So I accidentally got my mother addicted to Netflix.
It’s a little better now than when she first got it last year. Then, she’d nearly be late for work because she was watching something and didn’t want to go to bed at night because she had to know who killed Rosie Larson.
She called me a few weeks ago because she was watching the Netflix series Marco Polo.
“I don’t know where they got these horses,” she said. “But they’re exactly the right kind of horse.”
Mum’s a horse person. That gene skipped me–I have basic knowledge, more than the average person, but that’s it. “Oh?” I said.
“Normally movies get quarterhorses but this show has these tiny skinny ones that actually look like Mongolian horses. I have no idea where they got them, but the used the right horses*!”
A lot of people, myself included, would have watched Marco Polo or shows/movies like it and not had a clue.
For my mother, however, who has had a lifelong passion for horses, she notices. It draws her out of the film when the wrong breed of horse is used–her suspension of disbelief only goes so far, and if you have someone riding a big draft horse in the desert for some reason, she’s going to rant about it. She can tell when an actor on a horse clearly has no experience as a rider. On the other hand, the right attention to detail can totally make a film for her.
This is why I’ve said know wtf you’re talking about. That post was more about the damage wrong depictions can do to marginalized groups, but even the smallest details will matter to an enthusiast of a particular area.
Granted, we can’t all become experts in everything that we write about (otherwise I would have murdered a lot of people by now). But there is a plethora of free information online if you’re careful about where you look and check multiple sources.
For example, travel blogs were tremendously helpful to me when I was writing a book set mostly in Nepal, full of fun little details I never encountered in the broader historical reading I’d been doing. Google Earth gave me a street view when I had a scene set in Japan I needed to visualize. Hotel rating sites helped big time when my characters needed somewhere to stay in Ethiopia, complete with photos of the hotel room interiors.
There are almost always experts willing to answer a few questions if you’re polite and respectful of their time. Hell, in two of our ELEW fundraisers, we’ve had very specific critiques offered (Skye offered to read legal scenes in a book and critique them for accuracy from a lawyer’s perspective, and Andrew offered fight scene crits). I run firearm and medical stuff by the Gothic Goddess regularly. Everyone you know is probably an expert in something useful if you simply start asking.
It never hurts to pause and question, “Do I know what I’m talking about here? Do I actually have first hand knowledge?” And if you don’t…take a little detour and find out. Get it as accurate as you can. There is, quite honestly, no excuse at this point to be getting the details wrong.
And if there’s any chance my mother will be reading your book…for god’s sake, get the motherfucking horses right.
*(Incidentally, for this blog post I ended up googling for info on this–and also because I wanted to tell her what breed they used–and found that yes, a lot of thought went into the horses.)