Most 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!