Research

Getting It Right

I used to be obsessed with “Getting it Right” as a writer.  By which I mean that I wrote romantic suspense based around classic police (and FBI) procedurals, and I wanted to be sure I didn’t make some idiotic, newb mistake that would cause anybody in the know to chuck my book against a wall.  Often, I’d get so tangled up in the research that the writing suffered–or didn’t happen at all.  That was part of what sent me back to paranormals.  I get to make most everything up there, so it doesn’t require nearly the level of research.

Still, I’ve been marked by all the stuff I know and have learned, over the years, such that when somebody gets it wrong, I want to metaphorically do some chunking myself.

Example 1: A couple of weeks ago, hubby and I were watching the latest episode of Supernatural. Now I love this show.  It’s creepy, still campy, and it has Dean Winchester.  Nuff said.  Mostly I am happy from week to week as they battle their latest creepy critter, and I enjoy seeing where they go with assorted folklore.  There’s been so much going on lately, I don’t even remember what the episode was about, just that–oh wait, it was the mannequins–anyway, so basically the creepy possessed mannequin stabbed the victim in the neck with scissors or something.  And immediately my husband and I both observed that they got the blood spatter all wrong.  They showed blood spatter for a slashing motion, not a stab.  My excuse for knowing this is all those years of research on homicide and forensics.  I mean, really, I bought myself a copy of Practical Homicide Investigation for my birthday one year.  His excuse…well, he’s married to me, and we have watched a LOT of Dexter. I love that he can discuss blood spatter and not think I’m a lunatic.

Example 2: Last night I was catching up on a huge back log of Vampire Diaries on DVR.  There was a rabid vamp in the episode and they were seriously dropping people dead from a bite after 2 seconds.  It’s physically impossible to drain somebody that fast, and they don’t bleed OUT that fast even from the carotid or jugular.  And it’s not like they had some kind of paralytic venom.  That’s not the mythology the show has established, so it was seriously bugging me.

Example 3: This one is from a book I’ve been trying to listen to on audio–Dark and Disorderly by Bernita Harris.  The book has a GREAT voice, good narrator, and a really great opening–zombie in the bathroom really caught me.  But then she lost me in chapter 2 when she had the heroine empty out the shot in shot gun shells and refill them with salt. I’m sorry, this is an enormous red flag that this woman has probably never even SEEN a real shot gun shell.

I’m a southern girl.  I spent many companionable hours loading shells with my dad–and yeah I knew how to use them.  Was a better shot than most of the boys my age back then and was even featured in the local paper.  Oh the embarrassment.  This did not help my dating career in high school.  I digress.  The idea that she could pry open a shell with her fingernails, dump out the shot, pour in salt, and close them up again is ludicrous.  It’s a misfire waiting to happen.  There are METAL MACHINES that do all this (even manual ones like Dad and I used).  You have the shell casing.  You either have a fresh one or an old one, where in you do one pass to punch out the used primer and add a new one.  Move to the next station where you do one pass to get the gunpowder in, flip a lever.  Next station do another pass to jam in the wad (this is a plastic bit that separates the gun powder from the shot), flip another lever.  Next station, add the shot–whatever gauge you’re using, flip another lever and do one more pass for the machine to fold in and crimp the top tightly enough that nothing falls out.  Which means that without the use of tools that would destroy the shell, the author’s scenario just wasn’t gonna happen.  Admittedly MOST WOMEN aren’t gonna know this (and had my father had a son instead of a daughter, maybe  I wouldn’t have either), but still, it was a problem for me, and I haven’t gone back to finish the book.

What makes you turn off a show or toss a book?

22 thoughts on “Getting It Right

  1. Actually, making mistakes like you’re talking about isn’t what usually makes me toss a book. It’s too much boring description. I like descriptions that make me see the scene, but it has to be done well and quickly. In fact, I get in trouble with readers for not giving enough description of the surroundings, and I think it’s because of the fear of being boring about it. In movies, I need more action. When there’s too much “set up”, it loses me. As far as not getting things right, my husband watches CSI and says “that’s not how it would really happen” and I say “I don’t care, there’s eye candy”. Hahahahaha

    I probably would have caught the problem with the reloading of the shells, too. I work with a man who has more guns than anyone I know, and he reloads. But I don’t think I would toss the book if it was good otherwise. I’m very forgiving of things like that as long as I’m entertained.

  2. I have a problem with Irish characters and books set in Dublin. It took me ages to read the first one of those Fever books – can’t remember the name – because it annoyed me so much. 🙂 I do much better with books set in places I’ve never been, that way they won’t throw me out of the story, going wtf and pah every two pages. I probably am a bit unfair though. Really bothers me when Irish characters come across as twee little leprechauns, especially when the female characters are all little wifeys at home peeling potatoes and mucking out the pigs. Or the whole country is covered in seven shades of green with little redheaded men saying top of the morning to ya. Or the south-side of Dublin is rich while the north-side is poverty stricken. Or the Gardaí sit around drinking tea/Guinness all day and don’t know how to handle a crime. *Swears* I’m exaggerating now. Maybe a little. 😉

    Inaccurate twin stuff bothers me too. It’s like with anything, if something you know about is off in some way then it stands out and pops you back out of the story. Even the silly things – like the ones that bother me. 🙂

    1. I totally felt that way after living in Scotland. I see all these modern books set in Scotland with the people speaking in Gaelic. Um…not unless they’re in Orkney or one of the remote outer islands. The most Gaelic you’re likely to hear from modern Scots is Slainte.

      1. Aw, lovely! I hope they have a good time here – hopefully it won’t rain too much. If they visit Dublin, I live beside the Guinness factory and can offer a cuppa. 😉 My life is a cliche. LOL.

        1. Claire, I don’t want to hijack Kait’s blog, but quickly…they’re staying at Clontarf Castle Hotel in Dublin for part of the week. They’re also staying at Waterford Castle in Waterford.

  3. To be honest, I tend to overlook any dodgy details I notice provided the rest of the story and the characters are compelling, but the fear of getting things wrong meant I always used to write exclusively from my own worlds (either things I had personally experienced, or universes I’d made up).

    1. Some stuff I’m willing to over look. The speed at which forensic labs process stuff. All CSI shows get it wrong, so we’re conditioned to expect things to move faster than they really do. But important stuff about firearms that takes only a few minutes of googling to prevent someone talking about a safety on a revolver or gun permits in Vermont…that just says lazy to me and that the character is then too stupid to live, as it were. I have a hard time buying that such a character is bad ass enough to beat the bad guy. KWIM?

  4. Details that are wrong do irritate me but what annoys me most is when things are just taken for granted. In a series of books I’m reading at the moment (for about the twelfth or fifteenth time, and I only just noticed this, so it’s not a deal-breaker) the guy goes from 12th century Ireland to modern day New York and speaks perfectly good, albeit nuanced with Irish, English. Wouldn’t he speak Gaelic? I don’t know for sure, but… Then later on they go to a land where supposedly they only speak Gaelic and guess what? Everyone speaks English there too. And I know that because two of the main characters simply don’t speak Gaelic.

    A book I had to force myself to finish a month or so ago maddened me when I was about two-thirds of the way through, having been under the impression that the heroine was in her early thirties from her mature outlook on life, to then discover that she was only seventeen. And then she started acting seventeen. A few pages later everyone started acting out of character, and I mean *everyone* except for one guy. It was like the last hundred pages of the book had been written by a completely different person.

    Lastly, anything with horses acting out of character annoys me if it isn’t explained. There’s a horse in the book above that for some inexplicable reason takes a real shine to the heroine. Awesome. I love horses, so absolutely awesome, if only it had been explained WHY… As it was, it just made me mad.

  5. This doesn’t really happen to me. I usually just attempt to be entertained…my husband on the other hand it easily annoyed especially during war movies or hospital dramas. My husband was in the military and worked in a hospital. He hates it when things happen incorrectly.

    1. Oh my husband is so like that with tech stuff. I keep having to poke him when we’re at movies and he’s all “That’s not how that works!” “Shut up, people are trying to watch!”

  6. People writing dialogue with an accent. Example: instead of writing “darling” they write “dahling”. The book I’m reading right now does this so much it’s distracting. I will be able to tell where someone is from based on the slang you use for them. Take “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett. You know that all three characters use a different accent, to some degree. But she doesn’t write their dialogue in that accent. She uses the slang of the area and time to denote their accent. Otherwise it would be horribly distracting.

  7. Cooking stuff and Midwesterners with southern accents. There’s a difference between a southern accent and a hick accent, okay y’all? 🙂

  8. I usually don’t care about the small details as long as the story itself is well written. The only time I ever had a serious problem with a something being wrong was when I watched Con Air. I used to be in the Air Force where I was an aircraft mechanic, so when they showed the one criminal, I forget his name, attach a 6 volt battery to the IFF (Identification Friend or Foe – used to identify type of aircraft among other things) control panel and stow it in a Cessna, I was like WTF…lol First of all the portion they put in the Cessna is just a control panel. I’ve worked on airplanes with the exact same one and it does nothing but control. It doesn’t transmit or receive anything. And second, even if it did transmit or receive, a 6 volt battery would not be enough to power it. If memory serves, the system runs off either 28 volts DC or 112 volts AC, I don’t remember which. But even that isn’t enough for me to not ever watch the movie again. I just smile and shake my head and keep watching…lol

  9. I’m a stickler for accuracy. Guns, dialects, descriptions, everything’s got to be just so – no wonder it’s taking me so long to edit my own historical! Also consistency. If a character puts something in a drawer and two pages later picks it up off the desk, that throws me right off. And then I get so annoyed I start *looking* for things to pick at [g]
    The’re been only time I caught something that really bugged me, and kept reading anyway. Near the start of Outlander, when Claire describes all the shops being full again a bare few months after the end of the war – whereas rationing went on in the UK almost to the 50s!
    Boy am I glad I kept reading – Diana Gabaldon’s stories are so rich and her research so spot on everywhere else, that I’d have been missing out on a lot if I’d dropped the first book.

  10. I loved your ‘ah-ha’ moment with paranormals! As a writer and lover of fantasy, I feel the same way.

    Once I tried my hand at a classic mystery. 1930’s type with a Detective and the sassy-mouthed secretary. Honestly I didn’t get very far before I realized the research was burying me. Anyway, I scrapped that idea, but not before I bought a Crime Investigation Book of my own.

    For the most part, if a writer has compelling characters and a good storyline, I try not to get too bogged down in the details. Its called ‘Aesthetic Distance” and I forgive the occasional slip.

    BTW, I’m excited to pick up your book. I’m a huge fan of paranormal thrillers!

  11. I have to agree that that is definitely a pet peeve. I mean, seriously!?! I don’t mind stretching reality, but let’s not be ridiculous! That doesn’t typically cause me to turn it off, however. Just mock it! 🙂 For a movie, a cheesy soundtrack and bad dialogue sound the death nell. For a book, it better catch my interest within the first 30 pages or so, or I’m unlikely to ever pick it up again.

  12. That sort of thing drives me nuts, too. How hard is it to do a little research? At least now I know who to come to when I have shotgun questions. 🙂

  13. Movies and TV shows with hand-held camera shots that are so shaky I get seasick just trying to focus on the action. That’s why steady-cams were invented.

  14. Hi, Kait! I’ve been reading through your blog, after stumbling across it while looking for info on self publishing. Lots of great stuff here and I appreciate you sharing your ideas and experience. I also like the writing style in your blog – almost makes me wish I read romance novels. 🙂

    Anyway, the reason I decided to post a comment now (and on an old post, to boot)…
    I just thought I’d bring up a bit of trivia, regarding the inevitable exceptions that prove the rule.

    Although very, very few revolvers have been factory-made with a safety, there have been a handful. I used to have a .38 S&W (no relation to a .38 special) with a “lemon squeezer” grip safety (similar to a 1911 auto) – though it’s an obsolete gun and not easy to find ammunition for, it isn’t particularly uncommon. It’s also possible for a gunsmith to customize a standard revolver to add a thumb safety (Here’s one type – http://www.tarnhelm.com/murabito.html).

    So safety-equipped revolvers do exist, even though the chances of the authors in question actually knowing that are probably nil.

    As for what bugs me…
    The botched minor details don’t bother me too much, unless they’re really, really bone-headed or happen every other page. I figure there’s stuff that’ll slip by any of us. We can’t be experts on everything, after all. Even research will only get us so far. And the complete disregard for reality that we see in things like CSI – I just write that off as science fiction. Honestly I can push the suspension of disbelief pretty far – the shotgun shell thing, I actually think is pretty cool. Sure it’s impossible without some kind of tools (she sure isn’t going to pry it open with her fingernails), but it’s creative enough that I’d give it a pass. I mean, if I’m going to pretend that I believe in zombies, I can pretend to believe in quite a lot.

    For me, it’s flawed internal logic, or the author not following through on his own reality that drives me nuts – like having an explosion take the power out in a building, and then the characters take the elevator on the way out.

    1. Actually I have quite a few male readers because I have a very very high emphasis on the action in my work. I’m just sayin’. 😉 Thanks for stopping by!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.