Recently, I read an article in Reader’s Digest titled Fact vs. Film, by Max Glaskin. The piece illustrated how television and movies aren’t always accurate when it comes to police or FBI procedures. On the positive side, wearing a tie is correct; sometimes people are involved in a raid after they are called from their desk job in a pinch. Those extended shotgun barrels can really give an extra two or three cartridges before reloading. On the other hand, too many people moving together in a raid can cause a pile up, making it easy for the bad guy to shoot everyone. And yes, even though you are wearing a bulletproof vest, duck out of the way. With no visible radio, you can only communicate with your squad by body language or shouting. I thought you could communicate without a visible radio, but then I know little to nothing about the field of crime fighting.
Recently my writer’s group had a guest speaker, Vickie Gooch of Idaho State Police. She shared what it’s really like on a crime scene and had pictures to show us, as well. One of the photos was a burn victim, which is hard to forget, so when my favorite police drama came on TV with a burn victim of their own, I was annoyed at the inaccuracy. But then, perhaps we can’t take the truth. I do occasionally turn to my husband and complain about other errors in areas I do know about, but I forget my complaints quickly. In other words, I don’t take it to Facebook. Besides, I know that one of the main objectives for film and television is to entertain in a short amount of time, without too many details.
Books are a different story. Readers want the truth, and have been known to put a book down forever when they’ve been cheated. I heard from one of my readers about a fact I was pretty sure I’d researched correctly. It had to do with looking for mushrooms where white firs grow. Yet, I rechecked with a couple of mushroom hunters and they said I was right. I just thanked the reader for the information. What else can you do?
Often times I buy a book if I like the theme or setting, sometimes even knowing something about the subject myself. My favorite time in history is between 1840 and 1900 and I appreciate the facts. Besides good romance elements in the story, I want my readers to learn something else along the way about the theme, the setting, or a thread through the story. I don’t want to plant seeds of distrust amongst my readers so I do my best to fully research my subject. Above all it’s for the author to decide when detail corrupts the truth. All I can say is if what you’ve written sounds questionable, rewrite the sentence. Basically, I believe my manuscript is not finished until the details match up, for me as well as my readers.