Saturday, September 14, 2013
WHAT MISTAKES BUG YOU IN NOVELS?
What are the things that bug you in novels? Below is a short list of some of the things that bother me. I’d love to hear what irritates you as well.
1. When a character in a novel smells “cordite.” All I can figure is that it must be really old ammunition, since cordite hasn’t been manufactured since just after WWII. Kind of hard to believe anything that follows once someone is able to smell something that’s been extinct for almost 70 years...
2. When a character in a supposedly bad-ass novel uses words like “shiv”. Especially if the character is either in prison or is an ex-con. The only time I’ve ever heard this term is in old movies like West Side Story or in novels written by people who have never done time or been a criminal. In the joint, it’s always “shank” or… simply a knife. When I was in the joint and overheard a newbie using this term, I was pretty sure this is someone new to the criminal life and got his info from bad movies and books. Looks like a guy who isn’t going to do well inside…
3. When a character calls prison guards “bulls” or “screws.” Inside, it’s either “hacks” or “guards” or “officer.” “Bulls” and “screws” come from… you know, bad novels and Hollywood… who make a lot of their movies from bad novels... The exception is the U.K. where these terms are still used. And, in novels set in a period before the sixties.
4. When a professional—soldier or a cop or other like professional—is having a radio conversation and ends it with saying, “Over and out.” Anyone who’s been in the service is just naturally going to quit believing in anything that author puts on the page thereafter. “Over” means “invitation to transmit” and “Out” means “end of transmission.” They’re never used together, except by writers who’ve never been in the service or law enforcement and get all their knowledge from reading other bad writers… Probably the same writer who has his characters armed with shivs and sniffs cordite… Related, is the character who says “Wilco.” This means “Order received: will comply.” Except, it was a communication ordered not to be used shortly after WWII.
5. The thing I hate the worse though—is that one little paper towel they hand you after they print you. For all the tax dollars citizens send in, you’d think they could give us at least enough towels to wipe all the ink off… The money sure isn’t being spent on the food… This one isn’t in novels, but just something that’s personally irritating.
There is a reason the writing advice to “write what you know” is valid. The better advice is “write what you can convince the reader you know.” That doesn’t mean the writer has to have actual experience in whatever world he or she is creating, but it does mean the writer should have done enough valid research to be factual. And, “valid research” doesn’t mean relying on other bad novels to figure out what’s truthful, but to conduct actual, viable research.
There’s a very popular author who I can’t read any longer because of his egregious factual errors. Errors which could have been avoided very easily by doing actual research. What makes this guy’s work even worse is that he holds a doctorate and teaches in a university. Although, these days that doesn’t mean the guy’s much of a scholar…
In a single novel, this guy had four major mistakes. One would have been bad, but four make him simply and totally unreliable, at least as far as I’m concerned. The first three were related. He had his protagonist/detective pick up a handwritten letter and from that deduced that the writer was an elderly, lefthanded man. Well, there are three things handwriting analysis cannot reveal: Handedness (right or left handed writer), age, and sex. This turkey had all three! A phone call to a reputable graphologist would have taught him that. And the fourth was perhaps the worst of all. The protagonist was searching for his girlfriend who had been missing for about a year. When he found her body, he also “discovered” that her nails and hair had grown appreciably. By “appreciably” I mean her hair had “grown” almost a foot, and her nails several inches. If he had just asked the average fifth-grader who’d paid attention in science class, he would have known that hair and nails don’t grow at all after the body dies. This is perhaps the oldest old wives’ tale in existence. Years ago, before embalming, people would sometimes dig up bodies and they thought the hair and nails had grown as they “looked” as if they had. Not to the extent this “author” made his gal’s hair and nails grow—just a tiny bit. They hadn’t, but they appeared to because the tissues had shrunk and it made it appear as if they’d grown a tiny bit. If this writer—who has a doctorate—had just asked a knowledgeable fourth- or fifth-grader who hadn’t slept through science class, he might have avoided embarrassing himself. Although, I doubt if he’d be embarrassed. After all, lots of people buy his books.
Not to mention there’s probably some budding writer out there who may have stumbled upon his book and will end up going out and writing his own novel and use the info he gleaned there for his own story. Instead of—you know—doing bona fide research… It happens…
So, what are the things you see in novels that just irritate the crap out of you and make you quit reading the author?