Caress the Detail

PatRice_TheEnglishHeiress_200pxCaress the detail, the divine detailVladimir Nabokov

Let it be unequivocally stated—I am NOT a detail person. When I read a Regency, I seldom notice by what title the characters address each other unless the author confuses me. When I watch a movie, I fall into the stunning vistas and the passion of the characters. I don’t notice if the background is the wrong city or state or even if the heroine loses her shoes from one scene to the next. The story is what is important to me, and as long as I’m being entertained, I simply don’t care if the details are correct.

Obviously, if the screenwriter or author drops Napoleon into the 20th century, I’ll notice, but that’s an enormous faux pas and not a tiny detail. Have Napoleon bop through an early 19th century European ballroom and I’ll not remember what year the scene is in or what year he was deposed, and I’ll accept the author’s rendition without question.

I am not entirely certain why details float past me like so much flotsam. I’ve always been a big picture person, but when I first started writing, I tracked every fact right down to their shoelaces and the use of colloquialisms like “OK.” But once I learned it, I promptly forgot it, and perhaps the tediousness of looking up the same information over and over lost its appeal. Or perhaps it’s because I have next to no memory that I simply can’t  be bothered arguing over small points.

But for some inane reason, the  basic detail of grammar, spelling, and punctuation leaps out at me when I’m reading or just driving down the road in my car. How hard is it to learn apostrophes, people? And what does everyone think dictionaries are for, doorstoppers? At least turn on spellcheck! Admittedly, I ignore more difficult details like when to hyphenate compound words, because the English language is insane and the rules go on for pages. But really, if a new writer is going to send out a proposal, a passing acquaintance with Webster’s would provide the spelling of buxom. You really do not want to know what I read when I read the badly-spelled version.

Why can’t I just enjoy the story when I run into typos and grammar errors? Perhaps ignorance really is bliss. Which will drag you out of the story faster—typos or missing shoes?

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Caress the Detail — 9 Comments

  1. Typos will make me laugh, but grammatical errors and misused words will turn me into a grouch. May I never again read about someone trying to reign in the horses!
    As for the details, it all depends. If the author is sweeping me along in the story, I may never notice that the heroine’s eyes turned from blue to brown. If the story isn’t all that enthralling, I will notice and be annoyed by every little misstep—especially if the misstep is a matter of common knowledge. I mean, really, Michaelangelo did NOT paint the Mona Lisa.

    • Grinning at the reigning horses. That would turn me into a grouch, too. And too many errors like the Mona Lisa might make me doubt my own sanity, which I doubt often enough as it is. Because of my lamentable memory, I’d have to look up the Mona Lisa because I wouldn’t trust what I learned eons ago. Maybe the trick is for authors to all have my bad memory!

  2. I am a visual reader, so both things throw me out: the grammar and spellos get in the way of building the movie in my head, and the images have to be consistent with the images already there. (If it’s a situation I don’t know, then I’m free to fill in the blanks left by the description, but if it’s a situation I know well, then I get thrown out of the story if details aren’t consistent. Like if someone depicts the 405 freeway as always open and smooth, or a snowy day in Los Angeles)

    • Oh, interesting thought! I hadn’t considered a reader’s familiarity with the subject. In historicals, it’s all too easy to assume the writer knows more than most readers and not bother to check those tiny details. But contemporaries…they require on the sight research I discovered painfully long ago. My imagination is always far off from reality.

      Hmmm, as I head into my dotage, maybe I should just create my own fantasy world where only I know the details!

      • Or Alternate Histories, or magic realism, or just make it so firmly your own space that readers are drawn right in.

        We’re all experts at something we live in a great deal, whether it’s firefighting or gardening or the history of Outremer. If the story matches our stored images and understanding, we slip right inside it. If it conflicts, we are kept outside trying to get in.

      • This made me giggle, particularly ‘Admittedly, I ignore more difficult details like when to hyphenate compound words, because the English language is insane and the rules go on for pages.’ I love this language, but it is pretty nuts sometimes, especially the bendy rules of punctuation!

        Definitely go for the fantasy idea! Research is much easier when you only have to dig through your own subconscious rather than libraries and microfilm and old photos 🙂

        • LOL, yes, but with my lamentable memory, I’d have to build an encyclopedia of my fantasy world to recall the details. I do that quite a bit as it is. Oh! I could write a book where the world constantly changes and the characters never know what to expect. Although, now that I think about it, that’s kind of what I’ve done with the Jamie Quaid urban fantasies. Hmm, obviously my subconscious at work.

  3. I’m a generalist. I know a little bit about a lot of different things. Fudged details slide by me because I don’t always know if it’s true or not. Glaringly wrong details throw me out of the story. But when it comes to textiles I know more than most: call a needle lace (real lace) neck ruff tatting and I’ll throw the book out of the house and let it get rained on and trampled by traffic.

    Typos and spellos make me pause but I’ll accept a few because I know how hard it is to catch them all, even when I’m paid to hunt them down and torch them. Show me a LOT of typos and spellos and I wonder if anyone edited, copy-edited, or proofed the MS before printing. I will then look six times at another book from that publisher.

    As Steve Perry once told me, if you don’t know the name of something, ask someone who does. That goes for dates and shoelaces and horse tack as well.

    • Agreed. I once knew a great deal about many things, which is actually kind of dangerous. Far better that I should be forced to look up everything. But in my dotage, even though I know how to spell words, my fingers fly ahead of me and they have minds of their own. I’ll grant a manuscript that problem, but once a book reaches print, it better have those errors weeded out. (I’ve already found one flub in one of my replies above. Perfection not expected!)