It’s the little things.
You know when you’re watching a movie and you say to yourself, “that’s bullshit?” Because you know too much about the particular topic, and the director didn’t do his homework, so you’ve a guy shooting way more bullets than are in the gun etc.
Well, I’ve had a couple of those recently that all came together and makes me want to point them out.
The first is from the book I’m reading – Dan Brown’s Origin
Yea, I know, Dan Brown isn’t writing for accuracy.
But he could at least try.
Let’s leave aside straight away the fact that he’s put lots of detail into all his descriptions of the architecture (before you start reading the novel he states that all the locations and art etc. are real) but invents a parallel universe Spanish royal family. It’s actually quite funny to read how the king of Spain is so devout, when the former king is a notorious philanderer.
It’s the little things that catch a reader. Like when at the start of the novel two Irish football fans harass a Spanish Admiral in a bar. The fans have been watching a soccer match between Ireland and Spain or Portugal (it’s unclear where this takes place) and are drunk (that’s fine) when they enter the bar, empty but for the barmaid and the admiral. Now, not only would two Irish fans not harass a local to drink with them, being happy enough to be with themselves, they’d not be just two of them alone after a match. There’d be hordes of them. And when we read that the name of the bar is fucking Molly Malone, it’ just taking the fucking piss! What a crock of shit.
Just laziness. Perhaps what Brown considers Irish is what he sees in Boston, but he’s never watched footage of Irish fans after an international game on foreign soil, that’s for fucking sure.
I’m obviously not the first person to point this out...
Research. It’s what writers do. Getting people right is more important than how long the LCD screens in the Guggenheim are.
The second examples come from a movie I’m half way through.
Hold the Dark.
As a biologist and woof enthusiast, I stuck it right on when I signed up to Netflix!
I knew there’d be bullshit about wolves. They’re always cast in a bullshit light.
But that wasn’t the problem on the believability end.
I was at first impressed to see the local woman put masking tape on the tip of the gun barrel, to keep out snow and dirt. We do that in the bog, in case you fall and get peat and dirt stuck up there. You can’t shoot a rifle that’s obstructed like that. Well, you can, but do it far away from me.
But then, they go and make a point of the naturalist, played by Jeffry Wright, struggling to get the masking tape off the barrel so he can defend himself against the approaching wolf pack!
No! No and fucking NO!
You don’t take the tape off! You just fucking shoot! The pressure blows a hole in the tape before the bullet could even touch it! Any hunter knows that, or should.
But what most pisses me off about some movies, and it’s perhaps not a problem of doing research, but just society, is how much the actions of some characters differ from what I consider sensible and, given the state of our world right now, basically unacceptably stupid.
Wasting stuff, especially energy.
They’re in Alaska.
Not Anchorage, but way up north.
The biologist inexplicably turns up without decent footwear, like he’s never tracked a wolf in his life. The local gives him some boots more appropriate to the weather. And a good caribou skin.
But yet, she lives in a house that looks way under insulated for the clime. I’ve more cladding on my house in Spain, and that has foot-thick brick walls to boot.
And she goes around in cardigan open to the wind, and stands with the fucking door open looking out at the snow.
I know she’s a bit crazy, but such habits are ingrained. She’s not rich – her husband is off in the war and she says she can’t pay the naturalist.
So why is she wasting the heat?
I dunno if it’s just because I was always told to turn off the immersion heater and turn off the lights to save money, but I’m sure poor people the world over are pretty frugal when it comes to this kind of thing.
Also, the naturalist sleeps on the couch with just his long johns and a flimsy blanket. The fire is roaring, of course. But he’s a naturalist! Where’s the sleeping bag and less of the wasting firewood?
Climate change, Jeffry! Your character would be very aware of that, even if your host is not big on energy efficiency.
As I said, perhaps it’s just the state of society.
But, as I also said it’s not acceptable.
And we should stop showing such irresponsibility.
As Hollywood knows, art imitates life and life imitates art.
It’s time to start modelling good behaviour.
Just like few characters smoke in movies now compared to the chain-smoking of the fifties and sixties, movie makers can stop having characters do stupid shit that worsens climate breakdown and pollutes our planet. Hopefully it will happen a bit quicker than the change from smoking to not – this is more urgent.
Then maybe readers and viewers won’t get be so let down by the stories we’re told.
On the other hand, if real people keep acting like these characters, then our children won’t have much time, money, or inclination, to “Netflix and chill.”
My current work in progress is a Young Adult novel set in Ireland; my old stomping ground of south Dublin, and north Wicklow.
I have the layout – the streets and hills – down so well that a reader could navigate by it; follow the footsteps, or cycle tracks, of the characters, smell the pine woods and take in the views of Dublin Bay.
But I’m writing a court scene at the moment, and I’m not so sure of my ground. I’ve never been in court in Ireland. I was on the jury of a Coroner’s Court in Dun Laoghaire in my late teens – a very interesting experience. But I don’t know the exact way prosecutions are conducted in Ireland; what the prosecutor is called, who comes to collect the witness from the waiting area (or where they even wait) and take them to the courtroom, if witnesses are allowed to talk before or after they give testimony.
Do the barristers wear gowns and wigs nowadays? I think they do, but does it really matter?
That’s my question.
Do I need to mention the wigs, the gowns, where everyone sits in and Irish courtroom?
Everyone has their own image of a courtroom, created from movies and television. Why should I mess with that by creating a new one?
Why look up the particulars and detail each part of Wicklow County Courthouse (as I assume it’s called)?
I’ve never been to Wicklow County Courthouse. I probably never will. So I can bet that 99.9999 etc. percent of my readers won’t, either. Half of them might never step foot in Wicklow (a big mistake – it really is the Garden of Ireland, so go book a flight today), so am I just wasting my time and effort and in fact, messing with the plot by even trying?
Is it better to invent a little?
I’m not against research – as a scientist it’s the bread and water of life.
Nor am I usually against accuracy. The days of the full moon in my werewolf novels all correspond to the actual dates in the calendar of the year the books are set. I made a mistake once and had to rewrite a chapter because what I had written couldn’t have taken place on the particular date (full moon clashing with state holidays).
In this case, though, I think vagueness and actual invention might serve the story better.
It’s a bit like when the priest says, “You may kiss the bride” at a wedding.
I’ve been to a few weddings, including my own. The priest doesn’t say that; at least not in a Catholic wedding. But if you were to describe a proper wedding, it would be serious and fairly boring (seriously, I’ve looked at my watch on all three occasions I was Best Man).
Similarly, I am not sure (though a quick email to friends in the know would clear it up) if a court summons is served by a policeman or just a civil servant – or by post. I don’t really want to know, though, because my story is best served (ha ha!) by a nondescript civil servant knocking on my heroine’s door.
But should I find out?
Should I bend the plot to the whims of the Irish Judicial system?
Or should poetic licence extend to prose?