Experts: The Double Edged Sword

6 years ago | MrOsterman (Member)

Pardon my complaint but I thought I'd just, well, complain/ comment on the nature of having experts review your work.

I am blessed, really to have friends in a very wide variety of fields, from the military, through actual (kid you not) rocket scientists. And they're all readers and they're almost all independent authors, or they aspire to be. As such they love to read and critique.

Which is almost as much a boon as a bane.

I have a chapter I'm working on for Bastion that focuses on a grad student astronomer who discovers the incoming meteors but is dismissed because they are too similar to each other and his advisor tells him that it's just phantoms in the software. In the first draft of the chapter I had about a half dozen friends Beta read it and I got great marks.

Then I heard back from my Rocket Scientists friends. One said that the only enjoyable and/or accurate part was the throw-away comment about the professor's neighbor who was a retired banker and a chatterbox. Everyone who did not know a thing about Astronomy gave it great marks. The experts poked so many holes in my science that I could have used that chapter to drain pasta.

Which is one of those yin-yang things. My Marine friend, who I love dearly, has an equal affinity for poking holes in "mistakes" in military procedure and protocol. She loves to say "no no no!" when something isn't quite right which is great.... except when she points at a major plot twist that the story requires and says "yeah, no, we don't do that."

Hmm.. great.....

I'm glad I have the help, I am, but once in a while I'd like to feel I got it right ~before~ it gets shredded. :)

Mind the Thorns a Reader Directed Urban Fantasy
Bastion: The Last Hope a web novel of the end of days

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Page: 12


  1. Wildbow (Member)

    Posted 6 years ago

    I've run into this a few times.

    * A member of my writer's circle absolutely tore one chapter to shreds, where the protagonist gets some basic tips in hand to hand fighting from a friend.

    * A geologist pointed out that what I'd termed an aquifier wasn't. Misled by Dwarf Fortress, I was. This was a major plot point.

    You can't know everything. All you can do is do as much research as you can. Read other books with similar characters/events and pay attention to the background noise, and cross your fingers.

  2. ubersoft (Member)

    Posted 6 years ago

    I'm running into this with guns. I have this ebook called "Throwing Lead: A Writer's Guide to Firearms" which is designed to help writers who have no real experience with guns write about them correctly. It's an excellent book, but I still made the classic "Hollywood Silencer" mistake in the first issue of Curveball. And in Issue Four I have automatic pistols misfire because they'd been submerged in water, which apparently hasn't been true since the 1900s (a few readers emailed me YouTube links of pistols being fired, repeatedly, underwater. Ooops.)

    It's just one of those things.

    Curveball (Updating)
    A Rake by Starlight (Updating)
  3. Wildbow (Member)

    Posted 6 years ago

    Oh, don't even get me started on guns. I'll have to check out that ebook.

  4. MrOsterman (Member)

    Posted 6 years ago

    Famously Jos Whedon did that in Firefly when they wanted to fire the gun "Vera" while it was in a vacuumm. Only guns don't need air to fire so, yeah, no need to make a big deal about putting the gun in a pressure suit to make it work in space.

    I also remember that "supposedly" they were going to do a scene in The Patriot where Mel Gibson came up out of a swamp and fired his musket after having it submerged. Yes after 1900 we had sealed cartridges, but not so much in 1776.

    Mind the Thorns a Reader Directed Urban Fantasy
    Bastion: The Last Hope a web novel of the end of days
  5. G.S. Williams (Member)

    Posted 6 years ago

    Sometimes it works to say "screw it" - Star Wars and Star Trek are full of bad science down to explosions and sounds in space - but are so much more awesome with the rules broken. Braveheart is historically inaccurate but epic.

    Tell a good story first. Just don't completely strain credulity, and the audience will forgive some stretches.

  6. Chris Poirier (Moderator)

    Posted 6 years ago

    I'll second Gavin on this one. To use an old saw, "never let the facts get in the way of a good story."

  7. DaringNovelist (Member)

    Posted 6 years ago

    One of the problems with experts (especially really high end experts) is that they don't get point of view. I remember once when my heroine referred to the slide on an automatic as "the slidey thing," one critiquer got very upset and told me I must learn what the parts of a gun were called. He didn't get that I knew what it was called, but the heroine not only didn't, but she didn't actually care what it was called.

    Now, my Gun Guy does get that. (He has a dry sense of humor, and under the right circumstances, he himself might call it 'the slidey thing' as a comment on what he believed the listener's level of competence to be.) But a lot of experts don't, and that means that they will dwell on things that are of no use to you, and maybe even miss telling you something important.

    What I tend to do is not have the expert review the story, but rather I talk to him before. I ask specific questions, explain a scenario. "The hero has taken a gun away from a badguy, and stashes it away for safe keeping. Does he unload it first?" And he'll ask me a few questions ("is he a gun guy?") and then tell me and show me exactly what he's likely to do. Generally, if what he says fits the story, I go with that. If I want something else to happen, I'll ask him how realistic it would be.

    (Actually the coolest thing he did was, when I told him I wanted this gun-ignorant heroine to find the gun and use it, he loaned me a really nice, expensive replica of the specific model, so I'd be able to see what she would be looking at and experiencing.)

    Because I'm not writing hard-boiled or police procedurals, I don't worry about accuracy beyond that. In the end, most of the information in a story is about perceptions anyway, and research is about creating an alternative reality that doesn't make the intended audience roll their eyes.

    But after the story is written, it's too late for experts, really. I've created the world.


  8. Alexander.Hollins (Member)

    Posted 6 years ago

    The big thing to remember is, it's YOUR world, not the real world.

    Uber, there ARE lots of pistols that will jam or misfire when wet. many won't, some will, even modern ones.

    MrOsterman, Vera isn't a regular firearm. from whedon's specs (they are out there somewhere) it uses a sort of compressed fuel air explosion to operate, so it does actually suck in air when shooting. (just like mal's handgun fires both traditional cartridges and has a railgun, so sometimes you get muzzleflash, and sometimes you get a whine and no real flash)

  9. MrOsterman (Member)

    Posted 6 years ago

    Well, I tend to think that all the "But Vera does use air!" was Whedon going "oh... hmm... I shoulda caught that" after the innerwebs went bat-crap-crazy for that episode. I love the man, I do, but I think thi was a case of "oops". :) (Tangent: Anyone else seen the trailer for Much Ado About Nothing?)

    On the gun front I was in the same place when Regan got to fire a handgun for the first time in Mind the Thorns. I actually had a friend take me out to a gun range, put a 9mm in my hand and say "go for it." Most informative morning of my writing career and one I go back to a lot when I'm looking for ways to talk about doing research and what it shows you about the topic. I'd never fired one before and it was a very fun experience. Granted I'm probably going to need to get some AR-15 time soon too as I'm inching closer and closer to actual combat for Bastion and I'm going to want to get that right when I do get there.

    And that "my world" vs "the real world" is an interesting point. It's a bit like how we expect consoles to explode in Sci Fi when a ship takes damage though the reasons for it can be dodgey, or we expect silencers to make just a "pft" sound when fired even though that's not really how they work. They're tropes that people have come to expect within these genres and while they're not fully accurate with those "in the know" they are "accurate" for what most people consuming the fiction would think. If that makes sense...

    Mind the Thorns a Reader Directed Urban Fantasy
    Bastion: The Last Hope a web novel of the end of days
  10. ubersoft (Member)

    Posted 6 years ago

    There are revolvers that would misfire in the situation I had in Issue 4. Very few automatic pistols. Anyway, yes, it's my world, but I want to *deliberately* violate the laws of physics etc in my world, not do it inadvertently. ;-)

    Curveball (Updating)
    A Rake by Starlight (Updating)
  11. Ingstrand (Member)

    Posted 6 years ago

    Fiction isn't written for experts. In fact, education is a good way to lose literature (there were a lot more novels set in the Middle Ages for me to enjoy before I learned about the Middle Ages and began cringing at anachronisms -- perhaps physicists have the same experience with Star Trek?). Sure, we should do our best to avoid errors, but it's hardly worth it (or even possible) to write absolutely error-free fiction.

    The Morpheus Reports: dark superhero mysteries of the north ...
  12. Jim Zoetewey (Moderator)

    Posted 6 years ago

    I'm sure I've made mistakes, but I haven't been called out on them as yet. Oddly enough readers have helped me avoid mistakes prior to writing them.

    I introduced a character with magnetic powers, and inadvertently unleashed a discussion about bullets, and how not all metal can be magnetized. The cool thing was that they had this discussion before I screwed up in that area.

    Oh yeah, a comment a reader made also helped me realize a particular device might be putting out more energy than went into it--if it worked as people assumed. Fortunately that was easily fixed as I hadn't gone into detail about how it worked.

    Personally though, I enjoyed the movie Gladiator quite a bit, but knowing a bit about the history of the Roman empire left me with a list of things that were obviously wrong about it. That said, I didn't have a problem watching it. I can enjoy a good story without needing it to be perfectly accurate. It's the bad or mediocre stories where I dwell on the mistakes.

    Of course, I'll still happily point out the mistakes even if I enjoyed something.

  13. ubersoft (Member)

    Posted 6 years ago

    Yeah, Jim touched on the part of it--just because an expert is pointing out a flaw (and taking glee in doing so) it doesn't mean they're not enjoying the story, or even that the flaw is a "deal killer" for them. I had a friend in high school who was an aircraft nut (eventually went into the Air Force) and he was always pointing out the flaws in all the jet fighter movies that came out in the 80s. "They're not using the right plane here. That's not really what a MIG looks like. That plane isn't equipped with that kind of armament." and so forth and so on. But he watched every single jet fighter movie there was because he loved 'em.

    Curveball (Updating)
    A Rake by Starlight (Updating)
  14. casanders (Member)

    Posted 6 years ago

    I dunno, if a story is filled with mistakes, it takes me out of the story. I also do tons of research for anything that I right. It's important to me to be very accurate. The only thing that I've really had trouble with in "Watchmage..." is striking a balance between 19th Century English and 21st Century English (for readability).

    The Watchmage of Old New York. At Jukepop Serials

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