Nothing draws a reader of out the story like a glaring error.
(Did you catch that one? I bet some of you cringed at the sight of it.)
Despite my comments about Cinema Sins and other such critics that love to tear apart every film or TV show released, there’s a valuable lesson from seeing one of their reviews.
They point out glaring errors. These might not be glaring to you or me, but to someone it’s obvious that Katniss was holding the bow in her left hand, and suddenly it was in her right. Or Hawkeye had only one arrow left, and then he had four in the next scene.
They catch mistakes in movies where it was daytime when the main character arrived at a building, then suddenly it’s nighttime when the characters are near a window, then it’s day outside again when they leave.
Man, that’s a long meeting!
The reason I bring this up is because the same can be true in our writing… especially with the rise of self-publishing and a decline in use of services like professional editing.
When I write, sometimes there are facts I need to research, something I’m worried would expose my limited knowledge on a subject. More often, there are details I haven’t sorted out yet. Or there are names, places and descriptions I jotted down weeks ago (let’s be honest, months ago) which I don’t remember right now.
I normally deal with this, if I remember exactly where to look, by double-checking the applicable part earlier in the draft. Or I take advantage of being a “planner” writer–I keep lengthy spreadsheets and scattered files documenting all future plans and essential plot details.
I don’t know how “pantsers” do it (that is, those who write by the seat of their pants, no significant planning involved).
But that fact-checking kills momentum, and when I’m writing in the moment, I want to keep it going as long as possible.
So I leave notes. But I’ve ignored those in the past, so I leave notes in ALLCAPS, and yes, in bold, underlined italics… maybe even turned RED.
“a cool autumn day — IS IT REALLY AUTUMN??”
“Jo revealed her Gracebrand — is that what I gave her?”
“Lyllithe saw no sign of the Mudborn — check name”
I’m ashamed to admit, I’ve even sent out critique pieces with these included.
But the fact is, these details matter. People notice. Lazy writing throws off readers, who then throw out books (or give bad reviews online).
Since we all have to go back and edit anyway, might as well take the time to get the little things right.
What fact-checking / detail-noticing plan works best for you? Let me know in a comment.