Storytelling: Education or Entertainment?

I’ve just finished reading Don Winslow’s The ForceIt’s a brilliant portrayal of a corrupt detective’s fall from grace. The book cover has heavyweight endorsements from Stephen King, James Ellroy, Michael Connelly, the Sunday Times, New York Times and Mail on Sunday.

Michael Connelly says:

“There is no higher mark for a storyteller than to both educate and entertain. With Winslow these aspects are entwined like strands of DNA. He’s a master.”

Image result for Don Winslow's The Force.

I can only agree, for Winslow knows his stuff, being a former investigator, anti-terrorist trainer and trial consultant. His previous seventeen novels are all well-researched, gripping and totally believable. Two have been filmed—The Cartel, and Savageswhile The Force has had its film rights bought by Ridley Scott.

It would be impossible for Winslow to write his true-life crime novels without mentioning the facts—reminding the reader of news stories, while they identify with the fictional characters the author has inserted into history. The atmosphere of fear and tension he creates is all the more credible for it.

In my own writing, I do loads of research to get facts correct—a lot of crime fans think they’re experts through watching such television series as the CSI franchise, which is wildly inaccurate a lot of the time. I love passing on knowledge, especially if it’s relevant to the story I’m creating, but there always comes a moment when I pause to think is this too much information? I’m writing a fictional story, not delivering a lecture.

I’ve certainly learned lots from fiction, including, as a boy, how to go poaching for wildlife. I’m a Nature lover, but all the same, was fascinated by how the labouring class defied their lords and masters to take gamekeeper-protected game birds and salmon. I wondered if such stories as ‘tickling fish’ were true. This is where the poacher lays on the bank dangling his hands in the water, waiting for a fish to rest above his palms, gently stroking its belly before scooping it up and out of the river. Years later, as a young man, I worked with a poacher, who took me poaching with him and I found that the tales were true.

Image result for trout tickling

As Margaret Culkin Banning observed

‘Fiction is not a dream. Nor is it guess work. It is imagining based on facts, and the facts must be accurate or the work of imagining will not stand up.’

Do facts ever cause you to dither as they become obstacles to your narrative?

Have you ever learned anything useful from a novel?

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