it's a great life, if you don't weaken (matociquala) wrote,
it's a great life, if you don't weaken
matociquala

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open your eyes. most of us prizefighters will fall from fashion.

There's this thing we deal with as fiction writers that's a little counterintuitive. I call it The Expert Problem: it's the thing where people who know a lot about a given topic will fixate on every detail of that topic as presented in a work of fiction, and not actually be able to view the narrative as fiction.

Some people learn to work around this--and writers very nearly have to, because sometimes reality is not narrative truth. And even better, of course, often experts in any given topic will disagree most heartily on that topic.

This is kind of a running joke among writers--never talk about firearms, motor vehicles, or horses, because somebody will give you hell about it--no matter what you say. (This is closely related to the evil crochet problem, which is to say that every insular group has its wankfests that seem utterly meaningless to outsiders: i.e., knitting is morally superior to crochet, or science fiction is morally superior to fantasy, or whatever.)

The solution, as often Revealed With Great Ceremony as one of the Secrets Of Publishing at Viable Paradise, is the word "Modified." pnh-and-Macdonad's case example of this is the eponymous '52 Vincent Black Lightning in Richard Thompson's best known song. You see, the Vincent Black Lightning didn't have keys. It was kickstart-only. Obviously, Thompson could have fixed that just by adding the word modified.

(This trick can be used to good effect in reverse--there's that episode of Happy Days that totally hangs on The Fonze knowing that Indian motorcycles have a left-hand throttle. Of course, it fucks up jury procedure something awful--)

One of my own favorite examples of this is guns. I have a couple of pet gun nuts that I run all of my firearms stuff past. Other gun nuts send me cranky letters nonetheless. I usually resolve this through the time-honored method of "Let's you and him fight." Or laughing in their faces, sometimes, because it makes me tired.

(I have in fact occasionally referred cranky amateur astronomers to the astrophysicists who do my math, when I'm blowing up heavenly bodies, as happens occasionally in my line of work.)

There's a related version of this, where people get very upset because "X type of people do Y, not Q." Which can be experiential, of course, but also relies a bit on stereotype. (It's my experience that all kinds of people do all kinds of things, and human beings are remarkable in refusing to conform to stereotype.)

My point is, we're not writing documentaries. I've seen a lot of T.V. shows screw up archery, for example. Or writing. Or other things I have an expert knowledge of, like dog behavior. We do the best we can, with adequate research, and move on, and sometimes something is just too awesome to let the truth get in the way. (I've been watching The Closer lately, and you know? I appreciate that it gives more than a lick and a promise to search and seizure rules. But oh, my gawd. There's gotta be some law of averages that would limit the number of offensively stereotypically neurotic people in that police department.)

The thing is, it both does and doesn't really matter. As long as it's moderately plausible, you've gotta work within the limits of your narrative. The fact that it only matters as a point of religious fervor if you feed your dog a raw diet, or kibble. The physical or technical limitations of your skill as a writer, or the actors you have cast. The 400 pages or 42 minutes you have to get a story on the page or the screen. The fact that you need your character's gunshot wound to heal in 30 days, not six months. The fact that you need to make something as fucking stultifying as ballistics analysis look cool because it's on TV, so you add some visual effects.

And every reader or viewer is going to have a different tolerance level for such things. I think the fan mail vs. hate mail for the lupine behavior in A Companion to Wolves is currently running about 70% in favor, but this varies by season, to pick an example at random. And a thing we need to recognize as creators is that a lot of this response is what people bring to it. Most of what a reader reacts to in story is what she brings to the book herself, quite frankly, and how the book interacts with those preconceptions and projections.

(This isn't an excuse for lazy writing, mind you: we owe it to our fans to get as much right as possible. But we're also telling stories, not writing instructional manuals. And that's important to remember as well. Because you can fucking paralyze yourself if you start worrying about the implications of reactive mass everytime somebody kicks off from the hull of your space station for a nice untethered space walk in order to fix that slight reactor core leak.)

A secret confession? I get my own version of Expert Syndrome. It makes me start rolling my eyes and dismiss people who fixate on details like that in a property I enjoy, when the modified version obviously exists to advance the narrative, or make a thematic point. Because it makes me think they don't understand storytelling, and the compromises it demands.

Which I happen to have an espert knowledge of.

But of course that reaction is just my bias and projection creeping in. Because I am a judgy monkey, too.

So he reached for her hand and he slipped her the keys
He said I've got no further use for these

--Richard Thompson, "1952 Vincent Black Lightning (modified)"
Tags: evil crochet, justify your existence, writing craft wank
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