The Importance of Accuracy in Worldbuilding
The idea for today’s post came while binge-watching the CW’s Arrow.
Hey, don’t fault me. I’m a huge fan of DC Comics and Marvel. While playing catch up on the series, I noticed frequent mention of Bratva (in a nutshell, think Russian mafia). Personally, I’d never heard of it until I started watching Oliver Queen, so I checked it out (it does exist), and that’s what prompted my thinking.
When worldbuilding, it’s tempting to create everything even well-documented events. Why not? You’re busy making up magic systems, mythology, and maybe even religion for your novel. But what happens if you get a reader (like me) who fact checks? Will he or she be okay with your assumption that Vladimir Putin led the Nazis in World War II?
At this point you might be thinking, “I’m writing fiction not non-fiction. Why does accuracy matter?”
Sorry, your argument only holds merit if all of your reference points are fictitious. Make one mention of a well-documented event—like World War II—and you’ll need to build a believable framework to hang it on.
Let me give you two examples from my series, All Things Dark & Magickal.
In The Glass Watch, my setting is completely fictitious. None of my landmarks have real names. I don’t reference any actual historical instances. The story didn’t warrant it, but the landscape changes with Bitter Fruit. In this story, the main character travels through time and visits Ancient Rome, medieval England, and even Nazi Germany. I take a great liberty and deviate from recorded data.
Wait! Didn’t you say not to do that?
I did, but readers will buy my validity because I gave reasonable cause for the variance. In the beginning, my character visits Ancient Rome twice without a problem. It’s when she goes to medieval England that she screws up. Arabella was warned to adhere to the details. If not, she’ll change the timeline and historical facts will be altered. See what I did? The character didn’t follow the rules, and that’s why history changes in the story. Key players still appear, but they don’t behave in the matter we’re accustomed to.
And there’s the point. As long as you give a plausible excuse—an alternate universe or events that disrupt the timeline—you can get away with changing documented facts. Frame it right, and you could get your reader to believe that Dr. King gave his Sermon on the Mount from the base of Mt. Rushmore.
So what doesn’t work?
Anyone remember the show Dallas and the big Who-Shot-J.R. Ewing cliffhanger? If you do, you might recall the disgruntled fans when the world learned that it was all a dream.
Want to upset your readers? Claim that your tinkering with facts is the result of a dream. Even I’m cringing on that possibility.
Keep your readers satisfied. Only present deviations that make sense for your story. Yes, you’re writing fantasy, but things still have to work. Would you claim an alien started the Vietnam War if you weren’t writing an alien story? On the other hand, if you’re writing a genre mashup, you might be able to convince the reader that Captain Hook showed up in Camelot.
Do your research when you’re planning your story. Get your facts straight before you decide to alter them. If you decide to deviate from history, make sure your reasoning is sound. You’ll keep the fact checkers at bay. Don’t do it, and you might as well get ready for some negative reviews.
Back to the man in green leather…