Getting schooled

Song of the Day: Radioactive by Imagine Dragons

rf getty pirate lass

Me, on any given day.

This may come to a surprise to you, but I’m not a real Caribbean pirate. Not in the sense that I have actually learned to sail 16th century wooden ship, or have sacked poor, unsuspecting, seaside port towns. Yet. But I have sailed on a wooden ship and I have done extensive research on pirates.

Fact matters. So they say. As authors, we really need to get our facts straight, even for the minutest details. No skimping. Some readers zero in on when you do. Even if you don’t realize it.

Case in point, I recently received an email calling me out on the misuse of shipboard terms. Don’t get me wrong, the gentleman meant no harm and no criticism. He merely wanted me to know in case I was not aware—which I truly appreciated.

And since I will be continuing my series with a few more books, I’d be remiss not taking his suggestion seriously. And stupid. For more than one reason.

Authors, no matter where they are in their writing careers, should never stop learning. Whether it’s craft, industry, new genres, research, publishing, there’s lots of fluid information out there. No one person can claim to know it all. Not even a pirate diva.

My misuse, or lack of proper vocabulary, prompted this reader to reach out to me. It bothered him enough to go to the trouble. That’s a point of contact. Somewhere, he received my book. He read my book. He visited my website. I am now an author he knows.

He’s likely not the only one to notice my nomenclature. On the flip side, because of the cordial way he contacted me, it allowed me to respond and hopefully connect with the reader in a positive way.

getty rf ship rigging

Quick! What kind of knot is this?

Long before I even played with the notion of writing, I sent an email to an author I adored, asking about her pen name and the meaning behind it. I was pregnant with my  first child and loved the name Kinley. I wanted to know more about the name. Imagine how blown away I was when she cheerfully responded. I’d already enjoyed her books, but by not simply overlooking or ignoring my email,  and taking a moment to indulge me, she gained a fan for life. You guys know her better as Sherrilyn Kenyon.

Another reason I gladly accepted his suggestion is that this man, without saying it, is far more knowledgeable with shipboard terminology than myself. No, he is not a pirate. But his signature indicated he served in the Navy…as a captain. Now, I’m not saying I gained a fan for life. But it is my hope that the man regarded my response favorably.

Authors should strive to get the facts right, no doubt. However, sometimes creative license comes into play. In my case, though the captain enlightened me with a shipboard term I was not previously keen on, another I was completely in the know. Readers don’t always know the meanings behind specialized, time specific, genre distinct, or characteristically slang vocabulary. Sometimes, writers need to interchange words and phrases with more common terms. For example, I use ropes and ratlines to describe ship rigging because my target audience might not know what clew lines or halyards are, or where to find them. I don’t want to slow the readers pace by causing them to pause. I want them to engaged.

We can research until our eyes pop out of our skulls, but there will always be something we have not learned or have overlooked.

How about you? Has someone ever caught you? Have you been humbly corrected? Or perhaps you were in the right? Maybe you were the one who caught a misstep. Let me hear from you.

8 Responses to Getting schooled

  1. I have a YA historical fiction that some readers got offended with because I “rearranged” history a bit to fit the story although I did explain it at the back of the book why I did it. Another reader liked the historical accuracy of a different book and thought I did a good job researching it. Still another reader thought I had been a cop “in real life” because I wrote my MC in a murder mystery who was a former cop “so well.” I’ve never been a cop but I do watch cop shows and did a lot of research before writing it. So, yes, always do as much research as you can but in the long run it’s the writing that counts. Great post! I have a YA pirate book I’ve been working on so I dress like that too. LOL.


    • jbrayweber says:

      When your readers think you are the expert in real life, Kathleen, you know you’ve done a good job. Do you own the handcuffs, too? Ha!

      I love dressing up like a pirate! What fun to dress up together!


  2. jeff7salter says:

    I had a colleague point out something my lead character overlooked, which he would have needed in the following scene.
    It was a careless omission on my part and I thanked her for pointing it out. However, that story was already published by that point. If I get a chance to do revised edition, I’ll definitely fix that.


    • jbrayweber says:

      If the story is engaging, I’m willing to bet most readers overlook a faux pas or two. There is always when you gets your rights back, Jeff. Then you can make those changes.


  3. I do my very best to use period appropriate language and even spelling. Fortunately the Regency wasn’t all that off from today. Tweeted.


    • jbrayweber says:

      I, too, try for authenticity in my historicals. The biggest challenge sometimes is avoiding words we take for granted today that were not around centuries ago. Thanks, Ella!


  4. Believability is what carries the day. Something may be impossible, against the known laws of physics, or flat-out fantasy (see any of the CSI shows or SVU for details), but if it is presented in a convincing enough manner, the reader will be swept along.

    It is VERY cool this Naval gentleman reached out to you and offered gentle corrections. I’d think Gift Basket for him…:)


    • jbrayweber says:

      You are right. Believably, the ability to suspend disbelief, sleight of hand, good story telling, just keeping the reader engaged will trump a misstep.
      Yep, I thought it pretty cool for the captain, too. Thanks, William.


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