Writing Tip: Don’t Show Your Ignorance

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None of these people was named MacTavish.

I woke up this morning from a dream in which I had written an exciting historical novel set in Minoan Crete, circa 1600 B.C., and featuring a hero named Sandy MacTavish.

What could be sillier than that? It would be another 2,000 years before MacTavishes were even invented. And all but the most dim-witted readers, maybe the comic book crowd, would know there was no one named “Sandy” in the Bronze Age.

If I were to write such a book, everyone would laugh at me. “What a putz!” Well, don’t let this happen to you.

True, writers sometimes get away with gems of dopiness because the editor was equally ignorant. Remember a best-selling horror novel from way back, called The Keep? It describes the Battle of Verdun as a hard-won British victory. In fact, Verdun was a hard-won French victory against the Germans: the British were not involved. It was probably the greatest battle the French ever won in all their history, but The Keep did ’em out of it and nobody at the publishing house ever caught the error.

And Samuel Johnson, asked by a reader of his Dictionary why he defined “pastern” as “the knee of a horse,” admitted, “Ignorance, madam–pure ignorance.” [Note: it’s more like the horse’s ankle, well below the horse’s knee joint.]

Don’t think you can get away with errors that the literary greats got away with. I’m here to tell you for a fact: you can’t get away with nothin’. They will pounce on every extra comma, every use of the passive voice, and shred your book to pieces over it. And simply not publish it.

Unless you self-publish. Then you can do as you please.

One comment on “Writing Tip: Don’t Show Your Ignorance”

  1. You’ve just described one reason I prefer non-fiction, although, even in that category, one must be a bit careful.

    But I would imagine that if you set your mind to it, with a few tweaks – like a name change – you could run with that story 🙂

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