Wednesday, November 7, 2012

When Scenes Contradict Settings

*The winners of ANITA HIGMAN'S Merry Little Christmas are: Lindsey Harrel, Julia Reffner, & Ladette Kerr! - Congrats, ladies!

*I wrote this post when I was in Scottsdale, Arizona on a work trip. I'm only getting around to sharing it now ;)

There's NO business like SHOW business like NO business I KNOW ...
that's me singing and doing my little tap dance and trying to stay awake from the grueling agenda of my work conference. I mean, work meetings in front of a 5-star swimming pool on pillow laden couches make this trip super rough. And the fact that all I have to drink is bottled Perrier water -- for free -- and in-room espresso makers - it's like staying in a ghetto. I had to eat gourmet, brick fired pizza last night with mozzarella cheese shipped in from Florence, and walking the cobblestone streets of Old Scottsdale and seeing all the old buildings and old West towns was misery for a historical writer like me.

LOL - confused yet? Me too. Ever read a novel where the author's scene descriptions contradict settings? I have. Like the time I read about an out of work coffee barrista who drove a BMW. Yes. I drive a BMW too. I dumpster dive to feed my family on the weekend. Contradiction. Or how about a 1800's heroine who uses phrases such as: "Get with the picture, James, I'm simply stating facts". That's authentic. Truly. Because all ladies in the Victorian era spoke in blunt 21st century lingo.

As a reader, you won't connect with the characters of your book if there's too much contradiction. As a writer, that's our worst nightmare, isn't  it? 

How should readers process contradictions in a book:

  1. Keep Reading. Please give us writer's a break. We're still learning -- and if the book is published by a reputable publisher, odds are the contradiction somehow slipped through 12 editing sessions. We're sorry. Very. Sorry.
  2. Let Us know. Nicely. Please be nice. But let us know. A good writer wants to understand where they're NOT connecting with their readers. And we all have emails, Facebook, Twitter,Blogs, etc... so you can find us. But again, gently let us know -- and if you can, don't blast your correction on Twitter, Direct Message us ;)
  3. Learn. If you're a historical reader like I am, I don't mind contradictions. They don't offend me. I learn from them. I will either look it up online, check out a history book, or resource past information to see if I'm right or the author is. The fun fact as a reader? A lot of times what you THINK is a contradiction -- isn't. It may be tricky writing to lead into a great article -- like this amazing blog post (lol-gag) or it may be a fact you've had wrong all these years and you get to learn something new.
How should writers process contradictions in their writing:
  1. Make sure you're open to criticism. It's hard to hear criticism. So often it's not given constructively -- so admittedly, that makes it hard. But constructive criticism is typically helpful. It can enhance your scenes, better your writing and take you deeper not just into your story, but into what your readers are looking for.
  2. Correct them. If you can. If it hasn't gone to print. If it has, be aware of future contradictions. Look for them. Contradictions can be deadly to your overall story -- because the reader stops reading the story and instead reads your lack of authenticity.
  3. Don't make up stuff. RESEARCH!! If you're planting a character in the middle of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, don't have them wearing wedge sandals. Sandals in Hawaii make sense - wedges don't. They didn't exist in 1940.
Have your experience contradiction in a book you've read or written? Don't name names, but what didn't you like about or how did affect your reading?


  1. I saw a phrase in a book that I read this year that JUMPED off the page. I was disappointed, to say the least. I was annoyed and couldn't get over it. Why? Because the wording jarred the time period and pulled my brain in 2 different directions. (Which ain't so hard...)

    I've written a 19th Century piece and have made sure to not once use any references to electricity.Easy? No. Since in a romance "the mood was electric".

    1. ""the mood was electric."'---LOL, love that Jen! Yes, it's never enjoyable to be "jarred" from your otherwise great read.

  2. Well, yes. I read a biblical fiction and the characters talked sometimes like back then but then other times likes today. For example when Rahab said, "I'm spent." Really, Rahab? (BTW it didn't have anything to do with her um..former occupation) And then she said the water was cold as ice. They didn't have ice back then. I know that because Harriet Olson barely had it when she was still having to go to the ice house when it was hot and Nancy locked the girl Albert liked in there so she couldn't win a singing competition.

    So anyway. It was laughable. Now having said that, I don't write historical fiction and I imagine it is tough. I have a CP who writes it and I always see highlighted notes on her ms that says stuff like, "check this phrase for origination" and stuff like that. She's careful to get it right. Me? I have no idea usually, but in biblical fiction...well that's easier to pick up on.

    1. Yes, good examples Jessica. Unfortunately the contradictions seem so obvious to the reader, why don't they hit the writer on the bull's eye on their forehead?!

  3. Jaime, wouldn't it be awesome to work by the pool and those awesome loungers all day? Sigh. Happy thoughts.

    As for jarring phrases, I've seen it before for sure. That is one reason I don't think I could write historical. My voice is contemporary, for one, but I also just would be afraid every other sentence that I wasn't writing something accurately.

  4. Anachronistic language is the bane of historical authors' existences. I'm blessed to have some eagle-eyed editors who pick such words out with blush-inducing frequency in my mss. :)

  5. Congrats to the winners: Lindsay, Ladette and Julia!!


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