I never made it out of the jury assembly room and was thrilled to have all those guilt-free consecutive hours to read. It’s something that almost never happens anymore and I was determined to take full advantage. I read through most of the lunch break, hoping to finish the book before the day was through and I was no longer a carefree potential juror. Around mid-afternoon I reached the novel’s climatic battle scene during which the protagonist loses someone she loves dearly and the sight of all that blood and gore makes her physically sick. Who could blame her for tossing her cookies? But then three pages later, when she’s reunited with her love interest and they share a passionate kiss, all I could think was: “Ew, ew, ew! I know civilization is crumbling around you and all, but couldn’t you saved that kiss until you had a chance to either brush your teeth or pop a mint?!”
Moments like that completely pull me out of the action of the book. They ruin the magic and my willingness to believe.
Here’s another example. This summer, while on vacation, I was reading Stephen King’s Joyland. (A great coming-of- age story, by the way.) It was set in the 1970s and in one scene, a character uses a microwave. Now I don’t know about most people, but my family did not have a microwave until sometime in the 1980s and this bit of information really bugged me. I put down the book, grabbed my phone, and looked up “microwaves” on Wikipedia to determine if they were available to the general public in the 1970s. Turns out, they were. It’s not that I didn’t trust Stephen King or his editors, but again, it was one of those things that made me go “What?” It just didn’t sound right.
This month we’re blogging about how we read. Like a lot of readers, and probably most writers, I read different genres for different reasons. Because I’m trying to get better at my craft, these days I pay more attention to characters, plot, pacing, language, and dialogue than I did before I sold my first novel. But ultimately, it’s the seemingly little things that bother me the most when I read. If facts, dates, and timing seem off; details sounds wrong; or dialogue doesn’t ring true, it makes for a frustrating reading experience for me. I think it’s because those little things matter. Getting all the small stuff right adds up to the bigger picture that all writers, whether they’re writing fiction or non-fiction, should be striving for—the truth. And I suppose when I read, that’s exactly what I’m searching for.
In the movie Almost Famous, there’s a scene I absolutely love. Young William Miller has been hired by Rolling Stone magazine to interview the band Stillwater. Early in the movie, William meets the captivating band groupie Penny Lane. You can tell he’s already falling hard for her and wants to impress. When she asks him how old he is, he lies and tells her he’s eighteen. “Me too!” She says, and he knows she’s on to him. “Seventeen,” he amends, and again she chimes in, “Me too!” Forcing William to concede that he’s sixteen. At which point, the ever-wise Penny looks 15-year-old William in the eye and says. “Me too. Isn't it funny? The truth just sounds different.”
Yes. It does.