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!