Accuracy matters!

I finished the first draft on the next book! And then I gave it to Calmer Half, for the tactical read-through. Because accuracy matters. (After he finishes, it’s going to a geologist who will do her own accuracy read-through. I aim to always write something good enough that people who are skilled in the profession shown do not want to throw the book across the room.)

He came back with three tactical errors. One of which was a one-line fix, and two of which require rewriting an entire chapter. We’d already discussed the third one, and I knew it was coming; he has encouraged me to write it horribly instead of not writing it, because it’d be easier to edit to correct than to get right the first time. But the second, ah the second. He insisted I had to write the aerial shootdown. Which has been so frustrating to research and write that I copped out and had the viewpoint character looking the wrong way.

Calmer Half isn’t going to let me get away with that. Darnit. He holds me to higher standards than I sometimes want to be held, and I love him for it, no matter how frustrating it can be. So, being unable to figure out what I need from online, I finally swallowed my pride, took a deep breath, and… asked him for help. (Yeah, I know. He’s right there. Doesn’t mean it’s always the easiest option.)

“Love, what’s it look like to someone on the ground when a plane launches a missile?”

He said offhand, “There are youtube videos.”

“Oh, I know, and funker350 videos. But they’re mainly air to air, from the plane. Or they’re handheld shakycam, and assume you know what you’re seeing, or staged, or Hollywood. Not useful if you’re running and look up. Which is why I avoided writing it in the first place. Help?”

He took a long, deep breath in, and let it out slowly, then said, “When the ****er is launching a missile at you as you’re trying to shoot it down, first it looks like something broke; the wing changes shape, and you think ‘did something fall off?’ And then there’s a flickering as the rocket ignites.”

“And then… it accelerates too fast to actually see the missile. Your eyes just can’t focus on something moving that fast. A smoke trail suddenly appears.”

His lips twisted in an odd grimace, and I said, “And when it hits another plane? I’m betting the Hollywood fireball is completely wrong.”

He rolled his shoulders, trying to relax a sudden tension, and moved his neck side to side, before saying. “Eh. When it hits a fighter, with the missiles and fuel tanks, it’s a fireball. It’s a… a slam, that’s the only way I can describe it. A slamming explosion. And a fighter just disintegrates, so explosion, and smoke, and bits falling.”

“Now, transport planes? They’re so much bigger you can see the explosion along it’s length, with the nose fore and tail aft. So you’ll see a wing come off, and it gently flutters, slowly drifting down to the ground. The plane itself, as it still has that one wing giving lift, starts spinning and tumbling and it is the most astounding tumbling flopping. It bends at the break, too, as it spins and flops and it’s almost comical! Things fall out at the breaks. You can see the bodies falling, if you’re close enough.” His voice went soft, and deep, almost guttural, “Sooner them than me.”

Okay, maybe there’s a reason that I don’t ask him for help if I can avoid it, and it’s not just pride. It’s not liking poking old wounds. Time to retreat with humour. “You know, for someone who said he’s not going to write about Africa, there’s an awful lot of writing about Africa in this house.”

He looked back at me, and the humour sparkled in his eyes. “But I’m not writing it!”


15 thoughts on “Accuracy matters!

  1. I love having experts who read my excerpts. I wince at having experts who read my excerpts, because they are very generous about flagging out-of-date information, or when Handwavium won’t work. Which means going back and redoing things, because it’s important to get it right, or right enough to be close enough not to throw people out of the story.

    1. That’s one advantage to a first-person story. You don’t have to figure out how to write all the stuff your character doesn’t see. It all happens offstage, and your character just sees the results.

      1. That requires a grip. There are newbies who calmly have the first person recounting things he doesn’t know.

        And one first-person narrator will look down a street and gauge the age and the repair of the houses, a second will notice the gardens and what’s blooming, and a third will notice who has children.

  2. Agree with TXRed… especially when one has ‘discerning’ readers… 😉 There are a myriad of options there, depending on what ‘types’ of various things are involved… and the reader’s ‘perspective’ if you will.

    1. If anyone needs a subject matter review involving babies, I’m there. 🙂 One recent book I read probably got all the firearms bits right (I’m not an expert there, but given author’s bio, will assume that) but the description of labor, delivery, and newborn baby got details wrong. I was enjoyed the story. The baby bits threw me out of the story.”What to expect the first year” is also useful for describing the normal baby during the first year. As an example, nursing babies’ diapers don’t stink until they start eating solid food at about 6 months. Formula babies’ diapers do smell. So no “nuclear” snelling diapers for a breastfed newborn.

  3. It’s always a good plan to make sure people who know the profession don’t want to throw the book across the room.

    But there are even worse fates.

    Many years ago a famous mystery writer decided to write a book whose plot was based on the computer technology of the time. I happened to be working in software development at the time. The bits about computers were so bad that we had dramatic readings in the hallways.

    That didn’t just sink that book for me; it also made me distrust everything that author wrote subsequently.

  4. Yep. I was trying not to blacken his name, but I guess it was obvious to anyone who read that book.

    1. I don’t remember too much about that book, but I remember shaking my head reading that they wrote the computer program in BASIC because it was the best computer language.

    2. I don’t remember too much about that book, but I remember shaking my head reading that they wrote the computer program in BASIC because it was the best computer language.

      1. The only part I remember was where they transmitted a program by holding one computer up to a telephone receiver so it could beep instructions to the other computer. Or something like that.

  5. I really hate that type of error, more so when it would have been easy for the author to get it right than on some esoteric bit that would be difficult to dig out or find an expert to correct. I’ve given up on more than one book or series that thinks spaceflight and sailing have similar physics, it just ruins the experience beyond any ability of the story’s plot to keep me reading. Far far better to resort to handwavium to move the story and your spacecraft along than getting something completely wrong.

    The “hold to a phone and beep” reminded me of my PocketMail, my only means of outside communication for several years, we were living in our RV in remote areas. Type your message, hold it to a phone and it beeps at 300 Baud to send and retrieve your short – text only e-mail. What really surprised me is that we had it in 2001!

  6. I had a weird reverse version of that with David Drake’s Reaches series.

    I remember some reviewers who couldn’t get past the tech imbalance in it. After all, if they don’t trust or use computers, how could they make working plasma cannons?

    The funny thing was, the way he described them as basically a spherical inward pointing solid state laser with a fusion medium at the focal point, I just happened to know exactly the right people to know how you could actually make them by hand. Possibly even mass produce them.

    You make the perfect spheres by using zero g production, then to use vacuum deposition processes to coat the interior of the sphere in a vertical cavity surface emitting laser. Since it is perfectly spherical, it should focus at the desired point.

    And you control the vacuum deposition using the fact that gasses at the same pressure have the same molar density. That lets you get the precision you need by simply managing the relative volumes, which is way easier if you need to do it by hand.

    It made the whole world feel credible to me, in a way, I think a lot of other people were not able to.

    1. That’s the thing about accuracy. Being right can be as jarring to readers as being wrong.

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