8.01.2005

ya ya ya..yer mama wears army boots

Via the puurrrfection of GalleyCat
Comes Adam Langer's roundup of Seven Deadly Sins of Critics.

Number four is where Miss Snark elevates an eyebrow:


(4) THE FACT-CHECKER-WITH-TOO-MUCH-TIME-ON-HIS-HANDS CRITIQUE. Granted, when I was writing Crossing California, I should have recalled that one needs to travel south, not north, on Kimball Avenue to get to Zanies' Comedy Club. I fixed this error in subsequent editions, but whether it was a valid topic for criticism is another story. In similar fashion, Elliot Perlman, author of Seven Types of Ambiguity and the forthcoming collection The Reasons I Won't Be Coming, writes that the film version of his novel Three Dollars, for which he also wrote the screen adaptation, was criticized for getting a street address wrong. "It's this kind of sharp, incisive film criticism that's made the Australian film industry what it is today," Perlman says.


Ah yes, the "Yes I was wrong but it's awfully small of you to notice and comment on it" school of thought.

Getting facts wrong drives me crazy as a reader. I've never gotten over Ann Rule's basic errors in Dead by Sunset.

I'm reminded of James Cameron's "insane" insistence on reshooting scenes in Titanic because the propellers on the ship were going the wrong direction.

Getting it right down to the smallest details is important for two reasons. First, as a reader, if something leaps off the page to me as a mistake (Ann Rule getting the name of a highway wrong) it breaks my concentration and pulls me right out of the story. Second, it makes me less trusting of her other facts. It's a hallmark of craft to get the details right. I respect that attention to detail.

Ann Rule writes non fiction. James Cameron was recreating something that actually happened. Does the same standard apply to fiction? Can you get it "wrong" if it's all made up anyway? I wonder if that's one of the reasons the late Ed McBain rechristened New York City for the 87th Precinct books. You can make the Hudson flow "wrong" if it's not the Hudson and it's not New York. Not that he ever did of course. I just made that up to illustrate my point.

Is it fair game in a review to point out an author's mistakes? You bet. Is it fair game to draw conclusions about the writer's skill and the success of the book from said mistake? Yea it is. If you don't like it...spend less time complaining and more time fact checking.

8 comments:

Maria said...

That reminds me of the submission guidelines for DNA publications from their website (bolding mine):

Fantastic Stories features fantasy and science fiction in all their forms. While elements in the story must be SF/F oriented, mixing genres is permissible (e.g., an SF Mystery.) All stories must be well written, factually correct and, of course, entertaining. Stories should be entirely fictional; do not send stories based on actual events.nes from DNA publications.

Every time I read it, I grin at the "factually correct" part. I know what they mean, but still. It just doesn't seem to go well in that paragraph asking for "fiction" and specifically the genre Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Anonymous said...

I recently read a book where the author translated something wrongly, stating it was Cantonese and not Mandarin.

I don't get it. How can she (presumably she did it herself) do the research and still get it wrong?

PS It's the number one phrase in every phrase book. You don't need a dictionary for it.

kitty said...

Non-fiction is one thing, but fiction can be another matter. I have read books and seen movies/tv shows in which mistakes just don't seem to bother me because I am so absorbed in the story. This applies strictly to fiction, mind you, and the examples are rare.

Ric said...

Naw, I agree with Miss Snark. It has to be right or it pulls you out of the story. Makes for interesting stuff, hunting down facts. ie. mystery set in 1960's, 'she took a cup from the dishwasher.' drain board maybe? or "who do you think I am, Perry Mason?" quick trip to the library to see if the tv show was on - which would be the main source and popularity of Mr. Gardner's character.
No, things like this matter. Fiction or no.

Ellen Fisher said...

I agree. If you don't want to bother getting the details of a location right, make up a city. But if you use a real city, make sure every last detail is correct... or at least don't get annoyed when people point out your errors!

Mama Rose said...

Well, at least make them correct for when the book takes place. Often the writer is absolutely correct, but during the time between when the book was written and when it came out, the restaurant that was so perfectly protrayed was demoilshed and turned into something else. However, don't insist on sending a sheriff taking a prisoner from LA to Las Vegas north 400, or so, miles to go through the Sierra Nevadas in order to have the prisoner escape in a blizzard in the middle of summer. That one was a wallbanger for this California native. On the other hand, I'm a believer in literary license. Absolute reality is usually pretty boring so sometimes you have to fudge the facts for the sake of making it interesting. The above example doesn't fit my criteria for "suspension of disbelief", though, because there's as much drama in desert survival as survival in a blizzard, so there was no reason not to use the freeway everyone uses through the desert from LA to Las Vegas.

Rowan said...

Even in Science fiction and fantasy a certain realism is important. Yes, you get to make it up. Once you do, however, STICK TO IT. As a reader and writer of SF/F, nothing drives me bonkers like having a setup earlier (such as details on how magic works in a world), then out of the blue it gets tweaked later for no explanation. Kills suspension of disbelief which is kind of important when it's a fantasy story to begin with.

Anonymous said...

"It's this kind of sharp, incisive film criticism that's made the Australian film industry what it is today," Perlman says.
Mr Perlman: The problem with the Australian film industry is simple - people don't want to go and see the films that they are making.

I went to see 'Three Dollars' - without seeing the 'incisive' criticism that you complain about.

Put simply - it was NOT a good movie. I didn't enjoy it. I had friends who were thinking of seeing it the next weekend, and who asked me what I thought of it.

I told them - and they decided to see an American film instead.

If people didn't go to see your film, you can't complain that it is 'that kind of criticism' driving people away. It's simply that people don't want to go and see it. And the people who did see it are telling their friends not to.