Do the Details Matter in Series Writing?

I remember an author on a panel saying that writers MUST get every detail right, from street directions to building descriptions. If not, readers would riot and complain.

I admit I’ve run into this scenario. I used bolero instead of bolo for a tie description. I didn’t catch it. The editor didn’t catch it. Three proofreaders didn’t catch it. But one reader caught it and left a nasty note on Amazon reviews. He said I was “just sloppy”. I immediately changed it and uploaded the revision, but I couldn’t thank the guy who had caught my mistake because he didn’t leave contact information. So, it does happens.

However, I would like put up an argument that, if readers love the books, they aren’t going to stop reading if they catch an inconsistency, and as my example, I’ll use Rex Stout, author of the Nero Wolf/Archie Goodwin novels.

In the course of reading every novel, novella and short he ever wrote, I’ve discovered many contradictions. Archie Goodwin smokes in one novel and says that he doesn’t smoke in another. He also says that he’s never seen  Inspector Cramer actually light his cigar, yet in earlier stories, Cramer puffs away.  The list goes on.

It gives me a giggle to be so immersed in his world that I catch these things. It seems as if Mr. Stout was so involved in the world of his current story that what came before (or might come after) didn’t hit his radar. I don’t consider them sloppy mistakes. They just feel like one more eccentricity of the characters coming down through the author.

One of the reasons that these changing details don’t bother me is that they don’t affect the core of the characters. Archie still complains about Wolf, while at the same time admiring him. He easily falls for females, makes smart-mouthed comments, and loves being the right-hand man of the smartest detective around. Wolf is still an Immovable Object  (Archie’s words, not mine), and he continues to take delight in cuisine and no delight women. (Though he claims to be neutral in the latter.)

I’ve put a disclaimer in the beginning of my Frankie Chandler, pet psychic, novels.  Breeds are not always capitalized, and grammar  aficionados would be quick to jump on how I capitalize all breeds. I do it intentionally out of love and respect for my furry characters.  I wouldn’t recommend that writers ignore the details, but if the world they create and the characters who inhabit that world are intriguing enough, I think that readers will let the occasional slip-up slide.

If your memory is a sieve (it will happen eventually to most of us), you can always keep those details in order by using a chart, or a style sheet. In fact, I recommend that you do. Track locations, names, dates, and anything else that you’ll need to refer to at a later date. If you have the skill of Rex Stout, discrepancies can be charming. For the rest of us, well, we might be considered “just sloppy”!

16 thoughts on “Do the Details Matter in Series Writing?”

  1. It's a challenge to get all those details right. My personal demon is eye color: I'll have a character with hazel eyes at the beginning, blue ones at the end. The only remedy is to do a word search on “eye,” and that usually helps me clean it up.

    I agree with you that minor discrepancies don't affect the core of the story or the characters, and I chalk it up to “this book was written by a human being, after all.”

    Occasionally, however, a writer will hit a wrong note that pulls me out of the story, such as a well-known and award winning novelist whose book contained a scene where the characters were driving to a funeral at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, coming from the east, and the author had the Forest Lawn entry come up BEFORE Mt. Sinai. Having just attended a funeral there, my immediate reaction was “Wait a minute!” But it didn't lessen my admiration for the novel or its author.

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  2. Very interesting post, Jacqueline. I must say, I sometimes forget characters names from one book to the other–if I don't write them down, I'm toast. Even then, it's “where's that darn file!”

    If it's a good story, don't much notice.

    Thanks for getting my mental juices going this morning!

    Madeline

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  3. I do keep a style sheet and a timeline going back to when my characters were born. Not that a mistake can't happen, but if the reader is so obsessed with finding an error, he obviously doesn't read for pleasure. I work very hard to make sure everything fits and if that isn't good enough for a fussbudget, tough. Let them write their own book. (99% of the time they won't write a book.)

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  4. Oops… did you on purpose make one tiny mistake in paragraph six? Leave it in and I will ask my tweeters to see if they can find it.

    But on a serious note, little discrepancies from book to book about smoking or not (maybe he quit: maybe he started) or even eye color (some colors can look different in different light and when moods change) don't matter much to me. But don't make the BIG mistakes, like having a judge be a man in chapter two, and the same named judge as a women in chapter eleven. Now of course, there “could” have been a sex change, but…[shrug}.

    Good blog post Jackie Vick. I will read my next book with more of an eagle eye… or not.

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  5. Completely agree with “…if the world they create and the characters who inhabit that world are intriguing enough, I think that readers will let the occasional slip-up slide.” Good enough to quote. And I did.

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  6. If I'm reading a good book, I'll ignore little discrepancies. For me, it's all about the overall story. Believe me when I say I've seen many of those little discrepancies in the books of Big Name authors. But who cares, like I said, if the story is good. Excellent post.

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  7. I always catch typos and other mistakes in the books I read. I think I'm more conscious of them now because of the intense editing I've done on my own work (and yet a typo slipped through), but I'm finding more errors in current works than in previous decades. It seems almost inevitable, for I can't recall a book I've read in the last year that didn't have at least one boo-boo, and some had multiple errors. I can overlook one or two, but when the count reaches double digits, it bothers me.

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