Most everyone would agree that a good fiction story should be sprinkled with interesting and true facts and details to help the story come alive and appear more realistic. Not long ago, however, I was reading a novel (I will not mention the name) that was inundated with so much factual information that I felt like I was trying to run through mud as I read. So, what’s the balance? How do you know when you’ve added too many factual tidbits to your story, and how do you know where to put them?

Let’s take a look at fact in fiction.

I love to research! I know not every writer feels that way, but I truly think it’s fun–especially when it’s a subject I’m really interested in. It’s OK if you’re like me and love to gather a ton of research for your story. In fact, you should. You need to become thoroughly versed in what you’re writing about so that your details are accurate and you’re able to draw your reader in because of the realism your writing creates. But…

That doesn’t mean you have to use all that research in your final manuscript! Oftentimes, it’s after you’ve written your story that you can go back in and carefully and inconspicuously sprinkle in those treasured details. It might be something subtle that comes out in a conversation between your characters, or it may surface as part of a vivid scene description. But the key is to not make it obvious. You don’t want a character to spew out all the research you’ve done in a monologue just so you can show your reader how knowledgeable you are. Keep those morsels tucked away for just the right time–and only reveal traces at a time.

One way you can tell if you’ve added too much is if your facts detract from your story in any way. Always keep in mind that your research should only compliment your plot and characters. It should be the icing on the cake and not the cake itself. If, when you read through your story, you find yourself getting caught up in all the information you’ve gathered (perhaps even trying to escape from it, as I was with that recent novel), then there’s too much. One good rule of thumb is that if the facts alter the pace of your story, you’ve gone too far.

Also be careful that your facts aren’t too complicated for your reader. You never want to talk down to your audience, but you can’t expect them all to be astrophysicists either. Always put yourself in your reader’s place. Sure, perhaps you could spend endless hours studying various hand-held weapons and comparing shooting techniques and ammunition, but how much of that does your reader really need to know to better understand your suspect and his crime? Always ask yourself: Although it’s interesting, is it necessary? If the answer’s no, then don’t hesitate to omit it from your story.

Finally, evaluate the quantity and quality of your research and its necessity in your story by determining if the research is an ends to a mean, or the mean itself. Your interesting facts should simply serve as stopover roadside stands along the journey through your story. If you find you’re spending too much time at any one of these stands, or if the roadside stand takes you on too great of a detour from your main path, then you’ve gone too deep with your research.

These were just a few ways to keep balance with your research. For more information on finding and using primary sources for research, check out my earlier posts on this topic.

Finding and Using Primary Sources (Part 1)

Finding and Using Primary Sources (Part 2)

Finding and Using Primary Sources (Part 3)

I’d love to hear your ideas of how you’ve managed the balance with research and fiction in your own writing.

Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, the point of view, or POV, that you choose can help you present your story in a fresh and unique way. I often think about the stories in the Bible about Jesus. For the most part the Bible is written as a third-person narrative. But, how would it have been different if we could have witnessed Jesus’ acts through His first-person accounts? Instead of only seeing His actions, we then would’ve known His thoughts and feelings about the people He encountered, His time of prayer before His crucifixion, and what was going through His mind when He raised Lazarus from the dead! It definitely would have presented us with quite a different perspective.

Changing your story’s POV can change everything! But there are some things to keep in mind:

1. Keep POV consistent. In fiction, it’s OK to change your POV from chapter to chapter, or even from scene to scene, but make sure it stays the same within scenes, lest you confuse and frustrate your reader! When you do change between scenes, it’s helpful to let your reader know and make it clear you’re changing by using transitional sentences and wording that lets them know they are now in a different character’s head.

As a general rule, in nonfiction, you should not change your POV. Most nonfiction is written in third person as it can become distracting to the reader when you make yourself a part of the narrative. There are some instances where first person can work, like when you’re conducting an interview, for instance. But whichever POV you choose for nonfiction, keep it the same throughout.

2. Choose the right POV. How do you know which POV is the right one? Often it is dictated by the character himself. It’s usually best to choose the character that has the most at stake in your scene, especially if other characters are impacted by this one main character as well. It can be more difficult to follow if the reader can only see through the eyes of a more minor character.

Another approach is to choose the character that you want your reader to identify with the most. You control what your reader thinks, feels, sees, and hears through the character you choose. Choose the most appropriate character based on what you want your reader to feel.

3. Try varying POVs before deciding on one. We sometimes think we know right away which POV we should use for a scene, a nonfiction story, or even an entire book. Before settling on one for certain, try different ones just to see how it changes your story. If you’re writing a nonfiction piece on a common topic, approaching it with a fresh POV can make it seem brand new!

Be sure to check your scenes and stories for consistent POV. Then, go back and try shifting POV to different characters. See how it changes your story. You might just like the difference it makes.