One of the blogs that I like to read is about selling your work to Woman’s World magazine. Recently I read a post about how the details in a specific story convinced her that the writer knew what she was talking about in terms of running a flower shop that supplies bouquets and the like for weddings. The author used florist jargon, knew about the flowers and also about operating a small business. These are definitely the types of details that you need to get right to convince your reader that you’ve done your research.
If you get something like this wrong, the story or book as a whole will lose credibility. I’ve read pieces that call apes (gorillas, orangutan, chimpanzees or gibbon) monkeys. Ugh. Although they are closely related, they aren’t monkey and this is the kind of thing that drives me nuts.
The hardest details to get right seem to relate to food. I remember reading a young adult book in which the author described the character drinking a concrete through a straw. What? A concrete? Through a straw? Here in St. Louis concretes are a huge deal. They are like milkshakes but much thicker, made from custard not ice cream. One brand advertises that their’s are so thick that you can hold it upside down without it running out of the cup. You don’t drink a concrete through a straw or any other way. You eat it with a spoon. The author had her characters in the right part of the country for a concrete. She had probably seen a photo and the cup that is the exact same cup you would get a soda or milk shake in. But she had clearly never had one.
That’s part of the reason that I try to eat food from a region before I describe it. I listen to music and view art instead of describing them sight or sound unseen.
These are the kinds of details that can convince your reader that you know what you’re doing, or that you don’t. I know where I’d rather be on that spectrum.