Details – An IWSG post

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A little late today. It being summer and two rugrats hanging on your ears all day eveyr day will chew up your sense of time.

My insecurity today is my OCD in the storytelling world. The same OCD that has ruined most fiction for me.

My husband and I started watching Houdini and Doyle.

It’s a cute show, but it isn’t really blowing my skirt up. I actually have huge problems with the show and they’re problems I typically have when I read fiction these days.

My problem is the lack of research done for 1901 London and the portrayal of the characters of Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. My problem is lack of consistency.

London was a dirty, cramped, city. The streets were jammed with people and animals and filth. The apartments were tiny and in the lower classes especially were crammed with as many people as you could stuff in them.

In the show, the streets are so clean you could almost eat off them, there’s almost no traffic, and the press of humanity is nowhere to be seen.

Houdini and Doyle did know each other, true. And they did frequently spar with each other over the spiritualist movement, also true. But…

By 1901, Houdini had been married for 7 years and his wife traveled with him, working backstage. Reports seem to indicate he wasn’t a playboy after he got hitched. Yet the show makes no mention of a wife and he’s constantly trying to score dates with the attractive suffragette, Constable Stratton. And his speech is glaringly modern – I’m half-expecting to hear him use the word ‘hot’ to describe the Constable.

(Okay, yes, I also know that women weren’t sworn in as Constables until sometime during WWI. However, the suffrage movement was in full swing in 1901, and Stratton is obviously the ONLY woman on the force in this show but not really allowed to practice her profession until the intervention of the 2 main (male) characters and is not actually based on a real person, so I can give the existence of Stratton some wiggle-room under the auspices of “historical fiction.”)

Doyle’s wife did fall ill with TB in 1901, ultimately dying in 1906 and leaving him with his 2 children, Kingsley and Mary. This being said…

It’s really hard to like the character if you know the history of what came next in Doyle’s life. He remarried – which is fine – but was so caught up in his second wife, he treated the children from his first marriage like crap because wifey #2 didn’t want them around.

His behavior towards his daughter was especially vicious. How do you find a historical character like that at all likeable as a person even if he is being portrayed in a time before he became an asshole?

Hence my problem: If I know this stuff, if I can uncover this stuff with ease in under 10 minutes and verify it using multiple sources, that tells me there was no research done to tell the story. That tells me the writers, the producers and everyone else involved think accuracy doesn’t matter, that I as the audience won’t care about how fast and loose they play with the facts. That my intelligence doesn’t count. That my curiosity doesn’t matter. That my desire for a good historical fiction can be dismissed because I’m not the common demographic.

“Oh, no one really cares about the facts, just a good story.”

Wrong answer.

If you’re going to generate a story based on history, you’d better get your facts in line, because chances are, I am your demographic. I will fact-check you if I think something’s hinky, and I’m not the only one. Writers of historical fiction often talk about how they get torn apart by readers of the genre if the story gets a tiny little factoid wrong, regardless of whether or not it has anything to do with the overall plot. (Was your character wearing a bustle in 1897? She’d better have a damned good reason, because bustles were passé by then.)

If you’re going to create a story that’s contemporary, like a murder-mystery, or even a far future science fiction, once again I will fact check you. If you use a vehicle airbag incorrectly, I will notice. If you describe a firearm’s capability wrong, I will know. If your first book lists it as impossible for a shuttle to dock with a ship while it’s in an FTL field but your following books mention that and more can be done as an everyday procedure, I will notice. If you show Bob Sr. as remembering a conversation Bob Jr. had earlier on in your story when Bob Sr. wasn’t around, I. WILL. KNOW.

I will be irritated. I will be angry. I will be fucking pissed that you, the storyteller, couldn’t take the time to get your shit straight.

“Well, hell, Katty, that’s why you can’t write fast. You’re too caught up in the details. No one cares about that stuff. “

No. I care about that stuff. And if I care about it, if I feel insulted when the storyteller doesn’t care about the details, then you can be damned sure I’m not the only one.

Hence, my insecurity:

When do you just stop fucking with the story and move on?

Check out the Insecure Writer’s Support Group to see more writers dish about their concerns, their solutions to various problems, or just a general fear of antidisestablishmentarianism.


About kattywampusbooks

A SAHM with delusions of literacy.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized, Writer, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Details – An IWSG post

  1. This made me giggle… well, I write fantasy, so I make lots of shit up! Can’t help there. But, for historical fiction, yes, details are really important. As long as you do actually write the story at some point, I’d say be detailed 🙂 Or, you can make it clear you are changing some historical details for your fiction; I’ve seen notes from authors about this in plenty of books.


  2. Pingback: IWSG Post | kattywampusbooks

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