2/27/09

Credibility in Writing by Rebecca Talley


Rebecca Talley is guest blogging today. I read the following post over on her blog, Rebecca Talley Writes, and thought she brought up a great point when considering the setting of your story. Rebecca is the author of the novel, Heaven Scent.

This is a rant of sorts. I was watching a TV show on USA called, Psych. It's about a guy who pretends to be psychic and works with the police. He actually has a photographic memory and amazing observation skills, but uses the psychic thing as his cover.

The premise doesn't bother me--it's the setting. The show is supposedly set in Santa Barbara, CA. A city with which I'm intimately familiar because I grew up there and return to visit every year. When Psych shows the police station, for example, it is definitely not the Santa Barbara Police Station. No, I've never been arrested or spent time in the police station, but my best friend's father's law office is a block away from the police station and I used to spend time with my friend at her dad's office.

The city streets shown on Psych are not the city streets of Santa Barbara. Nor are the beach scenes. Santa Barbara has a very distinctive style.

On an episode yesterday, one of the characters was telling the police he'd eaten at a restaurant on On-new-paw-moo. The name of the street is actually Anapamu, pronounced Anna-pu-moo. See the difference? If they're going to pepper the show with the names of actual streets in Santa Barbara they should at least get the pronunciation correct.

On another episode a character is tossed into Cachuma Lake, except not. The lake they used wasn't even close to Cachuma--I know I spent several summers attending camp at Cachuma Lake.

Turns out the show isn't even filmed in the US. Now most people wouldn't notice the discrepancies. But, for me, it completely loses credibility because I know what it's showing is false. They should've set the show in a fictitious city.

My point? When writing fiction, it's important to have facts straight to have the credibility factor. Not all readers would pick up on a discrepancy in setting, but for those who do, you'll lose them as readers. So, for me, I need to get my facts right when I set a story in a real town.

As for Psych? The discrepancies about the setting bug me enough that I'm not interested in watching it again. See how that works?

8 comments:

Jessica said...

Since this is a rant of sorts, I'd like to add my own rant on credibility even though it has nothing to do with writing. There is a painting of the LA temple that I love, title being something like "Sunset over LA temple." Except the sunset is on the wrong side. It drives me crazy and I would love to own this picture if it were accurate.

I love the point brought up by this post, thank you.

Wm Morris said...

The lovely thing about writing is we don't have to worry about production costs, right?

And that makes getting the details correct even more important because all it takes is a few minutes or hours of research. And if you don't do it, you can bet that somebody is going to point out on the Internet what you got wrong.

Weston Elliott said...

Killing, isn't it? That's why, though I'd love to write about living in England, I probably won't until after I get to visit there someday. I love fiction - I can just make up my own places. Is that lazy, or what? LOL

Anonymous said...

RT: Well done as usual. Love your Heaven Scent. I have a scene about perfumes. Can I send it to you for review and feedback? You're terrific!

Weston:

I would suggest that you don't need to go to London in order to write your novel. If that were the case there would be very few novels set in Hiroshema, Mount St. Helens, Pompei, Krakatau Island, outerspace, Soddom & Gomorrah, or San Francisco. You only need be accurate. The time to visit your setting is after you've published your book when you can use the royalties to pay for your vacation. Or if you're like me, you can use your royalties to pay postage for a travel brochure.

Get some photos. Review a map. Interview people who have been there. Read some non-fiction about your setting. Goggle it. Yahoo it. Library it.

Paste the photos of Big Ben and maps Buckingham Palace on your wall. Let your fingers run through the photo alamanacs of Hyde Park. Let your mind wander onto a double decker buss, but only after you've done your reasrch so that your ride across the city is accurate not just dreamy. Find out what they eat and imagine the scent of kidney pie or fish and chips in the markets or whafting from the kitchen of a local or from the plated entree of a restaurant. If you've never been to the sea, stand in a box of sand and boil a huge pot of brine mixed with halibut skins, segull droppings and a hint of seeweed until your windows fog over. Find out what kinds of flowers grow in the famous secret gardens of the locals. What kinds of birds sing in the trees? Gulls? Larks? A pair-of-keets?

Once you've done your research you can write, accruately, about London or anyplace in the United Kingdom. The world. And then beyond this world.

Ly

Lee Ann Setzer said...

Interesting this comes up today. I picked up Terry Brooks' book on writing, "Sometimes the Magic Works" and happened to flip to a statement like, "Any writer worth her salt ought to be able to read one sentence about a place and write a story about it."

Probably balance, as usual, is the key. Between researching yourself to death and tossing off any old thing that sounds good. Besides, Terry Brooks makes up all _his_ settings.

Josi said...

Santa Barbara is a rather big city--you'd think they could get an expert on hand AND I'm sure you're not the only person that noticed some things were off. I suggest you write a letter and volunteer to be their expert :-)

Rebecca Talley said...

Good idea, Josi. Maybe they'd even fund my second home there :). After all, 50-year-old, 1400 sq ft houses are only a million or so.

It's just annoying to hear and see discrepancies that could so easily be fixed. It made me realize that it's important to get even small details right.

Thanks, Ly, for your support. I always appreciate it.

Thanks LDSP for allowing me to be a guest blogger.

Malibu Jane said...

I've lived in Santa Barbara for 36 years. I love the show Psych. Never once did I think it wasn't filmed in Vancouver. I guess I've watched enough X-Files (where Vancouver doubles for everywhere in the US) not to be bothered by stuff like that. I even enjoy the details they miss (oh, yeah, I totally believe that rocky, black beach is in SB!).

Just another perspective. If I'm having a good enough time, I'll grant some leeway.