The ERROR Terror

screamMost normal people are afraid of spiders, heights, or clowns, or really creepy shit like this, but writers—we’re most afraid of making mistakes. Or rather, getting caught making mistakes in our books. Especially writers of genres that require heavy research and specialized knowledge, such as crime, historical and science-fiction.

As if there aren’t already enough things to worry about: Did I make my protagonist relatable enough? Is the plot compelling enough?Does the cover suck? Am I marketing it right? Will my next book be a let down to all my hard-earned fans? Will I survive Amazon’s algorithms? OH GOD there’s a typo on page 53, now everyone will think I’m an idiot and no one will buy my book and you can quit writing altogether YOU LOSER *sob*

We’re writers. We overreact. It’s in our job description.

But factual errors… they’re another thing altogether. There’s nothing subjective about them. They’re not a question of taste or personal style. An error is an error. It’s a verifiable object of knowledge which anyone dedicated enough can call us out on. And fans of these genres are Dedicated. They are history buffs, forensic hobbyists, and science-geeks, and they love pointing out errors and bash the authors who made them.

The best lists of errors out there are chock-full of movie mistakes, of course. Like this brief but tasty list of 7 scientific fuck-ups, or these 40 historical movie errors, or these 10 forensic myths spread by TV.

But trust me, the groups on Goodreads and various forums out there are full of snarky comments about authors who don’t do their homework right. And the fans and “experts” don’t just talk about it in the privacy of their online corner, they email the authors and tell them when they fucked up, and exactly how much they fucked up. They say so in their reviews, too. You know, the ones we desperately count on Amazon and bite our nails over every night? Yup, those.

Hey, I’ve even included one such observation into my review of a famous science-fiction book, though I wasn’t snarky about it.

Errors are hard to ignore, and they can really ruin a story. No wonder we piss ourselves over making errors in our pwecious little books. I’m often mortified by the thought of basing some crucial wordlbuilding bit on a faulty piece of science and ending up flat-nosed against a reviewer’s HALT sign.

The only way to counteract the merciless destruction of our word-babies is to do our homework. Research the shit out of everything we’re uncertain about, and then research the things we are certain about too, just to make sure. You’d be surprised how many things we take for granted which are in fact nothing but heinous lies (like noise in space, one-hour DNA results, and waxed beefy Spartans).

We can’t afford to let an MS built on a poor understanding of science, history or medicine slip between our fingers. Sure, in its early stages, every single MS our there is nothing but the bastard child of late-night typing and various vices, but the end result should be checked and double-checked with as many able pairs of expert eyes as possible. You know, so that we don’t have to die writhing in agony when someone eventually points out we built our premise on dried-up brain droppings.

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          This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, April 2014.          

In 2012, my E post was — Warning: Editor Inside!

20 Replies to “The ERROR Terror”

  1. I think it’s inevitable that errors will creep into every MS. I remember being worried about clever people questioning all the maths and science (, fractal geometry, string theory, quantum mechanics etc.) in my book, but in the end it was the simplest things that I got wrong, like referring to the sound of a Range Rover’s V12 engine, only to be informed that Range Rover’s don’t come with a V12 😦
    My lesson from this was to make sure I double-check every simple assumption I make and not to worry so much about the hard stuff that took all the research – I probably got that mostly right, and even if I didn’t, very few people are going to know any better:)

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    1. I know exactly what you mean. I check everything, even during first drafts. I don’t go over board too much, not often, but I prefer to know I’ve done all I could to be accurate.

      But I’m SURE I missed something important, something obvious. That’s why I hope to find some really good beta readers when I’m done editing.

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  2. Hello, some random blog hopping through the A to Z list brought me here today, I don’t have anything interesting to add to your post but just wanted to say I really enjoyed reading it.

    I love reading the genre and would probably miss any mistakes you might make; there are readers out there who don’t notice… although I know we’re not the ones keeping you awake at nights!

    Good luck with the challenge and especially the research!

    Mars
    Curling Stones for Lego People

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  3. There’s much I could say on this.
    First, I love research… These days I’m into plasma and dark energy and column sprites and alchemy.
    Secondly, I was reading the 7 scientific fuck-ups list and totally had an “I KNEW IT!” moment.
    [This will only register if you’ve seen Signs. If not, Spoilers ahead!]
    I was swinging with my 2 year old, Simon, yesterday on his new swing set. Every time I paused he’d say “Swing, dada, swing!”
    So I was telling him that he sounded like the “delusional” mom on Signs, telling Joaquin Phoenix to keep playing baseball AKA smash conveniently placed glasses of water to destroy aliens. Then I was like, “Wait a second. If water was their weakness, why the hell would they come to Earth of all places?”
    (besides the fact that it would take them generations to arrive at any other planet inhabited by life if indeed one exists, that is unless they can travel faster than light in which case wtf do they want from us Earth monkeys anyway?)
    Only yesterday I realized that. And today it’s validated. Full circle. I’d tell Simon but I don’t think he’d get it. He is only two.

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    1. Cool! You should totally explain it to him, even if he might not “get it” the way an adult does. You’d be surprised how many things seep into kids’ minds in raw form, not yet decrypted, to be drawn upon later when he knows more and click with everything else. 🙂

      Also, yes, wtf would they want from us? I’ve yet to see an invasion story where aliens come for our resources that’s even half-way convincing. We’re not that special. Really.

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  4. I always worry about saying something crazy/stupid/messed up with my story concepts. If I don’t know something, and I can gloss over it, that’s what I do. I have flying cars, I don’t even know how normal cars work, so I gloss over how they work. But, as far as interior design, controls, I understand that stuff and research.

    I think by focusing on stuff I get, and not focusing on what confuses me helps make the world feel more full, without making myself look like an idiot.

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    1. “I think by focusing on stuff I get, and not focusing on what confuses me helps make the world feel more full, without making myself look like an idiot.”

      THIS. You totally nailed it, Fatma. This is the best way to go. 🙂

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  5. See, I agree with you, but, then, I look at how popular some really stupid stuff is and realize that, really, (most) people just don’t care. I mean, they really just don’t care. I hated Independence Day–it’s one of the stupidest movies ever–but people don’t care that it was stupid and will make excuses for the stupidity.

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  6. To err is human… God forbid anyone should think writers are human 😉

    I recently released a book on Kindle Worlds only to find a subtle typo buried deep within the story. Most people would probably miss it, but it had me delay any notification/promotion until Amazon uploaded the latest version. Why? Because the single worst review an indie author can get is, “Meh. Nice story. Shame about the editing. Typical indie.”

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    1. Ugh. Those lazy indies. Never do anything right. (Let’s completely ignore the fact that traditionally published authors don’t either; they have staff.)

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  7. Great post and you’re right, it’s something we all obsess over although we deny it. My biggest issue is once I’ve done the first couple of drafts, I’m done. I hate reading it over and over, looking for the little typos. Instead I count on good copy editors and proof readers….and even then things slip through.

    Now research, I enjoy that, at least for my crime novels. Not so sure I’ll ever do anything but contemporary even though I love reading historical romance and time travel.

    D.B. McNicol
    A to Z: Romance & Mystery…writing my life

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    1. I’m with you on getting sick of constantly tinkering with manuscripts. This one’s my first, so I’ve pretty much done everything wrong the first (few) time around. I bet I’ll become one of those “clean first drafts” kind of writers, simply because I’d rather take a year to draft than three to rewrite. 😀

      Thanks for the comment, Donna. Good luck with the A to Z this year!

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  8. Hi…I just stumbled across this post while looking for writing topics and I have to comment because this topic resonated DEEPLY with me. I don’t write Sci-Fi, I write contemporary YA and dabble in paranormal fiction. (That said, I do love reading and watching Sci-Fi and Space Fantasy). This “Error Terror” plagues me too. My first novel features a Star Wars fangirl in the summer of 1977 and I was terrified of making any errors. SW fans are generally lovely people…until you make an error about their beloved universe. (Plus, let’s be honest, I didn’t want anyone to accuse me of fake fangirling…something that does happen). So I screwed up my courage and sought out a “super fan” with an encyclopedic knowledge of SW as a beta reader. Best thing I ever did for my own piece of mind.

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    1. Hi Trisha! I would have done the same thing in your stead. 😀 I know, that’s a bit much for most other people, but I couldn’t lay back comfortably with something in my novel that I wasn’t confident about, not knowing if it could come back and bite me. I’d rather invest the time and energy in making sure there’s no such spots, than wave them off thinking no harm could come from them.

      Of course, that doesn’t rule out the errors I’m completely ignorant of having made, but that’s something I’ll just have to live with. 🙂

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. It feels good knowing I’m not alone with my occasional paranoia.

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  9. When heavy research in involved, factual errors are sometimes hard, or impossible, to avoid. I obsess over getting things right. So much so, I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it. And I don’t even write historical fiction. My heart goes out to those who do. I think it takes a great researcher and fact checker in such cases.
    Great post, Veronica.
    Silvia @
    SilviaWrites

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    1. I can’t imagine the amount of research and hard work going into historical fiction. It makes me dizzy just thinking about it. But then again, I was never very good or fond of history.

      I’m lucky that most far future science-fiction (like the one I write) is basically wild speculation. It has to be grounded in reality, but it has a wider margin.

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