Thursday, May 5, 2011


We've all made them, those little errors in life.  Those "oopsies," as my family likes to call them.  Back in my Army days, we called them CLMs, for "Career Limiting Moments"--but then, we took everything oh, so seriously back then.  I've even been known for committing them in my current day job, older and wiser though I may be.  Ferinstance, I fairly recently reconciled the monthly population report (yes, boring stuff) with the wrong month's reconciliation data...and it still reconciled somehow.  Oopsie.  Not nearly as grand an oopsie as some of my younger stuff: "Billy (name is changed to protect the guilty) and I were throwing pipe cleaner darts at each other and one got stuck in my head, here."  Oopsie.  "I know you don't think I'm old enough for BBs, so I used BB-shaped rocks in the gun to shoot Bobby (name is changed this time to protect the mostly-innocent) and didn't mean to hit him in the face."  Oopsie.

*ahem*  Please tell me I didn't have a singularly, abnormally violent childhood.  Anybody?

In any event, it's entirely possible as an author to make an oopsie too.  I've already bludgeoned the poor author of the FBI thriller I read recently over her mistakes (see my post on asspulls).  It's not limited to authors; apparently editors and publishers make their share, too.  Franzen's fourth novel, titled ironically enough "The Corrections," went to print in the earlier draft version instead of what Franken had fixed up, and it apparently contained enough mistakes to justify recalling all 80,000 copies.  Famously, the 1632 edition of the King James Bible left out one word accidentally, to an end where the divinely-inspired works Commanded us "Thou shalt commit adultery."  Oopsie?  A small part of me is sad to have missed that, but the majority of me knows Heide would'a kicked my tush to have even considered reading it.

Isaac Asimov, in one of the many anthologies he wrote that I used to own, discussed some of his errors...some caused by mistake, some by lack of knowledge, and some only proved later to be in error by scientific discovery.  For example, it was only after The Dying Night came out that scientists discovered that Mercury does, in fact, rotate with respect to the sun.  Oopsie.  While he certainly couldn't be blamed for going with the existing knowledge that one side of that planet was always dark, he was careful to correct the story in later publications.

But wait a minute...fiction is called fiction because...well, because it ain't truth.  Non-fiction is meant to be truth.  Fiction is the opposite of non-fiction...well, yeah, as deep as that statement wasn't, hopefully you get the idea.  So who cares if Asimov said that Mercury doesn't rotate when it really does?  He also put a robot on the moon controlling most of the universe, and nobody was surprised when astronauts continued not finding such a robot on their visits, right?  What's the difference between fiction and oopsie?

It boils down to suspension of disbelief.  We can believe while we're reading his masterwork that there is a robot on the moon because he sets up a world in which travel between interspatial bodies is normal.  Those of us who haven't studied Mercury did just fine suspending our disbelief in The Dying Night, too.  It boils down to the axiom fiction writers face: make up your rules early on, make sure your audience knows them, and then don't break them.  And, while you're making sure the audience knows the rules, make sure there isn't a problem with a significant number of them saying that one of them just can't possibly be.  Like, um, what I did last night. 

Now, I break the rules plenty.  I've been good at it since before and during my West Point days.  As a writer, I enjoy bending, playing with them.  Ferinstance, I put Atlantis, an island for which the Atlantic Ocean was named, in the Pacific.  Just 'cause, sorta.  I mean, it helped with the storyline, but it didn't have to be.  But I wanted to make a point about how much of what we know is based on rumor.  The story explains it all away, fairly satisfactorily I think. 

But last night I really blew it.  I started writing the part of the story where our lovely heroin meets Hephaestus in his forge.  I'm not sure if I was just feeling too big for my britches, or not paying attention, but I wrote about her walking out of his forge into a beautiful chilly spring day in Scotland.  I'm getting pretty good, I think, at being thoroughly descriptive without too much describiness, and I was really happy with this passage.  Until, that is, I woke up and re-read my source on Hephaestus.  The Greek god of blacksmithing's forge was in a volcano.  Actually, it WAS a volcano.  I guess there were volcanoes in Scotland...sixty million years ago, give or take a millennia or two.  Now, not so much.  Oopsie.  Granted, it wouldn't be hard for most people who don't recall and don't want to look up the mythology surrounding Hephaestus to sail right by the passage, just like it's not hard for most people to sail right by the passage about Mercury's dark hemisphere (though the comparison stops at the oopsie; I'm nowhere near as talented as the grand master was).  But I'll know, and the thing about book fiction is that it gives the curious readers plenty of time to fact-check.  Assuming my dreams come true and the book is published and even sells a few copies, I know that if I don't fix it I'll run into people on the street who'll say, "Oh, hey, you're Evan Koenig?  You know that Hephaestus's forge is in a volcano, right?"

Well, crap.  I guess I had better go fix that oopsie now.  Till later!

Word Count: 41,300

1 comment:

  1. LOL...I can vouch for the lack of volcanoes in Scotland - I think the Castle (in Edinburgh) is built on a lava PLUG, but still... ;)