The Biggest Mistake Readers Make (and How Writers can Handle It)

I’ll just cut right to the chase here. The biggest mistake readers make is assuming the writer doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we have to take creative license in order to make for a better story or get it to fit into our universe.

As I was writing today, I thought about something funny that happened when a reader assumed I didn’t know what I was talking about when it came to exploding rounds from a shotgun. Jay Willison is one of my major consultants on firearms and ammunition. He knows his stuff and has the US Army experience to back him up. Usually what I do is I watch or read an article and then take it to him and ask about the points I don’t understand.

I had done a ton of research with his help, and could write with confidence that there are things such as incendiary rounds (Dragon’s Breath) and hollow-point slugs that can and do make flesh go boom. Yet the reader assumed I just made it up and didn’t bother to research firearms or ammo.

How I handled it: I explained to the reader that while there’s always room for improvement in writing, there is little room to explain every single detail about the ammunition my character was using as it makes for dry reading for most people. The majority of readers don’t really care about Doctor Cross using exotic ammunition or even if she’s using a 12-gauge or 20-gauge. The only readers who will care about it are the ones who are firearms enthusiasts; and that’s okay. I showed the reader a couple of videos about exotic ammo and we wound up having an interesting conversation about what makes the best testing dummy. (We concluded pig cadavers are probably the most reliable, but that’s open to debate.)

Lesson for readers: Don’t assume the writer didn’t do research. There are a variety of reasons for leaving out minutiae or taking creative license. Instead, do your research and see if there are things you didn’t know about.

Lesson for writers: Don’t get mad at a reader for calling you out. You can learn something sometimes. If you did your research, you can sit back and relax knowing you did your part and maybe you’ll have a chance to share with the reader.

Finally, remember it’s your universe. Curve the bullet if you want.

Happy New Year!

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A Question on Quora

This week I’d like to share with you an answer I posted on Quora. If you like the answer and are a member, I’d appreciate it if you’d vote for it. Quora is an excellent Q&A site with a great number of experts on topics. I’m glad to be a part of it.

Now onto the answer, if you’re too lazy to click on the link:

While I will say that some novelists can be arrogant (just as some filmmakers certainly are), most of us want readers to enjoy what we’ve put forward. We’re proud of our work. When our work is made into a film, it’s a huge compliment. But some of the things that we write don’t translate well onto film and can only be expressed in the mind of the reader. When you read, you get to use your own stage/set, picture the characters without the hindrance of an actor’s appearance, and be swept away with some carefully crafted words.

Granted, if you’re too ignorant or lazy to read, go ahead and watch the movie adaptation of a novel. Ultimately, you’ll only get to scrape the surface and enjoy someone else’s interpretation of those words instead of diving in and immersing yourself into another world.

You may have a learning disability that prohibits you from enjoying a novel, however, so watching a movie may be the only way you can enjoy the interpretation of a printed work. Sadly enough, you may have to wait quite some time to get different versions of a tale.

One of the best adaptations of a novel, in my opinion, was the serialization of Stephen King’s The Stand. Even though it was made for TV, and cut out many details, it was great. However, it still wasn’t the same as the novel. That novel was amazing. I read it when I had the flu. My father gave it to me as a gift (he had a sick sense of humor which I’ve apparently inherited). Anyway, it’s one of my favorites, but the film itself and the novel are separate entities.

Something I like to do is actually see a film first, then read the novel. For me, it’s like going “behind the scenes” to find out what really happened, as if the author truly knows what happened, and all the extra details seem much more juicy and fun. If you haven’t done this, try it with the Harry Potter serials, if you like that genre. I had a blast doing it that way with the first three films and novels.

If the question’s intent was to insult writers/novelists by calling them arrogant, I would say that it failed (at least with me, because I was highly amused by the question). If, however, it was genuine, it’s a great one, because it asks for definitive analysis and thought as to why we enjoy the things we enjoy.