Details count

Recently, a reader familiar with Suffolk County in New York informed me that the area's electric company hadn't been called LILCO (Long Island Lighting) in about twenty years. I mistakenly referred to it by its old name in The Heat of Heat. I was annoyed at myself for not checking that detail, which would have taken only a few minutes.

My most recent annoyance came from a book someone else had written. I was recently reading a hardcover book by a bestselling author about a woman on the run who is using an assumed name. This character's truck broke down, and the local auto parts man gave her a check for $700 for salvage. The narrative read that she went to the local bank and cashed the check "with no trouble." My eyebrows shot up like someone had just insulted my mama.

No way would this happen.

With fraud so prevalent, no bank or check cashing place in the country would cash a check without a picture ID. The author did explain how the character got hold of a deceased person's social security number to give to her employer, but simply glossed over this rather important detail of how her heroine waltzed into a bank and came out with seven hundred bucks. Did she hope no one would notice? Didn't the line editor point out how implausible this was? Or was her suggestion vetoed because this couldn't be explained, with the powers-that-be deciding she could get away with it because she's a bestselling author?

Readers will often point out when something totally out of left field occurs in novels. I was surprised that no readers mentioned this, perhaps because it was so casually stated. But details do count, and it's those little things, like the name of the local power company or cashing a check, that give a book credibility.

So writers, be sure to check your facts.


PatriciaW said...

Great catch, Bettye. Even Amscot, down here in FL, which says it will cash "any" check "any" time, requires id. Gotta have id.

I don't think writers miss this stuff on purpose. It's just that they believe they know. If you think you know something, you might not check. Considering how many facts there might be to check in a 350 page manuscript, an author has to pick and choose, I think. They probably all pray that they get the big ones right, that nothing will stand out if it's missed.

I just saw another author taken to task on Dear Author for screwing up some NYC details. I figure there's another way to give that feedback, but for that reviewer, the errors messed up her reading experience.

Elena said...

I do believe that writers know. It's all about the aspect.

bettye griffin said...

Patricia, yeah, it's unfortunate when an error ruins the reading experience for a reader. I did think about this as I continued reading, but I enjoyed the book in spite of it.

Elena, at least in this case I agree that believe the writer did know. But I remember a story I read years ago where a timeline error rendered the entire novel impossible. I think I might have been the only one who noticed this, but someone at the publisher probably noticed it eventually, for this book, unlike virtually all of the author's other titles, has never been reissued. I wonder if the editor and line editor lost their jobs over that one.