Friday, November 8, 2013

Check Your Facts by Liz Tolsma

Liz Tolsma
Research can sometimes feel daunting, but it’s an important part of what writers do in order to make their stories more believable. Today on Seriously Write, author Liz Tolsma shares her experiences and offers helpful advice on this topic. 
~ Dawn

Check Your Facts

 It happened. What I had dreaded from the time I began to write a story set in a real place at a real time. The book that I had crafted so carefully, giving full attention to every detail, had a mistake.

A glaring one. The red maple leaf on a white background that is today’s Canadian flag, wasn’t adopted until well after WWII. The Canadian troops I mention wouldn’t have been flying it in April 1945.

What a sinking feeling.

On Antiques Roadshow once, they featured a rug made by a Muslim weavers. The appraisers mentioned that the artists sew a flaw into every piece they produce because no one is perfect. A good thought to bear in mind. No matter how diligently you check and double check every fact, there will be mistakes. No book is perfect. The goal is to keep the flaws to a minimum.

Whether  you’re writing historical or contemporary fiction, there are facts that need to be verified. Perhaps if it would have been possible for your hero and heroine to meet at a certain place and time. Perhaps if hydrangeas and lilacs can bloom at the same time. This can be tedious and time consuming but worth it in the end when you produce writing that is as accurate as possible. 

Rule of 3
You’ll want to have three sources. Wikipedia isn’t one you want to come back to your editor with when they question you. Pick reliable websites, books, or documents. Diaries or first person accounts written as close to the time of the events as possible tend to be the most reliable.

What if your sources don’t agree?
That happens. As I’m writing my book set in WWII Philippines, sources disagree about the date of a large typhoon that struck in November of 1943. With further digging, I discovered that since it made landfall at night, some referenced the day before and some the following day. When I found three sources that agreed on the date, that is the one I went with. Keep digging. You’ll solve the mystery.

Tweaking history
Sometimes, you have to do it. The actual event that inspired Snow on the Tulips took place five days before the end of WWII. Not nearly enough time for the hero and heroine to fall in love. I moved the event to three months earlier. In my current book, I describe an escape attempt from a Japanese internment camp in October 1943. In reality, the only attempts happened in early 1942. At the end of the book, I beg the reader’s indulgence on this. It’s tricky to know what you can and cannot tweak. Obviously, you can’t move the terrorist attacks on 9/11 to a different day or city. Think of yourself as the reader. Is that a well-known enough fact that if you change it, that will jar them? Or can you twist it and fictionalize it enough to make it work?

Always put yourself in the shoes of the reader. Your goal is to transport them to another place and time. Too many mistakes will have them throwing the book across the room instead of recommending it to their friends. 


Use the rule of 3 when conducting research for your writing projects. Click to tweet.

When writing novels, sometimes you have to tweak the historical facts. Click to tweet.

Always put yourself in the shoes of the reader. Click to tweet.

A stranger’s life hangs in the balance. But to save him is to risk everything.

The war is drawing to a close, but the Nazis still occupy part of the Netherlands. After the losses she’s endured, war widow Cornelia is only a shadow of the woman she once was. She fights now to protect her younger brother, Johan, who lives in hiding.

When Johan brings Gerrit Laninga, a wounded Dutch Resistance member, to Cornelia’s doorstep, their lives are forever altered. Although scared of the consequences of harboring a wanted man, Cornelia’s faith won’t let her turn him out.

As she nurses Gerrit back to health, she is drawn to his fierce passion and ideals, and notices a shift within herself. Gerrit’s intensity challenges her, making her want to live fully, despite the fear that constrains her. When the opportunity to join him in the Resistance presents itself, Cornelia must summon every ounce of courage imaginable.

She is as terrified of loving Gerrit as she is of losing him. But as the winter landscape thaws, so too does her heart. Will she get a second chance at true love and learn to depend on the Perfect Love that drives out all fear? Or will her new love be snatched away before it has a chance to bloom?

Liz Tolsma has lived in Wisconsin most of her life, and she now resides next to a farm field with her husband, their son, and their two daughters. All of their children have been adopted internationally and one has special needs. Her novella, Under His Wings, appeared in the New York Times bestselling collection, A Log Cabin Christmas. Her debut novel, Snow on the Tulips, released in August of 2013. When not busy putting words to paper, she enjoys reading, walking, working in her large perennial garden, kayaking, and camping with her family. Please visit her blog at  and follow her on Facebook and Twitter (@LizTolsma). She is also a regular contributor to the Barn Door blog.  


  1. That's always something I'm concerned about, Liz. I try hard to make sure I cover everything, including word choice for the era, but I worry I'll miss something important. As you said, we're not perfect, but we should do our best to be sure everything is accurate.

  2. I do the same thing, Sandy. I write contemporary, but it's romantic suspense and my hero's a police officer. I still keep a list of facts to check, just in case law enforcement (or a family member) happens to read it.

    Love the Rule of Three, Liz. I try to double-check, but triple checking makes more sense ... just in case.

  3. Liz, I've written contemporaries in the past and found research to be important. But when I wrote my first historical romance, finding the right information became a bit more difficult.I used my home town for the setting, and it's a really small place in Wisconsin.I mean SMALL! There isn't much written about it.

    The Wis. historical society wasn't much help, but when the town celebrated a big anniversary, some local historians put together a small book with some information and photos. What I discovered there actually sparked the story idea. (I also was given an autobiography of a woman who had grown up on a farm outside of town.) Unfortunately, no matter how I've searched for info, I've had to do a little "tweaking" of history because of not being able to find specific dates, etc.

    So, I've focused on keeping elements of that time period as accurate as possible. And someday, when it's published, I'll do a bit of "explaining" in author notes and hope people understand. ;-)

  4. Great hints, Liz. but there's always artistic license, as you so wonderfully illustrated. As long as it's believable! The maple leaf flag somebody might, I just went to Canada, but actual dates...I doubt that anybody reads with an encyclopedia at hand LOL.

    When I wrote a YA under another name, the editors and I moved it back twenty years to when technology was just starting. It reads contemporary but the kids aren't distracted by texting, the internet etc. In contemporary, some details will be obsolete by the time the book is acquired and the time it's released.

    Good stuff!


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