Get the facts right and the magic takes care of itself

Fantasy author Malcolm R. Campbell is new to Second Wind Publishing with the upcoming publication of his novel “The Sun Singer.”  This is his first post on the famous Second Wind Publishing blog.

One of my father's textbooks was my first "writer's Bible"

One of my father’s textbooks was my first “writer’s Bible”

My father was a journalism school dean, the author of multiple journalism textbooks and active in multiple journalism education organizations. When one grows up in a journalist’s household like that, he accepts at an early age that in reporting, the facts come first in news stories, features and (yes) in editorials and reviews.

When I taught college level journalism for several years, I was forever surprised at the number of assignments students turned in that left out the important facts—the who, what, where, when, why and how. I wrote the lead to a made-up news story on the board and asked the class what they thought: “Random officials announced here today that somebody done somebody wrong somewhere.”

Naturally, nobody could find any actual news in that opening paragraph. Without identifying the guilty parties, I then read the leads to several of the news stories turned in the previous day. Most were missing facts and, worse yet, some included the reporters’ opinions about the real or imagined facts. Goodness knows, when a lot of a news story is muddy, the reader won’t even believe the stuff the reporter gets right.

Journalism was a previous life for me. But it still has a strong impact on my fiction. I am very picky about the facts behind even the tallest tale and the most wildly magical characters.

Case in point: my contemporary fantasy adventure novel The Sun Singer is set in Glacier National Park. Even though most of my readers probably haven’t been to the park, I want my descriptions of trails, mountains, lakes, the old hotels, the animals and the trees and wildflowers to be a hand-in-glove fit to what a reader would see if he stands where my protagonist stood.

Needless to say, my father never said “get the facts right and the magic takes care of itself.” That’s my evolving theory, though, and I’m sticking to it. As the writer of fantasy novels and paranormal short stories, I see facts (real locations. real historical events) as jumping off places. You’ve probably heard that the best lies are those that include a smattering of verifiable truths. I see magic in fantasy fiction the same way.

With the facts nailed down into a solid foundation, the magic is not only anchored in place but it begins to sound plausible. Not that my readers will put down my book at the end of the day and try to conjure up spirits or fling lightning bolts across the yard. But while they’re reading, I want the facts to hypnotize them into believing that the magic is also real.

Plus, when readers see the facts are right, they’ll have no way of knowing for sure just where the fiction in the tale begins and ends. Like any beautifully told lie, a well-told fantasy includes as many facts as possible. After that, the magic takes care of itself.



Filed under writing

9 responses to “Get the facts right and the magic takes care of itself

  1. My Dad gave up getting a local newspaper when reporters lost track of the facts. He said if hr wanted to read fiction he’d read books. Then he started working his way throughf the local library

    • Sounds like something my dad would have said. He was old school: that meant the newspaper office had a strong copy editing desk staffed by people who didn’t let anything questionable get into the paper. Now with so many reporters copyediting their own stuff, things are getting muddled.

  2. I totally agree with your blog post, Malcolm. Welcome to our Second Wind family and I wish you great success with The Sun Singer!

  3. Welcome to Second Wind, Malcolm! I enjoyed your article. I’m cheering because I think it means I need to go back to Scotland and ride in the pirate boat that leaves from the pier at Eilean Donan castle on Loch Alsh, Scotland before Shy Violet comes out. (I wish!) 🙂

  4. Welcome to Second Wind and to the Second Wind blog, Malcolm. I’ve long been a fan of your writing, and I hope the entire literate world will soon learn of your fictional magic.

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