Facts: Get Them Right or Lose Your Reader

This past weekend, my family and I took a road trip.  Three and a half hours there.  Three and a half hours back.   Following the winding, hilly roads in the Missouri bootheel, it is impossible to maintain a radio signal so we listen to audio books.  If I loved this book, I’d tell you what we listened to but I have to say that the author lost us one at a time.

I was the first one to have a problem. In an attempt to write narrative nonfiction, he was writing about a wild herd.  No problem there.  But he didn’t just follow one animal.  He got in its head.  That would be okay if you were just taking me along in its POV.  I could see what it saw and hear what it heard.  But he went so far as to give it human emotions.  Maybe it was intentional.  Maybe he thought it would build empathy, but it backfired.  I kept thinking “that’s your emotion. You didn’t conduct an interview to find this out!”

Next was my husband’s turn. Later in the book, two of the young male characters are playing around with fireworks.  As a mom it bothered me.  My husband, having been a young male, was much less annoyed by this than I was.  But the author lost him when the character flicked open his Bic lighter. I should have caught that.  I grew up in a household with two chain smokers.  You flick open a Zippo, not a Bic.

Last but not least, he lost my son.  The author described the well-worn hilt of a hunters rifle.  Stock or butt would have been accurate for a rifle.  Hilt only works on a sword.

They all seem like picky things but one by one this author said something that someone in the car knew was wrong.  Granted, we have a bizarre range of knowledge.  My husband knows business, economics, cars, music and hunting.  My son is an engineering student who also hunts.  Me?  I have degrees in anthropology and history and I’m a PBS fan.  You probably won’t find this combination often but you have to expect your readers to know about your topic.  After all, that’s probably what drew them to the book.

I’ll be finishing the book because we are reading it for book club, but not the others.  They are done.

When you get a fact wrong, you risk loosing your reader.  You pull them out of the story.  Do it once and they’ll probably give you another try.  Do it more than once and you are much more likely to lose them.  Remember, your goal is to draw your reader in and make them want to turn the page.  Error after error won’t accomplish it.


2 thoughts on “Facts: Get Them Right or Lose Your Reader

  1. I think that we as readers are much more likely to forgive lapses by authors who have charmed us already – drawn us in so that we are enraptured by them already. When we’re not that interested or at the beginning of a read we start noticing annoying things that disengage us from the story. Or so it seems to me.

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