Every so often, a novelist should make it a point to remember that most readers have about 54,000 other things they could be doing instead of reading a book. A novel will only hold your reader’s attention ahead of all those other things if it’s truly worth reading.
Aside from all the various mechanics and methods of writing that can turn off a reader, one item sure to doom your novel is goofing up on so-called little details—especially when you need to include subject matter that may not be familiar to you.
Vance saw Jack lift his double-barreled shotgun and proceed to fire off five quick shots from the hip. Already diving for cover, Vance still felt a bullet graze his shin just above the kneecap.
After a muttered curse, Vance pulled out his Glock 9mm pistol and took a breath to steady himself. He waited, listening, then—CLICK!—drew back the pistol’s hammer to be ready to return fire.
Writing’s clean enough from a grammatical standpoint, and the storytelling flows all right too. Given that I’ve already tipped my hand about watching the details, some of you may have already caught the goof with Vance’s shin being above his kneecap. That’s an easy one, as most people don’t have to take an anatomy class to know the location of someone’s shin (unless, perhaps, it’s an extraterrestrial race).
But what if you need to include a scene that involves firearms and you don’t know too much about that area? This is where your homework—aka research—will pay off for the reader.
Back to the passage above: How about the fact that Glock 9mm pistols don’t have hammers? No matter how many movies have overlooked this for the sake of higher tension, it’s something you as an author should be able to avoid if you do your due diligence with research ahead of time.
And how about two more goofs in that passage? You might have also caught that Jack somehow got five shots out of a double-barreled shotgun, which has the ability to fire two rounds before a reload is necessary. Finally, you might have stumbled over a shotgun firing a bullet, since it doesn’t.
Seemingly small details like any of these have the potential to turn your reader off. After all, he or she has plenty of other things to spend precious time on, so why waste it on a novel that can’t even get little details right?
These may seem like extreme examples and nothing that would turn off the average reader. But getting little details wrong can easily begin to add up to a lack of trust on the part of your reader.
Think of a historical novel. Plenty of room for error if you’re not spending the time to do the research and get the details right. And how about a sci-fi story based in our own reality? The list could go on and on.
The key is to do your research at some point to make sure you have the details right. When writing your novel, you may want to just get the entire story down on paper before worrying about such factual accuracy, and that’s fine—but don’t forget to go back and research all those details.
The old saying that “The devil is in the details” is an old saying because it’s true. So don’t be a novelist that readers can demonize because of getting the details wrong.
And if you’re in the Philadelphia region, please check out the Greater Philly Christian Writers Conference, taking place July 26-29. Hope to see you there!