1. GoldenFeather
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    GoldenFeather Active Member

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    When a writer describes a real thing or place inaccurately...

    Discussion in 'Research' started by GoldenFeather, Jan 3, 2016.

    If a writer describes a real person or place inaccurately, are you bothered? Do you lose interest in the book?

    Do you feel the writer failed to do their research properly? Do you forgive them for not knowing better?

    Are you bothered because you know it's not really like that?
     
  2. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    It does bother me some. The same way it would bother me if a profession was described inaccurately, or a historical date was wrong. However, it wouldn't necessarily make me lose interest in the book. If it were just a background detail, I would certainly forgive. If it's the basis of the whole story, though, I think I'd be irritated beyond repair. It all depends, I guess.

    I hate making these kinds of mistakes myself, and try really hard not to.

    Why do you ask? Are you just curious, or did you just encounter some errors that bother you?
     
  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    It might bother me if it is egregious, but I think you have to look at the whole market of readers when determining how much to do. I have a work set in a small town in Oregon. I've used Google Earth to check the place out, and that gives me some good information, but even so there are details of the town that are probably wrong and other things I've changed intentionally for the story (like restaurants or other local locations). From a practical standpoint, the number of readers who will recognize the discrepancies is relatively small, so I'm not worried about this.

    You see this in movies and TV shows from time to time. I saw a show that was supposed to be set at a farmhouse in Missouri (where I have lived). It's clear to me that the show was filmed in a place more like the central valley of California, where I now live, and not in Missouri. You can tell that from trees you can see in the shots, and even from the occasional glimpse of distant mountains. I'm not sure it is California, but it's not Missouri.

    But one the whole I doubt many viewers notice or care.
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2016
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  4. GoldenFeather
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    GoldenFeather Active Member

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    I remember reading a James Rollins book, and he had some character who were latino (from different countries). I'm fluent in Spanish and familiar with the different kinds of slang from each country. This author had the slang all wrong, and it made me lose interest in the character because they didn't feel as authentic.

    I'm also asking because I'm sure I've done the same in my work, and I'm a bit worried that others might notice these inaccuracies and take my work less seriously. After all, I don't expect any less when I'm reading a novel myself...
     
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  5. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, that kind of thing would probably bother me, as a reader. Why do you think you've done the same in your own work? Is that just a general worry, or is there something you've written that you know is wrong?

    I suppose it's not possible to do research of an unfamiliar place or subject and not make any mistakes. So I guess I'd try to overlook honest mistakes, if they weren't too glaring. But I don't know if I'd be able to pretend they didn't exist, either.

    Living in Scotland the past 30 years has made me realise just how much Scotland (and the various Scottish accents) are misrepresented in writing and film. I know that when this happens my little brain immediately goes : Nope.

    And don't get me started on the mess that is Outlander....
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2016
  6. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, it bothers me, mostly because there is no good reason to do it. If you must feature a certain thing or place, then research it properly. If you want to make up your own details, make up the whole thing.

    When I notice an inaccuracy it reminds me that I'm reading a work of fiction. Anything that jolts me out of the story is bad.
     
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  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    The reason it works in general, like the show I saw that was supposed to be in Missouri, is the vast portion of the audience won't ever know that the detail is wrong.
     
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  8. GoldenFeather
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    GoldenFeather Active Member

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    If I know it's wrong I wouldn't write it. It's a general worry to be honest. Many of my stories take place in parts of the world I've never been (yet), so I'm concerned that people who have been to that place, or who are in that profession (despite that I've done research) might catch these inaccuracies, and as Tenderiser has mentioned, it jolts you out of the story and you become aware that it's fiction.

    That to me is the worst possible thing you can do in a novel, is to make the reader aware they are reading fiction. I think that's the one major mistake all writers should avoid, and one that might be difficult to avoid if you write about things you don't entirely know about (after all, not all of us have enough experience to write about all the things we want to).
     
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  9. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    This might be more dangerous in a writer who is deemed 'prolific' ...in that they churn out a book a year, or something like that. They won't have time to do detailed research, and are bound to make mistakes.

    I write historical fiction, and research as thoroughly as possible. Not just because I don't want to make mistakes, but because I actually enjoy research and finding out how things were done 'back then.' However, I often fictionalise localities. If it's a small town, it's a fictional small town, set in a general area of a real place that I have researched (or visited.) That way I have more freedom to write what I want, without worrying about getting something 'wrong.'

    Getting accents or foreign words and phrases wrong, though. That's a tough one. I do have one main character who is bilingual, and I was fortunate enough to be able to run his dialogue past an actual speaker of that languageā€”and make changes as needed. That's always an option to go for, if you're not sure.
     
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  10. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I didn't lose interest but Twilight had Forks, the Olympic Peninsula, and especially La Push completely wrong.

    Forks is just uglier, more road and strip development as far as stores go. But La Push is a poverty stricken litter strewn sadder than you can imagine reservation. There are a dozen makeshift fireworks and cigarette stands lining the road because there are no restrictions on the fireworks and no tax on the cigarettes. There is a nice beach there though that you can walk to. It's part of the Olympic Park system rather than the reservation.

    But the thing that was the most annoying was the supposed hiking off trail through the Olympic Forest that the characters did. It can't be done. Outside of the trails the ground between the trees is 5 feet deep in fallen logs, dense undergrowth and in some places water in little rivulets draining from the higher areas. It is a rain forest after all.

    I should add, not that many people would have been to La Push. I'd been there in my avid hiking days.

    But it didn't really matter to the story which was fantasy anyway.
     
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  11. obi-sem kenobi
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    obi-sem kenobi Contributing Member

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    I don't mind per se, but what I am bothered by is if some parts are incredibly well researched and other parts are not, but give the impression that they are. I remember being really pissed off at Snowcrash because it was an amazing book that really made the cyberpunk feel real and the science seemed accurate, but there were huge sections about religion and Chrisitanity (ok, sensitive subject, I know, but that's not the point) that were wildly inaccurate but appeared to be as well researched as the technical stuff. It literally ended up in the garbage bin halfway through.
    That is, of course, an extreme example, but it does illustrate my general opinion. I don't really mind if someone makes mistakes because they simply didn't know, of course it's better if they do, but I don't really mind. Just don't pretend to be smart about something unless you really are.
     
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  12. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I remember watching Quantum Solace with my Bolivian friend, and in the film James Bond was in Bolivia for part of it, walking through a desert.

    My friend said later, "There're no deserts in Bolivia!"

    :D

    Another occasion I was watching X-Men with some friends - the latest one with Jennifer Lawrence in it as Mystique. In the film, Lawrence had to speak Vietnamese and fool another character into believing she was an interpreter. I happened to be with some actual Vietnamese friends and later they told me Lawrence's Vietnamese was so badly spoken they could barely understand it hahaha :D Considering it's a language with more tones than Cantonese, I guess she could be forgiven!
     
  13. Malisky
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    Malisky Fuzz Overdriver Contributor

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    I also tend to worry too much about this issue and end up researching way too much, sometimes being led into a magical, trance-like state that always seems to go deeper... and deeper... into the mysteries of the universe. I can hear the sirens singing again! Although educational (I got tones of useless info), watch out for this black hole because it's the number one reason I end up procrastinating and time waits for no one. Of course not everybody is like that. Just some irrelevant advise from a procrastinating sufferer. :p

    I like information that is on spot but that doesn't mean I can really spot it. But keep in mind that you can't fool everyone and it doesn't always matter. If you write a best seller that is placed in small village in Japan for some reason, it doesn't matter if you don't write about their topical community celebrations in detail. (Most people are not going to be from around there). At least get the general idea and culture upon their biggest, most wide-spread celebrations right and it's cool by me. Writers that share detailed information have usually not only traveled but also stayed a respectable portion of time, in order to observe these details. They experienced them first hand and for a long period in order to get the "air" of it. Some other writers are scholars upon their thematic subject (Dan Brown is).

    After spending a whole lot of time with this issue which halted my work again and again and drove me nuts, I feel for the writers that make mistakes and forgive their ignorance as it's truly understandable. Just don't make huge mistakes or never-ending and completely miles-away-from-the-truth mistakes. If you are not sure about something also you have to ask yourself: Is what I'm about to risk writing wrong so important as to actually put it in my novel?

    I'm writing a novel that I imagined to take place in a city like Fresno. I researched a lot about ghettos, slang, police investigations, etc. I figured that when people talk slang (and as a matter of fact real conversations in more formal language as well have nothing to do with "dialogue" conversations. We tend to communicate in quite a chaotic manner if you ever stop to observe a conversation) I barely understand what they are saying. Even if I did and wrote it down as it is, would anyone else apart from the topical slang speaker, understand what I'm writing? Nope. So I improvise. It doesn't have to be Fresno. Never been there, never will. So it's a made up municipality northern of Fresno named... If I write it believable who will notice and even if they notice so what? I'll use only some slang words. The most viral ones I found on the internet. I'll create my own gangs based on real facts. My gangs, my rules. I don't even have to know about Fresno s topography with real avenues, squares, etc. I'll create identical. I'm not writing a tour map, I'm trying to write a novel here! It's tough cheez already.

    By researching how investigations are conducted I fell upon many- many myths we believe to be so just because they use them in almost every crime show today. Although I know the truth now, I don't get bothered by them. I might brag to some of my friends while watching the show about "what I know that you don't know" but non the less not bothered. And although I must say I know those truths, I might also disguise them differently, because some of these lies are not made out of ignorance. They are clever plot pushers.

    So keep calm, make it simple and don't obsess too much upon reality. The readers will know it is fiction anyway and not a history book (if the have some sense in them). Keep your imagination going and the keyboard taping. From your topic I conclude that you are already a deep researcher so how far off could you fall anyway? :)
     
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  14. GoldenFeather
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    GoldenFeather Active Member

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    That's actually great advice. Thank you!
     
  15. B93
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    B93 Active Member

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    I scream and yell when a book pretends to be realistic and gets geography, science, or history wrong.

    Dan Brown was mentioned above. He makes all of the above errors and has the gall to claim his stories are carefully researched. If they were submitted to thorough fact checking, they would have to be completely re-written.

    Apparently not all readers feel the same way. (sarcasm) See how inaccuracy has ruined Dan Brown's career as a writer.(/sarcasm)
     
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  16. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yep. As I noted above, in the vast majority of cases I suspect most readers will not know, and therefore not care, about these sorts of things. If you're screwing up something that rises to the level of common knowledge, then it will be more of an issue.
     
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  17. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    I'm less inclined toward whether the geography is wrong as compared to the culture being wrong. Mary Summer Rain (don't ask) has a book, ostensibly about some faculty and students at CU, where everyone is super psyched to go cross country in an RV.

    The only people who would think about taking an RV anywhere in Colorado are transplants or planesmen, and even then the urge should disappear in a couple of years of living on the front range.
     
  18. Malisky
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    Malisky Fuzz Overdriver Contributor

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    I was wrong to say he is a scholar (I mixed him with another writer). Just checked his biography again and found out that his wife who is a historian and artist helped him out with his research. Anyhow, I just like to correct my mistakes.

    But he did his research with devotion. He traveled a lot in order to complete his work (which he does every time because he has got the time and the money to invest in his research) and he also had historians to accompany him along the way. The errors and inaccuracies (which are indifferently small) are made on purpose. He deals with conspiracies and writes fiction about them (what did you expect)? If a reader takes fiction-knowledge as fact just because he is bored to investigate further the information he comes across, then it's his problem. I find his book only inspiring as to start researching about such matters.

    I am not a great fan of his. I started reading Angels and Demons and stopped half-way, but I must admit I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code a lot and that's about the only works of his that I read, but having a history of arts education myself I didn't stumble upon any great error. (Maybe you'd like to enlighten some).

    I think that this style of writing is very hard and it takes a great mind and guts to do it. I'd love to be able to mix fact and fiction so fabulously in one of my works but yet I find it veeeeery difficult as an art form. You have to travel a lot, read a lot, find experts to help you, make connections and not lose your focus in what you are doing along the way. So although I'm not a great fan I do admire him as a writer for what he has accomplished in his life so far, meaning not his prizes, but his enthusiasm in what he is doing which is transmitted through his work.

    I like this kind of fiction and if you know somebody who writes it (even better than Dan), please do share because I'm interested in checking him or her out. (Seriously. No pun intended). :)

    Lastly, I never claimed to speak for all readers. (Pun intended).

    Just sharing opinions mate. Don't take it to heart. :p
     
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  19. Samurai Jack
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    Samurai Jack Active Member

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    I was watching old episodes of The Muppet Show on YouTube the other day, and it occurred to me... the Swedish Chef probably isn't speaking Swedish. And then I thought, is Swedish a language? I had to look it up. Like, the official language of the Netherlands is Dutch kind of thing.

    And, do people in Sweden laugh at Swedish Chef? Or is the character changed to American Chef and his gibberish sounds like burgerbugerbugerbugerhotdogburger?

    I finished off John Ringo's Paladin of Shadows series. He explicitly states in his book notes there is no location or people on Earth like what he is writing about, but the books are modern Clancy-like techno thrillers, so he is constantly specific to the town, the road, the river... and I find it all completely enjoyable.

    If reality is getting in the way of a good story, I would honestly prefer you make it up. Everyone in this thread is at least three times as smart and knowledgeable as I am. I promise, I won't notice a thing.
     
  20. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    I find the statement that you are "fluent in Spanish and familiar with the different kinds of slang from each country", virtually impossible to be true. There are many countries with Spanish as a primary language and within those countries no doubt many variations of slang. I am not even familiar with most of the slang in the immediate area that I live in, to claim all Spanish slang everywhere is either quite boastful or just a large exaggeration IMO.

    Also the comment about a character having their Vietnamese wording done poorly and claiming to be an interpreter is somewhat off, again IMO. Many interpreters are interpreting for a second, or third language and only have to be fluent enough to get the job done. You have to give the characters some leeway.

    Also the Atacama desert has portions in Bolivia so I would say Bolivia does have at least one desert. Finding fault in other people's research is easy to say but a little more difficult to prove, again in my opinion. Even if a person is writing a true story it ends up just being their interpretation of the events, the "truth" is usually somewhat different depending on the author. An author should strive to be as accurate as needed for the story they're writing but even an autobiography will have inaccuracies I think.
     
  21. GoldenFeather
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    GoldenFeather Active Member

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    You misunderstood my post. I have a doctorate in Spanish and studied the slang for every single Latinamerican country, so I know what I'm talking about :)
     
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  22. Patra Felino
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    Patra Felino Active Member

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    Dan Brown really takes the piss, though. Angels and Demons contained a totally ridiculous inaccuracy:

    The whole book is based upon a new way of creating energy by colliding matter and antimatter. But separating matter and antimatter in the first place takes more energy than you would get from colliding it again. The whole premise is completely ridiculous, and there's no way he wouldn't have noticed in his research. Really annoyed me.
     
  23. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Don't go overboard with details. That way, no one can fault you for bad descriptions.

    I read somewhere once a long time ago (sorry I can't give you a reference to look up) that the objective of writing description is to give the reader just enough so he/she can fill in the rest with imagination. A writer wants to provide the essence of experience and let the reader do the work. It's what they have to do anyway, so don't give them so many words that you end up standing in their way.

    The example used was describing a run-down motel room.

    Rather than describing all the ratty furniture and fixtures, the sad state of the walls, the noise from the street and other rooms, etc. etc...

    Describe just the essence of the room...

    A rusting air conditioner blocked the window and, drip by drip, painted a portrait of squalor on the mattress.

    Those aren't the words from the original example because I don't remember them. And I may have pushed a bit too hard in trying to recreate the example here, but hopefully I've managed to get you to imagine the rest of the room from just these few words.

    And when it comes to someone or something everyone is familiar with, why describe it at all? John Kennedy... need I say more? The Eiffel Tower... got an image in your head for that?
     
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  24. GoldenFeather
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    GoldenFeather Active Member

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    I think another mistake some writers make is assume their readers know about a real-life thing or place when they don't. You would be surprised how little some people know about things that we consider normal or common sense.

    I like your advice about describing the essence and not the little details. I read in another book, however, that instead of describing the way the motel room would look (to use your example), you would simply allow the details to flow out as the character explores the room.

    So instead of saying the furniture is ratty and there is noise, you could say, "She sat on the dusty sofa, springs poking at her back, and tried to listen to the news above the humming of the air conditioner above her head."

    This method helps me with my struggles to describe. I'm the kind who over-describes for fear I'm not painting a well enough picture, but this method allowed me to avoid long descriptions but also have a way to let descriptive details paint the picture as the experience happens.
     
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  25. KennyAndTheDog
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    This is a really interesting one and one that I'm very wary of too. I know that I do switch off if the subject is something important to me and is just wrong.
    As a northern English lass I used to get very angry when people are describe an accent as "British", but as it happens so often I tend to let it go these days.
    I still get cross when people try to write an accent that they're not that familiar with - just write it normally and tell the reader, don't do a hatchet job on your characters. A well written accent, though, can really make a character alive. (eg 't'in't in tin is a nice gentle poke at a Yotkshire accent, but tin tin tin is just offensive and 'tint in t tin will get the book binned.)
     

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