A couple years ago, I became part of a small women’s fiction critiquing group on Yahoo. The group has since disbanded, but members were at various levels of both writing and critiquing skills. We operated in your basic “post a chapter, please critique” fashion. One particular member whose writing skills were on the weak side did have, what I consider to be, superior critiquing skills. Or shall I say fact-checking skills? An example: I had a scene where a mother is driving with a five-year-old and a two-year-old (Jason) in the backseat of the car. Five-year-old says. “Eww. Mom. Jason spit up.” Critique: “Two-year-olds don’t really ‘spit up’.” Arg. Yes, I realize she’s right, but I think a five-year-old would use the phrase “spit up” and exactly what age does “spit up” turn into “throw up” anyway? LOL. Nevertheless, I changed this to “Mom. Jason’s biting me.”
As a writer who frets over the possibility of making THE great mistake, this critiquer fed right into my fears. Often, she was right on, but there were other times I dismissed what she pointed out, thinking creative license allows me to stretch the truth. But, does it? Case in point: I have a scene where two characters are at a baseball stadium dressed in mascot costumes--the type with a big head piece--and they have a brief chat while standing near a merchandise kiosk. Her critique (ad libbed): “I once wore a mascot costume and there’s no way they would be able to talk or hear each other with the heads on.” *sigh* Okay, I’m sure she’s right, but really? Can’t I stretch the truth a bit since the four-sentence conversation the characters have is important to the plot? Or do I have to think up a way for my characters, who are wearing the mascot costume as a disguise since they’re wanted by the law, to reveal the important plot point in case a former Mickey Mouse at Disney (or the like) reads my book, and say, “Ah ha, busted!”?
Yes, I do my research, but some things can’t be googled and other times I just don’t think stretching the truth a bit matters. When I read a book, I never think “oh, it’s a cloudy day, there’s no way these characters would be casting shadows like this author indicated.” Yet, I know there are other readers who will think exactly that.
When do you allow yourself to use creative license and stretch the truth? And what are you going to do if a reader calls you on it?