Friday, April 30, 2010

It's the Little Things that Kill Suspension of Disbelief

(March 20, 2009)

I caught an error in Dancing in the Checkered Shade this morning. Flipping through the television channels, I came across a program about knitting a sock. That caught my interest, since I mention in my book that a character had been knitting a sock. As I watched, a sense of horror (lol) began to spread through me. I'd made a mistake. In my description of the knitted sock, I said it was "finished but for the cuff." But I saw that these knitters started with the cuff and finished with the toe, which makes perfect sense when you think about having to shape the foot of the sock. I resolved right then to fix that error in the manuscript as soon as I could escape from the day job for the afternoon.

"What's the big deal?" you may ask. "Probably no one would ever catch that mistake. Not all that many people knit, and very few of those who do actually knit socks. Who cares?"

I care! I said in my post yesterday that realism matters a lot to me, so I want things to be right. Besides that, the sock error is the kind of thing that can ruin the world of a story for a reader. Granted, there might not be many who would know it was a mistake, but that one sock-knitter out there who might read my book someday would come across my error and say, "Wait a minute...." Any time a reader has to say, "Wait a minute," a crack has developed in the seamless facade of your story and in the willing suspension of disbelief a reader gives to you. So, yeah, I care.

This error reminds me of one I caught in a book about the Civil War I was reading once. At the beginning of the story, the main character is a young boy whom the book specifically says was having trouble growing any facial hair. Six months later, he's been conscripted into the Confederate army and fought in a tough battle. The author then says something about his full beard. Wait a minute! No 15-year-old boy I've ever seen has gone from peach fuzz to a bushy beard in six months. I guess Civil War-era coffee really did make a man of a boy!

Fortunately for me, the fix is easy. I change one word ("cuff" to "toe"), and the problem goes away. But now I'm wary; what other simple errors lie lurking in the manuscript? Will I find them in time?

1 comment:

Lori Claxton said...

I imagine my comment is hardly relevant five years after the fact, but here goes, anyway:

You're right, of course, about the importance of the little things. In this instance, however, you needn't have worried: The toe-up approach is as valid as the cuff-down. Whether cat-skinning (ew) or sock-knitting (whoo!), there's often more than one way to do it. :)