Friday, January 23, 2015

Ma'am. Ma'am! MA'AM!!!! Google Is Your FRIEND! (Or What I Learned While Watching Doctor Who)

Three things happened to me today as a writer that cemented my thoughts on research and writing what you don't know, but that your character's personal history requires.

Here's the funny and weird thing about all of this...none of it was planned. But it was all perfectly timed as if the Lord wanted to get a point across that I couldn't miss no matter how hard I may have tried.

Now, mind you. I was fully aware of all that I'm about to share as I'm sure most of you are. But every so often, we as writers need to be reminded of the truly obvious.

On To Those Three Things....

One of my favorite shows is Doctor Who. Especially the new reboot. (Psst...Matt Smith is my fave!) I love the writing and highly suggest that anyone who loves to write check out some of the shows simply for the skills of the show's writers.

The episodes shown today were "The Sound of Drums" and "The Last of The Time Lords." I love this show and I love to watch how the writers will weave what most of us consider throwaway information into the plot at the beginning of a season. Then during a show weeks or months later, make it the one thing that the entire season hinges on and blow my mind with it. But today, as the show played out, I found myself giving it side-eye.

Arthur Coleman Winters, The President-Elect of the United States was on this episode. Mentally, somehow, as a citizen of the United States, I was able to dismiss the fact that he was introduced as "The President Elect of the United States" and not the President. But he was doing the job of the President and functioning as the leader of the free world.

Wait a minute. What?
I dismissed allllllll of that.

But, once he dismissed Harold Saxon ("The Master") and got in the car to ride off, my side-eyeing, turned into a full-fledged squint and head shake.


Because the vehicle Mr. Winters got into wasn't the Presidential limo, "The Beast."

In this episode he rode off in an suv. A metallic grey suv.

A few hours later, I got a call from author Naomi James.

Every so often she blesses me by sharing some of what she's writing with me. But today, she wasn't calling to share, she was calling to ask me if readers could or would suspend disbelieve long enough to accept her hero's age in light of his former career. We spent the bulk of her lunch hour on the phone and searching Google for the answer to this dilemma.

At the end of the call, we were both pretty sure that he would have to have graduated high school insanely early, perhaps as young as fourteen. He would have to enter college as a sophomore to manage all the post-graduate studies he'd have to complete to have given it all up by the time he was thirty or so. Even then, there was a good chance there might have been some side-eyeing by knowledgeable readers.

Then by pure coincidence, and the fact that I kind of love watching documentaries and shows that actually teach you something (...unless I'm watching Doctor Who, of course. But even then, I'm checking out how they put together a storyline) I flipped to the History Channel to watch "America's Book of Secrets." The topic of the episode: "Presidential Transports."

I immediately felt like calling Naomi back and yelling, "GOOGLE IS YOUR FRIEND!!!"

For British viewers, unaware of how the office of the President functions during a time of transition and the insane level of security in place for the President and President-Elect, there was absolutely NO DISBELIEF on their part. There was no need for it. They don't see the President getting into or out of a big, thick, black limousine on the news almost daily. Nor do they know that prior to the swearing in ceremony, the President-Elect isn't traveling the globe telling the leader of any other nation what to do.

But for American viewers, aka "Viewers-In-The-Know," we have to literally edit those parts of the show out of the story to enjoy it as the writer (Russell T. Davies) intended.

As Naomi and I were talking earlier about her hero and what age would best work for him, yet not pull the reader out of the story, we pondered on writing today when everyone has access to the internet versus researching and writing the same book fifteen or twenty years ago.

In today's world, if you want to know how long it takes to become a dentist, you open your favorite search engine and ask. In a few minutes time everything you could want to know about becoming a dentist is at your fingertips. Including any specialties versus general dentistry.

Fifteen years ago or more?

It was easier to visit your personal Dentist and ask. And this you did after spending a day or two at the library and exhausting every resource there. Writers did their research to the point of becoming an expert on a subject before writing about something even in passing. In turn, most readers automatically believed whatever the author wrote, without ever reading the acknowledgement in the front of the book crediting Dr. Justin Casey for helping with research on gum disease.

Today, acknowledgements in fiction books are becoming rare. No one stops to thank Google or Bing for making research easier. They thank their family for not disowning them while they wrote and members of their personal cheerleading section for encouraging them.

Television viewers are more forgiving of plot issues than readers. Watching television is free (for the most part) and only requires a commitment of one to two hours at the most. Virtual instant gratification. It's easy to wave away a grey suv versus a black limo when watching television when you know better because there's precious little time to think on what about what you just saw that disturbed you. The show is on to the next scene!

Reading a book requires a commitment of time (patience) as well as money. The gratification for readers of a well-written book unfolds slowly, but beautifully, like a well-tended rose. But, make the same type of mistake with the grey suv versus a black limo in your writing due to not googling a simple question, and readers are quick to put down your book. They'll write a negative review warning other readers that you didn't do due diligence in regards to your subject matter. Then if they bought it in ebook format, ask the website for a refund.

Regardless of what you're writing readers should be able to skim over a seemingly small detail that you've put into a story and not find themselves pulled out the story. That small detail should pull them in deeper and fully emerge them. The details in books and movies are there not just to there take up time and space by acting as filler, but enhance the story. To enrich it. To flesh it out and make it lushly three-dimensional.

Now, do I believe Mr. Davies, the writer of those episodes of Doctor Who missed this tiny detail? Of course not. He's a complete and utter genius. I want to steal his discarded notebooks of ideas he didn't deem worthy of his time.

I'm going to blame it on the director and the person in charge of props.