Thanks, Betina for being my guest. Remember, there's still time to win a copy of her newest book. Scroll down and leave a comment on yesterday's post. I'll announce the winner on Christmas.
My first crit group used to quote one of their writing professors. "Just because it's right, doesn't make it good." We often incorporate real-life happenstances in our writing, but if they don't come across as "normal" to readers, they're likely to assume we're making something up for the sake of the story. And "contrived" is NOT something we want in our work.
I strive for accuracy in my writing, but if there's a conflict with what a reader considers truth, it's a stumbling block. One very common instance is the CSI effect, where readers assume the police and forensic procedures they see on TV are the way it works in real life.
Or maybe it's simple terminology. How many times have you read a crime novel where the characters smells "cordite" indicating gunshots have been fired. WRONG. Cordite manufacture ceased at the end of the last century. Lee Lofland gives his feelings on this on The Graveyard Shift. And I just read a modern-day novel written by a prolific mystery writer who made the same error.
Then there's "APB". This is another term that's rarely used anymore. The current usage is "BOLO" (Be On the LookOut). But readers (and tv viewers) are familiar with APB. Until BOLO is common enough, the writer might feel obligated to explain, which can be tricky without getting into author intrusion territory.
I've been rewriting my final scene for more tension, and thought I'd done a fair job. However, when the hubster read the draft of the revised scene, he had 2 questions. The first: Should it be "German shepherd" or "German Shepherd"? I looked it up at various websites and found that although the dictionary went with shepherd, almost all of the dog sites wrote it as Shepherd. I can leave it for an editor to change, but I figure about half the readers will think it's wrong. Not much I can do about that.
His other question dealt with how my cops couldn't communicate with each other via their radios. I'm not much on technology, so I merely carried over what we'd experienced in similar terrain in Colorado to the scene. We had 2 GPS units, a map, and directions from Realtors, yet over half the houses we wanted to see were next to impossible to find. And our cell phones didn't pick up signals. But since we didn't have normal cop radios, that option wasn't up for testing.
I'm confident enough that the cop's radios in my scene won't be able to reach their dispatcher back at the station. But if their cars are less than a mile apart, even in the mountains, is it likely that the radio signals would still work car to car? Or cop to cop, if they're using their handhelds? I've posed that question to a couple of specialty writing groups, and have received a variety of answers. Based on what they've said, I could probably write it the way I have it, but would readers believe it? Do they think radios are magic and always work because they're police equipment?
And for the past two days, I donated some time at our local Sheriff's Office helping with backlogged filing. I confess that I've never been in a pawn shop and was totally unaware of the system.
I learned a few things, the most notable was that every time anyone pawns an item, a copy of the information, including a thumb print, goes to the Sheriff's Office. Given the state of the economy, plus the holiday season, people are pawning much more than usual. All the reports have to be computerized, and for a lot of the smaller shops, that means manual entry at the Sheriff's Office.
Writing thought: police are looking for a stolen item which they think has been pawned, but until it gets into the computer system, they can't follow up.
But here's where it might push credibility a bit. One of the primary reasons for the backlog of filing wasn't the increased number of reports. It was a budget issue. The department didn't have the money to buy the file folders, so the paperwork got stacked in piles in the filing room (where I spent my time, all alone with my iPod shuffle, putting papers into numerical sequence.)
The thumbprints aren't digitized, so the police need to be able to get a hard copy of the report. Would a reader believe that a lack of funding for file folders would have created a snag in the investigation, or would they think I was crossing into 'contrived' territory to throw artificial conflict into my plot?
What do you think? Any real-life examples to share? Or any similar problems in balancing reality with credibility?