Thursday, January 10, 2019

How wrong can you be?

There I was in the fulsome embrace of my couch, perusing a short story written by a client; a short story destined for a collection, soon to be winging its way around Manhattan to editors with superb taste and fat wallets.

Manhattan being the key piece of info here.

Since I've had to stop gnawing writers just for sport (Universal Studios said it was a copyright violation) I am now allowed only to gnaw for cause.

Which has turned out ok cause a lot of you have some interesting ideas about New York City geography and how publishing works.




And yet, novels are not documentaries or academic books to illuminate and/or clarify the historical record. They're ...well...made up!

But how much wiggle room do you have with real things?

Can you invent a street in New York City?

Can you put a museum or other public building in a different location? If so, how different? Across the street? Across the park? Across the island?

Can you talk about literary agents doing things that would get any reputable agent tossed out of AAR and banned from Barbara Poelle's waterfront dive bar forever?

There are those with zero tolerance for wiggling, or playing fast and loose with facts. And there are folks like me who relentlessly check geography in NYC for accuracy, and historical events for same but can let stuff go often, if I'm caught up in the story.

And of course, there are people who recognize how ridiculous Aaron Sorkin's workplace dramas are and watch them anyway (that would be me again.)

And does the amount  of wiggle room depend on your audience? New Yorkers know their own geography; a reader in Boring, Oregon is probably less familiar with the byways of Chelsea. Editors who work in publishing will see "errors" that someone who tests Hula Hoops might not.

What's your tolerance for a novel taking liberties with accuracy?



46 comments:

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I write fantasy. It's my world. I have well over a hundred thousand pages of notes, maps, history, language references I have collected over the space of three decades. However, some of my POV characters are not reliable narrators and sometimes I have to correct the notes so that I am not playing fast and loose with the natural laws that govern my world. I think past and loose is fine.

In my short fiction, I worry about this kind of thing. I have a short story under consideration right now that is set out west, Arizona, in a small town there. I created a bar that I know is fictional - but the story has an element of magical realism and the bar may or may not exist in reality. It may be all in the POV characters head.

If I am reading about a place I know, I find it jarring if the geography, places, historical events, are too far gone unless the author is making an amalgam of a place such as a high school (like the one in 10 Things I Hate About You). It's an amalgam for California high school in order to tell The Taming of the Shrew in a modern voice.

If writing any kind of realism, I would try to be right about well-known places - the Londons, NYCs, and Tokoyo's of the world. Unless you're writing alternative reality and then all is fine as long as the story is strong. Maybe. I am not sure what I think about this. I should get coffee.

Jeannette Leopold said...

If it's purposefully inaccurate, I can be fine with it. If it seems like the author just didn't know, I'm really jarred out of the story.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

All I know is that Ron McLarty’s MEMORY OF RUNNING nailed Rhode Island, (he’s from Providence), so when Smithy Ide traveled the breath of this country I believed every “place” he passed and stayed in even if he made it up.
McLarty is a fantastic author and awesome actor. He was the Vietnam vet on the bridge (or was it a dam) in THE POSTMAN with Kevin Costner. So, though accuracy was key back then, now, I don’t get around much anymore and pretty much believe what people tell me. Um...but don’t put the Statue of Liberty in Boston Harbor. It won’t work.

Kat M said...

Longtime lurker here, drawn into commenting by that! adorable! cat! picture!

. . . sorry.

For me, it's how believable the rest of the story is. It's fortunate that E.M. Goldsmith mentioned 10 Things I Hate About You because that's a great example. The movie is set in Seattle, but the high school is an iconic high school 30 miles away, and most of the filming locations are nearby. I grew up in Seattle and now live near that high school. The story of the film sucks me in, and so my brain makes all the necessary adjustments. I tend to imagine that the characters live here and go up to Seattle for fun.

On the other hand, I once read a YA contemporary that I found absolutely dull and unbelievable in general. The characters were flat, for example. They lived in north Seattle, but kept going over to "Woodinville," which the book claimed was a north Seattle neighborhood. It's not. It's across the lake and if you head there after school, you will get caught in traffic. Since I wasn't engrossed in the book, this inaccuracy/liberty-with-the-setting drove me up a wall.

Lennon Faris said...

I'm with Jeannette. When it's purposeful, it's really cool twist on reality. If it's not on purpose, it looks lazy. I guess the trick would be conveying that.

Some of my favorite stories take real places and pop something else in there. It makes the story more relatable.

Pericula Ludus said...

I may or may not have been percussing a friend's torso this morning to be able to accurately describe the sounds a medical professional would hear, how it feels etc. I also may or may not currently be really well informed about treating pneumonia in the days before antibiotics. What can I say, historical medical papers are my secret passion.

I'm a researcher by profession (though unfortunately not medical history) and it shows. I've had to learn that it's called fiction for a reason. The whole thing about making stuff up doesn't exactly come naturally. I'm currently tying myself into knots about a story set in the 1980s in a particular city. I want my plot to happen around certain events, including when Queen played there and when a local football club won the league. The two don't align according to the needs of my plot. It has been highlighted to me that I could move either event around a bit. The world apparently won't end. Could that be true? I remain unconvinced.

I love learning random facts. Just in case a pub quiz ever asks about liquid measures in ancien régime France, I'm your woman. This totally stretches to fantasy. Underground cities are all nice and dandy, but you better consider how plumbing and ventilation work. I have calculated fresh and waste water requirements and designed plumbing systems before. Of course that ended up being only about two lines of the actual story and therefore the effort might feasibly be called procrastination, but I thought it was essential. Well, I also learned a lot about plumbing, which is surprisingly interesting.

I'm a bit of a stickler for accuracy (in case you hadn't noticed by now). The worst I've ever seen was a story in which potatoes grew on trees. That resulted in much screaming on my part. Autumn school holidays would have been much more fun had we been allowed to climb trees rather than dig in the dirt. More frequently, I'm annoyed by writers assuming their personal bubble is what the entire world looks like. Little things, often. Like the US writer with the UK based story in which a traffic accident featured prominently. Only the description didn't work at all if you drove on the left. No collision would have taken place. Or all the tedious border crossings I've seen described in books set in present-day Europe. It's called the Schengen area and it's pretty cool. All this stuff is google-able and that annoys me. I'm not even asking writers to go to an archive and dig deep. Just do a quick internet search. To me, a failure to do so is disrespectful towards the reader.

In summary, I'm a research addict. And I recognise that is an issue when attempting to write fiction, or indeed read it. But how on earth could I ever justify moving the date of a Queen concert??

Lennon Faris said...

typo alert:
"literary agents doing thing"
"playing past and loose"

Getting outta here!

Mister Furkles said...

If I notice, it bothers me. And there is something that intensifies the story when accurate details are included. Michael Connelly includes a lot of driving detail about LA. And Steve Berry includes quite a bit about the layout and history of the world's cities.

This draws the readers into the story as if they are living it. False details push the reader out of the story.

By the way, Janet, do you have a list of Manhattan editors with fat wallets and bad taste. That might work better for my WIP.

Kitty said...

A good story can overcome those niggling liberties. But the story has to be riveting. A riveting story is not weighed down with too much description and dialogue interruptions. In my book, those are sins, and I no longer tolerate them. As Elmore Leonard's rule #10 stated:
"Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. ... Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he's writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character's head, and the reader either knows what the guy's thinking or doesn't care. I'll bet you don't skip dialogue." (emphasis mine)

Gigi said...

Certain inaccuracies can drive me crazy, but like you I can forgive them when I'm really caught up in the story. The one that kills me most is when an audiobook narrator hasn't learned how to say something properly. I listened to a book that was a great story, but I wanted to scream every time the narrator tried to pronounce a European city name. How hard is it to look that up?

On the other hand, if someone eats an apple in historical fiction and I'm pretty sure apples weren't available in that region at that time, I don't really care as long as the story is good.

Amy Schaefer said...

I expect we each get jarred by substantial inaccuracies in an area in which we consider ourselves expert, or at least well-versed.

I almost always have trouble with scenes that happen on boats. I'll hold myself back from listing my peeves one by one, and will instead lump them all into a friendly reminder that Boats Move Constantly, in Three Dimensions, And Not Smoothly, Either.

I can usually live with a street that isn't really there. Violating the laws of physics, not so much.

Stacy said...

One of my jobs is fact checking. If I find an error in a novel, I generally ignore it. I don't want to do that job when I'm trying to read for pleasure.

But if I find "they'd just assume" when it's supposed to be "they'd just as soon"--as if someone dictated the novel to a transcriptionist and no one fixed the error, I have found I can't go on.

Janet Reid said...

Thank you Lennon Faris
Fixed!
You'd think I hadn't read the damn thing ...those slipped past
even after the final 5th reading just before I read the comments.

ARGH!

Dena Pawling said...


>>The one that kills me most is when an audiobook narrator hasn't learned how to say something properly.

This!

I just read an audio book where the narrator said Sepulveda as SE-pul-VE-da. It's SePULveda. Accent on the PUL. This is a MAJOR street in Los Angeles. We have Sepulveda basin, Sepulveda pass, Sepulveda dam. LAX airport is on Sepulveda Blvd. I listen to audio books in the car while driving in and around Los Angeles. I almost crashed my car EVERY TIME he mispronounced this word. Argh!



Writer Geek Esq said...

Nothing annoys me more than super-hackers breaking into a system faster than I can type a password.
I worked in crypto-security for a few years, and when I see that, I conclude the author knows not much more about computer security than what he or she has seen in the movies.
There's all kinds of real alternatives. For example, a French TV station once kept its website password written on a post-it note (not a bad idea) that they left on a wall (not good) that was the background for their broadcasts (terrible).
Humans are the weak link in a decent security system. It's not hard for an author to come up with a human mistake that the hacker uses to get access, and it only takes a couple of lines to outline that mistake. It will add a lot of credibility.

Casey Karp said...

I agree with most of what's been said.

If it's necessary, I tweak the universe.

I've invented an indie coffee shop, because I needed a place that tolerated certain behavior that wouldn't fly in a corporate joint. But when I realized I'd placed it in a residential neighborhood, I moved it a couple of blocks to a location that's got a bunch of restaurants.

In a historical book, I extended the life of a hospital by five years because I needed it to slip in some background on my POV character. But I refused to move the date when RCA acquired Victor just to make a reference more obvious to a modern reader.

If it's necessary, change the universe. It's your universe, after all, even if it's modeled on the real one.

Jennifer Mugrage said...

This is the very reason I don't try to write contemporary novels. If I am going to write about a modern town, I need to live there. If I live there, it bores me too much to write about it. Fiction is for escape and exploration.

The other reason is my taste. I am fascinated with ancient times, with what might have been going on. But when you are writing about the really ancient world, there are so many competing and mutually contradictory theories that you just have to pick one you like and build your world around that.

I love reading other people's novels where they have notes at the end about their historical research.

I have a lot of research, but I haven't mentioned it in queries because a) not sure how b) nobody cares c) the book ends up looking like a fantasy anyway.

I do have a blog where I hope readers will be interested in the research. Actually some of the most outlandish things in my novels are the ones drawn straight from history.

NLiu said...

My acceptance matrix:
Real place, accurately described: yes
Real place, inaccurately described: no
Invented place, realistically described maintaining consistent rules (physics, magic, character, culture): yes
Invented place, unrealistically or inconsistently described: no

Personally I feel like it's OK if you're writing realistically to invent a street in a city (or even a whole city) as long as you don't put anything that actually exists there.

Unknown said...

I would say my tolerance is low for mistakes. I read a novel once where the MC was filming a movie in Atlanta. I live in Atlanta and work in the film industry. Both the city-related mistakes and film term-related mistakes irked me. Film terms are Google-able. City facts are a little more obscure, like which park a person would likely go for a jog in, but the author also included the idea that the MC, in downtown Atlanta at night, looked up and saw hundreds of stars. In a major city. Right....


On the other hand, if the novel is set in a city I don't know (which is most of them), I won't notice or care about mistakes.

Craig F said...

There is always going to be someone who sees fault in what you write. It might even be your next door neighbor arguing about the view you describe of the street you both live on.

People see the world differently. That means you either have to not be lazy and spend a lot of time on google earth, or write it a spellbinding way that doesn't let the reader's mind wander about the landscape.

Maybe one day I'll be able to pull off the second way. Right now I spend too much time on the first option and limiting landmarks, or looking at them in a slightly off way, you know, writerly.

Cheryl said...

I'm a stickler for geography, less so the buildings within it. Yeah, don't move major landmarks, but if you want to put a grand old house where a generic mid-century apartment building is, go for it. Chances are there was once a grand old house there anyway.

Beth Carpenter said...

I'm fine with made-up streets, museums, etc. in real cities, but I don't like it when all the real landmarks from 100 square miles are packed into walking distance from the MC's hotel.

It's sport in Alaska to nitpick books and movies set there. Like the guy who jumped on a snowmobile (we call them snow machines or sleds) in Anchorage and took off to save something on the North Slope over 700 miles away.

That said, I don't really mind when authors call spruce trees pines, or erect hospitals in villages. I do laugh when they put elk around Anchorage or have someone drive there from a place off the road system. And I'm annoyed when it's something easily checked, like sunset being off by hours.

Elissa M said...

I think it all depends on exactly what the author got wrong. If they put saguaro cacti and I-10 in Albuquerque, that's a problem. But if the story is really good, I might overlook things like a character waking up in Sante Fe, interviewing someone in Las Cruces, and then having a meeting in Albuquerque without spending 80% of the day on the road.

The more an author gets wrong though, the less I trust them. Too many strikes, and that book and author are out.

Teresa Robeson said...

I wrote a speculative fiction short based loosely on my angst after my mother died of cancer and set it in Vancouver and Hong Kong, places where I had grown up. I was very careful to use maps and get the locations accurate in my story but it was a bit of a pain.

As others have said, if the "inaccuracy" is purposeful and pertinent to the plot line, I am perfectly happy accepting it. That said, it can't be something really major (unless it's an alternate history story)...like, the Statue of Liberty cannot be moved to a different area in NYC, for e.g. But an invented pub in a cozy corner of Brooklyn where the MC experiences her moment of epiphany is totally fine by me.

Richelle Elberg said...

How do you all feel about historical figures/events that are then expounded upon with an invented story? Off the top of my head, Stephen Hunter's 'The Third Bullet' about Kennedy's assassination comes to mind. Many years ago there was one I read about the Bronte sisters...being poisoned I think? I remember being convinced that was what really happened to them; I may have even done some googling. ;)

In general I really liked these books. But I think you have to really have confidence to take that on! Not sure I'd have the cojones.

nightsmusic said...

If the story is ripping, I'm willing to overlook a lot of small things regarding places/names/certain items and historical things. If it's not, I find myself nitpicking those same small things. I'm also willing to accept fictional add ins to real places, like businesses, buildings etc., again if the story is excellent. What I have a harder time with are inconsistencies. Blatant inconsistencies. Yes, I know a lot of that is poor editing, but when the character is named one thing at the beginning and another at the end, or the characters are in one place at the beginning of a chapter and a totally different one at the end of said chapter, even though they haven't moved, that kind of thing drives me nuts.

And I LOVE that cat pic! :)

John Davis Frain said...

If the writer can imagine it and convey it well, what's the downside in going along for the story? I wonder about accuracy sometimes, but I always move along.

I remember a Laura Lippman novel with a note at the end where she confessed to playing with the geography of a Baltimore park to better fit the narrative. Not being from Baltimore, I hadn't noticed. But I moved it to a park in my town, and it worked splendidly.

Kate Higgins said...

The one thing that stands out for me is not invented buildings or places in New York or any real city but the basic fact checking with any immutable facts. OK, this might be nit-picking but it is enough for me to quit reading a book.

I read a novel that had a private plane flying from Boise ID to Sun Valley ID feet. The book was predominately about a female private pilot. She was said to be flying at 4,000' and made a beeline (as in a straight line) to Sun Valley to pick up a medically challenged individual...hero stuff.

Even though Boise is at 2,730' – Sun Valley is at 5,945' and the surrounding mountains are anywhere between 5000 to 10,299′ feet high. So If she flew a 'beeline' to Sun Valley she would fly smack into a mountain even if she zigzagged through the passes. (fyi; those who fly, know that commercial planes fly at altitudes based on air pressure; this was not the case)

It wasn't a fact that would bother anyone but the wife of an ex-pilot, ex-newspaper editor husband. The wrong facts did make me quit reading this book....would the medical facts be real? Would the weather be plausible in December?

However, It did force me to check my own writing facts on a regular basis...except those are meant to be fiction...like a building or town or something newly built or dug in Carkoon.

Beth Carpenter said...

Once, I was annoyed enough to write the author. In the story, a character finagled a job on an organic farm in order to secretly take soil samples to determine if it was worth drilling for oil (which the farmer doesn't want because spills could contaminate her crops, etc.) Not only is this completely inaccurate, it made no sense. If the oil had been so shallow as to seep into the soil, it was already contaminated. The author answered that she knew oil exploration didn't involve soil samples, but since this was fiction, it was okay.

It seems to me that it's fine to say that a transporter malfunction can produce good and bad duplicate Captain Kirks, but if you're giving your protagonist "real" issues, you need to be at least somewhat accurate on how they work.

Kate Higgins said...

...I also lived in Boise, Id for 40years and flew in a private plane with my husband often...

Writer of Wrongs said...

I would rather read about an entirely fictional town than find geographical mistakes. Years ago I was reading a novel set in my state, and the characters were driving down a specific north-south highway from City A to City B, on the west side of the state. En route, they passed through Village 1 - which is in the *middle* of the state. And the highway number was wrong. It completely threw me out of the story, but someone not from my state wouldn’t have known or cared.
In my WIP, the setting is a fictional town comprising elements of several real towns. I drew a map of it so I could keep track of where things are, to maintain consistency, if not reality.

Julie Weathers said...

I do pretty extensive research, but I'm not going to get it all right. Patterson Park would have been the right park for Lorena to go strolling and picnicking when she was in Baltimore. 5th Street in Alexandria, VA could have had a tobacco warehouse converted to a hospital at the beginning of the Civil War, but most likely it was a different building. If people snipe at me for inventing the warehouse/hospital, so be it.

I invented the banks in Charleston, SC because I didn't want people complaining ABC bank didn't look like that at all.

I have my MC in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston for a scene when she's at a low point in life. The church makes another reappearance later if there is a sequel. It may go on the chopping block in the bloodletting, but the church and faith do have purpose. The church historian was supposed to get back to me about some things, but he hasn't and I'm not sure about the practices associated with entering and praying in the church would be, so maybe it's for the best.

Anyway, I'm doing the best I can to get things right, but there will be mistakes. On things I know are right, but people are going to gritch about, I've had people suggest I make a list and add it to notes at the end of the book.

As for things that irritate me in books, Keri Lynn Dell, Louis Lamour, Elmer Kelton, C.J. Box, Larry McMurtry are some of the few people I will read westerns by. Keri is the only one I'll read regarding rodeos. Most people just irk me too much to enjoy.

James Lee Burke does a good job on Cajun life, but he's starting to irk me also for other reasons. I overlook the language with prejudice, but, yeah, get off the soapbox.

Julie Weathers said...

Elise

"I write fantasy. It's my world. I have well over a hundred thousand pages of notes, maps, history, language references I have collected over the space of three decades."

Bingo. Just because people write fantasy, don't assume there is no research.

I did extensive research on Far Rider also. One of my cultures is a cross between Sarmatians and Celtic. They wear armor made of horse hooves. A Roman historian explains in some detail how the Sarmatian armor was made and looked and it was quite effective. Much of the stuff in Lord of the Rings is historical or borrowed from mythology.

Beth

"The author answered that she knew oil exploration didn't involve soil samples, but since this was fiction, it was okay."

No, it isn't ok. That's lazy and disrespectful to readers. Criminy, oil companies have to get permissions to let doodle bug crews run seismic tests before they even run a test well. I used to do oil field remediation. If it's in the soil, you've already got problems with EPA.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

...and yes folks, this is exactly how it feels when we POCs read the inaccuracies in how we are portrayed in novels.

**not soapboxing. Peace and goodwill to all!

Julie Weathers said...

Cecilia

I'm honestly dreading querying Rain Crow and publishing. I have someone who will indie publish if I have to go that route and I am not killing this novel. However, I know there's going to be a lot of pushback about POC in the book.

I know authors can get sensitivity readers, but how do you know you're really capturing the essence you're looking for. Not all POC have the same attitude about things. Not all Native Americans want to be called Native Americans. Some want to be called Indians or by their tribal names. This came up during an Outlander research discussion recently.

I grew up on and around reservations. Attitudes are all over the place. A couple named the Little Soldiers used to come visit us on the ranch frequently as they were close neighbors. When he'd get ready to go, it was, "Come on, squaw. We need to go."

Trust me, if she were insulted she'd have straightened him out.

Some other women would throw a squalling fit about it.

So, how do you know when you get it right?

Ashes said...

Factual errors only annoy you when you see them.

I have been to NYC exactly once, and although I have been exposed to it countless times through entertainment media, I have zero understanding of NYC geography. Since I wouldn't notice inaccuracies, they would bother me exactly 0%.

I live in a tiny fishing village off the coast of Newfoundland called Twillongate. The town is made up of two islands, the South Side and the North Side, connected by the causeway. The main fishery was once cod, but early settlers were greedy, decimated the fish stock, and the government eventually implemented the 'cod moratorium', which made fishing cod illegal and wiped out a source of income for most of the rural population of fishers and processing plant workers. Now we have a second chance with the lobster fishery, and we're repeating the same mistakes.

Does that bother you to read? Did you fact-check me? In this context, maybe. But would you normally? Because the islands are connected by Tickle Bridge, the causeway is something else entirely, the second-chance fishery isn't lobster, and the name of the town is spelled wrong.

I mean, context obviously matters. Pretend this was part of some backstory. If the people of this town are my target audience, they are going to put down the book. TBH, I think most NYC agents would roll with it.

roadkills-r-us said...

How wrong can I be? I can be extremely wrong.

Oh, wait. Perhaps I should read the blog rather than reply just to teh title.



So long as it's not egregious, I'm usually OK with it unless the setting is supposed to be reality. I don't mind if you move a diner a block, so long as moving the diner doesn't break reality for the story. If the story supports it, you can get away with different people working in Junior's. If it's supposed to be Junior's on North Ave (Atlanta, GA) in 1973, you need to give me a good reason not to care that Junior isn't the owner, or Earl isn't working there (or isn't sarcastic), etc. If you give me that reason (alternate history, or you like the diner but need Earl to have been shot or gotten rich for purposes of the story) I'm fine.
Without that reason, it throws me, and I'm not happy. It's like you're trying to tell me I didn't live my life or something.

The Dragon Lord Chronicles are alternate history (because dragons), so my readers don't mind that Edinburgh Castle is somewhat different, even though I kept key features intact.

Adele said...

I am OK with writers not getting facts right when the truth is so outlandish that nobody would anticipate it. (eg, in South Vancouver the street addresses are off by 16 blocks, so 2777 Oak Street is not just north of 28th & Oak; it's just north of 12th & Oak. Hah! Gotcha! I could tell you why but that would be boring).

I am OK with writers putting small locations - coffee shops, bookstores, etc - in real buildings that don't have coffee shops/bookstores in that place. Because that's not really so identifiable and there could be a coffee shop there next month. But major pieces of infrastructure like the City Hall or a football stadium don't often change location, and they should be in the right place.

Another wrinkle that crops up with historicals, is riding the line between what the audience thinks was the truth and what was the truth. eg. In medieval times, a medieval library contained books that were ... new. Sometimes painted or stained (cherry red was a favourite), sometimes cream-coloured with strong tawed leather over the spine, sometimes bound in wooden boards with leather only over the spines. I tried to tell this to a movie set decorator but all I got was the hairy eyeball, and the response that yes, perhaps that's true, but the audience expects.

And then there's language. I cringe when people in American movies travel to Canada and everybody in Montreal speaks with an English accent. I cringe again when the policeman in 1905 says he'll contact someone the following day. (You only have to go back to the 1980s to find grammarians crying the blues over that one). I understand that the writers have to straddle a line between what the director wants and what is right, or maybe the writers just didn't have the time to write it properly, but it still puts me off.

Colin Smith said...

I got myself tied up in knots with my first novel. I used my hometown in England as the basis for where it was set. But it wasn't until I was forcing myself to remember where certain streets ran, and which side of the road a certain landmark was that I reminded myself: This Is Fiction. I was basing my fictional city on my hometown as a convenience. As the author, I can change things to serve my plot, or simply to make things easier to describe. If the details get in the way of story, change or cut the details! No-one would know or care. This was a liberating revelation.

Julie: I don't envy you. You've already had to deal with people second-guessing your facts--facts you can document to be true. It's possible you may have to include an author's preface telling the reader that the dialog may contain language and terms that are accurate for the period, though not considered appropriate today. If the reader is likely to be offended, the reader may want to read something else. I think that's how you would probably say it. ;)

roadkills-r-us said...

Unknown said...
"I would say my tolerance is low for mistakes. I read a novel once where the MC was filming a movie in Atlanta. I live in Atlanta and work in the film industry. Both the city-related mistakes and film term-related mistakes irked me. Film terms are Google-able. City facts are a little more obscure, like which park a person would likely go for a jog in, but the author also included the idea that the MC, in downtown Atlanta at night, looked up and saw hundreds of stars. In a major city. Right...."

Exactly! Research today is infinitely easier than it was 50 years ago, and for most things it wasn't really difficult then; it just took longer.
I research like crazy. My wife and advisers catch a number of things I don't think to research or just goof up anyway. My early readers catch more. It's one of the reasons I made sure I had a Scot reading each of my novels, and an Albanian checking at least the Albanian parts.
That said, some things are not always easy to research. That's when you give me the reason not to mind. I'll go along with what others said; if the writing is compelling enough, I'll be fine. Even if you mess with Junior's- especially since that might be more difficult to research.

Jennifer Mugrage said...

roadkills: "I can be extremely wrong." HA! I was going to write the same thing! Seriously, the title to this post almost gave me a panic attack!

Adele: I am so with you about anachronisms. The thing that annoys me most is when characters in a historical use modern slang, or worse, have modern psychology.

The slang can be a grey area because, after all, the all the dialogue is happening in translation, and you could argue that the people of that period had an expression that translates well into a modern expression. (Though this does not hold, for me, if the story is set in Shakespearean times or more recently, because there is plenty of literature the author could read to get the rhythm of the way people of that time spoke, into their head.)

But modern psychology! I want the characters' motivations to reflect the values of the time they are living in ... or at least be a reaction against those values that seems plausible for the era. I don't want their guiding wisdom to sound like it came out of California in the 1960s.

Adele said...

Ashes! Ha! While reading your post, I thought to myself "shouldn't that be Twillingate?", because it's in the song, but then I figured you live there and how could I question it and besides there's no law that says Newfoundland can't have a Twillongate just because they already have a Twillingate. All this from nothing more than general knowledge on the other side of the country.

nightsmusic said...

Speaking of forwards, I have to say, I'm guilty of not reading them but will usually look to the back of the book for information and annotations. Is a forward really necessary? Or is it usually a waste of paper? The few forwards I tried to read many, many years ago were extolling the magnificence of the writer more than adding pertinent information to my reading experience.

Lynne Connolly said...

I make up streets and buildings, but they are really there, if you see what I mean. I just call them something different. Trademarks and copyrighted images and logos can be tricky things.
I write historical romance, and if a book is called that, I expect some history in it, but all too often I'm disappointed. Amazon's Look Inside is really useful sometimes.
If you want to take the reader back in time, slot yourself in with a few fictional characters in a recreation of, say, the Regency, it's really jarring when the characters don't know how to address each other, don't know the rules of the time and say things like "okay" and talk about "yards" instead of gardens.
There's just no point.
But if you want to do an approximation, can't be bothered to do the research, or just want to make a modern point about a historical event, don't call it historical fiction, because it isn't. Call it historical fantasy, or alternative history or something.
So yes, that. And yes, I know we're not perfect, and we all make mistakes. But not too many, please.

KDJames said...

I'm pretty forgiving of most minor inaccuracies. I think. I'm way more likely to be irritated when writers use words that don't mean what they think they mean. Still puzzling over the character whose internal dialog described the heroine and "her pink articulated lips."

I did raise an eyebrow the other day when a book had a character watching the sun rise over the Pacific ocean, describing how it hovered low over the water as it rose slowly from the horizon . . . in coastal California.

And another one where a helicopter landed on a beach and the happy couple ran toward it as it was landing, with no mention of sand flying everywhere.

Everyone needs a copyeditor who is more knowledgeable than they are, myself included.

Carolyn Haley said...

More and more often these days, I see author's notes in the front or back matter of a novel saying they took liberties in such-and-such an area but otherwise what they convey is real. They also acknowledge who helped them with their research, and accept responsibility for any errors. I like that. Makes me trust the author, and relax about any discrepancies I might stumble across between fact and fiction. In other words, it enables my willingness to suspend disbelief.

So in most books, set in a place I don't know, I don't care if the characters are driving on Avenue C and it runs north or south. I don't care, or even want to know, that they're on Avenue C, or it takes 20 minutes to cross town in light traffic, or whatever the particular is. I'd rather have things sketched out more generically, or using made-up names; otherwise it seems the author is showing off. Name-dropping doesn't give me a sense of place or character. If Avenue C means something, show/tell me what it means! Otherwise I'll trust that you're driving across town.

Conversely, if I happen to know the place and see an inaccuracy, it will throw me out of the story and turn distrustful of the author. I feel that if you're writing about a real place, do your homework and get it right. If you don't want to be that specific, then tweak the location fictionally. It won't ruin the story unless the story is 100% dependent on real places in real time with absolutely accurate details.