When We Don’t Get Things Write

Yes, I used the word “write” instead of “right” on purpose. Today during home school, I reviewed the differences between the two words with my youngest son and we worked on writing sentences for each word. While we worked through the correct use of each word, I pondered with another writing issue. A few days ago, I started reading a new book and discovered early on that the author had made a mistake. This isn’t something new and, to tag onto Maureen’s post, it’s part of the writer in me that I can’t turn off.

Except this error wasn’t a typo or anything simple, it was pretty big—an oversight, I’m sure, but still I thought maybe I was the one who was wrong because I couldn’t imagine this author or publisher would have missed this.

I’ve chosen to go with the grace card on this. I mean, we’re only human, right? We can’t be perfect all the time. We can’t get things right, every time, even when writing novels. I’ve made mistakes in my own stories, so I can’t throw any stones.

There is the element of artistic license, as well—when we choose to change the facts up to fit with our stories.

Here’s a question for you—do you feel that writers have any responsibility or obligation to get the story right—it’s fiction, isn’t it? Often writers include a letter to the reader to explain fact versus fiction, but sometimes not.

As readers, what is our responsibility to understand the difference between fact and fiction? How often do we believe the author, trusting that something we read in a novel is truth (beyond the obvious fictional storyline)?


Elizabeth Goddard

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7 Responses to When We Don’t Get Things Write

  1. Maureen Lang says:

    Great post! I always start a book totally trusting the author will have done her homework and back up the details of a story with facts – correct food and clothing, authentic society attitudes and a good reflection of the times, etc. If something seems amiss I might gloss over it if I’m really enjoying the story and can’t wait to see what happens next, although I have to admit research mistakes take a little away from the story for me as a reader. I know authors can’t get everything right – the language, for example. If we wrote the way people really talk – historically or contemporarily – few readers would put up with all of the ums, ahs and repeated words. Have you ever tried to read a transcript? B – o – r – i – n- g . . . So writers streamline dialogue to keep the story going and the characters as clever as possible. And some of the historical attitudes that were common 150+ years ago simply wouldn’t be tolerated by many readers with today’s conditioned and politically correct attitude.

    As far as grammatical or formatting mistakes, I rarely hold that against the author but I do wonder if the copy editor feels bad – although these days it’s sometimes purely the fault of technology when text goes from one format to another.

    Sorry I’m so chatty today, but just have to add that I do think authors have an obligation to get the background material as accurate as possible, so readers will continue to trust us. But the bottom line, at least for me, is if the story is working then I’ll still come away having enjoyed the experience.


  2. bethrachg says:

    Thanks for your comment! It’s interesting to note that many authors stray far from the truth when depicting history or even facts in a contemporary story to make for a fun read–in other words, on purpose–which is fine until we have readers coming away believing that part of the story! The Da Vinci Code comes to mind, but there are plenty more, even in the Christian marketplace.

    I appreciate when an author includes a letter making sure to explain his deviation from the facts, and if there isn’t a letter I’ll often look a few things up if something bothered me–just to make sure I understand which part of the story was a deviation from reality. 🙂


  3. CBaker says:

    If I have a story and I need to include material that is made-up, there definitely needs to be a disclosure somewhere in the book (back or front). But as for the story line in a book, I would think that an author takes certain liberties when writing about characters. For instance, if I write a book about the 1850’s, sure I can use journals and resources for information, but they only tell part of the story. I certainly did not live in this era, and neither did anyone else who is alive, so part of the story will have to be poetic license. Interesting topic this am Elizabeth. I’m in need of some advice. I’ll message you about a time to talk.


  4. bethrachg says:

    I’m happy to help if I can. I’ll look for your email!


  5. I find it hard to believe with as many people/editors look at a manuscript that there are as many incorrect items in books.
    I am one of those people that will go and look up facts/history when reading a book. I get highly frustrated when things are “off”. I definitely think the author should make a note or the facts should be triple checked.
    I have to wonder with how fast things move now in publishing if we’ve sacrificed good for fast.
    On a side note, there’s a romance author I live to read but she switches POV constantly throughout her books without a page break. I love her writing and stories but that drives me nuts. I know no editor who would accept that.


  6. bethrachg says:

    Lara, part of what I wanted to bring up in the post was when the author intentionally changes up facts or history for the purpose of the story–it IS fiction, after all. I just wanted to highlight that when reading novels, we shouldn’t take for granted that the setting or or elements in the story are factual.On the other hand, we should give the author a little credit. . . so it’s a delicate balance.

    Case in point: I have a good author friend who created a fictional town and yet she heard from a reader who blasted her about the town, claiming she grew up in that town and the author had gotten things all wrong!

    I could grow up in a real town, write about it, and there would still be people who claimed I didn’t know anything about the town.

    So definitely we need to view things with all of this in mind, and carry that grace card around, as well, because no matter how many editors and readers review a story before it goes to print, there will be errors.

    There’s a secular author I enjoy reading (very popular author) and at times I’ll find myself thinking, I didn’t know this or that about this place–but I have to remind myself that this author takes amazing facts and adds and twists things up, so I should NOT take anything at face value, especially when reading his novels.


  7. It’s funny what different readers will focus on. I don’t get too worked up about setting but will get bothered if a historical fact isn’t right. Knowing what I know about how much goes into publishing a book, I’m willing to give grace. But I think you can tell the difference between an author/editor being lazy or sloppy versus an honest mistake. Don’t you?

    I’m fascinated by your friend who had an upset reader over a fictional place. How did the reader have any merit?


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