Thoughts on Writing – Sweating the Small Stuff

At the latest writer’s club meeting that my husband and I attended, I read a scene from The Multiverse Chronicles to see if I had cleared up a few problem spots we’d found when I read the scene at the previous meeting.

Overall, the description seemed to be taken care of, which opened up the ability to notice other little details that were out of place.

For example, in this particular scene, the main character, Trish is meeting with various members of the Britannian army. The story doesn’t revolve to heavily around the military operations, but there are some present… and Isaac and I aren’t exactly familiar with military procedures (About the closest reference I have is from Stargate SG-1… which doesn’t exactly count, and I really didn’t pay attention to the military side of things. I was much more fascinated with Daniel Jackson and his archeological endeavors. There’s also M.A.S.H., but it’s been a while since either of us have watched that show. Of course, these are TV shows, so those might not be the most helpful references).

Anyway, one of the other writers questioned whether or not Trish (a private) would salute the corporal.

This is the section:

Trish had arrived at Corporal Smith’s tent, stepped over the sabertooth cub who slept at the foot of the door, then stood at attention in front of the quartermaster’s desk.

 

Of all the offices in camp, this was by far the tidiest. Every paper was neatly tucked in its proper manila folder, and each folder was labeled and placed in a metal divider with further library codes etched into their spines. Several bookshelves lined the walls of the canvas tent with books tucked alphabetically by author and several notable gaps between the books, most likely where Cornwell hadn’t returned them.

 

This time the lower shelves were empty. A few books were stacked haphazardly on the top shelf. The tell-tale teeth marks on their spines suggested that the sabertooth had thought them a chew toy, and Smith had disagreed.

 

“Can I help you?” he asked, eyeing her cautiously.

 

Trish saluted the corporal. “Yes, sir. Colonel Pearson wanted me to read The Honour of Tactical Flying, fifth edition.”

 

“Author?”

 

“Sir James Cuvier, sir.”

 

The quartermaster selected a stack of papers from its proper folder, skimmed through the names on his list, then winced. “Sorry, Private. I’m afraid Sergeant Cornwell has that book.” He gave her a pitying look.

 

Trish sighed. At this rate, she’d never get everything done. “Thank you, sir.”

After the meeting, one of the writers asked someone who had been part of the (US) army, and they said that a private would not salute anyone who is not an officer, and since a corporal is not an officer, Trish would not salute Corporal Smith, nor would she refer to him as “sir.”

Now, I’m not sure how this compares to the British army (especially of the given time period), so Isaac and I may need to do some quick research to compare the two, but this does give us a good reference point to start from.

On the bright side, The Multiverse Chronicles are supposed to be more on the fantasy side than the alternate history side, so we’ve got a  little bit of leeway than if we were trying to write military fiction with a lot of historically accurate details.

Either way, I’ll be making a few adjustments.

A different example of small stuff to consider is period anachronisms.

Another writer at the meeting had their story set in 1995, but the policeman in the story was pulling a cellphone out from his pocket and there were computers being used to check where a patient was being held in a hospital.

I wasn’t sure that this fit the time period (mostly because I was thinking that’s the problem horror films have nowadays… they have to explain what happened to their protagonist’s cellphone), so I questioned that.

As such, another member said that they thought the police might have had cellphones at the time, but they would have been worn on the hip (not small enough to fit into a pocket), and that the hospital probably wouldn’t have been using computers at the front desk.

By having someone other than ourselves take a look at our manuscripts, we authors can catch anachronisms or potential problems that we would have missed before they get too ingrained into our plots.

In some cases, these problems aren’t too big of a deal. They’re “the small stuff.”

On the other hand, these problems have the potential to throw a reader out of their reading, and so it can be good to remove as many problems as possible… or make sure there’s an explanation in place (or you could just lampshade it… though make sure you have a good reason to do so).

There’s a lot more I could cover here, so I may make another post about a similar topic later.

I hope you’ve found this post helpful. 🙂 Have you had beta readers point out things like this in your manuscripts?

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Thoughts on Writing – Sweating the Small Stuff

  1. FWIW a Corporal is a fairly low rank, they might command a squad or fireteam of like 3-4 people but they are the rank right above private. You can change it to they come to attention to show respect to the person the directly report to, but the idea that you only salute an officer is correct. And even then there’s a lot of rules about saluting (not indoors, when not wearing a cap, etc.).

    It’s all about what impression you’re conveying. If you want them to be a high ranking officer but not a General make them a Captain or something. If you want them to be a highly ranked enlisted they need to be a Sargent or Chief.

    And I notice details that are annoyingly wrong, like the Chess in Harry Potter. I really hate it when people try to add details and they are wrong, I’d rather it be generic or made up instead.

    • Ah, I see. Helpful to know about how the system works. I’ll be doing some quick research to see if I can find how the British army compares. Our goal with the story is to have some nods to real life, though like you mentioned, a lot of the details may end up being made up. (Though we might not worry about whether or not they salute indoors, we’ll try to make sure they salute the right people.)

      Granted, since this series will probably go up on the blog with very little beta reading, I expect we’ll be making further minor adjustments before we release an ebook and print edition. Especially in the event that we find other details that we missed, like this one, or discover certain plot holes that need to be fixed.

      First thing will be trying to avoid those problems altogether, but unfortunately it’s impossible to catch everything.

      (But that’s where having someone point these things out definitely helps to fix things before a release).

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