by Janis Patterson
I'm gobsmacked. And close to heartbroken. Things are all upside down and I don't like it.
The other night The Husband and I were watching a show on PBS - an historical drama that during this episode was stated as taking place in 1905. The story was interesting enough, the production was lush with excellent values... except... the leading woman's clothing was not from 1905, one outfit especially noticeable because it was considered almost scandalously avante garde in 1915. (How do I know? Because I'm working on a book set in 1916, and have written one set in 1919, and I am a dedicated and close to fanatical researcher.) Of course I made a comment. The Husband grunted.
A few minutes later the main characters - still in 1905 - were hurtling down the road in a 1916 touring car. Didn't look anything like a car made in 1905. I made a disparaging and angry remark, and then the world went upside down.
"It's just a story, it's not important."
I couldn't believe he said that. I mean, this man is a scientist, a decorated (and thankfully retired) Navy officer and a respected historian of both WWII and the War Between the States. Accuracy is his middle name. I've seen him lose his temper when a TV show makes a mistake on a gun's caliber or year of origin. And when some stupid TV show had a character putting a silencer on a revolver... let's just say his reaction was memorable. And loud.
"It's just a story..." Words to chill the heart of a good storyteller.
Maybe it's just a story, but as creators of those stories, don't we owe our readers the best we can do? Although I hate to admit it, a lot of people get great amounts of their information from stories, whether read or seen. If the information presented there is inaccurate, a lot of people are going to be believing inaccurate things. And - if they are caught out in being wrong, who do you think is going to be blamed? Not them, even though they failed to check factual sources or do due diligence. No, they'll blame the writer, because things in books or on TV just have to be correct, don't they?
Such egregious disregard of fact has all kinds of consequences, not the least of which is that for those who do know the truth you the writer come out looking like either an uneducated lout or a lazy idiot who can't be bothered to check his facts. Either way it doesn't reflect well on you.
But wait, there's more... I think it all boils down to respect. The respect the writer must have for the reader, which should insure that every fact in our stories is as true as we can make it. I realize that there are some fine points that we have to extrapolate, or even guess, but when there is information available we should make the effort to find it. There is also the respect writer and reader should have for the truth. If you write fantasy, feel free to make up your own worlds and your own facts - but once you have, know you have to stick with them. That's not what I'm talking about, though. If you write stories set in the real world, whether current or historical, this world deserves the courtesy of being presented as is. No one benefits from a 1916 car driving through a 1905 landscape, or a revolver being subdued by a silencer.
There's one more thing - however obscure the fact, there's someone out there who will know the truth, and boy, will they enjoy calling you down on it!