Writing: Time Away and HUGE ERROR


This really should have been last week’s post, but I got all excited by a scene and so I dumped this one and did the other. Now, this is all out of sequence, but I’m posting it anyway. I write fiction… I’ve done weirder things than mess with time.

I have been on the road for 10 days, (see how I jumped back in time?) with limited cell access, and even more limited Internet access. Don’t feel sorry for me though, as this was research. Really! Research. For the 4th Jane Yellowrock book. 

During it, I’ve run several rivers, and the hubby and I ran Zip Lines through trees, down a mountain (after climbing most of it on newly built stairs. Yeah, I know. I’m a wimp. I shoulda used biners and climbing rope and muscle) and zipped down over the Pigeon River twice – what a RUSH!

I’ve hiked several streams, and have the bumps, bruises, scrapes, skeeter bites, poison ivy and sore muscles to prove it. The hubby and I’ve took hundreds of photos. I had a massage, a soak in a hot-spring mineral bath, experienced my first a mud wrap, (divine, BTW), interrupted a self-proclaimed hillbilly taking a bath in a stream, (yes he was buck-naked, about 5 feet off a curving mountain road) shopped in little country stores (me not the naked guy,) bought local honey and locally made root beer and ginger beer. (Not beer-beer. More like gingerale.)

More importantly, I stood 150 feet above the French Broad River on the sunset of the equinox and felt the earth breathe. I watched the equinox full moon rise over the French Broad, glowing the frothing surface to silver-white.

Most important? I found places for Beast to roam and for Jane to hunt her nemesis, in a book that will take her back to her old stomping grounds. Places full of dark memories and pain, and bright joys. And perhaps, love… I don’t write love well, and my characters always seem to be star-crossed lovers with no hope of happiness—odd for a gal who has been married to the same guy for 25 years.

My point to this rambling monologue is that “getting away from it all” resets my tired brain and lets me freebase. I know that actually means something else (and not so good either), but it’s what I’ve always called that freewheeling, loose, flight-of-fancy creativity that can happen when I am swept away from the known, the common, and the ordinary. Back home, I’ve now finished the page proofs of Mercy Blade, done a heap of pushed-to-the-side work on the Rogue Mage role playing game / world book, and finished my part of the MagicalWords.Net *How To* book. I’ve been productive, which is a lot easier when my mind is clear and free of the everyday problems and stresses.

Okay – the Writing Stuff – which is all actually tied in with the above. Really.

Reader believability, reader suspension of disbelief, is all in the details. It doesn’t take much to yank a reader out of a story. For medical thrillers, a doctor ordering 50 mils of morphine might do it. (Unless the doc is intending to kill the patient and the nurse taking the order is helping him.) For techno-thrillers, having a weapon fire more rounds than it can hold without changing magazines or reloading might do it. For romance novels … hmmm. Okay, let’s skip romance novels. We have young readers here. For police procedurals, it might be cops talking like regular folks do, instead of like cops talk. For hard SiFi, it might be technology that works opposite to known physical laws, without the explanation of how it might do that. Whatever genre a writer writes in, he has to know the background subject matter, know it bone deep, even if that background is all fiction and he is worldbuilding a new planet and new magic system from the bones up.

To remind me of this, I keep a statue on my desk. It’s a naked woman with wings, a female angel, her feet on solid ground, her wings up in the air. She is curled around herself, knees bent, arms around her knees, her head down in the fetal position – as if she is weeping into the Earth. It’s a beautiful statue, but there are a lot of things wrong with the image, which is why I keep it near me, to remind me that all writing (like all art) must reflect some form of reality for the reader to be able to accept the fictional parts.

I study the statue every time I write to put my mind in gear on suspension of disbelief. How can a statue make me write better? What’s wrong with the statue from the point of view of my world? That is what the post is about.
1)  I write one series on post apocalyptic fiction (in the religious / nonreligious sense) with magic, with a history based on ancient scriptural predictions. There are no female angels in any of the religions I base my books on (Judeo Christian mostly, with a smidge of Muslim and a hint of Buddhist). There might be some female angels, but there are none in the writings, so if I base my story on the existing ancient predictions then I have to have male-only angels. If someone else wanted to write a book about female angels would I gnash my teeth or throw the book across the room? No. But her femaleness makes me think about my world.
2)  Her wings grow out of her back without a thought to how the bone structure and musculature might work. They look glued on. In a real world (my real world) wings have to work. For flying.
3)  The wings aren’t long enough or powerful enough to lift her, assuming her body mass and bone structure are similar to humans’. It might be more like birds, with hollow bones, but if I didn’t set that up early on, then it becomes an error and the angels in my world would need bigger, longer wings.
4)  Her hair. In many ways this is the worst mistake. Angel Lady is bending down, with her head lower than her shoulders. Yet, her hair flows up her shoulders and up her back. Against gravity.

This last one, especially, speaks to me as a writer. In the world I create, the physical laws (or magical ones) have to be consistent. In the page proofs of Mercy Blade, I discovered a line where Jane Yellowrock puts 3 silver crosses around her neck and goes dancing. Much later, in a club, while wearing the same clothes and crosses (because I never took them off of her) she meets a female vamp. The crosses never glow, which they do in my world in the presence of vamps. This was a HUGE ERROR! The copy editor didn’t catch it. I didn’t. My editor and the line editor didn’t catch it. I had to go back and put the crosses under her clothes. Like the antigravity hair on the Lady Angel, my magical system has to be consistent with the laws I have created.

Angel Lady is a lovely statue. It is full of pathos and agony and fear. It was a gift and I love it. But it’s all wrong.

Writing. It’s all in the details. Which is why I take trips to places I intend to write about, even if I’ve been there before many times. I need a reminder how the places smell, how the air feels, how the food tastes. How the people sound and look and speak. What the music is like. What the politics are like. I need it all to make sure the details are right. It’s called Writing What You Know. And it’s the first rule of writing.

Have you ever caught yourself making such an error? Let’s call them antigravity hair errors. And caught them? Or worse, not caught them?


30 comments to Writing: Time Away and HUGE ERROR

  • Actually, just caught one in my second draft rewrites. Let’s call it, there is no air pressure in space. I’m a fan of epic/fantastic (I don’t like to use the term “space opera”) sci-fi and anime style sci-fi. I’m pretty good at suspending disbelief when reading or watching it. I know there’s no sound in space, but tie-fighters sound so much cooler when they roar by. I know our current understanding of physics says lightsabers can’t be made, but I don’t care. I know FTL drives shouldn’t work the way they do in this type of sci-fi, but that’s fine by me. It doesn’t phase me much when a ship sits dead in space instead of continuing to move in a direction endlessly. In fact, my brain just filters it out. However, I still wanted to keep with some of the basics of physics in my WIP and forgot in the last battle that there’s no air pressure in space. Namely, that shockwaves cannot travel without air pressure. It was an easy fix, but I’m now going to be going back through and checking for more of those mistakes. I was keeping with the science throughout where the pilots didn’t hear anything except what was going on inside their ships unless their vessel was directly acted upon by weapons, debris, and whatnot, so this would have been a very glaring mistake.

    In anime terms one could also call this, the anti-gravity skirt, though I believe those are a little more intentional. 😉

  • Daniel, I too adore hard SiFi and space opera / epic SiFI / whatever. And like you, I can filter out the glaring errors. Battle in space (outside the air of the sealed ships) will be utterly silent, but I want the booming on screen when I watch. That said, some things are not so easily ignored. Glad you caught it!

  • Mikaela

    Oh. Yes. I got a comment on Daughter of the Dark, telling me that the mention of phones jarred her out of it, since it is fantasy. Err. Oops. The problem is that I cannot remove it since that world has very little magic and thus rely on technology. I need to hint at that earlier in the scene. Somehow. Ah well. I’ll mull on it until I am done with the revision.

  • mudepoz

    I’m an avid reader. 2 audiobooks a week, maybe one paper book as well. I HATE it when an author doesn’t research.
    Strawberries are not on bushes. Cherries are not on vines. Moss does not have flowers. Fine if it’s another world, but not if it’s this one. I study science. I teach science. I have friends that can’t read something without editing it. I can’t read something that is just wrong. I hate to be kicked out of a book. I might continue, but my belief is blown and I start to look for other inconsistencies. I love it when a writer researches their material, or location (my Brit bud hates American writers setting things in England when they haven’t been there). So, thank you for the Busmen’s holiday of sorts. Gosh Faith, is that why I like reading your books? (Sotto voce –genetics though:)

  • I once got an interstate wrong in one thriller. It made no difference, but meant that for one sentence my portagonist was looking at the wrong scenery. I heard about that from readers. In another book I referred to the third quarter of a basketball game, not knowing that there were no quarters in college ball. Both examples illustrate a poit I’ve made before: that I’m most likely to make mistakes when dealing with stuff I assume I know, not when I’m dealing with stuff I KNOW I don’t really know anything about. At least in the latter case I know to do research. In the former I’m flying blind and need my editor or beta readers to catch my slip-ups.

  • And yes, Mudepoz, I too hate some US writers’ attempt to do England. I don’t know what version of the UK Martha Grimes visits but it doesn’t exist in any dimension I know.

  • Mikeala, I had the same problem in BloodRing with the Rogue Mage books. My solution was to have a jet (with sonic boom) in the first paras. The weird thing is that the readers forgot the boom and were jarred out of the novel with the mention of TV. Sigh…

  • Faith> Great post. I’m totally jealous of the massage and mud wrap and all that. No so much of the naked hillbilly though…

    Suspension of Disbelief> While I absolutely believe in accuracy and research, as a reader it takes a lot to throw me out of a book. (Alas, as an English prof, a lot of typos will do it.) If I notice something, I assume that I got it wrong, not the author. (So, Faith, in the JY series, if the crosses didn’t glow, I’d assume they were under her shirt and I just hadn’t noticed them get there, unless literally the sentence before they weren’t.)

    AJ> Ah! This is why one of my books is set in Faerie England. She starts off very briefly in real England (which I have visited, and I also consulted maps to get the geography right) and thn it is Faerie London, which has similarities, but a lot of differences, too, so I don’t have to worry about it being consistent with “Real” London–just internally consistent. My other book is set in Fayetteville, where I live, so I can wander around in my car and get stuff right.

  • Mud, I *promise* that when I have a doctor/ geneticist/ reasearcher explain the genetics of witches and weres I’ll ask you for the *right* way to do it. But my characters are ordinary people. If they understand *too* much the voice changes. Which presents its own problems…. And I’m glad you like my books!

  • AJ! Ouch! I did something similar (but caught most of it when I went to New Orleans last October) My MC comes in to the city from the east on 10. I didn’t mention the scenery in Skinwalker, but *needed* it in BloodCross. That is the part of the city that still has the most damage from Katrina. Eeek. Very close call, and a major rewrite.

  • Pea Emily, the hillibilly was totally buck naked, toothless, and friendly. Fortunately, he was in a deep hole just off the road, standing under a water-falling creek, and surrounded by lush foliage. He’s in the picture we took of his house, but you can’t see him when I make it web-worthy. Too few pixiels. (grins)

    As to jane and her cross-problem? Some one (some astute reader) would have caught it. Too bad it had to go through so many edits without the professionals (me included)catching it!

    Smart move to make Faerie-land different. I like! I did that in the AKA’s medical thriller series. It makes things so much easier!

  • Oh, boy, have I made errors. I just caught a doozy with the first Thieftaker book. Turns out there were no British regulars (soldiers, red coats) in Boston before October 1768. I know that now, because book two is set in, you guessed it, October 1768, against the backdrop of the British occupation of the city. But I had to go back and remove every reference to a regular from the first book. Which is kind of like someone telling JK Rowling “Oh, by the way, you have to take out all the Dementors from book 5 of the Potter series….”

    I introduced a character in book 2 of Winds of the Forelands, and wrote about his family — wife, kids — who only are ever mentioned. You never actually see them. Which may be why I forgot about them. And I gave him a love interest in book 5. Oops.

  • Current WIP Challenge: Remembering the inside of a cave isn’t as bright a field at noon on a sunny day

    I live in the Cave State of Missouri and also went to a college originally called “Missouri School of Mines”… you’d think it would be easier to remember the darkness 😉

  • Oh, David! How awful about the redcoats. I didn’t know that there were none unti 1768, and I doubt many other readers would have, either. But historians, many Bostonians, teachers… Wow! I am so glad you caught it!

    I read the Winds series straight through, and I don’t remember him, the cheating bastaard. (grins)

    Ax, It’s little things like that, that can trip you up! I’ve been in caves when they turned out the lights. It’s not just dark, it’s *DARK*! Good catch!

  • Sarah

    Thanks, Faith. It’s a timely reminder – my WIP is set in Buffalo NY. I have a strong visual impression of the place in late fall because my college roommate lived there and I went home with her for Thanksgiving and spring breaks each year, but I don’t know the roads. Can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent zooming in on Google maps muttering “so if the highway runs south west then the frost demons can’t come out here because there’s no tree cover,” and similar things. Hopefully I won’t inspire howls of outrage from any Bills fans.

  • Sarah, that’s funny. I did the same thing in Mercy Blade with the coroner’s office. Google and yahoo and terraserver and anything else to get a pic, because of course, while in New Orleans, I didn’t think to go to the place. Sigh…

  • Oh golly. There is, of course, the dislocated-shoulder debacle, about which I’ve written before. And when my book came out, a reviewer refused to finish reading it because in the first chapter, some of the pirates “crossed themselves.” In my mind, they were making general protective signs against evil, not specifically the cross of Christ on their bodies. I didn’t catch it, my editor didn’t catch it, and apparently only one reviewer was bothered by it. But I should have chosen different words to communicate the action.

  • Heh! I use Google Earth. 🙂

  • Misty, I never caught it either. Weird!

    Hmmm. In book two can you fix it? Maybe offer a different reasoning for *crossing themselves*? Maybe even a different action, like from shoulders to opposite hips? It would be sorta like thumbing your nose at *mistakes*. (grins)

  • Daniel, I used it too. But Homeland Security makes it hard to see law enforcement and government buildings. You have to use a lot of different map-apps to see stuff sometimes.

  • This is true. I was having fun one day looking at over seas military bases (I like to look at the vehicles sitting around, looks cool) and saw that there were some areas I couldn’t look at. I seem to recall I couldn’t look at areas with prisons either, from when I was doing research for a zombie game I was going to run.

  • I have no beef with most homeland security, mind you. But it does make legit searches problematic. That said, I should have done my homework when I was in town.

  • Faith, that’s a great idea. When it’s time for edits, I’ll see if I can sneak that in.

  • Call me contrarian, but all this talk abut writing has overshadowed what sounds to me like an awesome trip. Kayaking and zip-lining down mountains? Where do I sign up?

  • Larry Niven once had the Earth turning in the wrong direction. The only change in the second edition of that novel (sorry, I don’t recall the title) was that one sentence.

  • Misty, I found ways to fix errors in series like that before. Made me feel so smart. Of course if I hadn’t screwed up in the first place…. Ahem…

    Edmund, it was blast! Hiking, good food, great company, and the outdoor hot spring soak-bath that overlooked a babbling creek were fantastic too.

    WOW! Wolf, you would think a copy editor mightta caught that one.

  • I’m writing my second novel now which is present day urban stuff. One of the characters is a cop and so has to do cop stuff (like talk in his big boy voice) which I’m positive I’ll get wrong. I’ve only really got what I’ve seen on TV to go off and that probably pretty far from real. Luckily one of my wife’s best friend’s husband is a police officer (see how I get more respectful when I know the guy?) so I’m going to run a bunch of stuff past him.
    On another note, I was going to base the book in Europe somewhere but before I even started writing I realised I had freakin’ idea of where/what/how as concerns any European country. So I’ve put it in my home town in Australia (probably exotic to you lot on the other side of the world) and I’ve already introduced a geographic error because I *need* a cliff side house and there really aren’t any. Still, there’s only the locals who would know and not all of them would know anyway so I’ll get away with it.
    It was really hard to avoid modern slang and Australianisms in my first novel (secondary world fantasy) and I think I failed a few times and at least with my current WIP I can go to town and say stuff like
    “No worries”
    “She’ll be right”
    “fortnight and Monday-week”
    I can use rhyming slang; donkey’s ears (years, as in a long time), flies eyes (meat pies), dead horse (tomato sauce), tin lids (kids), Barry Crocker (shocker, as in a bad day) and dog ‘n bone (telephone) Which I was dying to use in a medieval fantasy but couldn’t.

  • Faith, “antigravity hair errors”! That’s hilarious. I know I’ve made a few, but for the life of me, I can’t remember where or what. (I’m probably just blocking it out of my mind. Probably a self-defense mechanism.)

    Anything I’ve written, Fantasy or otherwise, that is set in our world, I’ve set it in Vancouver. I know Vancouver. I live here. I don’t if I could write about any other place with the same knowledge and certainty.

    Glad to hear you had fun on your research vacation. I used to go to a yearly spiritual retreat. I’m not with that community anymore, but I miss the land. And the quiet. There’s something about being out in the woods for a week, away from everything. It regenerates the soul. I’ll never go back to that specific place, so I’m glad I took lots of photos. And at least I have similar landscape nearby to remind me.

  • “fortnight and Monday-week”

    Saying “Monday-week” is also a Southernism. Specifically the Lowcountry of South Carolina, since I never heard it until I moved to Beaufort as a child. I’m always fascinated at how certain phrases and terms find their ways around the world. 😀

  • Scion, I’ve always loved how some Aussies and some Brits talk in the rhyming slang. And yes, it soudns quite exotic to me, but then, I’ve been told the New Orleans is exotic. And Charleston. And Savannah. And…not really. It’s all perspective, I suppose.

    Moira, the statue’s hair looks all…weird. I should have taken a pic of it and posted it. Hindsight and all that. I foung several spiritual retreats in this one town where the earth spoke. It was an amazing place.

    Misty, I heard Monday-week in Louisiana too. Maybe port areas imported it?