By Gina Burgess
I was reading a short story the other day trying hard to find great things about it because I did not want to hurt any feelings nor did I want to scare any other budding author from putting fingers to keyboard in my critique. But some of the facts in the story were incorrect. I could tell some research had been done, but not fully.
Of course, I didn’t have to write a critique.I could have just read the story and moved on, but what good would that do? How would an author know that she or he is writing well, or needs some instruction to reach full potential? Is that the job of an editor?
The author is the one in control. The author can sling words on paper willy-nilly and expect readers to understand everything written with that being the ultimate goal, or the author can decide that plain understanding is not enough. Perhaps touching the reader’s heart has greater satisfaction.
I look for passion in writing above all things. I can tell if a person is truly interested in what they are putting to paper. Word choices, characters I can care about, giving me reasons why I should care about the outcome (even if I know the ending of the story) are all things that tell me the author is passionate about his or her message. I can also tell in non-fiction whether the author is truly interested in what he or she is writing or not. But credibility and believability spring from really good research.
All that said, I’d like to harp a bit on believability.
Pinning all the facts of a story on one source no matter if it is fiction or a news article or a blog post is very risky. You must trust the author of the source implicitly, but even then sources can be wrong.
Most authors hate to fact check. They get caught up in telling the story from their own point of view and forget accuracy is a major part of believability in a reader’s mind.
Years ago I was reading an interesting sci-fi story by a prominent author. Not exactly famous, but he had a good following. About half-way into the story, the characters are faced with a major flood. We’re talking 12 feet of water in Biloxi, Mississippi. And the water came from the Mississippi River, and a few pages later New Orleans was high and dry.
Oh, my goodness, there is so much wrong with this that I couldn’t read further. I got upset that the author didn’t seem to realize that if there is 12 feet of water over a city along the coast line, then the rushing water flowing into the Gulf of Mexico would wash everything in its path into the Gulf. Only Superman could swim through the flood to save the girl clinging to a water tower’s ladder. It’s not a lake of water but a flood of white water proportions with a rip tide that can’t be navigated without a boat.
Secondly, parts of New Orleans are actually below sea level. It wasn’t always so, but after the levees were built and the drainage systems were modernized, something called soil subsidence occurred. The water table lowered and the underlying soil dried out. The organic matter in the soil shrunk, so parts of the city sank below sea level.
Thirdly, there are hills between the Mississippi River and Biloxi that are about 55 feet above sea level.
Fourthly, Lake Ponchartrain is between Biloxi Gulf Coast and the Mississippi River.
Fifthly, when the levees broke in 1929, there was water was four feet deep covering the western side of the river spreading 70 miles to Monroe, Louisiana. On the eastern side of the river four feet of water covered four or five counties but didn’t reach the Gulf Coast. There was so much water in the river that when the levee was blasted in Plaquemines Parish (below New Orleans, but blasted to relieve the pressure from the levees around New Orleans), the water buried Plaquemines Parish under eight to 12 feet of water.
Number five, proves there is enough water in the Mississippi River when it is in flood stage to bury towns under water, but one must pay attention to topography.
In order to make this flood in Biloxi, Mississippi believable would take just three words, well nine.
The earthquake last week and the constant rain for the past month washed Biloxi into the Gulf of Mexico under 12 feet of water.
Make your stories believable. Become credible with your fans. They will trust you and buy your books because it is you writing them.