Thursday, July 14, 2011

Getting It Just Right! by DL Larson

Last night my husband and I were watching a TV show with an episode about a race car driver. The driver had both hands on the steering wheel but the sound track had the car shifting gears. My husband commented, "wonder who's shifting?" Then shortly after that a commercial came on. Not a big surprise. The spokesman said he was a retired school teacher and wanted to make sure the government did not take his social security away from him. Hmmmm, something didn't seem quite right about his words. Then it dawned on me, teachers have their own retirement plan, they do not receive social security once they retire. The information the man gave was wrong, wrong, wrong!

Small details are important and the writing world is no different when it comes to particulars. Using half-truths or not doing the research needed does several things to your credibility as a writer. If your readers know something you wrote is not accurate, they may not want to read another book by you. Editors and publishers will assume you are an expert on whatever you are writing about. If they find out differently, that too can be detrimental to your career.

Years ago when I first started writing, my dad read my first manuscript. It was daunting to have him read my historical family saga, but I figured I better get over that. Well, he read it, said he enjoyed it immensely, but I better research pheasants a bit more. Pheasants? I didn't remember writing about pheasants. He replied that my character went hunting and brought home a few. What I learned, thanks to my dad, pheasants were not native to the United States. I had no idea!
It was a great lesson about small details.

Have you discovered inaccuracies in books you've read? What bothers you when reading something you know to be different than how the author protrays it to be? Or, has anyone pointed out a mistake in your work?

Share with us!

Til next time ~

DL Larson


Emily R. King said...

I had the hardest time figuring out what it's like to be tased. I knew about Taser guns, but I've never experienced their danger. A friend of mine who is a volunteer police officer was tased as a drill. He let me watch the video and told me what it felt like. I asked him questions, compared his answers to what I'd written, and then tweaked my book. I think it's important to research, research, research!

Sutton Fox said...

Funny you should mention racing. :) My biggest pet peeve is when an author writes a racing scene and automatically mentions the smell of burnt oil, and or rubber.

Unless, A) the race car is at a dragstrip, you can smell rubber from the burnouts. Or B) the engine is blowing up in front of the character, which is pretty much the only time you'll smell oil and only then if it gets on something hot like the headers, etc.

Burnt oil is common in passenger cars, but the oil in professional race cars is changed every race or every other, and doesn't usually smell when the engine is running.

There are lots of smells, fuel, additives, brakes, clutch, rear ends. They're just not what people think. And this stuff isn't trade secrets, it just tells me the author didn't do their research, which is a big let down. :(

Great post!

SBJones said...

Hummm, something didn't seem quite right about your first paragraph, then it dawned on me. Each state is different when it comes to public employees and what jobs they do. Idaho teachers get both PERSI and SS, but some city cops do not and others do.

I think TV shows are a thousand times worse at this than books. The TV show Numb3rs is horrible when they start talking about computers and internet. Nothing like waving a pen light over a hard drive that's not plugged into anything and getting all your data.

I remember researching and learning about the invention of the proximity fuse in WWII and I used it in my book. I am sure there are people who know a lot more about it than I do but I am pretty sure its accurate in its use. But if anything goes horribly wrong, I can always use magic as my cheat card.

Morgan Mandel said...

Best not to go into too many particulars unless you really know about the topic. Or, make something up that's obviously made up. That is, unless you are conscientious and will actually take the time to get it right.

Morgan Mandel

Anonymous said...

SB Jones is right. Your post is wrong in the implication that all teachers don't get social security. Some may not as must be the case for your state, your example.

Even minor errors throw me out of a work. I remember one of Ridley Pearson's that was just riddled with typographical errors and it also had a dangling plot line that was never solved. St. Martin's Press. I took a jaundiced eye toward his publisher for awhile after that.


Deb Larson said...

I should have reminded folks I'm from Illinois - where we do everything wrong -:) and having an Illinois commercial about SS with teachers is just ludicrous (for us!)
Emily: I'm glad you didn't asked to be tased - that would have been excessive in the research department! It's always good to find others who have had the right experience and learn from them.

Sutton: I've been to my share of car races and the smells are plenty, but you're right - they are very distinct and not oil!

SBJones: proximity fuse? I'd definitely have to do some homework on that one! Hats off to you for doing your research!

Morgan: I think most writers do want to take the time to get things right. Sometimes little things slip past us ~ like my pheasant episode.

Samantha: Again, sorry for not stating I was in Illinois where we do things backwards. A dangling plot line sounds like a major problem and makes me wonder if anyone read Ridley Pearson's book at St. Martin's Press. Frustrating for everyone involved!

Thanks all for stopping by today~
DL Larson

Anonymous said...

I reviewed a WW 2 mystery murder thriller for a UK writer where a Luftwaffe plane is shot down over England and releases a biological virus. Hitler was dead set against using biological warfare due to his experiences during WW 1. The reference is credible being a scientific history of the so-called A-bomb research & Heisenberg etc. When I mentioned this [not in the review] the unamed author got shitty.
Says it all.

Deb Larson said...

Wow! That's a writer with little credibility. I wrote about a real historical figure and I did tons of research about him before I ever started and was happy when a few historians told me I did a good job protraying the person.
Taking the time to do our homework/research is SO important. Thanks for reminding us!
DL Larson