Monday, February 20, 2012

The Importance of Doing Your Homework

This post is not about like, actual homework homework. Although it could be, since I'm several weeks behind in the reading for a class I'm taking and man, is it a pain. Also, you may not shoo me away because I read like a zillion pages today in my efforts to get back on track, so neener neener.

The 'homework' I'm talking about right now is your writing homework. Otherwise known as research.

I hear complaints from various friends about inaccuracies, largely in TV shows, of the CSI and Law & Order types. The fabulous Elizabeth May has schooled me on the myriad forensic inaccuracies in Bones, and every once in a while I'll squint at something I watch or read and silently wonder about its veracity.

Truth is, though, it's not usually something I, as a reader or watcher, pick up on all that much. But tonight? Oh, tonight I did.

While catching up on last week's episode of The Vampire Diaries (which - no new episodes for a month? really, CW?) one of the characters who is like, mad old, narrates what the field around them used to look like a thousand years ago. "Wild horses used to graze in that field," he says at one point.

Cue record-scratching.

Hold up. Did you say horses?

I went back and checked again. Yes, yes he did. See, Vampire Diaries is set in Virginia. Horses in North America went extinct somewhere between 10,000 and 7,500 years ago. They didn't reemerge until they were introduced to the Americas by the Europeans in, oh, the sixteenth century.

Now granted, this is possibly not what I would call common knowledge? And also, I am an enormous nerd. But this is why it's so important to get your facts straight, or at least know how to embellish or misdirect when you're stretching the truth.

Because if you get it wrong, you're going to throw somebody out of your story. Suspension of disbelief is the cornerstone of fiction, and if you pull the carpet out from your own work, you do no favors for anyone.

Have you ever gone back to your writing and realized you got the facts really, really wrong? Or, barring that, what's the most egregious example of Didn't Do The Research that you've seen? (Warning: Link goes to TV Tropes. Click it and lose hours of your life at your own discretion.)


  1. I took two writing workshops led by a semi-retired detective who had worked on some pretty high profile cases. Not only did I get my own questions answered, I learned a lot from the other participants. At the beginning of class, he asked each one of us what areas we would like to cover, and then he shaped the class around our needs. The information was incredible. Created some great jumping off points for more research too.

    (He also rolled his eyes when someone mentioned CSI.) :)

    1. Tracy - Oh, how cool is that?! That sounds like an awesome experience. And yes, it sounds like CSI is pretty eyeroll-worthy when it comes to the hard science.

      (Although we did used to watch it in my high school Crime & Punishment class. Hm.)