Reading is an escape. We love to curl up with a book and a cup of tea as the rain pelts down (common enough around here!) and leave the world behind. A good book draws you in like a fuzzy blanket, wraps you up, and makes you never want to leave.
But then, it happens. The author slips up, and something snaps you right out of the world.
For me, it was a horse. Apparently, the horse was greeting a nearby person in a barn with a whinny. It kicked me so far out, I stopped reading.
Horses whinny to call to another animal at a distance. It’s LOUD. They don’t whinny to greet; they nicker. A simple word choice, and I was jarred.
If we, as authors, state a fact that is glaringly incorrect, we risk ruining that deep connection our reader had with the story. While being accurate is best across the board, here are four particular areas to pay close attention to!
I mention this first because while many people write it, but few truly know the topic!
There are more than just facts to know about any representation of military bodies in novels; there’s an entire culture. It’s how people talk, walk, sleep, and breathe. If you have not lived the life, you need someone who has lived it to read the sections relating to military affairs and check it for authenticity. Military novels (historical, contemporary, and SciFi) have a huge audience. Even if the reader has not been directly involved in the military, they probably have read enough military fiction to know what to expect and recognize when it goes awry.
If you set your fiction novel in a real place, get out the map and get it right. Anyone who has visited or lived in your setting will immediately recognize if you fudge a street name or a distance between two landmarks. Never been there yourself? Google maps or local newspapers can go a long way to add authenticity, but get a local to read it too!
There’s a lingo to every profession. I’m a veterinarian, and I talk to vets differently than I do other people. They know what I mean when I say a patient ‘smiles.’ Or if I write COHAT as a recommendation.
A plumber uses different slang for their tools than a carpenter does. A chef called that vegetable ‘shrooms.’ Don’t give a surgeon painted nails (you’re not supposed to have nail polish!!), and don’t let a hunter have a pistol in Canada. There are exceptions, but you’d better explain!
We have to be careful we don’t get so into our vocabulary that we lose the reader, but a detail or two can cinch up a character perfectly, just as incorrect use can jar the reader.
4. Body language.
It’s not just for humans. Humans are probably the hardest because they lie, but it takes an excellent con to lie with their body language. Discrepancies between body and voice add fabulous subtext, but it has to be done right. Be conscious of what the body language is saying. People tend not even to be able to explain what they know about body language, but we all pick up on it subconsciously. Use it!
And don’t forget animals. A cat who narrows its eyes before striking rings untrue; cats have wide eyes when stressed. Narrowed eyes are a kitty smile!
Animals do not often lie, although sometimes it happens!
There will be moments when you have something that appears ‘wrong’ on first pass. A dog may wag its tail while growling. Maybe it’s just happy to attack! But if there is a discrepancy, it has to be explained at some point. Larry Correia was once taken to task by a reader who pointed out that Hind helicopters could not hover in the manner he described. Before he could reply, the reader wrote back, “Never mind. Magic Orc pilot,” and the matter was closed (Correia’s orcs had specialties they were essentially supernatural with; that orc’s was the helicopter.) An explanation will diffuse the ire. Leave it out, and your readers will have every right to call you on your ‘mistake’!
What else have you noticed an author getting wrong that threw you out of the story?
D. Lambert, author
Fantasy novels that entice, inspire, and entertain.