Last night I was reading a short story in which a character is taught to shoot. In the course of the scene, the character is shown how the safety on the revolver works and—“Uh oh,” I thought. “The author is going to hear about that one.”
Gun pedants of the world—and in America in particular they are legion—will first note revolvers don’t have safeties. When these pedants do so, some spittle flecks may be involved. Then they will note, well, that’s not always strictly true. Depending on the revolver, a number features might qualify as—blah blah blah.
If you’ve spent any time on the internet at all, you know how it goes. The discourse will quickly deteriorate into accusations, a few ad hominems, some straw man attacks, all drifting further and further from the original issue. If the discussion is taking place in a public venue like the comments section on a blog, eventually there’s a good chance either Nazis or liberals will be invoked.
And, of course, the story will be long forgotten. Remember that? Person learning to shoot?
Okay, so the character learns to shoot, safety on a revolver, oops pause to think about the crap the author will take, then … what? Well, I kept reading. It was a good story. The safety was a minor detail and the plot in no way turned on the existence of that safety so ultimately, for me, no harm no foul.
But, I’m a writer and as such I think about the books and stories I read both from the perspective of reading pleasure and the analysis of craft. What I know about most writers is they never want to make an error, but sooner or later we all do. (If it’s me, it’s usually sooner.) I am reminded of my very first book event, the release of Lost Dog. As I prepared to speak, nerves aflutter, I noticed three women in the front row, arms folded across their chest, all glowering at me. They all worked as baristas (two were friends, one was my daughter) and they’d all caught a bad coffee error in the book.
What made it especially bad was I knew it was an error, meant to go back and fix it, but forgot. Fortunately, like the revolver safety, the plot didn’t turn on the error. In the story, it served to reveal something important about a character, something which needed to be seen, but which I could have easily shown without the mistake.
The same was true of the revolver safety error in the story I was reading. In the scene, it was a detail which reinforced the idea the instructor was being thorough—it was one of many aspects of learning to shoot. The rest of the details provided were accurate and on point.
As readers, we have choices to make. Our experience of the words before us can be tied up in minutiae, in our special knowledge, or we can allow ourselves to fall into the spell the author has cast. Yes, errors can throw us out of that spell. It happens to me. It happened to me with the revolver safety. But as a reader, I made the choice to keep reading and was rewarded with a good story.
That, to me, was far more enjoyable than firing off a spittle-flecked missive to the author with a dissertation about revolver mechanics, or trashing them on Amazon, or bloviating about them on [Interweb Forum of Choice]. We live in an Era of Outrage, where little things get blown out proportion, where people write angry rants about the word moist. But why?
Mistakes happen. If its minor, if the plot of the story doesn’t hinge on the error, I submit we do ourselves a disservice by getting in a lather about it. On a deeper level, all our outrage does is devalue our own humanity. Everyone makes mistakes. We grow not by attacking the mistakes in others, but by learning from our own.
Love a Writer Wednesday
I’m always happy to see myself appear on someone’s list on the Twitter Writer Wednesday. Given what I’ve been nattering about, it seems appropriate to share one of my top choices for Writer Wednesday, Tasha Alexander.
Tasha writes the fabulous Lady Emily mysteries set in Victorian England (and abroad). They are rigorously researched, beautifully written, engaging, smart, witty, and more. I hit the store to buy each new book on release day, and devour them. And, alas, I know Tasha has been taken to task for “errors” in her books, too often with disturbing hostility.
Tasha will admit mistakes get through, but often the people most outraged are in fact wrong themselves. Further, as a writer, Tasha makes choices which serve the stories and her characters well, even if they would be unusual for the era about which she writes. Lady Emily most certainly pushes the boundaries of Victorian social mores, but not impossibly so. Characters who push boundaries create conflict, and isn’t that the key to any story. Tasha deftly tackles the conflicts created by Lady Emily’s beliefs and choices. These books are great reads, not to be missed.