Killer Year–The Class of 2007

How Much is Just Enough

Now that THE MARK has been out for a few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of receiving a fair number of emails from readers. Most have been positive, a scant few negative. But though the negative nellies, for the most part, enjoyed the story, they were extraordinarily quick to point out one or two places in the book where, let’s just say, I either made up facts or actually made an error. I’ve received three emails alone from readers who felt I didn’t accurately depict a stretch of highway near Cincinnati.

Now every author wants to offer as much authenticity as possible in their novels. They want readers to be able to see, hear, and smell their locations and characters (ok, maybe not always smell the characters). So at what point is artistic license allowed to kick in, or should readers expect every detail in a novel to be 100% accurate and honest?

When I went to the Romantic Times convention in April (man, is that a story to be told over a six pack), I sat in on a panel featuring Charlaine Harris, bestselling author of the Sookie Stackhouse vampire mysteries. Charlaine made several tongue-in-cheek jokes about how “thankful” she was when readers pointed out mistakes in her books. And if you read the acknowledgments page in just about any Harlan Coben novel, he ends by saying, “I’m a novelist. That means I make stuff up.” It seems as much a defensive statement as a statement-of-fact. No doubt both authors, having written many books with readers likely in the millions, have received their fair share of letters from readers pointing out exactly where they “made stuff up,” and how they should be ashamed of themselves for doing so.

Interestingly the more fictitious something is, the more it’s likely allowed to pass reader scrutiny. I doubt Anne Rice ever received a fan letter saying:

Dear Anne – I just finished INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, and had to point out a glaring mistake in your book. There are no such thing as vampires. They don’t exist. I’m surprised your editor didn’t catch this. Hopefully they can correct this in future printings. Other than that I enjoyed your book.

I suppose it has to do with “world building,” that inaccuracies are allowed provided they are consisted with the larger picture you’ve painted. There are many authors who do much more research for their books than I do. Probably some who do a lot less. I did considerably more research for my second novel, THE GUILTY, than a I did for THE MARK, and I’m certain I’ll get more angry letters from readers. Know why? Because I made some stuff up.

So how much is enough (or too much?) authenticity? And to what extent are you allowed to make stuff up?

Jason Pinter

author of THE MARK

The Man in Black Blog


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I think (as a reader) that we all occasionally see things in novels which make us want to communicate our thoughts to the authors, to interact and be inclusive. When someone writes to you about authenticity issues, they may actually be trying to tell you how important the story was to them on an emotional level – so it seems very complimentary to me and not so much a complaint, really.

Comment by Richard Cooper

This question tortures me, daily.

And then you can do painstaking research, portray the reality over the stereotype, and readers will write and tell you that you’re wrong, LOL.

Comment by spyscribbler

Well, three times yesterday I tried to post about this, and three times it didn’t appear.

I tried to say something like this: we’re all going to make mistakes, and a few emails bringing them up mean, if nothing else, someone has read the book. Do as much as you can, with the goal always being to be authentic enough to keep your readers reading. Move the story forward and ellucidate character with details, and if you have to fudge around the edges, so be it. If you write a good story, you’ll keep ’em coming.

Comment by Bill Cameron

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