JANUARY 2020 – from The Travel Writer’s Way
CHECK YOUR FACTS
How to keep your writing on the straight and narrow
Unless you’re deliberately trying to write fiction, watch out for another kind of fiction writing – the accidental kind that doesn’t check its facts. It’s easy to stray into this. You hear from a local guy that the temple you’re in is the oldest and nest in town. What a great thing to write down. But is it actually true?
He might be telling you this simply because he’s the temple-keeper and proud of the place. He might be hoping to hype it so more tourists come. Either way, he’s an interested party, not a neutral observer.
Before you write this unchecked fact into your story, do yourself a favour and check it. Google around for several sources, use a reputable guidebook, ask other people who might be experts. If none of those confirms the ‘fact’ as true, don’t present it as such. Present it as something else perhaps, or quote it: ‘The keeper of the temple told me this was the oldest and finest in town.’ That gets across the sense you want, without making unfounded claims.
It’s easy to get this right, but damaging if you don’t. Checking basic facts extends across all sorts of things – names, statistics, addresses, prices, foreign words, historical or cultural facts… There’s plenty of first-hand material that needs a second check.
To ‘double-check’ in a journalistic context has a precise meaning: you’re looking for two sources that agree about a fact being true. Or more: a BBC journalist once told me that his newsroom had five levels of fact-checking before something went out on air. I don’t know whether that’s true (note the careful presentation there), but it indicates the care they take to ensure that readers can trust what they say. Which is what you want too.
Extract from The Travel Writer’s Way, copyright Jonathan Lorie 2019.