Does Truth in Fiction Count?



Is it just me, or do the details matter when enjoying fiction? As a citizen of the Washington, DC, area, it annoyed me when the character played by Kevin Costner in the movie No Way Out escaped by running into a Metro station in Georgetown. Why? Because there is no Metro Station in Georgetown. Maybe I can forgive Hollywood using their local underground system to film rather than that of Washington, but at least keep locations true.


David Baldacci put together a thick book of research on atom bombs just to write three pages of fiction where his hero defuses one. I respect that effort, if a little over the top.


Which brings me to the 2010 movie The Tourist set in Venice, Italy. I put it on my viewing list since I set my book The Ocean Raiders in Venice and love the place. I saw the movie last night, and it annoyed me a bit. For fiction to work, just like a magician, the storyteller must suspend disbelief, the viewer or reader must accept what the storyteller portrays, and, if something is out of place, the jolt takes one out of the moment.


In The Tourist, the characters played by Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie check into a suite at the Hotel Daniele. Filmed on location, the soaring interior of the hotel was spot on. I was there with the two of them, eager to see what happens next. Then Johnny Depp opens a balcony window in their suite overlooking the Grand Canal. Whoops, the Grand Canal is a half-mile away, not beside the Hotel Daniele. OK, I forgave that one. Then, someone flies into the airport, right beside the Grand Canal. Geez, the airport is way away across the lagoon to the north. When Nicholas Foxe, my main character in The Ocean Raiders, arrives at the airport, he takes a water taxi across that lagoon and enters a connecting canal to the Grand Canal where the bad guy attacks Nick and the two fight for a gun in a moving boat. One could be intimately familiar with Venice and that would all make sense, albeit a little dramatic.


When researching The Ocean Raiders, Ellen and I checked out each locale. We stayed in the pensione where a murder takes place; we checked out a suite in the Gritti Palace where Nick violently ends the story, and we talked to the police to be sure we identified the station where a murder in the city would be investigated. Ellen even set up a meeting with the engineers of the Mose flood control project, and I discussed how a tsunami generated in the book would be handled.


Sure, it is unlikely that a machine lies in the Adriatic that can turn sea water into energy. That is the magic in The Ocean Raiders. But, aren’t you more likely to stay with the story if the real things are portrayed as they are?


Does truth in fiction count?



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Jackson Coppley