The curse of the Internet

I first started writing in the dark ages, when the Internet as we know it didn’t really exist. How I did my research is all kind of foggy: I would go to the Central Library and consult the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, which were these green bound volumes that listed by subject articles that had been published in all kinds of magazines. And then - hm, not sure... - I think I would request copies of the magazines that I wanted? Or I would look them up on microfiche?

Anyway, as you can imagine, a lot of times, for small details, I simply made things up. I used common sense.I used what I had seen on TV or movies or read in other books. Sometimes the things I thought I knew or thought made sense were wrong, but there probably wasn’t any easy way to check that out.

Cut to 2012. I have a character whose husband has died. She finds out he has been leasing their Suburban. How much would it lease for? After some Googling, I can arrive at an amount. It’s a lot. She can’t afford it. I figure since she never signed the lease, she can simply turn the car back into the dealer, show them the death certificate, and then walk away.

Only I made the mistake of Googling. No. Even death doesn’t stop the lease. Even if you turn in the car, you still owe all the payments. So now, my short scene has gotten more complicated, which may be good for her, but it's bad for me. I find this site called, where you can try to hook up with someone to take over your lease.

Would it matter if I wrote it wrong? Somehow, I think it does. It makes me upset when I read some aspect of police procedure or something else that I know about that is wrong, one that could have been easily Googled. It takes me out of the story world.

As a result, of all this Googling, I know a lot of stuff I didn’t used to know. Sure, I picked some of this up through my Readers Guide perusal back in the day (for example, Lucky Lucciano, I remember, ended up in a TB sanitorium, along with a body guard who didn’t have TB but had to take the cure anyway).

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve researched? What have you read that was wrong and bugged you?

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I'm glad you take the extra time to get it right. When an author gets the facts wrong, it completely pulls me out of the story.

For instance, I'm a farm girl, and the other night I watched a movie where a woman supposedly castrated a bull -- a full grown bull, mind you -- and it was the most bizarre thing I've seen in a movie in a long while. I won't go into detail, but let's just say from the direction she approached the bull and the placement of her hands, I don't think she cut off what she thought she cut off. :O

Or how about that movie "Barnyard", where all the bulls had udders. That unfortunate mistake still boggles my mind. Nobody, during the entire process of making that film, realized that bulls don't have udders? I'm just... No.

It's worth it to do the research. :)
Whoo, I second that post! (I work at the American Angus Association, and you will not believe the stuff I have learned from being here. Or maybe you can.)
People really should know that if they're writing about anyone with a government job, to look up the requirements of that job. Ideally, talk to someone who holds that job. There are rules for everything--rules most people would not even imagine exist. For the most part, government folk cannot just run around spontaneously incurring expenses and entering people's property.

In my latest book, I had a guy who wanted to go sky-diving at the age of 16. Could he? I looked up a few places online and, sure enough, they all require the jumper to be 18.

For my first book, I looked up survivability statistics for car accidents with seat belt and air bag vs. air bag only--I wanted to know if the circumstances of my fictional fatal accident were believable.
I think it's okay if something is possible but not probable. After all, we are all living probable lives but wanting to read about possible lives. But impossible, that bugs me.