I had the opportunity to talk at length with a reporter who worked in Glasgow during the time of the Bible John investigation. He was surprised I knew about it... obviously, I knew about it because of a Rankin book.

He told me, "He got a few things wrong." Then he said, "I shouldn't say that. It's not like he'd know, and it's a good book."

Do you guys ever start feeling too much knowledge can be a curse?

We all make mistakes. I have. So, this is not about me being perfect and others being idiots. Not at all. But in the past few months I've hit on things in my reading that I tripped over. In one book, following up a lead in Ontario, Canada meant calling the RCMP. (I don't want to spill details of the lead, but trust me, this is a 'local jurisdiction' thing.) Wonder what the Ontario Provincial Police would think... but then, it's just Canada, we're used to it. Not many foreign novels that touch on Canada get it right. Law & Order almost never does. (I'll never forgive them for saying Muskoka is a town. Of all the bloody things, were you too lazy to even check a map? It's a district. Pffft.)

I was reading something else and it included an arson investigation and Kevin kept asking if I was enjoying it. Finally I said, Yeah, but... See, Evil Kev's a trained arson investigator, and a firefighter. As soon as I told him how the arson investigation was handled he knew why I was having trouble with it. It was 100% wrong.

Now, I'm trying not to be extra grumpy, because I got a rejection letter yesterday based on a partial. The reason? Something in my story wasn't realistic. Only the "something" they mentioned isn't something that happens in my book. And since they didn't have a full in front of them, I guess they just projected the outcome of the story? Skipped reading the outline?

I don't know if I should be doubly amused or annoyed to have my work rejected over an element that isn't realistic that it doesn't include when I'm reading other books from big publishers that have major things wrong... But I'm leaning on amusement.

And then I'm asking myself what's fair to assess. The average reviewer wouldn't know anything about arson investigation. Would it be fair for me to criticize the author over it? Maybe it's unfair, because I'm in a position to know too much?

And then, there's the question of creative license. For crying out loud, we're trying to tell stories without bogging them down in tedious detail. Sometimes, you have to cut someone some slack.

I find if the overall writing, characterization and the story are compelling I'm more forgiving... Except when it comes to certain errors. I'm being completely honest when I say I have my pet things that piss me off more than others, and I think we all do. Just like the reporter who knew first hand, from participating in the Bible John investigation, details that others wouldn't be able to know easily (investigators scattered to the four corners or deceased) I know about arson investigation, and other stuff. If I were writing a review (which I'm not) my obligation is to the reader, not to myself. And does the average reader know? Would they care?

I can be really annoyed about Law & Order's 'Muskoka' error, because inside of a five minute (ten if we're being lazy) google search anyone should know it's not a town. But some of the arson stuff is a lot harder to come by. Should ease of access factor in to how seriously we view the error?

How do you decide when something's just your hobby horse and you're being really nitpicky and should just let it go, or when it's worth holding it as a criticism?

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I think those things would irritate me as well. Then again, I've been to Japan. I suppose if the author says right off they've fictionalized the environment I would feel differently. One book I tried had some serious errors about Vancouver, and the thing that really undid it for me wasn't the errors, it was the fact that the author published this article about how to properly research your book. There's nothing worse than someone who makes errors - and in one case, it was the kind of error a quick google search would have identified as well, about the function of a specific hospital (never mind the fact that the hospital has also been closed permanently, something I knew because my best friend worked there until she had to find a new job) - and then tells other people how to get it right, using their book as an example.

I came up short in some research I did for SC. We often finish books as much as 2 or 3 years before they're published, especially in the case of our first book. I foolishly set the book ahead of when I wrote it, because I knew it would take a while for it to get published, but didn't think about needing to re-research every law/jurisdiction issue, etc. Authors can learn from my rookie mistake, because so much of what we include is fluid.
Sometimes, there are things that just aren't easy to find out, that you couldn't reasonably be expected to know unless you've been there/specialized in a particular field/etc. The folks who have been there/know that field/etc. are going to notice, but most people won't.

I do as much research as I can, but I know I'm not going to get every detail right. I read everything I could get my hands on about a particular place where I had set a story, had written the story, and had gone back later to get some images of the place, to edit in some local color, from an online site where travelers post pictures of where they've been. I'd had one of my scenes set at about the time when the street lights start coming on--and discovered from the pictures and comments that the place doesn't have street lights. Nothing I'd read previous to that mentioned that.

Of course, that prompted a re-write. But it made me very aware that there are details that you just have to be there to know, and that I'm going to get things wrong just because I'm not there to see it.

But, when it's a case of something that could easily have been looked up, a writer sort of deserves to get dinged on that. Not doing even basic research is just lazy.
"But it made me very aware that there are details that you just have to be there to know, and that I'm going to get things wrong just because I'm not there to see it."

That's one of the reasons I fictionalized the location for SC. I knew I'd get it wrong. Interesting about the street lights - it's the kind of thing we often don't think about, although I suspect it's also the kind of thing 95% of readers wouldn't know either.
I think you need to get it just right enough to make the book work. Realism is for documentaries (allegedly) and we're in the arena of fiction and entertainment. I totally get your irritation with the 'Muskoka' error. I had a similar experience with The Bone Vault by Linda Fairstein in which she describes my home city as Capetown not Cape Town (this was in an ARC, so it may have been fixed before the actual book was released) which irked me to the nth degree. Like calling New York, Newyork, but hey it's only Africa.

But as regards overall accuracy, I believe the story must be king. When you start bogging your reader down in minutiae just to make it more realistic, that's when you lose me. It's like, every law drama you will ever watch is inaccurate. Client walks into firm, next day they're in court, by the end of the episode their matter's been handled. As someone with a legal background, this could be irksome to me because real law cases drag on for years. But it's necessary to skip realism and accuracy for the sake of drama and, for me, knowing what to leave in and what to take out is where the author's earns his/her salary.
I'm with you on minutiae. That's why I have no problem skimming on details in terms of a legitimate police investigation. If someone actually wrote down all the procedure we'd be bored to tears.

And the Cape Town error would have been very annoying.
I agree with what Dennis said.

There also has to be some responsibility on the part of the reader to recognise that a work of fiction can make use of artistic license, but also not to take any piece of 'factual' information at face value. The thought of a writer getting a factual detail wrong bothers me less than a reader simply accepting that this wrong detail is right. Of course, that's less of an issue for the Muskoka error than if a novel claims Elvis was the second shooter in the JFK assassination. For example, it's scary the number of people who think the Necronomicon is a real book and not something invented by H P Lovecraft.
"The thought of a writer getting a factual detail wrong bothers me less than a reader simply accepting that this wrong detail is right."

I used to not question stuff, just enjoy the overall story. It wasn't so much assuming it was right as not assuming it was wrong. Now, the more I read, the more aware I am of potential errors, and part of that is from reviewing and part of it is from reading forums and seeing people rant over mistakes.

I wonder how much you have to balance it with the 'know your audience' thinking. In crime fiction, readers can be really fussy about getting it right...
Trust Sandra to come up with another irresistible topic. :)
I have the sort of background that forces me into extensive and often unnecessary research for my historical novels. I distrust many sources. I'm also writing fiction that I hope is effective in creating the sort of atmosphere that will draw the readers into the book. My readers are Westerners. The two facts are frequently at war.
Now speaking of Japan, my novels are set in the Japan of the 11th century. That country no longer exists. All of my research is based on books and art reproductions. The books are both primary and secondary. Trust me. I take pains. And have been doing so for over 20 years.
So I was infuriated when an unknown reader's review on Amazon accused one of my novels of being totally inaccurate about everything. No examples given.
We are not really talking here about the sort of license an author takes to promote the plot and the story (I usually deal with that sort of thing in the end note), but rather with a reader who thinks he knows better. That sort of thing is amazingly common when it comes to Japan. Things changed rather dramatically there a century later. Most fans of Japanese culture, however, come at my novels with notions of Shogun and the Samurai culture.
And as a side note: That comment has affected my amazon sales.
I.J. I'd be really upset about that too. Especially when you go to such pains to get it as right as possible. And that's something that has me wondering... Since the book I have out there, making the rounds, includes an arson investigation perhaps I should have said in my bio I'm married to a qualified arson investigator and firefighter. It never occured to me. And actually, it wasn't something to do with the arson investigation that prompted the rejection, but still. Realizing I could get skewered for something I didn't actually do has made me wonder if I should have backed up my research in the submission package.

Then you start thinking you just can't win... What are you going to do? I can pull a book off my shelves from a major publisher that has the arson investigation completely wrong, but apparently in that case nobody cared. Where is a "roll eyes" emoticon when you need one?
IJ and Sandra, how infuriating for you both. One book really irritated me (I think it was Italian, and may have been by Lucarelli, but I'm not 100% sure of my recall of the title) by giving incorrect first aid procedures for an epileptic fit (the book made several references to placing hard objects in a person's mouth to prevent them biting a tongue during a fit).
Right. You cannot possibly predict every reader's personal quirks. Keep submitting. If the arson investigation is central to the story, you could mention your background in the next cover letter among your other credits.
See, that would bother me too, but as someone who spent years working with special needs children I've been trained in first aid. However, I think there's a higher percentage of people with that kind of training than arson training, so I'm certain the author heard about their mistake.


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