Saturday, November 24, 2012

Getting It Right

I've just finished reading a very popular mystery novel (a hardboiled thriller, really). I didn't like it for many reasons: style, characterization, dialogue, and most of all a lack of verisimilitude.

Because to me it's important that a novel try to get things right. This one happened to be set in a state with which I am familiar (Georgia) during a time when I lived very close to the fictional location (1996).

Okay, bear with me. The fictional town is an hour south of Hapeville and an hour north of Macon and an hour east of Alabama and an hour and a half west of Augusta.

That is impossible.

The protagonist goes to meet someone flying in to the Atlanta airport, but discovers she's on the far side of a glass barrier that divides the corridor leading to the baggage-claim area.

There was no such glass barrier. Not then. Not ever.

The protagonist sets fire to the town's fire station and police station at four a.m. Nobody notices. If a town has a fire station and police station, someone's on duty 24/7. They will not be empty. I know of one very small town where at night there are only two police officers on duty. One is the dispatcher riding the phones. The other's out on patrol. They rotate the duty.

But someone's always there.

The language is wrong (the author is British). We don't say "I'll be there straightaway" or speak of how the highway tarmac is hot, or hyphenate "cheeseburger." 

All of these details yank my attention right out of the novel.

Here's the deal: Try to get it right. If you can't go there in person, talk to people who live there. It's actually pretty easy to do. I once got a delighted note from someone about how I had nailed a detail about a place I've never been to. The writer of the note said, "You noticed the same thing I did!"

But I didn't. The person I interviewed tossed in a great little detail, and I used it.

Try to get it right, folks. Just try to get it right.

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