Photo Credit: ‘tomtown’ at stock.xchng
I’m a very visual person. Great photography and art stimulates my senses like nothing else. And yet, as a writer I struggle with creating, using words, a picture that does justice to what I’m visualizing in my head.
I don’t think any writer is ever satisfied with their own work, and perhaps that’s as it should be. We’re always striving, never arriving. Would there be any point otherwise? A man – and woman’s – reach should always exceed their grasp, yada yada… But it makes me antsy sometimes, and I can’t bear to read my own writing out loud, or to try to describe a story of mine to someone, or even to hear someone talk about it. I’m not always so hyper-aware, but if something deeply matters, it’s especially tough.
Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. This is about something else.
There has been an exchange over at All About Romance on the Potpourri message board about historical research and mistakes made by authors… I call it the great champagne flute debate. I jumped in even though it’s not my business. I believe in accuracy, I really do, and I wasn’t trying to put anyone else down, readers or writers, for whatever they think and feel. Absolutely everyone has a right to their opinion. Readers and writers see things differently no doubt, but one remark was that maybe if a writer wasn’t absolutely sure of something, they shouldn’t use the fact or whatever in their work, that they should substitute a generic term instead.
However the difference between good writing and great writing is imagery, to me, and imagery requires specificity.
Why say a glass when you’re picturing a sparkling champagne flute? Why say a horse when what you mean is a prancing black Arabian stallion?
I do get what critics in the champagne flute incident were saying, that wallpaper historicals are empty of meaning because the author hasn’t done the necessary work to make them come to life with truth and authenticity, but somewhere in between is where I am.
I’ve agonized for hours over finding absolute proof of when matches were invented and what was used in their stead, and how to phrase the use flint. It was a tiny, tiny bit, minuscule, but I needed that little action, and I’ve never been quite sure I got it right. A dedicated historian could probably have picked a thousand holes in my description.
I’ve eradicated my historical dialogue of most of the worst errors of modern language. And yet I’m sure that some modern usage slips in every once in a while. I try to pick my work apart, but it’s a balance between doing it right, and doing it on time. I stop researching, generally, just at the point before I want to bash my head with the computer keyboard. (or book, but the book only gives me paper cuts, the computer does more damage)
But my point about the champagne flute was, and it got missed a little in the whole kerfuffle, is that sometimes – only sometimes, mind you – things may sound wrong to someone who thinks they know what they’re talking about, and yet be absolutely correct. I once was going to use a bit about buying folks lottery tickets for Christmas gifts… in a historical. I abandoned the idea. Why? Because it wasn’t authentic?
Well, no. It was authentic; I had done the research. Lottery tickets were available in the Regency era and were given as Christmas gifts quite often. But I just knew that bit would ruin somebody’s appreciation of the story because they would have thought it was not historically correct. It would have pulled them out of the story, and that’s something I didn’t want to do. The perception of lottery tickets as a modern creation was bound to cause trouble.
I don’t know; perception is sometimes three quarters of the trip, when you are writing to involve readers in your story. We all just do the best we can, readers and writers. I have enormous respect for both sides. ‘Nuff said.
Oh… and the picture of the wolf? I just put it there because it’s so pretty, and I needed that. I could never do it justice with words.