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fiction theory

The artist is not afraid

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Realism - not so grate akshully
default3, writing!wench
I was recently reading some Amazon reviews for C.E. Murphy's "Urban Shaman", and noticed a reviewer that said:

"The author seems to have only a Hollywood Movie understanding of Police work and less than that of the Seattle PD, Police Hiring Practices, Criminal Procedure, Police Language and less about Police Culture."

Upon seeing this, I thought two things. First - the reviewer is technically correct. Having read the novel, I can say that I spotted various vagaries in her portrayal of the police. But that's where my second thought came in.

I don't think the author was wrong to fudge some of the details. I think that her story might have suffered and her audience been distanced from it if she'd gone for strict accuracy.

After all, she is working in the Urban Fantasy genre. Thus, most of her readers are not coming to the table expecting a hardcore, ultra-realistic portrayal of police life in Seattle.

This is to say nothing of the fact that she's dealing with an audience that is largely informed by such shows as CSI and Law & Order. If she works with the "Hollywood Movie Understanding of Police Work", it's because that's what most of her readers are working with as well.

Writing is just as much about being able to negotiate symbols and widely held untruths as much as anything else. Especially fiction writing. It's our job to deal in lies. Now, this dealing requires that we know the truth and know it mightily, so our lies can be really good lies (let's face it, the best whoppers are always at least 30% true), but in the end we lie.

Caveat: I don't know this author personally, nor can I read her mind. So this is all speculation, and open to debate.

Having seen some of the fudging that the author did in "Urban Shaman", it was fairly intelligent fudging. It wasn't done out of laziness, I believe, but a decision to serve the story. The story is character-centric, and in the end, priorities have to be set. Is it more important to be accurate or compelling?

The author chose compelling. She chose to sacrifice procedural facts and details so that the story moved ahead, so that the character was shown in the light needed. This is perfectly valid.

Now, does this mean the reader was wrong to be somewhat put off? No, I suppose not. But it makes me wonder how many more negative reviews the author would have gotten if she'd gone for accuracy and sacrificed a good story.