05 August, 2013

Attention to the details

Remember the last time when I caught that math mistake in Uncertain Heirs? Well, I'm always on the lookout for things that don't make logical sense. It's bad when mistakes like that happen. Sometimes, though, practicality is sacrificed intentionally for the sake of the story, and that's the biggest mistake a writer can make. It takes longer to spot, I think, with something on the page, but a visual from a movie or TV show or live theatre performance are glaringly obvious.

Now, I'm not talking about a visual exchange, like substituting a milksnake for a coral snake (that's just common sense for the safety of the actors and film crew!) I'm talking about writing a moment of drama that is so wrong, so blatantly impossible that the likelihood of it actually working is zero. I recently watched an episode of Breaking Bad, where such a scene took place. Walter, the main character, was zip tied to a radiator by one wrist, and instead of using his fingernail to wedge the tab of the zip tie down, he went through this elaborate search for something to free himself with. He jerked a coffee maker off a cabinet, unplugged it, and broke the cord in half. He then stripped the wires clean and wedged one under the zip tie against his wrist, and after turning the power strip back on he used the other wire to conduct heat through the plastic and melt the zip tie off (and burned his wrist in the process).

Okay. That was wrong. So very, very wrong, and here's why:

Common sense teaches us "Don't stick anything in an outlet - you'll get shocked!" The reason for that is because an incomplete circuit will either short out or throw the breaker. Yes, you'll get shocked, and depending upon the voltage it could stop your heart, but the shock will not last long enough to melt through plastic the way Walter used it in the show.

No matter whether the audience knows the fact about the incomplete circuit or not, the writers have a duty to portray their character accurately. Walter is/was a chemistry teacher in the show, and given all the complex devices he's rigged up over the course of the show, he would know exactly how wrong his decision was. 

That's just bad writing, and we, as writers, have to do all we can to be accurate with our facts. We're clever, we can research, we can learn about anything now courtesy of the internet. There's no excuse to not do the research and see if what we want to happen for "the drama" can actually happen or not. What Walt did in that episode should have killed him, but because no mention of it was made in the show, I'm gonna go ahead and state the obvious here: Don't Try That At Home.

I'm constantly on the lookout for things like that in Uncertain Heirs, which is why I read, reread, get critiques from others, then reread again. Just because I'm writing a fantasy does not mean I should ignore common sense.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Ash Litton

Ash Litton is a writer and lover of sci-fi, fantasy, and all things fictional. She is the author of Thoroughbred, Evening Hallow, Comeuppance, and Cabover Cabaret, and works on other Appalachian Dream Tales between her ongoing novel projects. She's also written No Diet, No Surgery, No Sweat, an ebook chronicling her weight-loss journey.

When she's not writing, she's drawing, and when she's not doing either of those, she's dreaming up new projects to work on. Born and raised in rural West Virginia, Ash has always wondered what things lay hidden in the hills around her. She attended West Virginia University, where she studied the English language before returning home to her family in rural West Virginia.