Monday, November 14, 2011

Discussion: What if authors get it wrong?

Occasionally when I am bored I wander around Goodreads to see who is reading what and what they think about it. The other day I was doing this and one common complaint I saw from reviewers was when the individual liked all aspects of the book except this one detail that the author got wrong. For example, the author might be writing a book with medical situations in it, and numerous complaints would be, "I love this book but as a medical student/doctor/nurse, the author got a lot of details wrong." I have seen the same complaints for battle situations, arms/armor, professions highlighted in books (I saw one complaint once that said, "As a glass blower, I really can't overlook how wrong this author got my profession.") and much more. 

The truth of the matter is that a lot of authors have to do a lot of research before writing a book and yes, they may get some details wrong, especially if their real-life specialty isn't in whatever they are researching. For example, an author might be a computer repair man (as well as author) but they need to write a book with medical situations in it. They'll have to do a lot of research to properly do that, and yes, some details might be misunderstood and/or overlooked in the process. 

One example of the "research process" that I saw on Twitter the other day was an author asking if anyone knows anything about fiddle acoustics (or something along those lines). I can almost promise you this author probably has never played a fiddle. They do research, they learn as much as they can for their books and sometimes they get it wrong and overlook details. 

Does it bother you when an author doesn't get "it" 100% right or can you, for the most part, overlook it? Why/why not?

8 comments:

  1. If it's a small detail or details, I let it go since obviously no one can know everything about everything. I'll even let a big mistake slide if it's clear the author has done some research or has some knowledge of the topic. It's when the author obviously didn't bother to research at all that I get furious. I'm a handspinner (you know, wool into yarn and all that) and I've read books and stories that include spinning as important background or major plot points, and the author doesn't have the first idea what he/she is talking about. I don't mean little details, I mean they barely even know what spinning is for and how it works. Rawwwwr, Hulk smash book!

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  2. Usually, I probably don't know if the author has got it right or not so for me personally, it won't affect how I read the book.

    I think it depends on each situation. If the mistake is so obvious - or could have been researched on Wikipedia - that anyone could figure it out then that is a serious mistake. If it requires you to have an in depth understanding of quantum physics then not so.

    With historical fiction I think the author has more of a duty to be accurate although the door's always open to interpretation.

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  3. It is all about what you care about - let the author get something wrong about something I care about and my review wrath descends mightily on it as for example in one the Booker long listed this year where the author was totally clueless about Romania of 1989, otherwise I could not care less.

    So if a 1.5 m 50 kilos person uses kung fu magic to destroy a 2m 120 kilos person with experience in violence and the author spins a good tale about that, i shrug despite that is very unlikely for such to occur in real life; while about handspining I know nothing so you can sell me anything in a novel.

    Make a mistake about numbers or math and the book is likely to go boom across the room...

    So the "authors get wrong' stuff is directly related to one's personal experience and interests and the "nobody knows everything" thingy goes both ways

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  4. It rarely bothers me if the little details are missed. So long as the overall feel for the subject is there, I'm fine with it. Though I've yet to make a start on my idea for a fantasy/police procedural because I've not done nearly enough research.

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  5. I generally overlook it when they get factual stuff wrong.

    Pabkins @ Mission to Read

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  6. With me, it largely depends on what kind of book it is - I tend to be less tolerant if it is a historical novel or hard science fiction, as those in some way are about the facts, and getting them wrong means they failed in an essential aspect of their purposes. With other genres, while huge blatant errors can still annoy me, I worry more about plausibility and plot coherence than factual correctness.

    I think I can understand people who get frustrated if an author gets their "special area" wrong, though - it can be fun to see things you experience as mundane on a daily basis transfigured into something special and significant by becoming literature (or indeed, moving pictures - it's likely similar to the "Hey look, Uncle Joe is on TV!" effect), and seeing it misrepresented rather spoils that.

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  7. It bothers me. Now, I don't expect authors to be perfect and get absolutely everything spot-on, but I've seen some mistakes that really could have been avoided by spending 5 minutes using Google.

    I'm a bit more forgiving of it in fiction than nonfiction, though. In nonfiction, you expect that what you're reading is going to be truth, so when I come across errors that are fairly easy to correct, I start to wonder just how much of the rest of what I've been reading is false too. It could be something as simple as a name being wrong (an example being a book I once started reading about homosexuality in history where two of the names dropped were a Japanese man named 'Lemon' [should have been Iemon, likely mixed up because a lower-case L and upper-case I look similar in the right font] and a Chinese man named 'Quing' ['qu' sound doesn't exist like that in Mandarin and the name was more likely to be Qing, pronounced like Ching]), but is casts doubt on the level of research that the auhor put in. They could have even been simple editing errors, but the fact that they're there at all bothers me.

    But it does even bother me in fiction, especially when the mistakes would have been easy to catch and fix. It may simply be a case of ignorance about ignorance, the author not knowing how little they know and so only working on what they think they do know and not going any further with the research, but it's quite bothersome and really pulls me out of the groove I get into when reading.

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  8. It depends what the mistake is, how egregious it is, and how much I care about the field. There are many mistakes I would never notice, and many that, though I may laugh at 'em, I don't care about. But I've a small list of books that treaded on something I care a lot about and earned my ire, chief among them Dean Koontz's Midnight. Not only was his depiction of metal music off, it was downright insulting, and I'm still rather peeved by that to this day, years later.

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