By Julie Wright
I've recently discovered the TV series Once Upon a Time. For someone like me, who is an avid junkie of all things fairytale, this is a delightful series. I only wish I'd discovered it when it had moved into its second or third season so I could buy the DVDs and watch at my own leisure.
While I was at ABC's website streaming the first few episodes (available for a short time only), I found the comments list. It was during the second episode. I was waiting for the show to buffer so scrolled down to see what else there was to do, because I am a chronic multi-tasker and really hate even a few seconds of idle time. One of the comments was,
"Inconsistency with the apples...she says honeycrisp tree then hands Emma a red delicious. I know, I know, it's small, but details like that are important to me."
There were several comments about the honeycrisp. Apparently a lot of people know their apples. I didn't actually catch the error, because I don't know apples, but I found the comments interesting--comments like, "I know it's small, but details like that are important to me."
There is power in getting the details right.
Don't get me wrong. I totally understand the frustration that research brings. I know what it's like to get to a place where I simply don't know how it really works. That's one of the reasons I set aside a book I'd felt very strongly about. I was lost in the research and realized that until I could commit to the research, I had no business writing the book. It's easy to let little details go while thinking, "How many people really know what a honeycrisp apple looks like anyway?"
The answer is: A lot of people.
And them knowing the right answer when the writer got it wrong yanks them out of the story. Some readers will roll their eyes and dive back into the story. Others will roll their eyes and TRY to dive back in, but they'll keep surfacing so they can do another eye roll, and the book loses some of its original excitement. And others will roll their eyes and walk away because they can't get past the fact that the writer got it wrong.
For them, a wrong apple turned into something toxic--poisonous to their ability to suspend disbelief.
It takes time to get the details right, but it takes even more time to try to win back readers who feel like you've failed them. Don't set a volcano in Sweden if you aren't sure about whether or not such a thing could exist. Don't trust to just Google or Wiki for your sources (though they are great resources). Take a moment and call the hospital to talk to their night shift nurse to find out a detail about how his/her shift works or what protocol is for seeing a patient. Call the post office to find out how much it would cost to mail a pot of gold back to Ireland. Call an STD hotline to find out actual statistics (though they might ask you what your symptoms are and think the "writing a book" is just a cover story). Go ride a horse, go rockclimbing, go . . . DO whatever it is you have your character doing (within reason--if your character is jumping off the Empire State Building, you definitely should not do that).
I had a teenager who wanted to be a writer ask me for the most important bit of advice I felt I could give. I told him to: Go. Live. Life.
See, taste, smell, hear, touch life. Your own experiences are your best research.
Bite into a honeycrisp.
But make sure not to pick one from the tree where the queen used to live. Better to not take chances.