90 Written View – Let’s Fake It

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DougHeader-webA Written View: Let’s Fake It!

By Doug Owen

Let’s be honest, a story is just a collection of words arranged in a way meant to entertain. And if you think any of the sci-fi or fantasy authors really know how to fly a space ship or weave magic, then they sure have you fooled.

Like a stage production or movie, a book is make-believe. But how do we really make people believe that we:

A: Have a fantastic tale that makes them believe a boy can fly

B: Have the knowledge to actually write about the science that is being used in our story

It’s called faking it, and women have been doing this to most men all their lives.

Okay, stop the booing on that line. Guys, hands up if a woman actually told you she faked it on you. Yes, get your hands higher than that, about the same height as I have mine.

On with the article. The actual act of storytelling is all about selling something to someone that you may not have a lot of knowledge about. It could be physics, sailing, horseback riding, bungee jumping, or any number of acts that you, yourself, have not experienced. You need to sell it. The reader must be able to relate it to their own experience.

A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, published in March of 1722, described in detail the places and events—including the official statistics—of the plague. Generations of readers considered it to be so accurate that it was believed to be an eye-witness account of the event. It was completely fictional. It was written over 50 years after the 1665 plague had run its course.

Daniel Defoe is the first known creator of “Faction”: a fake recounting of plausible events, woven together around real events, and made believable by its realism.

Engaging the Reader

This works because we have tricked the reader into believing just a little bit of our lie. Once they believe that small piece of logic, they tend to swallow the rest of the story, until they have the big whopper in their mouth.

In Pentecost, Joanna Penn refers to Turf Tavern as the haunt of Inspector Morse. If you know of this Oxford tavern, you’ll recognize the reference, and thus, trust the rest of the story. The “low beams… walls leached with the smell of stale tobacco…” You stand there and hear the words of the story and say, “She stood here, just like I am now. Her story is real.”

An Author and Strategy

Realism is done by picking a location that you know intimately. Of course, when it is a strange planet across the universe, it’s hard. But think of this: draw a picture. Take out some paper and lay down the outline of a civilization. Make it real in your mind.

One thing to keep in mind is that Google is your friend. We can fake a lot of knowledge with Google Maps, Google Earth, and a Google search. Can’t draw that landscape? Search for a picture. Someone may have a picture that fits your vision. Use it to stimulate the words and eureka! There is the description that you were looking for. Remember to use more than sight descriptions. A description is so much more detailed when sound, smell and even taste is incorporated into the words.

Visit to Make it Real

So, some good news: if you travel to an exotic place to get a good feel of the location for a novel, you may be able to write it off as a business expense. That trip to Hawaii? Deductible, as long as something in your novel takes place there. The little cruise to the Arctic? Written off because you needed to see icebergs for that dystopia you wrote. It is best that you talk to your accountant about that. Just remember that it only works on traveling, not going to the bar around the corner.

The collection of stories in Haunted Hamilton take place all over that city. The names of locations are used, and that lends credibility to the stories.

Now, work in something that even the residents are either not sure of, or would not really know, but can verify quickly. This will really blow the board for you. Your novel will gain credibility. People will start reading it and going to the places cited in the work. This could be a very good thing, especially if you live close to the area and can leave a few Easter Eggs for people to find. They will then start talking about the novel and then there will be no end.

This trick can also be played with events.

Interweaving your fiction with factual events will encourage the reader to really become cemented in your story. When someone reads something that actually happened in a fictional novel, they realize that the author has taken the time to not only research, but pull real events into their work. This will gain you fans.

Do We Dare?

Just about every novel has that disclaimer: “This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.” If you use a real event, then it is not fiction, right? But you are using it fictitiously. Heck, if your main character watches the gassing of 1,000 Jews in Germany, then yes, the event is being used fictitiously, through your characters eyes.

Is your story taking place in a real location—like on Earth? Then it would be absurd to not use real locations, landmarks, or even businesses like hotels and restaurants. (Quick note: I am not a lawyer, so if you do use something and want to cite this article, be warned. You should look this up yourself before using something). The names of these places are in the public domain.

What we cannot do in safety is name the proprietors, or imply they have given people food poisoning (unless it is something proven in a court of law—and even then, it would be sticky), without their permission.

But I need to Use it!

So, you want to show a massacre at Jon’s Pub and Grill House. Then protect yourself. Contact them and get a signed disclaimer and you’ll then have a measure of protection. But remember: don’t take my advice on this as a law expert. Get your own lawyer and ask them what you can and cannot do.

When asking for permission to use their location, make sure you send them the exact wording as it will appear. If you don’t, they could have legal recourse to come after you. Make sure you keep good faith and send them a copy of the book. You never know what will happen. Some people will trumpet that their location is in print, while others may just leave it on the shelf. Either way, they will be grateful and be more willing to agree to let you run their location through another novel.


Stop looking at the jar; nothing is tinkling in it. Here are some tips if you are using real locations or events.

1. Be accurate with all your small details, or a pedant will shoot you down and smile while doing it. Then people on GoodReads will pick up the call and hammer it against you.

2. If there is something that sounds absurd, but is true, make sure you include it. This will make others sing your writing praises in reviews and buy subsequent stories you wrote or write.

Think about it. Have you ever been hooked by a novel because the setting is so believable? If so, why not use the same trick?


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