. No, they take care of their own. If the couple had found the children alone on the road or their mother was a friend who died and asked them to care for her children, I could accept the adoption. But the orphan train. Really!
I’ve read similar blatant inaccuracies in career based fiction. Rarely do you hear “Stat!” shouted in a hospital ER. Do you know what happens behind-the-scenes in an ER? Before writing about it, be sure to find out. Military heroes follow the rules. Know those rules. Put enough accurate details in your story to keep the reader engaged.
Accurate story bones
Do your very best when writing fiction to keep the bones of accurate historical facts, police procedure, medical jargon, military protocol and other background information accurate. Fans of career specific genres are going to be disappointed and may not finish your book and most likely not pick up another one if it’s not.
How factual do you like your fiction?