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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Things that annoy you when fiction writers get it WRONG (Page 1)

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Author Topic: Things that annoy you when fiction writers get it WRONG
Foste
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I read 3-4 novels a week and I often see writers mess up stuff that can be researched. Seriously, even a quick Google search would improve some of the concepts some authors write about.

Mind you, that's not a thread pertaining to science and science fiction, but everything else that ticks you off.

Here's my personal list:

1. Non-native speakers

...or the monkey syndrome, as I like to call it. Most writers just come up with these characters whose grammar is wrong. That in itself doesn't annoy me. What does annoy me is that they make arbitrary mistakes. They string together words as if that'll make the non-native speaker authentic. Well, here's the deal:

Many non-native speakers translate their own language into English and use mismatched idioms.

Example:

In Serbian you say: "Doći ću u devet." U is the Serbian proposition "in". So a non-native speaker might say "I'll come in nine." as opposed to "I'll come at nine."

Another example would be the idiom "Navući nekog na tanak led" which means to drag someone onto thin ice. The implied meaning: you're getting someone into trouble by deceiving them, whereas the English expression "be on thin ice" means something entirely different.

Not to mention that the overuse of pidgin English can be insulting to other non-native speakers.


2. Suicidal people

Most suicides in fiction boil down to "Oh, goodbye cruel world!"
and are seemingly a result of impulsive behavior.

Most suicidal persons plan. The method, the place the time and the way you act are all important things suicidal persons consider.
For instance, I see a lot of whiny characters in novels who commit suicide.

Yech.

The thing is, when you cry, you cry alone. Because if someone notices drastic changes in behavior they'll intervene.

If anything, subtle hints are much better - a character giving away his stuff, or dispensing advice.

3. Horses

Those are not motorbikes, Sir Slay-a-Lot.


Those are the top three I can think of right now.

Feel free to add your own.

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Meredith
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Oh, horses running for like eighty miles in a day is a big one.
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extrinsic
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Annoyed is too strong a word for how I feel about artless or ineffectual portrayals. One way I respond to them is delight. Ah hah! Foolish mortal. How riduculous can you be? As ridiculous as I can be, I expect.

Another way I respond is by asking what's the rhetorical point? How am I intended to take that absurdity? Is there a persuasive purpose that justifies the artistic license? If I can't figure one out, either I didn't get it or the deviation doesn't measure up. Maybe it's me; maybe it's a mutual misperception or a one-sided one; maybe it's an in-group belief that has little merit outside the in-group. Or maybe the absurdity is artfully intended to call attention to a particular point. Say it isn't so.

I used to switch hats when I read. I still do when circumstances require, like proofreading for nondiscretionary mechanical style issues. Reading creative writing for general purposes, though, I wear all my hats at the same time: reader, proofreader, copyeditor, developmental editor, critic, human being. And that has made all the difference for my enjoyment as a close reader.

Frankly, I'm more easily annoyed by expectations creative writers should be perfect than I am by logical flaws, human flaws. Also frankly, I'm pleasantly surprised when I haven't noticed at least one glaring disturbance in what I've read.

One recent annoyance item I've located in many award-winning narratives of late is a tendency to expect readers to understand the dramatic action without divulging in any meaningful way what it's really about. Please don't make me work so hard I lose my bearings from guessing and projecting inaccurately what's going on.

And preaching thinly veiled as drama. Please cover up a preachy message a little with at least a subjective, specific-to-circumstances standpoint if not an entertaining romp through another persona's problem wanting satisfation. And please be clear about what that problem wanting satisfaction is before the ending.

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Foste
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:


Another way I respond is by asking what's the rhetorical point?

I prefer to call it eschewing research. Or being lazy. I've been guilty of this too, so yeah. [Smile]
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rcmann
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Where, oh where should I begin? You have no idea of the torrent you have tapped. But I'll take pity and stick with something simple and obvious, weapons. Particularly blades.

Granted, nowadays most people don't kill with blades. Neither people nor animals. But as someone who grew up hunting and spending every summer helping on farms, the way things are portrayed grinds my teeth.

You can't kill something instantly with a single stab to the belly. Even a heart stab will take anywhere from a few seconds to a minute. A cut throat will result in a panic struggle, and plenty of time for an enemy to latch on and take you with him. There are only a tiny few ways to kill a large animal instantly, and using a blade (other than an ax to the skull) is not one of them.

And no, arrows do not kill instantly either. Shoot a sentry with an arrow and he won't simply groan quietly and drop. He will scream bloody murder.

Also, re: Robin Hood. I am willing to allow for poetic/theatrical/literary license. But you *do not* use a two handed longsword like a fencing foil.

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rcmann
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quote:
Originally posted by Foste:

3. Horses

Those are not motorbikes, Sir Slay-a-Lot.


Those are the top three I can think of right now.

Feel free to add your own.

A valid point. I also seldom see it mentioned that horses are as individual as the people who ride them. They are not interchangeable machines. Some are old and stiff, some young and tough. Some are meek and easy to handle, some are mean as a snake and will try to take your hand off just for the hell of it. Some can walk twenty miles a day and be ready to collapse, some can trot thirty and still feel frisky.

But they all need to stop and breathe once in a while. And they need to eat. And they need rubbed down after a long day, and watered, but not too much or they get sick, etc. You can'[t just park them in a garage and change their oil every six months.

My wife's family raises horses. Last year my brother-in-law, a man who has been riding all his life, was trying to break in a young animal that he had just purchased. It's previous owner had never been able to control it.

Things seemed to be going well and gave no indication of trouble. Until the crazy critter suddenly reared and threw itself sideways, slamming itself and him into a light pole. It smashed several ribs, dislocated his back, and left him bed ridden for a few months. No particular reason, the horse just took a mood swing. They do things like that, especially young ones who have grown up around people who are not good with them.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Foste:
I prefer to call it eschewing research. Or being lazy. I've been guilty of this too, so yeah. [Smile]

I've followed the policy debate about Where is the bright line distinguishing artistic license from lackadaisical research to insurmountable mass culture belief systems imposed as valid for everyone. It's been fun so far, mostly because I see valid arguments on each's side. I've also seen flawed examples supporting each's position. The principal shortcoming I see is that of ineffectual application of research results, for the arguments and the writing and for audience sensibilites.

Some readers already believe what they read is valid. It's in print; therefore, it must be true, and true since it accords with their belief system.

The world is flat. The Earth is at the center of the universe. True in philosophical senses, that an observer sees and benefits from a flat-, geo-centric Earth philosophy when interacting locally. Philosophically, everyone exists at the center of their own flat-Earth universes. Yet most reasonable people today believe a flat, geocentric Earth is absurd. That to me is the value of artistic license, creating a scenario that is credible though logically absurd and has rhetorical purpose.

For instance, a protagonist believes in a flat, geocentric Earth. His belief accords with everyone else's. His problem wanting satisfaction might be his mediocre standing in relation to others' fame and power. He wants to shine at the center of everyone's universe, metaphorically speaking. He might be Hitler. He might be Osama bin Laden. He might be, I don't know, Arthur Pendragon.

[ June 22, 2012, 03:20 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Robert Nowall
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How 'bout the Moon rising and setting well before the Sun sets and rises? Seen that a couple of times.

Of late, I've reached conclusions about my own work, that I'd rather not write something about something I've never done and know next to nothing about.

A few years ago, it was having characters in the military---I've never been, and, when I looked over my work, it showed. (You see that one a lot, maybe more so in the movies than SF---used to be, everybody had been in the army [the draft] and knew what it was like, but these latter days [volunteer force] only a few have served and it's based on what the creators have read or seen in movies and so on...)

Just last year, it was anything involving extensive medical procedures---I'm not a doctor or other health care professional, and I've barely been a patient.

I don't necessarily want to cut things just because I haven't the background to write with confidence about them---if I excluded that I'd have very little to write about, and I'm already having trouble coming up with ideas.

(On cars vs. horses---well, I have an in-house expert on cars in the family, and there's a lot more there than one would think. I can tell you if you park a car in the garage and let it sit for more than a few days at a time, you'll be unhappy when you find you can't start it...)

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Foste
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
]


For instance, a protagonist believes in a flat, geocentric Earth. His belief accords with everyone else's. His problem wanting satisfaction might be his mediocre standing in relation to others' fame and power. He wants to shine at the center of everyone's universe, metaphorically speaking. He might be Hitler. He might be Osama bin Laden. He might be, I don't know, Arthur Pendragon. [/QB]

That's context. It's important to the story and the setting. And that's okay. But having Hrag'athor the Bulgy Muscled ride a horse like it's not a living being (as rcmann pointed out) is a stretch.

Two different things entirely, if you ask me.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Foste:
. . . having Hrag'athor the Bulgy Muscled ride a horse like it's not a living being (as rcmann pointed out) is a stretch.

Two different things entirely, if you ask me.

Probably two different audiences too. Some readers don't know or care to know much about horses or they want to believe horses are like dependable machines. Okay. Limited or narrow audience accessibility and appeal. It might sell anyway.
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Foste
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True! Some genres just (or audiences) just go along with it.

Which is fine, as long as it doesn't become silly.

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rcmann
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
quote:
Originally posted by Foste:
. . . having Hrag'athor the Bulgy Muscled ride a horse like it's not a living being (as rcmann pointed out) is a stretch.

Two different things entirely, if you ask me.

Probably two different audiences too. Some readers don't know or care to know much about horses or they want to believe horses are like dependable machines. Okay. Limited or narrow audience accessibility and appeal. It might sell anyway.
If I understand Foste correctly, what he's trying to say is that by neglecting to make the setting believable, the author makes it harder for the reader to take the story's conflict seriously.

All drama is about conflict, right? Man against man. Man against nature. Man against supernatural, yada yada yada. Well, when you put the protagonist in a setting where the world he is inhabiting is so blatantly the product of somebody's "let's play pretend" imagination it's hard to suspend disbelief long enough to really get into the story and identify with the character.

I can't identify with a cowboy who shoots a gun that never runs out of bullets, because I remember that every time I have ever shot a gun in my life I had to stop and reload.

When I read about, or watch, somebody ride all day and all night without stopped I think of two things. First, who built that android horse? Second, What kind of pain drugs is he taking? Because I know dang well that man is NOT going to be able to walk tomorrow. Ever been saddle sore? It ain't fun.

Which also brings to mind all these complete newbs who jump on a horse for the first time and become experts in five minutes. Or who pick up a weapon for the first time and leap into battle, defeating hard bitten veterans. Right.

How is a person supposed to get into a story like that? How can they draw out the deeper meanings, extract the philosophical underpinnings, even keep from tossing it in disgust?

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
And no, arrows do not kill instantly either. Shoot a sentry with an arrow and he won't simply groan quietly and drop. He will scream bloody murder.

Also, re: Robin Hood. I am willing to allow for poetic/theatrical/literary license. But you *do not* use a two handed longsword like a fencing foil.

Ooh, ooh. You reminded me of another. It nearly drove me nuts the first time I watched the LotR movies. You do not walk up within a few feet of someone and then shoot them with an arrow. The bow is not a weapon for close fighting. Tolkien knew that. In the books, Legolas switched to his knife when the battle became hand to hand.
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
How is a person supposed to get into a story like that? How can they draw out the deeper meanings, extract the philosophical underpinnings, even keep from tossing it in disgust?

By making note of it, in case it has a meaning significant for interpretation, and moving on. In my vernaular, once is a coincidence; it takes two to tango; three is a party. Maybe there is something deeper going on if it's a threesome of absurdity. Probably not, but my curiosity gets the better of me and I start counting.

If I'm editing, I ask if this might be a little out of sorts. If I'm analyzing for possible review, I ask if I missed something. If I'm on cue and the absurdity has no apparent discernible value, I ask if it's significant or meaningless to the whole. If meaningless, I pass, no review. If significant, I might ironically praise the writer's artfulness. And I'll move on until I find something I want to comment on favorably. I'm not a lifestyle critic panning the local restaurants for audience shock appeal. I'm part of the literature conversation adding to the discussion. I don't want a reputation as a hypocrite.

[ June 22, 2012, 03:21 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MattLeo
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quote:
Also, re: Robin Hood. I am willing to allow for poetic/theatrical/literary license. But you *do not* use a two handed longsword like a fencing foil.
A two-handed sword would be an anachronism. In the 13th C. the most common side weapon (other than a dagger) would have been the medieval arming sword (Oakeshott Types XI, XII, and XIII see http://www.oakeshott.org/Typo.html). While you could not quite handle them like a *foil*, there were sophisticated fencing-like techniques (http://freywild.ch/i33/i33aen.html#01). Two handers (e.g. Type XV) were developed for use against the more elaborate armor that appeared later. They were often used like a combination spear/wrestling implement, with one hand grasping the hilt and the other holding the blade about midway.

In any case, no matter how accurate you are, you're going to step on somebody's pet theory. Often the person will have a point, as in Meredith's about super-horses or rcmann's about instant-kill arrows. Other times they'll have a point that is wrong, or doesn't apply, or which is a simplistic extrapolation. For example many people will tell you categorically that late medieval armor was invulnerable to the firearms of the era. I have personally seen examples bearing both dents from stopped arqebus shots, and a hole where the shot rent the armor and killed the wearer. The armor could provide considerable protection from stray balls while being vulnerable to a lucky shot.

So what can you do? I say two things. First research and at least have a defensible position. It isn't that hard to find out how far a horse can travel in a day carrying a man. Second, don't force everything you have learned on the reader, because you risk being wrong or being perceived as wrong. Cultivate the art of sounding more specific than you actually are. If you do it right, readers will fill in details they find credible rather than critiquing the details you've supplied. Remember a scene has many components. Don't geek out to the point that you neglect character motivation and setting. If you get those right they cover a multitude of sins.

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rcmann
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I'm curious MattLeo. You have obviously studied this as much as I have, if not more. I was under the impression that the standard peasant yeoman "sword" was the falchion or something like it. A heavy, single edged chopper. Maybe I'm wrong. I was thinking that the double edged were reserved for nobles and their men at arms.

Which would fit for those stories that have Robin Hood as an outlawed nobleman, which he originally wasn't. but that's another gripe.

Anyway, Did the peasants carry double edged blades too?

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wise
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Horses. Definitely horses. The worst place for bad writing regarding horses in in TV shows/movies. And they constantly have horses neighing. My horse rarely neighs, only when he's in distress. I guess they have neighing sounds to imply there are more horses around than are on the screen. Oftentimes they use the wrong tack with the wrong circumstance. There's specific tack for western, english, racing, dressage, etc.

But all of this begs the question: At what point do you seek the input of an expert in a field that you need to include in your story, but on which you feel a little shaky? I've been doing some reading research, which has been helpful, but does anyone have experience in seeking the advice of a real-live expert? What's the best way to approach someone who could shed light on their area of expertise?

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by wise:

But all of this begs the question: At what point do you seek the input of an expert in a field that you need to include in your story, but on which you feel a little shaky? I've been doing some reading research, which has been helpful, but does anyone have experience in seeking the advice of a real-live expert? What's the best way to approach someone who could shed light on their area of expertise?

Fact checking is important when an area of knowledge is more than trivial to a narrative's meaning. If shaky, double- and triple-check factual knowledge that's important to meaning. Corroborate too. A lot of information passing as knowledge just isn't so.

I've interviewed a few experts about fields of their expertise. Mixed results. Some love to talk about their disciplines; others don't or can't or will but shouldn't.

Literary agents, useful results. I don't foray into confidential areas. Just marketplace impressions and opinions.

Law enforcement, mixed results, useful after my purpose and I'd been vetted. Some unwanted attention afterward.

Healthcare providers, mixed results, useful after I'd been vetted and so long as the topic wasn't specific to an individual patient or patient group or practitioner or practice group.

Medical examiners, same as above.

Morticians, same as above, but for general funeral practices, not deceased individuals nor their family affairs.

Clandestine agencies, no results. Some unwanted attention afterward.

Military disciplines, no results. Some unwanted attention afterward.

Law professions, mixed results and secrecy oaths, off the record, so to speak, but generally useful results for generic topics and when I wasn't apparently fishing for free legal advice.

Many other professional experts are happy to talk about their work, if a rapport is established beforehand, if the purpose is clearly and honestly stated, and questions don't intrude into privacy or intellectual property areas or confidential areas.

For example, brewers I interviewed wouldn't share their firms' recipe or ingredient lists or preparation processes. I knew them well enough anyway, better than some of the brewers I interviewed. One issue was a chemical compound consumers aren't aware of is often incorporated for water treatment so the yeast can do its job most efficiently. Not a toxic compound or in any way a real health concern, but say chemical adjunct within earshot of a naive consumer and lose customers. Adding a few drops of aqueous calcium sulfate (a dissolved chalk-like compound) to a wort tank doesn't instill trust in consumers' purity expectations. All that compound does is increase available calcium in comparatively soft water.

[ June 23, 2012, 10:03 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Robert Nowall
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My flypaper mind has picked up a lot of knowledge about a lot of things, and sometimes quite a bit of knowledge about single things...but do I know enough to write about something with confidence that I'm right? That it'll pass muster, not with the experts, but with the uninformed lay reader? Or make some error in the midst of it that some more informed person will spot?

It's said that L. Sprague de Camp picked up a Robert E. Howard story sometime in the 1930s, which featured a Roman soldier being dragged by a horse because he caught his foot in the stirrup---and he put the story down in disgust, knowing full well that Romans didn't use stirrups.

(Meanwhile, I know so little about horses that maybe "stirrups" isn't the right term...)

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rcmann
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Britannica. Wikipedia. Local university professors love to talk if you can catch them awake and sober.
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MattLeo
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quote:
I'm curious MattLeo. You have obviously studied this as much as I have, if not more. I was under the impression that the standard peasant yeoman "sword" was the falchion or something like it. A heavy, single edged chopper. Maybe I'm wrong.
Well, I don't claim to be an expert, but I doubt there's enough documentary evidence about yeoman infantry soldiers to conclusively know much about how they might have fought against each other. Rather we know about their use of polearms and longbows -- weapons effective against the mounted knights who were implicitly the *subject* of history rather than a background detail.

Like the Chinese *dao*, a falchion would be more user friendly for an untrained soldier, yet still be wielded with a high degree of skill by an expert. We know that their use wasn't restricted to low class soldiers because we have images of gentlemen using them (e.g. here http://www.thearma.org/Manuals/Gladiatoria/Gladiatorie_part6.htm.

If you were to arm a part-time soldier with a sword, a falchion would be a sensible choice, but the bigger question is whether you would have armed "peasants" with swords at all. Apart from the political implications of arming your farm animals, steel would have been fabulously expensive. The technology to melt iron wasn't seen in Europe until the Renaissance. You couldn't just mix in the right amount of carbon, and pour it into a billet ready to work into shape. To make that steel billet you had to hammer-weld gooey drops of soft, impure iron together, hammering out the impurities and then reintroducing the carbon by working it on the anvil.

And if we're talking realism, the earliest mentions of "Robin Hood" portray him and his men as vicious, lower-class thugs who'd make Somali pirates look like knights of the Round Table. They would't hang out in Sherwood Forest doing good deed against impossible odds; they'd lurk waiting for small, weakly defended parties to overwhelm. The lack of historical accuracy doesn't stop the noble Robin from being a potent mythical figure (as in Peter S. Beagle's *The Last Unicorn*).

quote:
It's said that L. Sprague de Camp picked up a Robert E. Howard story sometime in the 1930s, which featured a Roman soldier being dragged by a horse because he caught his foot in the stirrup---and he put the story down in disgust, knowing full well that Romans didn't use stirrups.
Add to that fireplaces with chimneys. Until the Renaissance a fireplace would be in the center of the floor and the smoke would fill the upper part of the building, exiting near the roofline.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Errors with the phases of the moon at the wrong time of day or in the wrong part of the sky bug me.

Which reminds me of a story discussed in a critique group I participated in years ago. The story in question was set in a lunar colony, but that wasn't revealed until the "punchline" of the story (and it explained why things were a little strange in the story).

Most of the critiquers went along with the "joke" on the reader, and liked the clever way the story set up the "punchline."

I, on the other hand, not only complained about the "punchline" (which wouldn't have worked if we'd really been in the pov character's pov), but I scolded the author for playing a "joke" on the readers.

So, "punchlines" that wouldn't work if the pov was done properly and stories that play a "joke" on the reader (or stories in which the author is "coy" about what's really going on) also annoy the heck out of me.

Plus idiot plots (as in "there would be no story if the characters wouldn't act like idiots"). Some romance novels qualify under this (as in "if these two people would only TALK to each other, there'd be no problem").

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
[QUOTE]Add to that fireplaces with chimneys. Until the Renaissance a fireplace would be in the center of the floor and the smoke would fill the upper part of the building, exiting near the roofline.

CONNECTIONS is available as a book that talks about how one new discovery led to another (or if the episodes are available on video, they're fun to watch), and one episode mentioned how glass windows made chimneys possible and that chimney design was influenced by cannon design (if I remember the episode correctly).
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wise
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
Plus idiot plots (as in "there would be no story if the characters wouldn't act like idiots"). Some romance novels qualify under this (as in "if these two people would only TALK to each other, there'd be no problem").

Jean Auel had this down to a science in "Valley of Horses" and "The Mammoth Hunters". It drove me insane.
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andersonmcdonald
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"You do not walk up within a few feet of someone and then shoot them with an arrow."

Yeah, in close quarters fighting you probably would switch to a sword or knife. But you can, indeed, shoot a bow at point blank range. I build wood bows and shoot and hunt with them regularly. I once killed a deer running at five paces, then a wild boar at point blank range as it run under a fence right next to me. With practice, a person can draw and nock an arrow pretty rapidly, every three seconds or so. And at close range it requires little concentration. Just point and shoot.

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andersonmcdonald
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Also, if a spine is severed by the arrow, the target will go down instantly. Though I've never made a spine shot myself on an animal, I've seen it happen dozens of times.
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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by andersonmcdonald:
"You do not walk up within a few feet of someone and then shoot them with an arrow."

Yeah, in close quarters fighting you probably would switch to a sword or knife. But you can, indeed, shoot a bow at point blank range. I build wood bows and shoot and hunt with them regularly. I once killed a deer running at five paces, then a wild boar at point blank range as it run under a fence right next to me. With practice, a person can draw and nock an arrow pretty rapidly, every three seconds or so. And at close range it requires little concentration. Just point and shoot.

It's not that you couldn't hit something at that range. There's a reason archers were always set at a distance and usually protected by pikemen in battle. No matter how fast he is, a man with a wooden bow doesn't stand a snowball's chance you know where against other men swinging swords, pikes, or axes. It's a stupid way to fight.
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MattLeo
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quote:
It's not that you couldn't hit something at that range.
Are you *kidding*? You'd be thinking "OMG when will I ever get a shot like this again?" and then you cut your bowstring because you knocked the arrow backwards.

quote:
There's a reason archers were always set at a distance and usually protected by pikemen in battle. No matter how fast he is, a man with a wooden bow doesn't stand a snowball's chance you know where against other men swinging swords, pikes, or axes. It's a stupid way to fight.
Unless you've been outflanked.

The Greeks put agile skirmishers ahead of their hoplite phalanxes armed with javelins. The idea is to break up the other line so it meets your side's more intact (therefore impenetrable) line because that would be instant death. Then they ran like haitch ee double hockeysticks. The Romans refined this so their first line of heavy infantry would line up two deep with gaps every other soldier. The skirmishers would run back through the hole and the second rank of infantry would move up to plug the hole. It wouldn't automatically be foolish to have light archers in front of the lines, as long as you could get them back and close ranks, just in most cases they'd work just as well from behind the infantry lines.

quote:
With practice, a person can draw and nock an arrow pretty rapidly, every three seconds or so.
Back, side or ground quiver? The Bayeaux Tapestry ( http://www.hs-augsburg.de/~harsch/Chronologia/Lspost11/Bayeux/bay_tama.html ) depicts four archers that I can see where the quiver can be discerned; in three of those cases the quiver is carried on the right hip, and the arrow is knocked resting against the bow's right side (archer's perspective). Either there is a fixed arrow rest or the archer is resting the shaft on his left thumb. A little thought show that if you are drawing from quiver you have to wear this would give you the quickest firing rate.

There is one back quiver, but it appears to be worn with the mouth at the right shoulder. This is the opposite of the ubiquitous "Robin Hood" back quiver where a right handed archer would have to cross draw the arrow past his left ear, which is about the worst possible arrangement.

Likewise woodcuts I've seen depicting battles against New World Indians show the Indians using hip-slung quivers. Back quivers of the Robin Hood type I've never seen in period art except in purely fanciful depictions (e.g. Indian "savages" decorating maps or on frontispieces).

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extrinsic
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What about convenient inns, public houses, and taverns set in an age when the only public hospitality services, fee-based, were provided by monasteries? Otherwise, a stranger-traveler had to endure a complex introduction and vetting ritual for guesting anywhere else. Or perhaps an occasional ordinary home might offer limited services for special occasions, partly by royal mandate.

Not that many travelers were on the road in the first place. A villein, villager, or tenant serf rarely, if ever, traveled beyond the borders of a laird's dominion. Persons of higher station also rarely traveled. Tax collecting was one reason for traveling, but under heavy guard and hosting a tax collector's retinue was another tax. Military levies too. Demanding labors and distrust of strangers otherwise kept people close to home fires.

Monasteries began the hospitality industry to serve knights on Crusade, feeling it was their Christian duty. Patrons were accorded hospitality according to their station: nobility, clergy, commoner. Table fare was often mean and questionably sanitary. Sleeping accommodations were no better, literally lousy.

The public house didn't come into common practice until the early mercantile period when goods began to flow into and out of Europe and across the globe.

[ June 23, 2012, 08:33 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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andersonmcdonald
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Meredith's right. I just picked a fight, just to prove her wrong. Three guys with clubs against me and my bow. They beat the **** out of me. <grin>
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rcmann
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Does anyone but me get bothered by how dentistry is almost never addressed? Even in modern America, living in a rural setting where you don't have access to a publicly flouridated water supply is not good for your teeth. Even two generations ago, in the most developed parts of this world, an infected tooth could easily kill you. Most people in most places did not keep their natural teeth past middle age. Usually not even that long. In fact, disease and the truncated life span in primitive conditions is rarely addressed. My mother was one of thirteen children and four of her siblings died in their first year. This was by no means unusual in those days.

But you see these old geezers, great-grandfathers or something, who can still shuffle around and see where they are going, chew meat, and have all their faculties? Not very likely.

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babooher
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I get peeved with really bad word choice for characters. When the least educated person uses the term "puissant" I begin to roll my eyes.
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MattLeo
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quote:
What about convenient inns, public houses, and taverns set in an age when the only public hospitality services, fee-based, were provided by monasteries?
Ooh, that gets me too! I don't mind if it's a fantasy world and we're talking about a major trade route, but if it's *historical* or quasi-historical that really irks me.

I remember once I critiqued a chapter of a novel that had an interesting conceit: it was set in the Bronze age Middle East, perhaps in the eastern regions of Persia. "Fascinating!" I thought, until I got the MS. The characters all had Semitic names and carried Bronze scimitars. They apparently had cheap note paper because the used it freely for scrawling notes as they ogled belly-dancing slave girls in taverns. And if that all weren't bad enough, they all talked in a kind of a Nineteenth Century penny-dreadful A-rab's "dog of an infidel" cant.

I gently suggested to the author that she consider setting the novel in an alternate universe, or doing some research on things like bronze age weaponry and the history of paper. She wrote back that accuracy didn't matter as long as the story was good. I refrained from writing back that she'd better be accurate then.

Speaking of "dog-of-an-infidel", that's one thing that *really* ticks me off. It's not that hard to find some real Arab, Iranian or Pashtun people and find out what they sound like. Or, if it's that kind of book your writing, it's not hard to find some actual Al Qaeda screeds so you can get the phrasing and issues right. And you could read Karen Armstrong's book *Islam* (it's not too long) so you know the difference between a Wahabbist Sunni and a Twelver Shiite.

But it's too much to expect these writers to do research, because they don't even bother to imagine new characters. They just give us the same old retreads, the way bad earth 20th C. authors gave us the same smilin, shufflin', shiftless negro from central casting over and over and over again. Apparently for them that joke never got old.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Does anyone but me get bothered by how dentistry is almost never addressed?
Wasn't there a Piers Anthony sci fi novel about a swashbuckling, spacefaring dentist?
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extrinsic
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Lukács György says in The Historical Novel that historical fiction portrays the past from a present-day lens. Historical anachronies are a natural product of reinventing the past through contemporary perceptions. Nostalgic sentimentality for the good old times just doesn't look at the harsh realities of existence in another time.

Love of the amatory varieties, an invention of poets and bards. Marriage was a business arrangement until recent times, with few exceptions.

Child rearing was not based on family love, but on producing productive members for the family workforce or coffers or knitting community bonds, with few exceptions.

Individualism is a comparatively recent evolution of the human condition. Priorly, humans largely codetermined, cooperated, or coordinated efforts for reciprocal benefits, or squabbled and fought for territorial dominance, with few exceptions. Even leaders were selected based on community benefiting qualities by their communities. Though, again, in comparatively recent times, leaders began to hog resources for them and theirs, kin, kith, and kine.

Later, class divisions were dictated by a divinely ordained stratification. High born persons of privilege were ostensibly being rewarded for prior good works and could do no wrong because they were divinely ordained. Commoners were predetermined to be inherently evil and paying pennance for their transgressions.

I won't go into other historic relic socio-religious distinction conventions, noteably gender.

[ June 23, 2012, 09:43 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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hoptoad
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first person narratives in fiction, especially sf&f. They sound implausible, narcissistic and self-centred. Like an email from a friend in which every line starts I... I.... I...

It's kind of a mental cognate of the writer addressing the reader. It usually draws the reader (me) out of the story by making the author far too obvious, especially when a character says something that is just so 'writerly'.

It's hard to enjoy -- for me... me... me. [Eek!]

[ June 23, 2012, 10:00 PM: Message edited by: hoptoad ]

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hoptoad
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quote:

Love of the amatory varieties, an invention of poets and bards. Marriage was a business arrangement until recent times, with few exceptions.

Thanks extrinsic, you remind me of another pet peeve: the story that oafishly attempts to 'shed light, warmth and love' on a current political or social/media debate.
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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by hoptoad:
Thanks extrinsic, you remind me of another pet peeve: the story that oafishly attempts to 'shed light, warmth and love' on a current political or social/media debate.

You must be a regular ray of sunshine.

Hoptoad (throwing down the book in disgust): What do you mean, Tiny Tim *did not die*. Rubbish! *Everybody* dies! It decreases the surplus population.

[ June 23, 2012, 10:53 PM: Message edited by: MattLeo ]

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hoptoad
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heh heh... yes I (and my malthusian colleagues) agree with you about Tiny Tim, or more correctly we would have in the first instance encouraged Mr and Mrs Cratchett to practice abstinence until they could afford having children. [Wink]

But you are not accusing our friend Mr Dickens of being an oafish storyteller -- are you?

BTW: Thanks MattLeo for reminding me of an incident where I did enjoy first person narrative and it is in Dickens The Haunted House.

[ June 24, 2012, 08:16 AM: Message edited by: hoptoad ]

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Robert Nowall
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Somebody pointed out to me a couple months back, that a scene in Poul Anderson's The Corridors of Time, set in Copenhagen, has the main character make a leisurely tour of a bunch of places in a couple of hours one morning, when it'd take the better part of the day just to walk from one of the named places to the other. Geography can really do you in.

I think I worry about messing up small details while displaying my research and erudition in a big way somewhere else. In one of my Internet Fan Fiction pieces, I had somebody arrested by sheriffs at one point, then had someone else arrested by local police---at the exact same place. (The arrests do take place a couple years apart (one's in a flashback), but it's something I should have picked up on.)

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MattLeo
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quote:
Love of the amatory varieties, an invention of poets and bards. Marriage was a business arrangement until recent times, with few exceptions.
While I appreciate the economic dimension marriage has always had, I've always felt that scholars are a bit too ready to extrapolate the origins of things from a few juicy and well-documented events. This is especially true in the current vogue for demonstrating that things we take for granted are social constructs (although what else could romantic love be?).

For example I've heard some put their finger on Heloise and Abelard as the origin of romantic love in our culture, or else perhaps the princely court of Aquitaine. This is sheer rubbish. In *Symposium*, Plato describes erotically obsessive love in a way that's completely recognizable to us. You can find examples in the Iliad, and in stories from all around the world either predating Heloise and Abelard, or clearly developed in ignorance of *any* Western tradition.

Given this ubiquity, I suspect "amatory love" predates civilization, although naturally the conventions by which love is expressed are bound to be highly culture specific.

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extrinsic
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I suppose I meant amore more than eros. By amatory I meant the love variety portrayed in romance novels and elsewhere where eros is as much indistinguishable a love feature as amore. Anyway, the amore love variety we can only know from our present, perhaps individual perspectives, and not too well at that. Love is an intangible, many splendored, and multiply complex emotion. And we can only guess about past amore love from literature's opus, where I assert amore love was invented. Then again, love inherently involves biological imperatives and survival instincts too. And participation mystiques.

[ June 24, 2012, 11:41 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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rcmann
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Love is a pitiful word anyway. Truly pitiful. For one word in English we are supposed to describe the feelings between mates, the feeling of a parent for a child (not even addressing the possibility that there might be biologically defined differences between mother love and father love), the feeling between siblings, the feeling of a person for a beloved pet, the feeling a person has for their personal home, the feeling that a person has for their country, the feeling that many people have for their diety, as well as the feeling that some people seem to have for certain activities - like careers or hobbies.

One word has to apply to all of those. They are *not* equivalent. I didn't even touch the feelings between life long friends of the same gender, which might or might not be equivalent to the feelings between lifelong friends of different genders who never get together sexually. Sometimes there is eros involved in those relationships, sometimes not. Sometimes there is only eros on one side. Sometimes there is eros but it is kept in check because honor forbids it. Etc.

One word. I find it inadequate.

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hoptoad
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Well... diversion aside... I was talking about writers who incorporate current social debate into their writing in an oafish and superficial way, having not understood the complexity and history of the debate resulting in a kind of tokenism or pallid stereotype. That is a pet peeve.

I guess it is a lot like the post about the portrayal of non-native english speakers, ie: not understanding the nature of the challenge can result in unintended vacuity.

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rcmann
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Specifically? Got any particular works in mind?
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hoptoad
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[Wink]

There are a at least a million instances in Harry Potter.

[ June 25, 2012, 01:16 AM: Message edited by: hoptoad ]

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Robert Nowall
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Political debate is a chancy thing to introduce in fiction...I think it works best in comic strips, where the characters are so well-established that you have a pretty good idea what their positions on the debate would be before they start. (At least those comics that explore things through their characters, unlike some that'll just spill it all out directly. I'd name names in both cases but we're verging close to an outright political discussion here.)
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MattLeo
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quote:
Political debate is a chancy thing to introduce in fiction.
I disagree. The problem is that most authors who want to do this is that they don't understand both sides of an argument well enough to carry it off.

Jean Anouilh wrote an adaptation of *Antigone* which he had to get past the Nazi censors. He did this by making the tyrant Creon extremely persuasive, so much so that the censors saw the play as vindicating the Nazi position, although it was actually a pro *Resistance* play. The French audience, identifying with Antigone, would immediately see how spiritually empty Creon's arguments actually are.

Now in the case of Harry Potter, Rowling's position is that "fascism is bad." I think she gets the fascist mindset pretty well, but it's hard to pull off in a dramatic story because when fascists gain power they are both terrifyingly awful and ridiculously puny at the same time.

Fascism is a special case. You can't argue with fascism, any more than you can argue with a bad smell stinking up the room. Fascists are superficially facile at arguing because they don't bother with logical consistency. A fascist can talk socialism with a union leader in the morning, drive across town, and talk private enterprise with their employer in the afternoon. For a fascist, the truth is something to be shaped to fit his purpose.

As a writer you can't debate fascism, you can only show it for what it is. In researching my story *The Wonderful Instrument* I spent some time on neo-Nazi blogs, then simply stripped out the indirection to make their positions clearer. Not totally clear, because most readers wouldn't believe anyone could be that inanely self-serving.

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mfreivald
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quote:
You do not walk up within a few feet of someone and then shoot them with an arrow.
That's not entirely true. Mongols used bow and arrows almost exclusively for very short range.
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Crystal Stevens
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
quote:
Originally posted by Foste:

3. Horses

Those are not motorbikes, Sir Slay-a-Lot.


Those are the top three I can think of right now.

Feel free to add your own.

A valid point. I also seldom see it mentioned that horses are as individual as the people who ride them. They are not interchangeable machines. Some are old and stiff, some young and tough. Some are meek and easy to handle, some are mean as a snake and will try to take your hand off just for the hell of it. Some can walk twenty miles a day and be ready to collapse, some can trot thirty and still feel frisky.

But they all need to stop and breathe once in a while. And they need to eat. And they need rubbed down after a long day, and watered, but not too much or they get sick, etc. You can'[t just park them in a garage and change their oil every six months.

My wife's family raises horses. Last year my brother-in-law, a man who has been riding all his life, was trying to break in a young animal that he had just purchased. It's previous owner had never been able to control it.

Things seemed to be going well and gave no indication of trouble. Until the crazy critter suddenly reared and threw itself sideways, slamming itself and him into a light pole. It smashed several ribs, dislocated his back, and left him bed ridden for a few months. No particular reason, the horse just took a mood swing. They do things like that, especially young ones who have grown up around people who are not good with them.

Well said. Well said indeed.

The other thing that gets me is how someone can jump on a saddled horse and chase after someone with the saddle fitting the the rider and the stirrups just happen to be the right length. Also, the person can ride this horse that they've never swung a leg across with such ease. No two horses ride the same. There are dozens of different ways a horse can be trained to respond to cues, and if the rider doesn't know the difference, he can be anywhere from just thrown from the horse to possibly being killed. Like has already been said; They are not machines but living, breathing, thinking, animals.

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