A reader who is enjoying your story suddenly stops reading, looks up, and thinks—huh. That’s what happens whenever the facts don’t add up in your writing. Even if a short story or book is fiction, readers notice when the details don’t make sense. And it’s especially important to have your facts correct when writing creative nonfiction. If your WWII private stuck behind enemy lines suddenly whips out a cell phone—and isn’t a time traveler—you’ll lose your audience and your credibility. To avoid embarrassing inaccuracies, you can either hire a professional fact-checker, or fact-check your own fiction and creative nonfiction using these helpful tips from the research experts at Writer’s Relief.
How To Be Your Own Fact-Checker
Once you’ve completed editing your short story or book manuscript, put it aside for a few days or even a few weeks. When you’ve been reading the same sentences over and over while editing, it’s easy to start skimming over inconsistencies and inaccuracies. Give your brain a chance to “reset” and come back to your work with fresh eyes.
You could even change the way you see your work in the most literal way possible. Copy the story into a new document and change the font and font size. Or you might email the work to yourself and read it in your web browser or on a mobile device. The goal is to make your brain think it’s looking at new work, which will help you think like a fact-checker instead of a writer.
Just The Facts, Ma’am
If you’re writing creative nonfiction, it’s vital that your facts and details are accurate. Be sure to use reputable and unbiased sites. Snopes has been used for years for general fact-checking, and FactChecker from The Washington Post can be used to verify political statements. Help a Reporter Out can also be a good resource.
LexisNexis offers a resource of sites to use when fact-checking, including where to get government reports, court documents, scholarly research, and other sources.
If you interviewed someone to get information for your manuscript, be sure to send a follow-up email to confirm correct spellings (especially of names and places) and verify anything mentioned during the interview. Having the information confirmed in writing will bolster the accuracy of your story, especially if the person’s memory was initially hazy.
In general, try to find multiple sources for the same information. If you can’t locate additional verification of a fact or if your source seems biased, trust your instincts. Details that don’t add up or simply don’t feel right should be tossed.
Consistency Is Key
You might think that writing fiction means you don’t have to fact-check your writing—after all, everything’s made up! But the “facts” in your story must make sense in the setting in order to keep your readers engaged. For instance, a character’s age may seem like something you wouldn’t need to confirm, but if a birthday happens, the person’s age will change during the course of the story. Suddenly, someone who was underage for drinking is now legal, and your story about sneaking into a bar no longer makes sense.
Even when writing science fiction, your story’s facts should be consistent with the world you’ve created. If there’s no gravity on your planet, a cup shouldn’t crash to the floor and break. And a solar-powered train doesn’t make sense in a land where it rains most of the year.
Fact-check your fiction to keep seemingly minor details consistent: If your protagonist spells her name “Sara” on page one, it shouldn’t be spelled “Sarah” on page seven. It may not seem like a big deal, but you don’t want to lose your audience when readers suddenly pause and start flipping back through the pages to see if something’s incorrect.
By fact-checking your fiction and creative nonfiction to verify information and keep details consistent and accurate, you’ll make it easier for your readers to remain interested, engaged, and satisfied with your short story, personal essay, or book.
Question: Do you fact-check your own writing?