#5 Credibility

You might think that writing for children means you don’t need to fact-check things. But in middle grade and young adult literature, the credibility of the story is not that hard to gain, and incredibly easy to lose. And one sure-fire way to ruin that credibility is factual inaccuracy.

This includes facts you’ve made up. Your magic system, the way technology works, even the animals. If you say geese lay golden eggs then we should be shocked to discover one who doesn’t.

I think it’s important to note that no matter how obscure a field of knowledge is, someone out there knows you’re wrong.

Here’s a fun fact: in the film TITANIC, the starfield shown during the scene when Rose looks skyward after the shipwreck is wrong for that place and time. Neil deGrasse Tyson called the director, James Cameron, out on this error on the red carpet. Cameron later corrected the issue in the film.

It seems inconsequential. Who cares if there are two moons or the planet has no sunlight, if dogs and cats can talk, or if there’s a secret magic school in the woods? What should matter is the scene in which the character is fighting for her life. But it only takes one small error to pop an audience out of the story.

It may seem silly to check the star charts for historical fiction or your futuristic sci-fi novel or even to keep a log of celestial events for your fantasy world, but once a reader gets a whiff of inaccuracy, it’s all downhill from there.

Here’s an exercise:

Let’s develop good researching habits. Start with other writers’ works (you’re not likely to be too forgiving with someone else’s work as you are with your own). Choose any book on your shelf or e-library and select any chapter or story in it.

  • Go through the chapter carefully and make note of a clear statement of fact that would apply to the real world and not just the world of the story.
  • Then fact-check it.
  • The hero in a fantasy novel rides a horse for 60 miles. Possible or not?
  • A rancher in 1850 uses barbed wire for his fences. Possible or not?
  • A cop shoots a tire on a moving vehicle and it stops quickly. Possible or not? And are police officers allowed to do that or did this officer bend the rules?
  • Leave no assertion unchallenged. Your readers won’t.

By J. M. Tuckerman

J.M.Tuckerman is a neurodivergent writer with a big education. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, an MA in Writing, and a BA in Writing Arts (specializing in Creative Writing, New Media Writing, and Publication; concentrating in New Media Production), which she somehow managed to earn despite her three very loud and large dogs. Jessica was lucky enough to intern at Quirk Books and Picador, USA while earning her masterโ€™s degrees. Her service dog, Ringo, is very proud of all that she has accomplished and hopes to be on a back cover of a published book with her very soon. An avid reader, writer, and lover of young adult and middle-grade literature, Jessicaโ€™s bookshelf is overflowing with hardbacks, paperbacks, and a million half-filled notebooks. She is a proud fur-mommy to two lab/st-bernard littermates, a retriever-mix service dog, and one orange little hobgoblin cat, all of whom have made very audible appearances on the Booked All Night podcast.

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