You can Fool the Fans but Not the Players

A while back, I read a book that included a house fire. I've never been inside a burning house (knock on wood), but I've seen an amazing safety film that made an indelible impression and I know it looks nothing like a Hollywood fire.

First, the smoke is thick and black and visibility is next to non-existent. The video below gives an idea of how visibility decreases. I'm guessing they used something that generated white smoke, but house fires tend to generate black smoke which makes it much worse.

Second, the author describes it as a miracle that the couple who lived in the house hadn't succumbed to the smoke. A miracle would be exactly it in the most literal sense of the word. Barring the smoke, in roughly 4 minute in a house fire, the temperature can reach nearly 600 degrees. One breath will sear your lungs. There won't be a second breath. (This is a big reason firefighters have masks and oxygen tanks.) So in a house where the floors are already collapsing, these people will not be begging the firefighter to save them as the author of the book I read had them doing. They would already be dead.

Will I ever read another book by this author? Not likely. The author lives too far inside fantasyland for me and they couldn't be bothered to do any research. Will others read them? Of course. Because many people read uncritically and they don't know any more about fires than the author did. But anyone who does know better will roll their eyes over that. And I do wonder how many emails the author got about how unrealistic the scene was.

So doing research is important because someone out there will always know the reality of whatever you're describing. But it's more than big things like house fires.

For instance, I don't know what it is about the game of pool, but I regularly see scenes where the hero and/or heroine play pool. I'll admit, on this subject, I'm that well informed reader authors fear. I've played the game. Both eight- and nine-ball. Not only that, but I used to run with players. You know. Players. Those people who actually bet money on the game. Some even made their living at it. I know the hustle. I know how they spot a weaker player. I know the jargon.  Like what a race to five is, or double-foul, ball-in-hand, in the jaws, or what hard eight means. I know what lagging for the break is, what they mean when they call someone a bar champ or when they call a shot "slop," and how to spot someone in nine ball. I know there's a difference between "bank the eight" and "bank to the eight," and how to use the difference against your opponent. I even know what a rainbow spot is and what is meant by the money ball.

So when I see authors (and editors) disrespecting the game, I'm not amused. Especially when it's something easy to look up like what color the two ball is or which balls are solids and which are stripes. (Yes, I've seen an author get that very basic information wrong.)

Probably the most accurately written pool scene I've ever read was in Jennifer Crusie's Faking It. Jennifer admits she found someone who knew the game to help her. Kudos on that. Except, of course, that anyone who feels pool is their religion, as the heroine's brother did, would default to nine-ball because that's the money game. It's also a game of greater skill.

Since I try to keep this at least PG rated, we won't go into what appears to be the most common fallacy of the romance genre: where the hymen is located, but I will say, it's not where most romance authors seem to think it is, and shame on them for not doing their research.

Don't be that author who gets it wrong. Don't base what you write on the Hollywood version. Don't think having an editor is any guarantee of anything. Do your research. Find an expert. Because you may be able fake it and fool the fans, but you will never, ever be able to fool the players.

What errors have you seen in books that drove you crazy?


  1. I can't think of any off hand, but I know in some books I've seen glaring errors in the past.

    I like billiards, but I don't know enough of the ins and outs to write it into a book beyond characters stepping away from the table.

    I do have an idea for a baseball story, but I would have to thoroughly immerse myself in the terminology of the game, spend time watching games, that sort of thing, before I'd even try it.

  2. Couldn't agree more, great post.

    On the issues of fires, I was in train once and the train driver announced that in a minute, we will come past a track-side fire and can we please close all windows and hold our breaths, we should be past this in 30sec. We passengers did as he said, and believe me, even with windows closed, literally within 10 sec I was chocking and couldn't breathe. And that was just driving past it at speed! Made me appreciate the great force that is fire I tell you.

    On the issues of mistakes in books, something I come across often is books where characters don't have to eat... like for example in a road chase kind of scenario, or the hero running away from werewolves or whatever. They never seem to have to worry about eating? Or they sustain quite bad injuries and in the next few pages, that is just forgotten? Hey must be painful to have a broken leg/ torn off fingers etc. No, they just continue. Arrgh.

    1. LOL. I totally agree. I think we've been conditioned by a lot of movies to tolerate that near-instant healing. And it's like the old westerns where they all carried six-shooters but no one ever had to reload.