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Monday, 2 April 2012

Writing

Some readers will have realised that I enjoy writing. It can be very rewarding, the research on some topics is quite time consuming, but it is also one of the 'rewards' of writing as you learn a great deal in the process of creating somethingfor others. This is probably why I enjoy the writing of authors like Terry Pratchett, Douglas Reeman/Alexander Kent, C S Forrester and Isaac Asimov or Robert Heinlein and Arthur C Clark. They all do, or did, a lot of background research (Clark and Asimov were actually scientists who wrote as a sideline), and use facts to weave a fantasy. Pratchett is particularly good at creating a fantasy around real events and people, yet set in their own fantasy world where they don't become either obvious or tortured into something else.

My pet hate is the kind of story where "facts" are invented, mangled, shifted and then presented as "proven" with the usual PR reportage that the story is "based on true events and facts" which the gullible who don't have the desire to check, will swallow them whole. A lot of this has gone on and one frequently now finds, when researching something, references being cited which, when checked, make reference to earlier work, which in turn ... and then you find that the source, far from being either accurate or reliable, has been discredited or even utterly refuted. But, because its now been "quoted" in later works, it has become "fact."

This is, of course, the art of the spin doctor or, to give it its proper name, the propagandist. This is where the modern author has to be extremely careful. Of course my views, my attitudes and a lot of my likes and dislikes are going to enter my writing. However, if I want to make use of "facts" to support any of it, I MUST make sure the facts are accurate and not taken from a decidedly "iffy" source originally. And there are plenty of those around. There were some very "creative" scientific and philosophical writers around in the late 19th and early 20th Century and quite a lot of their writing draws on sources that are neither reliable or even what they purport to be. Even those that are, have been frequently misrepresented, with bits used and other, qualifying sections, hidden or dismissed as "not relevant."

Believe it or not, some of the biggest names in the field are guilty of this on occasion. The trouble is, because they wrote something, quoting an earlier source, it isn't challenged - even though many of those "sources" are now known as forgeries or pure invention.

Pratchett once wrote that "writing is the most fun anyone can have on their own." He is, in my view, right. But check my reference - it comes from the author profile in one of his books - and you'll find I haven't actually quoted him accurately. It's close, but not accurate. And that is the problem for any writer who wants to build a story around some factual matter or some piece of known history - it is all too easy to introduce a subtle but possibly misleading change to the truth, sometimes with unforseeable consequences for the future.

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