Tuesday, June 3, 2008

When is it okay to fudge the truth in fiction?

Tip of the Day: did you know Instant Star started back up this week?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

As I’m starting a new project and have gotten feedback on it, I’m beginning to wonder if one aspect of my book idea is going to come under fire for being “unrealistic.” The unrealistic part in question is central to the plot and revolves around an actual activity and job teens do. But one that’s heavily regulated by the law and has many safety concerns (i.e. there are certain aspects of the job that might look unrealistic in the book, if teens are given the chance to do).

Now I know there are books about teens doing various jobs, such as being teenage spies, that aren’t entirely realistic. Despite the fact these jobs do exist for adults. And to me, it’s okay because it’s a given that it’s stretching the truth slightly for the story’s purpose, especially because people know that teenage spies generally don’t exist (or at least not that I know about). And it’s just plain fun.

But how do you handle the situation if it’s an actual job that teens can do? Are you under different obligations in fiction to keep it as realistic as possible? Only allowing them to do aspects of a job that someone their age would legally be allowed to.

Or does it even matter?

Normally, I don’t really care about how realistic stuff is in contemporary fiction. The more outlandish, the more I generally like it. But lately, I’ve been watching a few TV shows (cough, Men in Trees, cough) that just seem to get the facts about certain industries blatantly wrong. And it’s kind of annoying. If they only did it one episode, it would be okay, but so many errors regarding multiple industries it often feels like they aren’t fact checking. And as a viewer it makes me want to lose interest, because it pulls me out of the story to think about the facts (which generally is a bad thing).

In that example, it could be just the execution of it. And the fact, as a viewer, I don’t think they “need” to change the truth, so it doesn’t work for me personally or seem to fit the character. So if it feels realistic and necessary to the story, maybe the reader won’t question or care if it’s unrealistic?

Now that I’ve probably used way too many question marks in this entry, I’m going to run wild with it and use more. What do you think? Do you think it’s okay to fudge the truth in fiction? Does it depend on how it’s done? Even if the character should know better, if the general public doesn’t, doesn’t it matter if it’s not exactly correct?


Kate Fall said...

Hey Em! I think there's a difference between purposely playing with a discrepancy and just not knowing the facts. We watch shows like Cheers, but nobody expects waitressing to be fun or funny. But we can suspend belief for those particular fictional people.

Actually the show that always annoyed me in that regard is Friends. Monica was the laziest chef in the history of chefdom. Since the first Neanderthal chef cooking over a fire, chefs have worked every Friday and Saturday night. How did she get to be the exception?

So there's my 2 cents: if you don't make the teen job sound a lot easier than it really is so that readers feel resentful (get back to work, slacker fictional person!) you'll be OK.

DeenaML said...

After reading the teen spy books, for example (Ally Carter, Shannon Greenland, etc)), I think you're OK fudging some of the truth. Or if you don't want to do that bc it will make the readers wonder, you could always add a new fictional explanatory element.

"I know being a teen spy isn't exactly legal," teen spy girl says, "but with the new Regulation 1932, part b, it was a lot easier for my parents to get me enrolled in the Spy Dept than you'd think."

Kristina Springer said...

I like what Deena said. One explanatory sentence and you should be cool.

And as for truth in fiction-- I always thought you could fudge things too. But I keep hearing how this and that have to be more realistic so I'm not sure how much you can get by with. Just recently my agent asked me if you could really buy the thing my MC bought off the Internet. And I didn't know. I just made it up. But she thought readers would really try to go online and buy it.

Emily Marshall said...

Wow, you guys makes excellent points. Deena I LOVE that idea.

And Tina, I think I know what product you are talking about and after I read that I can't remember if I told you: but I tried to look it up online to see if such a thing existed.

Lisa Schroeder said...

I have this issue now with my WIP kind-of. She's too young to work. But I've seen an 8 YO kid at the doughnut shop working the register. In family businesses, it happens. But will people be like, no way - that's illegal, they can't do that.

I'm always REALLY worried about believability. It keeps me awake at night sometimes.

SO yeah, I want to know - when IS it okay to fudge the truth in fiction????

Kate Fall said...

There's one of the reasons I'm thinking of a historical setting for my next book: no child labor laws. Send the kids off to work in unsafe conditions! That's pure story gold.

I like Deena's explanatory note too. Or if your teen is doing something he or she knows is probably illegal, that could add some tension. "I knew I shouldn't work the meat slicer but I didn't have the time to wait for Marty to show up for work. How hard could it be to operate anyway?" Or your characters could have a jerk boss who asks them to do things they shouldn't.

Emily Marshall said...

Okay, Lisa, I'm glad I'm not the only one that worries about this stuff. I definitely want it believable, but parts of it have to be made up. My thinking before was that if one instance has ever existed in life, then you could make a case for it being "believable" as long as it fits the character and story.

And yes, Kate, not having to worry about child labor laws would be nice :)

I guess that's what I'll stick with. But really good points to think about. Thanks everyone!!!!