Thoughtful Thursday: Who is to blame?

I know that this is a fantasy website, but I need to talk about reality for a bit today. I have no problem accepting magic and dragons and wizards and what not, that’s not the type of reality I’m concerned about. I’m talking about those niggling little errors that creep into stories that drive me bonkers.

I’m reading afantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews story right now, and it’s not great but it’s entertaining, and we get to a big fight scene and the protagonist is described as being unarmed. And then a few paragraphs later he pulls out his knife, after the bad guy has been bashing him against a brick wall for a minute or two

And I felt like banging my head against that same brick wall until all memory of the book was pounded into oblivion. Excuse me? You had a knife and you didn’t use it? You’re a trained fighter and you don’t think until now to get out your knife? What kind of an idiot are you?

And that is my problem, dear readers. What kind of an idiot is letting this stuff see the light of my reading lamp? Do I blame the author for writing it in the first place? Do I blame the editor for not throwing it back to the author and making her rewrite it? Do I just have particularly bad taste in books and should blame myself? I want to know who is to blame for some of the travesties of writing that are inflicted upon innocent readers. I’m not talking about just horrible books, because that is another topic in and of its self. I’m talking about breaking the credulity bubble that is the foundation of good fiction, either through breaking the rules the author has set up, or by contradicting the story she is telling.

So, dear readers, let me know: Do things like this irritate you, or I am just weird? (Those choices may not be mutually exclusive, now that I think about it.) Do you have any particularly egregious examples you would like to share with the class? And who earns your ire in these circumstances, the author or the editor?

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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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21 comments

  1. Definitely irritating. I let things slide past me sometimes when I read–if the story’s grabbed me enough I guess I suspend my disbelief too much. But my husband doesn’t. If I’m going to recommend a book to him it had better be better edited.

  2. Irritating. I recently read a story when the hero hot wired a car. A couple of chapters later he abandoned the car, leaving the keys in the ignition. What keys? It really bothered me that the author couldn’t keep track of what she was writting. But I also think that the editor should have caught it if the author didn’t.

  3. I get particularly annoyed by lack of research. One thing that often irritates me in speculative fiction, especially fantasy, is how most writers don’t bother to research combat at all.

    Speaking as a writer: The editor’s job is to edit, not to write. A writer should pay attention and keep track of what they’re doing. I make pains to make sure my continuity is straight, that my plot and logic hold up to examination, and that my grammar and syntax is the best I can make it.

    Of course, no one is perfect, and an editor is a good way to spot the things that a writer, being human, is bound to miss. But most of it is still the writer’s job.

    Though one could argue that the editor shouldn’t have let the work see the light of day if it was that rough.

  4. This drives me absolutely insane. I can accept small errors, particularly continuity issues that creep across multiple books, but fundamental defy-the-laws-of-nature editorial errors send me into an epileptic fit.

    A few examples: In Raymond Feist’s latest book, At the Gates of Darkness, there is a scene near the end of the book where a group of about 9 characters is making a secret assault on an enemy base. They split into two parties, circling around the base in opposite directions. There is a paragraph that essentially reads “A, B, C, and D walked up the hill. As they disappeared from view, E turned to B and said…” Uh…didn’t it just say B walked up the hill and disappeared from view? Any why, two paragraphs later, is B still with A, C and D? Sadly, this wasn’t the only error of this sort in the book, just the most egregious. (I’m not actually convinced that Feist even has an editor anymore…I think he just publishes first drafts or something).

    In Brandon Sanderson’s The Well of Ascension there is a point where he completely mixes up the powers associated with the magic system he has designed and has an entire paragraph that makes no sense because he’s mixing and matching the characters and what they can and cannot do. (I brought this up in a discussion once, and someone looked it up in their copy…apparently it was corrected in a later printing).

    In Margaret Weis and Terry Hickman’s Secret of the Dragon there is a scene in the middle of the book where a female character is (a) specifically and explicitly *not* given a magic tattoo that helps keep slaves under control, and then a chapter or so later (b) controlled by the magical tattoo she never received . (I read this in an ARC…it is always possible someone caught and fixed it by the time it reached final publication, although I doubt it).

    And although this qualifies as a multi-book continuity error, I’m almost certain that Jack Chalker describes some race in the first Well of Souls book and then uses that same exact name to describe a completely different race in the second one. The stupid part of this is he has a system that could have allowed him to invent any race he needed on the spot…why reuse the name if he needed a different type of race, and if he really wanted to use the same one, why not at least check to see what they looked like?

  5. This kind of stuff drives me BONKERS. Somebody gets tied up with rope, three pages later is straining at his chains. Somebody gets in his vehicle in Los Angeles and travels west to the desert. People’s hair color changes from one chapter to the next. Gah!

    Everybody writes mistakes like this sometimes. I’ve done it. It mostly comes from writing the first part of the scene one day and then the rest of the scene just enough later that you’ve forgotten what you were doing, but in close enough proximity that you think you remember and don’t bother rereading. ;)

    But the author should ideally catch it in revising, and the editor should ideally catch it if the author doesn’t.

  6. Oh…I should add that I generally blame the author way more than the editor, but as a reader who is reading a book one time, if I can spot such egregious errors on a single pass I would hope the editor would as well.

  7. One more minor, non-fantasy example. This isn’t continuity as simple failure to fact-check. Tom Clancy had a book (Without Remorse, I think…I stopped reading him years ago) where a character in Pittsburgh jumps into a car and arrives in Philadelphia 2 hours later. These cities are about 300 miles apart and the speed limit at the time was 55. These were not high-speed pursuit circumstances. For someone who’s books were so extremely detailed with respect to the specifics of military systems and capabilities, filled with detailed (if politically biased) research, the fact that he failed to get an even vaguely reasonable estimate of driving time between two cities was just a basic fact-check mistake that always seemed very odd to me.

  8. It’s even happened in books I love. Maggie Stiefvater, in Lament, has Deirdre lose an heirloom ring down (a drain? a toilet? I forget), and then later she has the ring again and it has a major role in the story. I loved the book enough to not care very much…but still…

  9. I can easily overlook a small mistake or two, if the writing is otherwise very good, but a new author needs to be extra careful. Just like a job interview, a first impression needs to be really good, and mistakes stand-out even more.
    A pet-peeve I have is incorrect language per the setting; example: I’ve seen this a lot, and I just ran across this again recently, someone “fired” a cross-bow, in a world that has no knowledge of “fire-arms”. Stuff like that just knocks me out of the story and back into the real world.
    I guess the author has to take the fall, but at that same time, the editor is getting paid to catch mistakes and advise.
    The worst book I’d ever seen for mistakes and over-all horrible editing was Brent Week’s Way of the Shadows. Something really strange went on with that one; like it had to meet a deadline and went out as is or something. Week’s even had a blog for a while asking readers to point out the mistakes. At one time the wrong name for a character was used and I mean a name like “Keith” or “Scott” which wasn’t even in the story. Another time he wrote that main character hid behind a picture. I was like “how do you hide behind a picture?” then I realized he meant a statue.
    Just the language in general didn’t seem to fit, at least for me. Assassins were called “wet-boys”. WTH?!! I can only guess he got that term from modern day espionage thrillers, like when a spy has to kill someone and its referred to as wet-work. It works in that setting but not in a traditional fantasy world.
    But maybe it’s just me, cause the book and series seemed to be very popular.

  10. After reviewing Sonya Bateman’s Master of None I thought a lot about this very topic. I liked Master of None quite a lot actually, and it was obvious Ms. Bateman was a talented writer..but what to do about all the odd little inconsistencies in the book? I wasn’t sure who to blame. In my review I mainly lay it on Sonya, but it hindsight that may not have been completely fair. I think now I should I have laid the majority of the fault on the editor. They were scenes and rule breaking issues that could have been easily re-written if someone had just pointed them out.
    I liken these kinds of issues in books to seeing the boom mic drop on camera, it’s jarring and takes me right out of the story.

    btw the sequel to Master of None comes out fairly soon. I’m quite anxious to see how it turned out.

  11. These things drive me nuts, too. And for those of us who read ARCs, we’re not sure whether to bring them up in a review because they might be found and fixed before final production.

  12. You can say that again.. When I catch something in an ARC, which thankfully has been pretty rare, I’m always like “Eww, I hope they catch that before it gets published” :)

  13. That can drive me crazy too! I can over look grammer as long as its not extremely bad but to have mistakes like that in the book I have to blame the author for not making sure the sequence of events were correct and the editors for not catching it. I think when authors write with out a outline of some sort to help them stay on course that things like what happened in that book can happen.

  14. I wonder if we were reading the same book…LOL! I recently read a book that had a hero that was unarmed and then a page later, he was armed. I’m like, “okay…plot hole anyone!” These kinds of things do bother me and I can only hope that I will avoid this when I write my novel!

  15. True, were the author’s initials M.L.?

  16. Ruth, if it’s the M.L. you reviewed recently, she once based the main magical plot device in one of her novels on the idea that the moon rises every night at sunset and then sets every morning at sunrise.

  17. Here are a few books I’ve reviewed with these kinds of problems (NOT ARCs):

    Sea Witch: https://fantasyliterature.com/hollickhelen.html
    Warprize: https://fantasyliterature.com/vaughanelizabeth.html
    Master of Dragons: https://fantasyliterature.com/weismargaret.html

  18. The one that threw me completely out of the story was an urban fantasy short story where our heroine and her boyfriend climb onto his Harley that he’d left propped against a building. I can’t imagine anyone leaning a Harley against a building. At least not any biker I know. There was more, but I’ll leave it at that.

  19. A good example of the sort of thing that annoys me:

    When trying to read the first Dhulyn and Parno book by Violette Malan, there’s this one fight where Dhulyn (I think) stabs a man through the throat with a sword. The man proceeds to produce a scream. Somehow. Without, you know, vocal chords.

    Or the constant use of “arrow sheath” in The Hunger Games. I mean, it’s the easiest thing in the world to Google archery to find out the terms. What gives?

  20. Truthfully, I rarely notice things like that. Sometimes I get so into the story, I fly through it and miss a ton of details. For tough reads, I am always flipping back a couple of pages to figure out whats going on. Half the time, when I do think I find an error, I convince myself I must misread the first part.

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