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Monday, November 2, 2009

Mistakes happen, but...


I'm reading a new teen book that's gotten a lot of press. Something happened on page 14 that totally turned me off. The main character goes into the girls' room at her high school, walks into a stall, "puts down the lid" on the toilet and then sits on it to think. Now you tell me. How many high schools have toilets with lids? Commercial grade toilets don't have lids for several reasons, one of them being that they're just one more thing to break and with all the wear a commercial toilet gets it doesn't make sense.

So why am I talking about toilets? Because the author did something simply to serve her character and scene - she put a lid on a toilet so the character could sit on it and think. And it totally spoiled the mood for me. It just would never be. And I hate when authors make near impossible things possible just to serve their purpose. I hate mistakes in books.

Now I'm not talking about typos. There's a HUGE typo on the very last page of THE BOOK OF LUKE. And it drives me crazy. But the book keeps getting reprinted with that damn typo over and over again. I swear in my manuscript it was correct! Mistakes happen. Copyeditors and typesetters are people, afterall. By the time we've all read the book over and over we're lucky the chapters have the right numbers.

But authors are supposed to be held to a higher degree of accountability for the content they write. I once read a book for a blurb and it had the character taking a cab from Kennedy Airport in NYC to Manhattan. But the fare and the time it took to get there were all wrong! And it ruined it for me. Such a little detail and so easy to get right.

Creative license is one thing. Just making something implausable up just because it's what you want to happen or because your character needs it, is another. The character in the book could have sat on the floor. Totally gross. No person in their right mind would sit on the floor of a school bathroom. But it would totally have been in character. The girl is considered nuts. She's odd. She'd do something like that. I wish the author would have realized that instead of taking the easy way out and changing the rules of commercial plumbing.
What about you? Do you let the incorrect details slide or do they break the spell of the story?

6 comments:

Sarah said...

When I started reading your concern about the toilet lid, I thought maybe you were over-reacting, but then the more I thought about it, the more I thought I'd have the same problem! Details matter, and if anything, no matter how seemingly small it may appear, takes a reader out of a story (in a negative way), then that story has not accomplished its goal.

Andrea said...

Oh yeah, stuff like that gets on my nerves all the time. I read a series of YA books where the author came right out and stated that they didn't know Boston very well and took creative license. I know Boston very well and would get super annoyed at small things like the T making stops at places it doesn't even go. If you don't know Boston, don't create a story around the city. I gave up reading them after awhile because I just couldn't let go of those small annoyances and enjoy the book.

Jenny O'Connell said...

You know, as a writer I totally fear having a reader have the same reaction I did and would hope they'd cut me some slack, and I was in no way slamming the author.

I just think it's so vital for stories that are "believeable" fiction to be based in the reality of the world we live in. Where public bathrooms don't have lids on the toilets, even if that is a very small thing. I always want to believe the author I'm reading, that they've done their research and know what they're writing about so I trust them to take me on a journey, but once I start finding flaws it ruins it for me. If I'm willing to spend hours and days reading a book, I hope they're willing to spend the few minutes it takes to figure out how long it takes to get somewhere in a cab.

Jenny O'Connell said...

Andrea, I so agree!!! I started writing a book once that took place in NYC. I grew up around the city, went there often, but I discovered that to write from the experience of someone who actually lived there was SO hard! I became obsessed with which streets were one way and in which direction they ran. The details started driving me nuts. I was so afraid of getting it wrong.

So I moved the story to Boston, where I've lived, and it wasn't just easier, it was actually better precisely because it was something I intimately knew.

IMAGINE said...

Your comment hit home. I'm writing a book that takes place in Barrington, IL a place I lived near years ago. After writing the book I took a trip to Barrington and spent several days walking around the town and touring the High School where the majority of he book takes place. Thank God I did because if I published the book with my first descriptions the people and students of Barrington would know I did not live there. Now I know that anyone who comes from Barrington can read my book and feel at home. I love that little town and want it represent it correctly.

Jenny O'Connell said...

Weird. I lived in Barrington, IL for 4 years!
Small world.