Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Does an author have to be 100% accurate?

Anne on writing. One question raised by today's world of 360 degree internet criticism is this. Should a small inaccuracy in a book ruin the entire book for a person? If it does ruin the book, who is responsible: the author who unwittingly included the small inaccuracy, or the reader who should not allow small things to ruin the impact of an entire novel?

Case in point: a person wrote to me that the "Witching Hour" was ruined for him because Rowan and Michael, driving from San Francisco to Marin County, pay a toll on the Golden Gate Bridge when in fact, tolls at S.F. end of the bridge had been abolished a few years before the time of the scene in the novel. What do you think? I had an uncle who told me once that movies were constantly ruined for him by small inaccuracies. A saddle bag on one side of a horse in one scene, and then strapped to the other side of the horse in another. 

Myself, I tend to be swept up in movies and books and don't care much about small inaccuracies. The larger problems can ruin a movie or book for me, of course, but not small inaccuracies. But I want a beautifully crafted illusion. I want it when I read and I want it when I write. I do all I can to be perfectly accurate. But mistakes happen. 

Critics make mistakes too. They are not always accurate as to the date of an invention, or a new ball room dance, or the circulation of the codex in the ancient marketplace as opposed to the scroll -- or when a word came into common usage. 

Should authors write to mistaken reviewers and argue such small points? Or just let it go. Is this worth talking about? What serves art? What serves literature? How do you feel about mistakes? There are times when I think that the measure of a great work of fiction is how much it makes you forget the small flaws, the improbabilities. Why would I abandon Dickens' Great Expectations just because Pip, a black smith's apprentice, speaks like an educated gentleman throughout the novel? After all, he's telling the story in retrospect one might assume; why not make himself sound educated and refined from the beginning?

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