Here be Dragons

A couple of days ago, I pos­ted a taste of the first chapter to Deja Vu’s sequel. In it I described intruders mak­ing entry to the flat of Detective Saskia Brandt. The snip­pet ended with Saskia reach­ing for her revolver, spin­ning the bar­rel, and snap­ping it shut. The entry eli­cited a com­ment from dscar­penter.

Just a nit­pick: The bar­rel on a revolver doesn’t spin, the cyl­in­der does. Also, out­side of a movie, nobody actu­ally spins the cyl­in­der of a revolver before action. You can’t fire a revolver with the cyl­in­der open. All you can do is acci­dent­ally spill your bul­lets on the floor.

This brought home to me the fact that I’ve nev­er used a gun, and it’s some­what cheeky of me to write nov­els that involve their use so heav­ily. Many thanks to D. S. Carpenter, who appears to write nav­al fic­tion and has a very inter­est­ing web­site. I’ll try not to repeat my mis­take!

There is a broad­er issue here. A writer is charged with cre­at­ing a believ­able world, but this is not as straight­for­ward as it might appear. In the first pages of a book — and per­haps even on the cov­er — the writer and read­er form an unspoken con­tract. Explicitly, the con­tract is some­thing like this: “I, the writer, prom­ise to set up a world where X is true; from there, everything I write will flow from this premise”. This trans­lates into the idea that, as a writer, you’re free to cre­ate a world in which young boys named Harry Potter are revealed to be wiz­ards, but you have to do it quickly, not half way through. Genre must be set imme­di­ately. Books where genres switch part way through (such as one of my favour­ite books this year, Cloud Atlas) seem to evince howls of betray­al from many read­ers. To sum­mar­ize: once you’ve left the ground, you can’t change the ground rules.

When I write my next tech­no­thrill­er, I can con­fid­ently state that Saskia Brandt has a chip in her brain that imposes a donor per­son­al­ity on her mind, but I must not mix up the bar­rel and the cyl­in­der in her revolver. The con­tract between the read­er and the writer is open to inter­pret­a­tion, of course. One review­er thought that my nov­el suffered from an incor­rect descrip­tion of air­port pro­ced­ure. Because I had set the story in the near future, it needed to be accur­ate on these details; a book set fur­ther in the future could not as eas­ily be held to the same charge. The review­er was cor­rect; I should have got it right. I would argue, of course, that I did indeed get the pro­ced­ure right, but that’s all water under bridges now 🙂

It’s true to say, I think, that it is the respons­ib­il­ity of a writer to get the facts right, but it’s a dif­fi­cult bal­ance to strike between the read­er who thinks, “Wait a minute, a dragon couldn’t fly because its wings could nev­er over­come its mass!” and the one who thinks, “Ahhhh…flying dragons. Look at them go.”

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

One thought on “Here be Dragons”

  1. Yeah, but they say the same thing about bumble­bees not being able to fly for the same reas­on. Little do they know…

    Great blog! As a fel­low writer (albeit unpub­lished to date), I love the “behind the mind” look into the cre­at­ive pro­cess.


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