A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Well, duh, of course accuracy matters. There’s no question about it. It is a writers duty to be honest and truthful in presentation of the facts whatever they may happen to be. Don’t you just cringe when a writer has bullets being fired from a shotgun? Or lets the hero drive from the Louvre to the Paris Ritz, passing landmarks that are in the opposite direction? Glaring inaccuracies are the kind of thing that make us shake our head and wonder if the writer has even bothered to verify what they’re talking about. It suggests sloppy writing and can bump a reader right out of the story. It’s one sure way to kill the suspension of disbelief, so yeah, accuracy matters.
. . . or does it?
Maybe it’s not as cut and dried as that. After all, what is in a writer’s mind when they begin to write? What is it that they hope to create? When I sit down to work, my aim isn’t to educate people, but to entertain. I want my stories to connect with people rather than teach them facts. Did Quentin Tarantino bother with factual accuracy when his Inglorious Basterds faced off against the Fuhrer in Shoshanna’s cinema? I don’t think so, and I don’t think the viewer cared that it was inaccurate because they were presented with a satisfying story.
So, perhaps it’s okay to twists the facts to our advantage when we’re constructing a story. And perhaps a writer’s job is to present those twisted facts in such a way that the reader won’t even notice – or will at least forgive an indiscretion that is made in the name of drama and great story.
I believe that what really matters is that the facts fit your story universe. If you’re writing a realistic action thriller, you can’t have bullets coming out of shotguns because shotguns don’t work that way. If you present your story as factual, then make sure your character passes the right landmarks along the route. If you’re writing a historical novel, it’s best that your historical facts are accurate to the time and place in which the story happens – though I’d argue there’s scope for twisting the facts here. In my novel The Child Thief, set in Ukraine at the beginning of the great famine of the early1930’s, my character takes cover in a hedgerow. I had a terse review from an outraged reader who was disgusted by my use of hedgerows in Ukraine. Apparently they don’t have them. Well . . . it felt like the right place for there to be a hedgerow so I put one in. I did many hours of research into the history and geography of the time and place so that the story was as historically accurate as I could make it, and no, I didn’t find evidence of hedgerows but, y’know . . . maybe some facts matter more than others? Maybe it’s just about being believable?
Someone once told me that when it comes to story-telling you can write whatever you want as long as you write it with enough authority to make people believe it. That rings true for me. Story is king.
So, does accuracy matter? Of course it doesn’t.
And of course it does.