Creative Writing: mistakes in clarity and believability


interview-851440_1280We all know when something doesn’t fit as readers. As writers, we don’t always do the right amount of research, which will show up in our writing. It is perhaps more difficult when writing in our own reality, because you really need to know your stuff to make your work believable, and for it to have clarity. For example, if you’re writing historical fiction in the 18th century, and everyone has access to soap, you’re going to go very wrong very quickly, and readers are going to notice. However, in fantasy worlds, you still get a lot of this sort of thing from readers.

Writers sometimes even forget about geography in general, and perhaps have the fruits of the summer served in the autumn or winter of a temperate climate. I read a short book about writers getting this sort of thing wrong, but one thing the author didn’t account for when she said strawberries aren’t naturally ripe and therefore not served in October, was the climate. A friend of mine said he had fresh strawberries in October when he visited Australia, because out there it’s their spring and summer when it’s our autumn and winter here in the UK.

In the same book it was mentioned how fantasy or science fiction writers don’t account for the gravitational pull of the moon when they create their worlds. I only have one moon in mine, so that isn’t an issue for me. With multiple moons, however, the tides would be greatly affected. This is where things may get a little bit confusing.

If you’re like me and write fantasy, or perhaps if you write science fiction, you’re still going to have to base many things in the world you have created on what we know and understand in our own reality. Readers won’t engage in a world they have absolutely no comprehension of. Some familiarity is needed. A lot of fantasy worlds are set in eras based in the past. Swords and sorcery usually come with medieval castles, horses and carts, dusty gravel roads and wattle & daub and/or half-timbered houses. In the world I created, it’s 1600s-1700s, so 17th-18th century. I write about tall sailing ships and pirates, and half-timbered or wattle & daub houses (even some stucco and adobe styles of architecture as well), cathedrals, castles and cobbled streets. As a result, I needed knowledge on what our world was like in Europe during those eras.

But! With invented worlds, there are some things that people will still harp on about being incorrect. Some might not care about the physics of the time and tide in relation to the gravitational pull of multiple moons; they might just brush it off saying “it’s fantasy (or science fiction) it doesn’t matter”. Let me tell you, it does matter, because many others do still latch on to this sort of thing – and I’m admittedly one of them. As one who sails on board tall ships in real life, and also as someone who has a significant interest in their history, only minor mistakes can be forgiven. I don’t claim to know everything about sailing, but I know more than enough when it comes to square-riggers, and I’ve done extensive research on them. However, I’ve also invented new systems because my world is definitely not our world. And this is where things get even more interesting…

In an invented world set around the 18th century, I need to make it look and feel like the 18th century, but I don’t have to conform to it one hundred per cent. If someone says to me “but that wasn’t invented in that era!” I will simply tell them “this isn’t Earth”. It’s an entirely different world, so some things may have been invented sooner or even later. It takes one mind to put an idea into motion, and if Darwin or Einstein or other inventors of centuries past, for example, had been born a couple of centuries earlier or later, things might have been very different in the world of today. Someone different might have invented and implemented the ideas much sooner.

We are talking marginal differences here though. You wouldn’t put a modern sewage system in an 18th century setting, but a toilet that flushes might have been invented sooner than 1596 when its forerunner was invented by Sir John Harington. Steam engines might have been invented in eras equivalent to the 1600s or 1700s rather than the 1800s in another world, or perhaps an alternate version of Earth. You’d probably want to avoid inventions like steam engines in a world such as that of Conan the Barbarian though; catch my drift? Just be prepared to explain what your world’s differences are, and how they work. This will give you clarity, and make your writing much more believable.

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