At least, not always.
I was reading a novel the other night—can’t exactly remember what it was about. I won’t say that this forgetfulness is a comment on the quality of the writing, the plot, and/or the characterization, though it’s possible. I think, though, that it’s more that I was taken out of the story by irritation at an unforgivable mistake, due, it must be, to lack of research.
I do remember that it was a mystery/crime story, and it dovetailed a bit, past and present. The past was in the 1960s. And here I was, reading along, in the 1960s portion, when I came across a line that mentioned something about the detectives, and their ability to possibly capture the criminal because of a “new technology” that was just being tried out, called…fingerprinting.
Sigh. Now, being a little ageist here, I imagine that the writer was young, and that, to them, the 1960s were almost the Jurassic Period, but still. New technology? (I feel like repeating that, over and over, with an increasing number of question marks, but I will spare you.)
I’ve mentioned before that I read a lot. And I like mysteries, though they are not my main love at the moment. Still, some of the mysteries/crime novels/police procedurals I’ve read were written about a hundred years ago, and they were talking about fingerprinting for criminal identification way back then.
But, say the writer of this book was not really into reading all that old stuff—even so, two minutes of Google search and reading would have brought them to any of a gazillion sites, all ready to tell them that fingerprinting for criminal identification was first (officially) used in 1858…not 1958. It was very rudimentary, sure, but the process was used and (sort of) perfected over the decades by police departments around the world.
It’s still not a mistake-free process even now, but by the 1960s, it was at least one that Greater Los Angeles area police departments were well familiar with. It was NOT “new technology.” Okay, got that off my chest (though I still grit my teeth every time I think of it. I know. Issues.)
But I believe it illustrates my point about research. It’s true that it’s very easy to use the need to research to get distracted from writing. I know this, because I can lose myself for hours looking up stuff that interests me. On the other hand, it’s obviously just as easy to lose your reader if you don’t take the time to research.
Or to edit. When I came across a line in one book, right at a suspenseful moment, that stated that the blood-splashed room was also splattered with “grizzly parts”… well, you can imagine the picture that formed in my mind. I spent the rest of the reading time not invested in the story, or caught up in the suspense… but giggling inappropriately at the mind-picture of a dismembered bear scattered across the room. Not that I have anything against bears, but, you see?
It’s not even an uncommon mistake. In fact, I came across it so often in self-published (and, on rare occasion, even a supposedly professionally edited and published) novels that I went and looked up the word to make sure it hadn’t changed meaning on me. Nope.
So, those are my public service messages for today.
Fingerprinting was not a technology invented anywhere close to the 1960s.
And if you are writing a tension-filled scene that is gory and and disgusting and soaked with blood, keep your readers in the mood by referring to it as “grisly.”
Grizzly is a bear.