Monday, September 21, 2009

Confessions of a Google-holic

Sitting in the park yesterday, on a perfectly lovely autumn morning, I did a little writing the old-fashioned way. I'm usually all about the electronica, but when the little one needs some fresh air, I'm perfectly willing to leave the battery-challenged laptop at home and scribble away in a notebook. No, not the cute Apple kind of 'notebook' that comes in so many lovely colors. I mean a cheap, three-subject, spiral-bound block of paper I bought at the drugstore. And sometimes my best work comes out this way. Yesterday was not one of those days. Sure, the scene I wrote was inspired, dramatic, and just what was needed to move the plot and characterization along—if I do say so myself—however, the whole scene went right in the trashcan. Why? Because it was based on something that DOES NOT happen. [Cindy takes a moment to decide whether to laugh or cry]

Here's what I learned today—When you step on a landmine it does not make a loud click and it will do one of two things 1. Immediately explode or 2. Wait a few seconds and then explode. There's none of this Hollywood melodrama where the soldier or, better yet, his commanding officer hears the telltale sound of a landmine arming itself and has time to say, “Son, don't move. Keep your foot right where it is.” Because even if the soldier stayed as still as a marble statue, the thing's gonna explode. Who knew? Well, apparently weapons experts and military history buffs all over the web know this, but those of us who glean most their munitions knowledge from movies and TV have been seriously misled. Not surprising. Apparently, the myth began due to some US propaganda during World War II designed to make the German S-mine, the famous 'Bouncing Betty', seem like something soldiers could outsmart. Not only is it untrue, but freezing is the worst thing you could with this type of anti-personnel weapon. With a bounding mine, it's better to hit the deck. It only goes to show, even things you think you know bear double-checking with a Google search. Which brings me to my next point, have I become so dependent on Google that I can't write without it?

Okay, clearly I CAN write without it, but the question is, should I? I mean, luckily this time I double-checked my facts before my editor—or worse, a fan—pointed out to me that I'm a doofus. Or is it okay to take certain liberties with the truth if the unrealistic situation works best in the novel? Hollywood does it all the time. See, this is why writers are great big balls of neurosis. I suppose it's up to each author and publisher to decide what's poetic license and what's over the top. But for me, in this case, I feel it's better to rewrite the scene than to rely on bad propaganda turned urban legend. Not to mention, if I've seen it enough times to have adopted it as fact, I could probably be more creative. No need to rely on hackneyed story-telling devices. Today, I'm back at the laptop reworking my brilliant scene so that it's both genius and believable.

So, all you writers out there, how much fact do you weave into your fiction? And how much inaccuracy are you comfortable with? Inquiring minds want to know!

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