When world building fails

Pat Davids here.

We've all seen it.
Some of us have been there, written that.

It's the place where world building fails.

What do I mean by that?

It's the place in a story or manuscript where our world building fails. It falls flat. It crumbles to nothingness.

It's the moment that we as the reader, or the readers of our stories, are jerked out of that blissful place called "suspension of disbelief" by a detail or event that makes us say. "What? No! Wait a minute. That can't happen."

For me, it happened when I was reading a book about a rancher breeding cattle. He looked over his herd of breeding steers, thrilled by what he had accomplished and knowing his next generation of cattle would be better yet.

Can't you hear the squealing brakes in my mind as it screeched to a halt. Steer? Steers are castrated bulls. There won't be a next generation from any of those fellas, buddy.

With one word the author yanked me out of the story and made me want to throw the book against the wall. She failed and the world she was building crumbled for me. Perhaps not for someone who didn't know a steer from a heifer, but for me, the story stopped there.

Unfortunately, I've been guilty of doing the same thing. In one of my stories, the military hero risked getting thrown in the brig to get his girlfriend to medical care in another state. What's wrong with that you ask? He was in the Army. The Army doesn't have brigs. Their military jail is called the stockade or the guardhouse. The Navy and the Marines have a brig.

My years as a Navy wife had crept into my world building and one little detail made my book blow up for every Army wife, mother or girlfriend that read it. Oh yes, I got letters.

What are some of the mistakes you've seen in books that have brought down the world the author was building? How can we, as writers, avoid the same mistakes?


Joan Vincent said...

It amazes me the editor didn't catch "steers!" I haven't been able to dredge up any examples of my own but that is probably due to memory problems rather than my never doing it or experiencing it.

How to avoid them? I thing things like the 'brig' example you give is really hard to ID. We all know how hard proof reading can be--we see what we expect to see. I can see how, with your Navy experience, it went right past you. Why wouldn't it? We can proof read and hope that others who read before publication and/or our editors will find such words when they slip past us.

Reese Mobley said...

I don't think you can write a completely mistake proof book. You can try, but after you, editors, line editors, and probably countless others have had their hands on it I think you're lucky to keep putting out such a high quality novel. Sure, research helps, but things fall through the cracks. We learn from our mistakes.

All you can do is write the best book possible and hope the good outweighs the bad--which in your case does.

Maybe you were just trying to see if your readers were paying attention. They were, so good job! This is your story and you're sticking to it. (wink)

Penny Rader said...

I read a book not too long ago where a Catholic female character was dating someone of a different faith. They went to her church on Friday nights and his on Sunday. Kind of stopped me in my tracks. It's been my experience that Saturday night Mass fulfills the Sunday Mass obligation. Maybe they have Friday night Mass in other states?

Pat Davids said...

I'm with you, I don't know how breeding steers made it past any editor worth her salt.

No matter how hard we try we can't know every detail if we are world building outside our own tiny corner of the world. And really, who wants to read about Pat and Dave mowing the grass and weed eating their yard. Failing is a risk we all take when we write.

Pat Davids said...

Thanks for those kind words. And yes, I will stick to that story. I was just checking to see if they were paying attention.

Pat Davids said...

Friday Mass doesn't replace a Sunday obligation anywhere that I've ever been.
How weird.

Roxann Delaney said...

I used the phrase "out in the middle of nowhere." It seems the senior editor didn't understand what that meant. I eventually had to describe the heroine, whose car had broken down out in the middle of nowhere, by showing from her POV that there were no yard lights nearby and she was pretty much surrounded by darkness on the lonely country road.

I guess I can understand one not knowing about steers and bulls. :)