Monday 2 January 2012

Devils and details

That post about research doesn't apply only to non-fiction. Even when you're making things up, you need to get the lies right. I've been doing the final reality-check on one of the vampire stories and noticed just how many things need to be checked. Just these from a chapter in the middle:

"Two hours later, the train slid into Gare du Nord."

Check on Eurostar timetable that it takes just over two hours from St Pancras. It does.

"... Juliette at the front of the boat, standing like a figurehead against the setting sun"

Simple enough - but check a map of Paris to make sure the setting sun would be behind someone on a bateau mouche going past Notre Dame.

Same evening, after a lot has happened: 

"See you in the hotel bar at 7.”  An hour.

So what time was sunset in Paris in early November? Was there enough time for all that to happen? No. Sunset was 5:30. Not time to nearly drown, be rescued, go home, get changed, have a shower and arrange a meeting for 7 while 7 is still an hour in the future. Change to meeting in the bar at 9.

"The executioner's black hood..."

Look at engravings of numerous executions by guillotine: the executioner is never hooded. Change that.

Oh, and a much bigger issue I noticed - a key character is in Paris in one book and in Russia in another book. At the same time. Not even vampires can do that. Calendar change....

It's easy to think you know what's happening, but important to make sure it actually could happen like that. So this is just a reminder not to be complacent about the lies you tell.

Happy New Year!


  1. Ah yes, train timetables - and how old you need to be before you can travel alone - and even when you have the answer to that it may still not be quite what you thought it was! I have been battling with that.
    This was a lovely reminder of the need not to be complacent!

  2. Yes indeed, very good advice. In one book I had a character eating three breakfasts. What's even more remarkable NO ONE NOTICED. Not me, not proof readers, not many translators...only the FINNISH edition therefore of this book now has proper continuity!

  3. Very sound advice - there's nothing like a sloppy bit of research to put you right off an author!

  4. I had a character locked in a bedroom and run out of the room a bit later. I'd forgotten she was locked in. It's still there in the book and no one has ever mentioned it. Hang on - maybe no one has ever read it.

    Also, I remember noticing in a wellknown award-winning novel, a woman picks up her dress in one hand, carries and candle in the other and opens the door with ... the other.

  5. Totally agree. Without research everything can fall apart. I switched the location of my fictional Brighton restaurant half way through the third draft of my first book, and now none of the logistics make sense. Still rankles..

  6. Thank goodness for the internet! Where else would we (easily) be able to check those sorts of details?
    Happy New Year, Anne!

  7. Alis, you are so right!

    Love your three-handed woman, Nicola!

    Adele, some people DO have three breakfasts, so you could always claim it wasn't an error at all, just a greedy character.

  8. I just wanted to say I lost most of December somewhere and have only just seen your lovely long comment on Workshy Fop - I will answer forthwith. Thank you!

  9. You're welcome, Dan. I'll head back to read your answer :-)