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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » The worst mistakes... (Page 1)

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Author Topic: The worst mistakes...
mikemunsil
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... writers make about >>>ENTER YOUR TOPIC<<< that almost made you throw the book against the wall.

What do you know about that others might not, and that has REALLY annoyed you when you read it in a book, or saw it in a movie?

Moving through the Jungle - having people blithely chopping away with machetes at everything in sight. BIG mistake! You're likely to annoy:

- fire ants
- scorpions
- snakes

...and worse! I once has a boa land on my shoulder when I went brain-dead and poked a branch up with the tip of my machete, so I could walk under it easier. I learned the hard way that the best way to move through the jungle was by NOT disturbing the vegetation.

Also, see http://shop.hollylisle.com/index.php?crn=222 for some interesting resource books.


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Kitti
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using inhalers - In the movies, actors are forever taking a puff of their inhalers and then exhaling, speaking, running, whatever. (Goonies, one of my favorite movies when I was young, now makes me cringe.)

If you breathe out right after you breathe in, then you might as well not have used the inhaler in the first place. You hold your breath for a few seconds after using an inhaler. Plus, the medication doesn't actually kick in right away (though you can get some psychological relief). It can take up to fifteen minutes for albuterol to enter your system.


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Meredith
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The first several times I saw the LotR movies, I nearly went insane at the way Legolas' archery was depicted. You do not walk right up to your target and fire an arrow at it. It's not a hand gun! Arrows arc. A bow is a distance weapon. Close range, all you can do is hit somebody over the head with the bow. That's why they always had pikemen to protect the archers.

It annoyed me enough that I couldn't get into the battle scenes at all until about the third time I saw the movies.

More recently, I just finished reading His Majesty's Dragon from the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik. I was very disappointed in the final battle. She threw the names of half a dozen new kinds of dragons which had never before been mentioned into that scene. And worse, the names were in French! It seriously interfered with the action.

[This message has been edited by Meredith (edited May 20, 2009).]


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Robert Nowall
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I know too much these days. I find when I'm reading a book that if I spot a factual error, I stop dead in the water for a moment before I can go on. Sometimes I have to dive into my other books and check that my memory is right before I can move on and keep reading. (Usually it doesn't stop me altogether.)

As for a specific error, well...what comes to mind. I was once reading a book about the Beatles (I have an extensive library of Beatles books). In one paragraph this book referred to a time when they were invited to "Malachang Palace" in the Philippines.

Well, I know enough about the history of the Philippines---and of the United States's involvment in the Philippines---to know that Malaçanang Palace is the place this referred to---and an error like this sometimes makes it hard to take anything in the book seriously. (Beatles books are often riddled with errors.)

[edited 'cause I spelled "Philippines" with two "l"s and only two of three "p"s...defeating my argument.]

[This message has been edited by Robert Nowall (edited May 20, 2009).]


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micmcd
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Being a software guy myself, I hate it when stories (movies particularly) grossly overestimate the magical powers of "hackers." What? The door is locked? Just hack into the door with your laptop -- no problem. Need inside info on the NSA? Well, if you're a super-hacker, you can just hack your way inside.

A much funnier discussion can be found on cracked:
http://www.cracked.com/article_15229_5-things-hollywood-thinks-computers-can-do.html


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Troy
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Shooting a gasoline tank and having it explode. That's bad enough, but the worst offenders are when it's a plastic gas can. How....? I mean, what are they thinking?

Spilling something on a computer keyboard causing the cpu to malfunction -- or, hilariously -- causing the monitor to explode.

People (usually Police) casually waving their guns around in the midst of conversations. Anyone who knows firearms will tell you: never point a gun -- accidentally or otherwise -- at someone you don't intend to kill.


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extrinsic
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Two recent books I read, one a novel installment in a long running franchise and a history textbook, got my gall. The novel had numerous pluperfect and plupluperfect verb constructions, frequently constructed with limp forms of "to be" verbs on every page. Lazy writing as far as I'm concerned. I rewrote several of the sentences to eliminate the vapid syntax and to see that they were unnecessary. Yikes, that was a slog to read.

The history textbook was a reimagining of US history with a seriously questionable sociopolitical religious slant that all but left the history aspect out and tended to paint a contemptible light on past values from today's "enlightened" outlook. It would have been one thing to impartially depict history, but it went to the opposite extreme of demonizing every accomplishment perceived as noble at the time of occurrence.

However, one egregious error really irritated me. In one very brief paragraph about Thomas Jefferson, not much else about him, the textbook claimed that Jefferson graduated from William and Mary College. The politically sensitive way to cite Jefferson's correct and factual college experience is that he attended William and Mary. He was, in fact, expelled in his junior year. It was a politically motivated expulsion perpetrated by the college rectors opposed to philosophy (science) studies at what they saw as a divinity school, never mind that the college was under crown orders to provide philosophy curriculum. Anyway, seven philosophy juniors in the class of nine were expelled for "demonstrating low moral character and birth," Jefferson included.

I wrote the publishers to point out the mistake, citing references and sources for verification. They wrote back saying it didn't matter, that's the way their editorial board saw it and that's the way it is. Too bad.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited May 20, 2009).]


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Tani
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Novels and movies with what essentially amount to portable HPLC's. They wave a machine over some substance, and 'poof', out comes its chemical or protein make up. IRL, there isn't a magical assay to differentiate random substances, and certainly not in a two second time frame (the old X-files shows come to mind).
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wetwilly
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Some rules of how the universe works in movies that drive me up a wall.

-If you're tied up with thick ropes, it's very easy to slice threw them with a shard of glass. The fact that they are tied around your own wrists does not make them any harder to get to and slice through with your handy glass shard.

-If there is a blurred photograph or video on your computer screen, don't worry; every computer has a "sharpen image" button right on the keyboard. Same with zooming in on pictures.

-If you fall (or jump, or are pushed) from a tenth storey window, don't worry. All you have to do is make sure you take somebody with you and they land underneath you. Whoever lands on the bottom dies, and whoever lands on top walks away from it.


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Robert Nowall
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Cops living a lavish lifestyle without being on the take...think "Miami Vice" here...
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Pyre Dynasty
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Hmm I thought they were on the take. (It's called subtext.)

What makes me throw a book across the room is when there is a betrayal of a character's character for the sake of a gimmick. "Guess what? I'm actually the bad guy even though I have been bending over backwards most of the book to help you defeat me."

Of course, it's hard for me to remember an exact example, I have a survival mechanism which makes me forget things I don't like.


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BenM
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quote:
I have a survival mechanism which makes me forget things I don't like.

I have that problem. I think I'd fail in court.

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Troy
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Do you guys realize that there is actually no law or regulation that states you have the right to make a phone call after having been arrested?

Just something to know....


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Robert Nowall
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How about when the characters in a movie find a great parking space right in front of the place where they're going?
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Robert Nowall
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While I was brooding, and perusing the radio-waves thread, I thought of another one, science-fictiony, too.

How about where somebody is halfway across the solar system, but speaking to someone on the other side instantaneously---no delays, and no accounting for the speed of light (and radio waves). (Just last night I saw that in an old movie I happened across while channel surfing. If there was an explanation I missed it.)


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Zero
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quote:
That's why they always had pikemen to protect the archers.

I always thought the pikemen were there to protect the file from cavalry. But then again I'm just basing that off of Braveheart.

Also, wouldn't a bow still hurt pretty dang bad at close range?Someone pointed a bow at me from two feet away thinking it was a joke and I freaked out. I'm pretty sure that could have been lethal if it hit me in the right place.

But yeah, Legolas' archery is bogus.

---

quote:
Being a software guy myself, I hate it when stories (movies particularly) grossly overestimate the magical powers of "hackers." What? The door is locked? Just hack into the door with your laptop -- no problem. Need inside info on the NSA? Well, if you're a super-hacker, you can just hack your way inside.

I know what you mean! I LOL'd at Jurassic Park when the "hacking" ended up being some kind of first-person 3d dungeon. That made no sense.

I also hate it when screenwriters, to explain what the character is doing, include shots like "uploading virus" etc. As if the "hacking" software comes with its own nifty GUI.

----

quote:
They wrote back saying it didn't matter, that's the way their editorial board saw it and that's the way it is. Too bad.

Wow that's insane! Maybe I'll start doing that from now on. Once I make a mistake I'll just say "that's how my editorial board saw it, hence that's the way it must have been." Gotta love the logic.

---

quote:
-If there is a blurred photograph or video on your computer screen, don't worry; every computer has a "sharpen image" button right on the keyboard. Same with zooming in on pictures.

Yeah this one seriously bugs me since, basically, what they're doing is forcing the computer to include information that just isn't present. Unless maybe they have another picture with better resolution ... no, that's giving them way to much credit. I want to see some show have the characters try to "clarify" or "sharpen" the image and have it just end up all pixelated and worthless. I keep hoping.

[This message has been edited by Zero (edited May 21, 2009).]


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Kaz
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Depending on the strength of the bow and range of the shot, the arc of the parabola drawn by the arrow would vary. At short distances, like the ones you see sometimes see Legolas firing from (say, at the end of the first movie when it's practically point blank range), you could just aim and loose a straight shot without any sort of adjustment.

Pretty much everything mentioned so far ticks me off, too. One thing I'd add is when a cop is chasing a bad guy for five minutes of screen time, and they're not just having a light run, they're sprinting. They should be breathless and doubling over at the end.


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Meredith
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quote:
I always thought the pikemen were there to protect the file from cavalry. But then again I'm just basing that off of Braveheart.

I'm quite sure they used pikemen for more than one purpose. And never base anything off of Braveheart.


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Zero
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quote:
Pretty much everything mentioned so far ticks me off, too. One thing I'd add is when a cop is chasing a bad guy for five minutes of screen time, and they're not just having a light run, they're sprinting. They should be breathless and doubling over at the end.

Yeah especially the donut dunking cops I see everyday.


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Zero
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Merideth,

Is there a huge difference between a pikeman and a spearman? Could pikemen deploy into a phalanx or are the pikes too short? I think a pike doubles as an ax or something but I really don't know much about ancient weaponry and tactics.


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Kaz
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"A pike is a pole weapon, a very long thrusting spear used two-handed and used extensively by infantry both for attacks on enemy foot soldiers and as a counter-measure against cavalry assaults. Unlike many similar weapons, the pike is not intended to be thrown. Pikes were used by European troops from the early Middle Ages until around 1700, wielded by foot soldiers deployed in close order," says Wikipedia.

The pole weapon also used as an axe is the halberd.


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Zero
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Oh right!!! Now I remember. (Not enough playing Total War for me, I guess)
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Crystal Stevens
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I don't know about books, but it gets me in the movies when the hero jumps aboard the most convenient horse, and the stirrups just happen to be the right length and the saddle the right size for the rider. It's also hilarious how the rider immediately gets along with a horse he's never ridden before. Even a well trained horse might have different cues that once used won't get the same action.

Another one is guns that have been underwater like in a lake or river, and will fire immediately after being taken out of the water. A gun might fire if it hasn't been drenched very long, but I've seen movies where someone has fired a gun that's been underwater for hours.

Has anyone ever watched "The Mask of Zorro?" Remember the chase scene on horses? If you ever have a chance to watch it sometime pay close attention to the gear the horses are wearing. First everyone is riding in saddles like they're supposed to be doing. Then, out of the blue, the saddle on the horse Zorro is riding has hand grips for the actor's stunts. It's a trick riding saddle. Then Zorro is riding standing up on the horses' backs. The saddles at this point are gone and all that he's standing on is leather bareback pads with no stirrups at all. It one of the best action clips when it comes to horsemanship I've ever seen, but I'm quite sure that the average viewer wasn't supposed to notice the change in gear.


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Ben Trovato
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Zorro at least had a slight aversion to that trope earlier, though: the first time Antonio Banderas tries to vault into the saddle, he gets bucked into the wall.
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mikemunsil
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Fighting to the death - for more than 3 minutes without taking a break or getting out of breath. c'mon!
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Zero
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adrenaline?
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wetwilly
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quote:
Fighting to the death - for more than 3 minutes without taking a break or getting out of breath. c'mon!

If you have never seen "They Live," go out and watch it. Immediately. Not because it's good (although it kind of is, in a weird, B-rated, crappy kind of way), but because it has a ridiculous fight scene in which the two guys (one of whom happens to be Rowdy Roddy Piper...yeah, I'm talking about a quality movie, here) beat on each other for a good 15-20 minutes straight. They pound heads on concrete, kick each other in the teeth at full force, etc. No break for at least 15 minutes. Not only do they survive, but they walk away from it. And they're friends by the end of the fight. It's great.


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Robert Nowall
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How 'bout when some cop (or anybody, but let's say "cop") takes a bullet in a shoulder and goes down, then when you see 'em at the end it's only an arm in a sling...I gather a shoulder wound like that is a seriously debilitating wound and generally a career-ender...
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Pyre Dynasty
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What I loved was in FOTR Legolas shoots a guy (yes, at point blank) and the guy forgets to fall down. You can see the rage on Orlando Bloom's face. (It's on the theatrical edition, they went with a different shot for the extended edition.)

I once knew a physics teacher who walked out of StarWars thirty seconds into it because they had their engines on and you could hear the blaster shots.


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Robert Nowall
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I think there are certain conventions in SF movies (and, well, all movies) that we've come to accept and tolerate even though they make a mockery of the laws of physics.
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jdt
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I think it was the last Die Hard movie that Bruce Willis shot (and killed) the bad guy through his OWN chest. With a large caliber handgun. The bad guy died and Bruce wound up in a sling. Pushing the boundaries on the suspension of disbelief thing.
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mikemunsil
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quote:
...

I once knew a physics teacher who walked out of StarWars thirty seconds into it because they had their engines on and you could hear the blaster shots.


Oooh! And I thought I was the ONLY person who ever walked out on that crap. Please give her/him my congratulations.


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Robert Nowall
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Less a mistake than a, well, an attitude, I guess. I keep reading non-fiction, history, and stumbling across phrases like "they had no cell phones in those days" or "these were the days before MTV."

I know that. I already know that. I'm trying to find out what happened way back then, not to run into condescending commentary about what they didn't have or didn't do.


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wetwilly
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All couches are bulletproof. If you get in a gunfight jump behind one, because even if someone fires even an assault rifle into it, the bullets will definitely NOT go through the couch and hit you.

If you can't find a couch, do cartwheels. It is physically impossible to hit someone with bullets if they are flipping. This is true even if the shooters are highly trained and experienced marksmen.


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Zero
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quote:
Less a mistake than a, well, an attitude, I guess. I keep reading non-fiction, history, and stumbling across phrases like "they had no cell phones in those days" or "these were the days before MTV."
I know that. I already know that. I'm trying to find out what happened way back then, not to run into condescending commentary about what they didn't have or didn't do.

I laughed so hard at that because I feel the exact same way!


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Dogmatic
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enhance....Enhance....ENHANCE....

Thank god for "Super Troopers"


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Collin
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Movies without a plot where some muscular guy like Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson runs around blowing stuff up. Fake Hollywood explosions make me laugh every time I see them.

It doesn't really tick me off as much as it sort of makes me smile when I see it, but when an actor is running from one place to another with several machine guns firing at them, and they come up unscathed. This does sort of refer back to annoyance number one.

[This message has been edited by Collin (edited May 28, 2009).]


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MartinV
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StarWars. OK, sound in space is something I've gotten used to (for a physics student that says a LOT). But there are tricks in these movies that make me want to puke. Things like:

Episode 2: Anakin jumps from a flying car thingie, goes into free-fall (about 250 km/h - 160 miles/h) and then intercepts another flying car thingie that is travelling horizontally. Forget the fact he knew precisely WHEN to jump but how the hell did his wrists survive such strain. From 250 km/h in a vertical direction he immediately shifts into more or less same velocity in the horizontal direction. And now he's holding on with his bare hands.

Episode 3: a very pregnant Padme travels to the hellish metalurgy planet to meet Anakin. She opens the door, sees him and SPRINTS to him. Nine (maybe a little less) months pregnant, with TWINS, and she is making a 100-meter dash. I've never seen a pregnant woman, even a pregnant athlete, who could do that, not to mention with a double load.


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wetwilly
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MartinV, the 9 months pregnant thing in Star Wars actually was not a mistake. I have seen a 9 months pregnant woman sprint like a charging rhinocerous, fast enough that I, a fairly healthy man in my mid-twenties, was not able to outrun her. It happened shortly after I said, "I don't know why the hell you women complain so much; I'm the one who has to go to work all day, and then I come home and my dinner's not ready."

***Note: Before you all rip me apart, that wasn't a statement of my real opinion, just an experiment to see what a 9 months pregnant woman is capable of doing. Turns out the answer is "a lot more than you think."***

[This message has been edited by wetwilly (edited May 30, 2009).]


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Kaz
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I think Anakin can get away with that because he's using the force. Still, that's a long drop.

Also, detectives only solve cases once they've been suspended.

I've thought about the Die Hard thing too. I think it worked out because Bruce Willis' character was shot through the shoulder, whereas the villain got the bullet in the chest. Still, a shoulder wound can be lethal.


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snapper
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Great thread!

I especially liked the bullet proof couch and convient parking spaces. Here's mine...

Fragile TV's. How many times have you seen someone put their foot through a TV screen? (Talking about the older models with the tubes) Thet are just about indestructable. I saw (more than once) a tv get thrown in the back of a truck (in a landfill) in attempts to shatter the screen. Even with a direct hit on a solid object like a desk, the worse you can do it is crack the hard glass.


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Robert Nowall
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I lifted a couple of my thoughts from a list from a book by (I think) the movie critic Richard Roeper. Seeing them laid out in cold print made me realize that, yes, these things did annoy me.

How about characters who are talking on the phone, and the person called (a) is right there to answer the phone instead of halfway across the house and it takes ten or twelve rings to get to the phone?...or (b) the end of the conversation just happens, with hangups without goodbyes...or (c) the person called is never rude about being interrupted doing something important that made it difficult to get to the phone...or (d) when the conversation is over, the person called just sits and stares into space as if contemplating what they just said? (I got some of that from the Roeper list.)


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Antinomy
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Movies where the character pulls up in a car at night, gets out, and fails to turn off the car lights.

Movies where the super hard guy (Rambo, Jack Bauer, etc.) breaks down in blubbering tears.

Books where the writer ends a chapter at the most tense moment to pursue a mundane sub story.

Hatrackers who highjack topical threads turning them into personal discussions.


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Robert Nowall
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In "Star Trek," where the ship was flung to the Other Side of the Universe and, at the end of the episode, was back where it started from. (I gave a big "plus" to "Voyager" for keeping them on the Other Side for most of the course of the series.)
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Antinomy
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TV news reports on local bank robberies showing a perp interfacing with the teller on camera, yet the picture quality is usually too grainy, gravely or pea soup foggy. Then the news anchor asks us to call lour local authorities if we can identify the robber.
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Robert Nowall
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Watching a newscast where the anchorperson mispronounces a name (person, place or thing). Had they even heard of it before they read it?

(One that comes right to the front of my mind happened in the obituary piece on Rosemary Clooney. The reader mentioned her hit song "Come On-a My House"...and pronounced it with a hard "A." It was obvious that this person had never heard the song...and I reached the obvious conclusion that this newsreader didn't know (and probably didn't care) who Rosemary Clooney was, much less what she did. Is that the fate of all artists who live beyond their celebrity?)


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MAP
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I had a major problem with X-men. I could suspend belief enough to accept that one gene created a myriad of genotypes, but when they said that the gene came from the father, that went too far. The only chromosome that can only come from the father is the Y, so all of the X-men would be men.

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DWD
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1. The Real-Time Universal Translator. Sorry. As a (former) linguist I can tell you: ain't never going to happen. It's even worse if you try to make it sound feasible by having your characters get a random sample of a new language and "analyze it" first.

Typical scene:

"Sally, you got the translator configured yet? We're running out of options here!"
"It's going to take more time, Ted. All I had as input was that one message we intercepted. It could take another, um, HOUR before we'll be able to communicate with the Quadlippians."
"Not good enough, Sally. In an hour, we may all be DEAD. Bubba, see if you can help Sally set up the translator!"
"Yes, sir!"

Then to add insult to injury, the $%&^ thing gets set up in time and works perfectly, meaning it doesn't translate "we mean you no harm" as "no, we mean to harm you."

With no reference frame to do comparative analysis (i.e. no way of knowing what the semantic content of morphemes in a stream of speech are), it just can't be done--I don't care how powerful your computer is (or how smart Bubba might be). I'd rather you just have everybody speak English and let me suspend disbelief at a more basic level.

I won't even start on the equally absurd assumption that an alien species is going to communicate by vibrating an organ somewhere to make sounds....

Best option: just make it real. The inability to communicate with another civilization is a powerful source of conflict. Just ask Hannibal (the one with the elephants, not Anthony Hopkins)...

Ah, but for that you'll need time travel, and we just happen to have:

2. Quantum Mechanics as the magical enabler of wherever you may want to to set your story and darn-near anything you might happen to want to be able to write about, as in Crichton's Timeline.

Just give MacGyver some quantum mechanics lessons to go with his Swiss Army knife and gum and you have Invincibility With a Mullet.

I enjoyed reading all your posts. Great fun!


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JustinArmstrong
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As far as the "silence in space" rule, I enjoyed how the new Star Trek handled it. I won't say anything to ruin the story, but the first time space is...encountered?...everything goes dead silent. For the rest of the movie, they use sound effects.

This gave me the gratification of writers who at least KNOW that is how it is. After that the sounds didn't bother me.

As far as throwing books against walls. I would have to add in Mirror of Her Dreams, by Steven R. Donaldson. I love that book to death, as it (and it's sequel) have many of my favorite characters, plot twists, and magical variants. Unfortunately, Donaldson LOVES to give backstory. So much so that there is a 36 page chapter, titled "A day with nothing to do", where the MC walks around and learns about the past. I have tried to read this book many many times, but only got past that chapter twice.


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MrsBrown
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Really bad writing (grammar, pacing, passive, mismatched tenses) will make me put a book down. If its mediocre writing, I'll put up with it if the story is good.

Books that spend too much time on boring exposition and backstory. But even that I'll forgive, if the rest of the story is good.

I'll accept just about anything, no matter how unbelievable, if the story is good enough. Just keep it moving.

I'll see a movie just for the special effects; I love seeing people do the impossible. But the story has to be decent...


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