Why Bother to Get It Right?

In the Hobbit world, a mathom is a gift that is passed from one person to the next, used and reused and shared around the community. On this Boxing Day, I offer you all a mathom: a post from a year and more ago, in which I talked about why I do the writing posts on the Horseblog. It ties in with the Worldbuilding series, which will resume on January 9th. I hope you enjoy it.

Happy holidays, and a wonderful, horse-and-writing-filled New Year to you all!

When writing about anything, let alone horses, why bother to get it right? Why not fake it, or make stuff up? It’s just a story, after all. Why go through all the trouble of researching and investigating and fact-checking when you can just put something in there and move on?

Well, you don’t haaave to. People who don’t know the subject are unlikely to notice.

But people who do? Owie.

And they will write about it. They might write to you. They’ll review it or blog it or tell their friends about it. They’ll say, “This author Got It Wrong.” Sometimes in great detail and with extreme prejudice.

They’ll point to something that it says about you: that you don’t care enough about your craft to do it right. Worse, you don’t care about your readers.  And readers, once you’ve taken your work out in the world (whether it be friends and family, crit groups, or publication), are what it’s all about.

But there’s another and much more personally gratifying reason to do your homework: More and better ideas for plot twists and even whole stories.

The more you know, the more ammunition you have for doing awful (or, what the hey, wonderful) things to your characters. You need to keep your army out of commission for a couple of chapters while your Evil Overlord does Horrible Evil Things That Will Make His Horrible End Even More Gratifying? Have an Evil Minion dump a few wagonloads of sweet feed along the horselines in the middle of the night. Voila! Mass colics in the morning.

Need a way for your hero to romance the heroine without resorting to the usual expedients? Make her a horse girl and have him show off his fantastic–and fantastically sexy–riding skills where she can watch.

Looking for a different kind of magic? Try some form of horse magic. Horse-whisperer-style mind control, maybe, or equine shape-shifters, or horses as incarnations of your world’s deities.

Even as more or less simple transportation, horses done right can move the plot in effective ways. If you know how far a horse can travel in a day, you’ve got a timeline to work with. If you’re aware of what a horse eats and how much, there’s your supply train, and various plot wrinkles that revolve around keeping it running smoothly despite the Evil Overlord’s worst efforts. And riding–how well or how often a character rides can determine how far he travels and what condition he’s in by the time he finishes.

Getting it right is useful. It makes your work better not just in the absolute or moral sense, but in the sense of basic storytelling and effective plotting. It’s practical. It gives you more tools to work with.

And that, as every writer knows, is a good thing.


And look! We’re here to help you get it right. New today from Book View Cafe, the long-awaited book on horses for writers. Questions answered, terms defined, and links, many links, to further investigations. With copious illustrations.

Available today  from the Book View Cafe e-bookstore.

We even have swag. Get your very own Writing Horses mug, with very sexy horse portrait (oo-la-la), right here.




Why Bother to Get It Right? — 15 Comments

  1. I can testify to the usefulness of this book. I read it in draft–and already I’ve gone back to that rough draft like five times to check some horse facts.

    I plan to get a Kindle with wifi soon as I can, in which case I will buy the book not only for the horse facts and the fun reading, but all those terrific URLs imbedded in it, leading directly to more good intel. (And the pictures. I still love the flatfoals.)

  2. I tell my writing classes that there are a couple of areas where you really have to get it right: horses, guns and fashion. Because the people who know and care about these areas really REALLY care, and will take it personally if you bollix it. And of course those gun people are armed and dangerous!

  3. 1) Can I just say that I love the photo that accompanies this post? I feel like that when someone gets something wrong, too.

    2) You think horse people and gun people are crazy? I’m married to a sound engineer, and watching TV or a movie with a man who knows the correct phone ring for every American phone made in the last forty years, and recognizes the most-often-used sound effects from all the digital SFX libraries is terrifying. “Not that hawk cry again!”

  4. Lots of horse neep today! Your book is available with swag. How awesome is that?

    You are absolutely right: getting the details right is very important. It creates credibility with your readers.

    HIstory buffs are other people will let you known if something isn’t right. (Want to annoy an ancient history buff? Watch the latest “King Arthur” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0349683/) movie.)

    I love the combination of tags on this post, in particular: Craft, Quality, humor, writing

    Yup. That sums up why I love your writing. You get it right.

  5. You guys are awesome.

    Sherwood, flatfoals are my favorite, too. 🙂

    Brenda, as I noted on lj, you got your guns, but I have a half-ton herbivore with sledgehammer feet and a ton o’ ‘tude, and I know how to use it.

    Oh, yes, Ceffyl. History buffs. They’re thinner on the ground than they used to be, but they make up for smallness of numbers with magnitude of outrage.

    I speak as are one.

    That new Robin Hood movie? Oh ye flipping (and grave-rotating) gods.

    Mad, your husband must wail in anguish a lot. A LOT.

  6. All sorts of readers will complain if you get what they know wrong. I am prone to tear to bits works where the author gets history of ideas wrong, myself.

  7. Oh, God. The Robin Hood movie. Even my 14 year old, sitting next to me, kept leaning over to giggle and say, “they’re not anywhere near history, are they?”

    I know very little about horses, but I do know something about armed combat. All those guys jumping off the non-historical landing vessels with the drop fronts a la Omaha Beach? Dead as soon as they hit the water and their chain mail weighs ’em down and they drown.”

    And if I recall correctly, even I blanched at some of the horse stuff.

  8. The new Robin Hood movie? Is that the one with the same team that already abused Roman history in Gladiator?

    Any chance to get that Horse book in a print version? Because I’m not going to get an e-reader. I’m hopelessly behind, I know, but I want BOOKS. 😉

  9. BTW, I’ve been known to yell at the screen, “Roman saddles had no stirrups, you morons!” during a TV documentary. You’d think the would get it right in a frigging _documentary_ but no, there were clearly stirrups and the whole harness didn’t look very Roman to begin with. ARGH And this in a country with scores of reenactors who can ride Roman style and would help out with some scenes for free.

  10. Gabriele, not at this point. But watch the skies.

    You can read it on your computer. I don’t have an ereader, either, but proofread it with Adobe Digital Editions and MobiPocket Reader, it came through nice and clear. AND with clickable links.

    Historical awareness has never been a strong suit of any era. Look at the medieval illustrations of Blblical events in what was, for the time, modern dress. Or Shakespeare writing ancient Romans as Elizabethan potentates.

  11. My personal favorite horse error was a TV show that had a barn burning and all the trapped horses were screaming.

    Since I’m a horse nut and owned one for years, my room mate couldn’t understand why I was laughing so hard during the horrifying scene.

    The horses were saying, “My food is late. Feed me NOW!”

  12. Pingback: Writing on Wednesday « Imagination Run Amok

  13. Istr a movie with King Arthur and Robin Hood together. And they were building Stonhenge, the scaffolds were still up.