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Reading What You Know (aka The Great Pet Peeve)

There’s an interesting conversation going on in the review thread to Tillie Cole’s USA Today Bestselling book Sweet Home, which features a British heroine pursuing a master’s degree in Philosophy at the University of Alabama, and an Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback. Cole, who describes herself as “a scary blend of Scottish and English,” has written a book that heavily relies on both American college football and American graduate school programs, both of which have come up short for some readers.

Which, of course, is not unusual – sports Romances, especially, seem to suffer from charges of insufficient research from those who know better. Still, what’s interesting about this discussion is the extent to which it demonstrates that these research problems can quickly translate into cultural misunderstandings.

For those not familiar with American college football, especially in the South, and even more especially in Alabama, what Cole misses may just seem like pesky details. However, for those familiar with the vast array of subcultures in the US, the regionalisms, and the idiomatic use of certain phrases and terms, the errors can magnify into something more substantial, even insulting or disrespectful.

Given the number of American authors who write Romance novels set in Great Britain, this should come as no surprise. After all, how many times do we see someone get titles of address wrong in a Regency Romance. Julie Anne Long is often criticized for her misuse of titles and for breaking some of the class protocols. For those readers who do not know these rules are being broken, the lack of accuracy may have no negative influence on their enjoyment of the story. But for those readers who do, it can be a big deal.

Often, when we talk about some of these details in terms of historical Romance, we pin the mistakes on a lack of historical research more than on a lack of cultural understanding and respect. For example, titling and inheritance are both complex systems, relying on class hierarchies, historical precedents, specifically created rules, and a whole lot of other social, political, and economic factors. To the reader who doesn’t know better, the errors may simply seem to be a matter of detail. But for someone who knows better or who is from the region being portrayed, these lapses can appear to be more significant, a signal that the author is recreating a world without truly understanding it. And if a reader does not feel that an author understands the world s/he has created, it can be much more difficult to extend trust to the risker emotional aspects of the story. In the grand scheme of things, the culture of Alabama college football may not seem so significant to some readers.

However, the fact that it is a cultural issue can make it feel like a substantial lapse in both knowledge and respect for someone who understands or is part of the culture. Just as an American author’s apparent ignorance of who would be likely to drink together at the pub or what the roles of servants on a duke’s estate  would entail can translate as insensitivity or disrespect for the rules that structured reality for those in a particular time and place. And when those lapses occur around issues where social power is in play, the detrimental effect on a reader’s trust can be substantial.

We often hear “write what you know,” but I prefer the adage “know what you write,” because innovation is just as important to me as continuity when I read extensively in any given genre. And I want both authors and readers to be willing to stretch in as many ways as possible, so that we’re not all relegated to just writing and reading what we know in the most narrow sense. Not only is there a risk of falsely universalizing circumstantial experiences or observations, but also of reinforcing, rather than challenging, provincialism.

For me, the Crimson Tide reference (both in the book itself and in some responses to it) is a perfect example of how nothing is too trivial to the reader who knows more than the author about the cultural setting of a book. Because we all have those things, those pet peeves, which can so easily throw us out of a book.

I remember really enjoying one of those Jill Shalvis baseball books, until, that is, I read Kristie J’s review – because she understood all the ways in which the book misrepresented the game. I still enjoyed the romance, but I could never quite get past the feeling that I had been slightly bamboozled by the book.

I think we all have a tendency to see issues hierarchically, and some are easier to classify as more significant or important. For some readers, college football is nothing to get worked up about. For others, the idea of a 20-year old Oxford student pursuing an MA in the American South would seem perfectly reasonable. But at what point does something become important enough to require some expectation of accuracy? If a story element is important enough to be chosen and utilized by an author, is it important enough to get as accurate a rendering as possible?

We call this “world building” for a reason – because the author is creating a world in which fictional characters interact and respond and engage in behavior that is (ideally) realistic enough to be convincing to the reader. And in a genre where we tend to punish certain tropes for being too close to “real life” (e.g. forced seduction), at what point does a story element become important enough to “get it right”? To what degree do we, as readers, need to be able to trust in the world building of a novel, especially in a genre where trust and respect are fundamental elements of the happy outcome for the main protagonists.

In a book like Sweet Home, the graduate school issues might be more of an annoyance to me than the football, depending on whether/how some of the more problematic aspects of college athletics are handled. It’s difficult for me to read books set around higher education, the law, and certain types of writing professions, because I can catch errors without even trying.

With historicals, I am much more likely to find fault with American-set Romances, especially Westerns and those books featuring Native Americans. On the other hand, I still don’t know enough about European titles to always know when I’m being snowed, so I pretty much assume I’m not getting the right information, which can kind of dim the appeal of those books for me.

So tell me: what are your pet peeves as a reader when it comes to the details of world building? And if you write, how do you approach your world building, and how does it rate in comparison to
the emotional journey of the characters?

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!


  1. Megan
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 07:12:20

    what are your pet peeves as a reader when it comes to the details of world building?

    Cooking. I’m enough of a cook that when a story involves it heavily, but the author clearly doesn’t a thing about it, I’m thrown out of the story. Especially when that’s such an easy thing to research. My biggest pet peeve is probably stories with settings in/involving Japan or China. I’ve pretty much had to stop reading any book with those cultures involved, minus a few trusted authors, because the mistakes are so glaring and the research so bad it tips into offensive and I just can’t enjoy them.

    And if you write, how do you approach your world building, and how does it rate in comparison to the emotional journey of the characters?

    I’m primarily a fantasy romance writer, so if my world-building fails the story fails. That’s true in any genre, but at least for me fantasy is more stressful than contemporary (which I write when I need a break).

    A story that centers around the romance between a necromancer and a paladin isn’t going to hold up well if I can’t sell the world. The religion they practice, the food they eat, where they live, what they wear, how they live, the kinds of things a paladin raised in a castle might know vs. a necromancer whose always been homeless. How they speak, taboos, how people are punished, all those little cultural elements. You can’t build a convincing romance if you can’t build convincing characters, and the characters don’t work if their world doesn’t make sense.

  2. Lynn
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 07:25:36

    I have a hard time with some books because I am a doctor although I am no longer practicing. It is amazing how many romances use something medical as a plot device be they hospitalizations, accidents or illnesses. Very often they get at least one thing, and often many things, wrong. I am used to this enough that if the mistakes are small I can let it go but if they start piling up it throws me too far out of the story to where I am no longer enjoying it.

    Perhaps if authors would find people well versed in whatever it is they are writing to check out their story this could be avoided. If Tillie Cole had found one of us SEC football fans down here to beta read those scenes we could have pointed out her mistakes before she published. I am all for writers trying new things but they need to take the time to make sure they are getting it right in my opinion.

  3. Jen
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 07:41:00

    I don’t know, I am not normally bothered by inaccuracies until they start piling up. I think it really depends on the strength of the writing otherwise, too. If the story is engrossing to me and the characters compelling, I don’t care if they get the titles wrong, etc. I don’t think every book needs to be a masterpiece of background research to be enjoyable, unless the author is really going for 100% accuracy. Give me a great story and characters over 100% accuracy any day. Now, when things just continue to not make sense it does become a problem to me, but where that threshold is depends often on how engaging the rest of the book is.

  4. Alex
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 07:50:19

    @Lynn – I totally agree on the beta reading issue. IMO an author should track down a suitable beta reader if they’re writing a book/character/significant plot point about a country or culture of which they have limited or no personal experience. Don’t they want to check they’re getting things right?

    As a reader it’s the little things that annoy me the most. For example, I just read Austenland by Shannon Hale and I’m pretty sure most British readers will happily point out to her that we don’t refer to ourselves as 200cm tall. Yes, we’re technically a metric country but height and distance are pretty much always still referred to in imperial terms. Weight too, although the boundaries are a bit more blurry on that. I can excuse the odd word or phrase that doesn’t sound quite right as it may still fit with the character’s voice but incorrect sports terminology really grates on me. I’ve never met anyone who says “Go on the Manchester United!” *rolls eyes*

    I don’t read many historicals now but the titles some authors pick for their characters can irritate me a lot. I can’t really explain why but some of them don’t ring at all true – perhaps they’re too similar to real life titles, perhaps they’re linked to a place name which seems incongruous? It’s probably not something that annoys anyone else.

    Other pet peeves: horses. I’ve been around them for so long that it’s really painfully obvious when authors don’t understand them or how the horsey world works. Hollywood gets on my nerves here too – sorry, but horses don’t neigh all the time!!

  5. Audrey Lusk
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 07:55:37

    Names are particularly annoying – when characters turn up with fairly random “cool-sounding” names, but which are not the least bit accurate to the time or place, or which they didn’t bother to think through the translations or derivations of.

  6. Selene
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 08:03:20

    The more you know and are passionate about something, the more it bugs you when it’s wrong. :-)

    More than annoyed, I’m pulled out of the story, which can ruin the reading experience. For me it’ll be mostly mangled Norse mythology and basically anything to do with programming, hacking, or computer science in general. Also misuse of foreign languages that I happen to speak. (Well, I also get jarred by languages I don’t speak when it’s used weirdly, such as replacing simple words like “Yes” and “No”–the first thing you learn to say!)

    Cultural things must be really hard to research though, if you don’t have the opportunity to actually go visit the place and live there. Many things are so unspoken, it’d be virtually impossible to find information about it, or even know that you’re missing something. I’d expect the author would have to rely on beta readers to check the accuracy in those cases. But even then, it’s probably hard to know if you’ve found beta readers who actually pick up on the level of detail you need to satisfy the really die-hard fan/knowledgeable reader.


  7. Jess
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 08:12:00

    As a librarian, I get annoyed by a lot of portrayals of librarians in books. It’s not just the cardigan-wearing, bun-sporting shusher who hates technology stereotype but also a complete misunderstanding of what librarians do and how people prepare to be librarians. For example Susan Mallery wrote librarian Annabelle in one of Fool’s Gold books for her librarian readers. Annabelle is better than many book librarians but the thing that really annoyed me was her education/career preparation. She keeps only referring to her bachelor’s degree in library science from UNC Chapel Hill. I went to UNC so I know that they only offer a bachelor’s in information science, not library science. Plus, in order to be a professional librarian, a master’s degree is required. Simple, brief research would have resolved this issue that I’m sure annoyed plenty of other librarians.

    However, there have been times when things I thought were inaccuracies about a culture I was familiar with actually turned out to be somewhat true. In Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Call Me Irresistible, the heroine, Meg, mentions that Texan women tend to dress up more for certain occasions than women elsewhere in the US might do. I grew up in Texas and didn’t leave until I was 21 so I know a little bit about Texan culture. When I first read that, I thought “No, we don’t!” But recently, after attending yet another bridal shower/baby shower/celebration in North Carolina where I was slightly more overdressed than other women, I realized there might be something to that. I even discussed it without another Texan woman living in NC and she said she had noticed the same thing. So maybe some of the things we might see as inaccuracies about our own subcultures could just be truths from an outsider perspective.

  8. Ang
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 08:22:56

    What are your pet peeves as a reader when it comes to the details of world building?

    Not bothering to do even minimal research. I read the thread on Tillie Cole’s book and no…just no. Not just for the misunderstanding of American (especially college) football, but for the whole grad student living with undergrads and going out for a sorority plot point. That was a serious headdesk moment. If sports are not involved I’m willing to overlook inaccuracies in genres except “Wild West” Westerns as those often bring in Native American tropes that are so rage inducing my Kindle might shatter into millions of bits. There is one type of book I’ve given up on completely: Duke marries Governess. It’s been done too many times.

    And if you write, how do you approach your world building, and how does it rate in comparison to the emotional journey of the characters?

    If it’s in the Really Real World like a present day detective novel then I research, I arrange interviews, and I research more after the interviews. If I’m writing something in the historical past, the more knowledge I have of a given situation or time period, the more understanding I have of why Character A would react in X fashion causing Character Y to react in Z fashion. It’s no different if I’m building a world from scratch. Having a fleshed out world creates characters with greater depth for me. I understand them and what they’re experiencing more than if I hadn’t put the time into research and world building.

    (Shout-out to the SEC!)

  9. EmilyD
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 08:24:47

    I know sports and I know kids so when either of those topics are inaccurately portrayed, it irks me. (I know other things, too, really, but those are the things that can take me out of a story when reading.) Having read Angela James’ blogs about the work that goes into sports romances, I now have a greater appreciation of why certain things are done – changing team names, for example. With sports, it’s the details that show whether an author “gets it”. Having a retired early 30-something baseball superstar but not explaining why he’s retired is something that stood out for me big time in a book I read this year. And he was a secondary character. Even when I finished the book I couldn’t stop wondering why this awesome athlete would’ve walked away from the game in his early 30’s. That’s just not something you see in baseball. I fear the day I read a Philadelphia sports romance. I can only imagine how often I will lose my stuff over any inaccuracies or perceived slights.

    As for kids, I enjoy them in stories when they’re portrayed like actual kids. Sure, no two kids are the same, but I’ve read too often where an extremely astute child enters the scene, asks a pointed question or makes some throwaway comment and *WHAM* major breakthrough for the hero or heroine all thanks to the wicked smart 3 year old who then exits the scene never to be seen or heard from again, well, aside from in the epilogue. Oh, and that 3 yr old – or 7 yr old – or 10 yr old – never does anything weird or gross or obnoxious.

  10. Carolyne
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 08:35:10

    Ancient history–romances (or other books) set in Rome in particular, with wacky names and implausible premises. All the little details about what life was really like. If the author goes all-out 1950s-Technicolor-Cinemascope-movie style, I’ll go along for the fun ride. (There’s a Britcon called Plebs that is so wildly modern and revels so much in the lowbrow that it whips back around to being a pretty satisfying representation of what it might have felt like to live there.) But too often romance novels are just people wrapped in sheets pretending they’re togas.

    On the other hand, if the author includes enough small details that make me feel like I’m in another place with all its grit and rough edges–daily routines, the smell of the streets, just little touches here and there–rather than only giving the big details like emperors and banquets and gladiator arenas–then I’ll relax and trust the rest of the story and the character arcs more. Or at least appreciate the effort.

    I have other peeves, but since I still pretty much read any romance set in Rome just because I love the era so much, I get vexed by that one a lot.

  11. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 08:44:36

    Well, with me it’s the historical ridiculousnesses. They’ve actually driven me away from reading the historical romance, because these days they just – aren’t. Historical, I mean.
    The title errors, for instance, are particularly galling because they happen all the way through the book. You can’t get away from them. But error piled on error makes the book unreadable. Inappopriate first names, too. A Regency duke called Jared? Nuh-uh. In my opinion, if it happened, it’s fair game, but you have to take the details in, too. A duke marrying a courtesan was possible, but there were consequences. The one real life example often cited is the real life duke who married a dairymaid. He did, but society, and consequently, all his influences, investments and so on went into steep decline, and he was almost bankrupt to start with. His children were denied, as well.
    It’s not snobbishness so much as trust. These people gave their words, unbreakable, on a shake of the hand. They had to know and trust who they were doing it with. Nowadays, with long and complex contracts it’s changed. There was some snobbishness as well, but even the word wasn’t coined until just before the Regency era.
    Anyway, I digress. What I meant was exactly what Janet said above. With the lack of knowledge and research, except in the most superficial things, comes the lack of understanding of what made these people tick. Why they made the choices they did.
    And that swells over into other genres. I tried to write an FBI series before I realized that sexy men with big guns wasn’t doing it for me because I didn’t understand their reasoning. I can write about some aspects of US life, but that’s after long acquaintance and the help of beta readers.
    Write about US sport? Not a chance. US university life? I’ve done it, but only from the point of view of the lecturers because the interactions and all the phi beta and sorority stuff of the students confuses me. We don’t have anything like that over here.
    But we do have cricket, rugby union, rugby league, football (the kind with the round ball). The culture around the pursuit of excellence in those fields are complex, even the difference between rugby union and league are profound, but only if you know it. I guess it might be a bit like the difference between college football and the professional kind?
    My own world building in my books? I have reams and reams of stuff. I dive into the research first, the dry stuff, then I work with characters and discover why I have to write them into that world and how it affects their choices. Paranormal romances, for instance. How does it feel to be several hundred years old? What would that actually mean to a person? Seeing so many friends with shorter lifespans grow old and die? Having powers that are awesome could also be scary.

  12. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 08:49:27

    @Alex: “Come on United! Get in!” Couldn’t resist, especially since the Red Devils are having a bit of a torrid season.

  13. Azucena Rodriguez
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 08:53:18

    My biggest pet peeve is the use of the Spanish language in books. When it’s clear that the author used an online translator, that automatically puts me in a bad mood and brings down my rating of the book. Just that small translation will ruin what could have been a great book.

  14. Colleen
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 08:54:43

    @Lynn: I was going to say this same thing. If a doctor does something that I know one would never ever do, it makes me nuts!

  15. Alex
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 08:54:54

    @Lynne Connolly As a proud Scouser I was tempted to write something a little stronger :D

  16. JennyME
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 08:59:39

    I will forgive much if the author includes a note at the end indicating that she did some level of research and made choices about what she put into the book, and I am more forgiving about minor errors in historical novels than contemporaries. I wish all contemporary authors would just make up sports teams (and even cities, in some cases) rather than write a book about a real place or environment that they know nothing about. More than that, of course, I wish they’d do some damn research instead of being lazy or arrogant enough to suppose it’s unnecessary. Accuracy indicates that the author takes her book, and her audience, seriously. I will judge you a hack if there are errors in your book that are glaring enough to pull me out of the story or if it’s clear that a character’s job, etc. are being used in place of actual characterization. Make someone a SEAL: he’s automatically sexy and taciturn. Tell the reader that the heroine graduated from Harvard at 18: okay, now we know she’s a genius and you don’t have to worry about writing intelligent dialogue for her. Ugh.

    As far as personal pet peeves, stories about musicians or dancers are rarely done well and I hate books that rely on regional stereotypes for characterization or humor. I don’t like it when the author forces a timeline (writing about a 24-year-old surgeon, say) or falls into the God’s Gift to X trap (hero can’t just be an attorney, he has to be a former NFL quarterback and the best ADA that New York has ever seen with a 100% success rate at trial who builds furniture for poor kids in his spare time).

  17. Amanda
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 09:09:19

    What bothers me is when author does know their subject and assumes that all their readers will as well and omits needed details. I once read a m/m romance set in the world of football that totally lost me because the author threw around football terms and didn’t do any world building for me as a non-football watching reader.

  18. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 09:22:58

    @Alex: Ah, yes. Now me, I’m a City hater, and as long as they don’t get in our way, I’m okay with that. Like the sainted Shankley said, “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” Or the even more worshipful Ferguson (author of the fastest selling autobiography ever), “Football, bloody hell!”
    Yes, footie is another religion, to which worshipers flock every Sunday. It’s hard to understand, for instance, how little most footie fans care about the world cup. It’s a showcase, that’s all.

  19. Lynn M
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 09:33:32

    My big pet peeve as far as accuracy is when an author sets a story in a real-world city but gets the geography all wrong. For example, I live in Chicago, and I once read a story set in Chicago in which the heroine lived in a giant mansion with beach-frontage on the north side of the city. There aren’t any beach-front mansions in Chicago until you’ve traveled pretty far north, out of the city – all of Chicago’s beachfront is public land, not to mention Lake Shore Drive. Same book had a character get dropped off at an exit of a highway that would have put him so far south of town he would have had to walk for miles and miles to get to the city, through some pretty rough neighborhoods. I know that it’s not possible for authors to visit every city they may wish to use for a book, but with Google Earth and so many other online tools at their disposal, getting stuff like that wrong is inexcusable.

  20. Andrea D
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 09:33:34

    The incorrect baseball details in baseball romances are a pet peeve for me since I’m a big baseball fan. Before reading one, I had thought that I would enjoy a romance about the sport that I love, but it’s too distracting when there are so many little things that are just wrong. Also, I really dislike the common pairing of sportswriters with athletes in sports romances. Since two female beat writers cover my favorite baseball team, and I respect both of them a lot, I’m slightly appalled (and I think they would be too) at the idea of a writer getting romantically involved with a member of a team she covers.

  21. Marianne McA
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 09:43:02

    M&B did a rugby union related set of romances – I only read the first, but it struck me as pretty bad. Not very much rugby, but the England captain misses the posts because the screens at Twickenham cut away from the match to show his friend, a foreign prince, kissing a waitress in his box. (Also the book seem to assume all rugby fans in the UK support England: none of the other teams were allowed to win anything.)

    I think anything you know is hard to read about: one book by a US author was set at the university I went to, at the time period I was there – and I was inwardly nitpicking the whole time – “they’re not called dorms, and anyway you’ve placed her family home two miles away – 7 minutes on the (frequent) bus – what’s she doing paying to live in halls in the first place? “

  22. Shae Connor
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 09:47:20

    My primary world-building pet peeves would be anything that could have been fixed with the most cursory of internet research. Locations are the biggest, not necessarily for details of specific neighborhoods, but for distances/travel times and correct names/spellings. If I can find the answer from a ten-second Google search, the author really has no excuse.

    Secondary would be the types of problems with the story in question: someone setting a story in a non-fictional world about which they know little but not going the extra mile to make sure the details are right. I live in the American South (Atlanta, to be specific), and I’ve happily provided a number of other authors with everything from general cultural clues to specific city details for their stories. Most people are glad to answer questions if you just ask nicely. :)

  23. susan
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 09:50:37

    One of my pet peeves is geography. It bothers me when the author does not allow enough travel time in historicals, or has a complete lack of sense of place in a contemporary set in a real city. I read a fairly cute romance set in the area I live in, and there was absolutely no sense of place at all–the author should have just made up a community!

  24. Kelly
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 09:54:47

    Most of the time, the nitpicky details are just as you labeled them – pet peeves. But sometimes the sheer volume of nitpicks, or a glaring plot hole or character inconsistency, becomes so distracting I can’t help but lose faith in the author’s ability to tell me a story I can get swallowed up in. And once in a while, the darts of mockery must fly.

    A minor pet peeve is same-sex romances that don’t quite have the whole pronoun thing under control. Characters’ names, especially in sex scenes, are repeated so often I can *see* the newbie authors working out the logistics in their heads.

    Cover peeve:

    – Don’t have cover models with pristine manicures if the heroine is a chef. Take a look at a professional chef or baker’s hands. They’re like dancers’ feet.

    Sports peeves:

    – Don’t send an elite athlete – college or pro – into the stands during the game, or have him be distracted by cleavage on the jumbotron.

    – Don’t have a Hall of Fame hitter recalling feel of a PINE bat.

    – Don’t have a pitcher thinking about sexy times while he’s on the mound during the bottom of the ninth in THE LAST GAME OF THE WORLD SERIES. Gah.

    Historical rants:

    I’ve whined about these before, but they’re memorable enough to still be in my brain months and years after reading.

    – Don’t label a chair “Victorian” in 1811 Charleston.

    – Don’t use the word “morph” in Regency dialogue.

    – Don’t have the Foreign Office send a dipshit ingenue into Napoleonic France as a spy to find her traitorous brother because the actual secret agent wouldn’t be able to identify him.

    – Don’t send a dipshit ingenue across an ocean and through thousands of miles of uncharted wilderness with four metric tons of furniture carved with frolicking nymphs to a ranch in a state that won’t even be a state for another 60 years.

    – Don’t send telegrams to King George. ANY King George.

    – Don’t put a kilt on William Wallace.

    I have more, but you’ve heard them all already :-)

  25. leslie
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 09:57:15

    I agree with all everything said so far……
    The thing that drives me crazy is when authors screw up pop cultural references. Cruise in a novel mentions over and over Celeste Holmes as being in the Philadelphia Story when she was in the musical version High Society. Or an author I read lately spelled Stephen Stills as Steven.
    In historicals it’s the lack of research.
    My biggest pet peeve in contemporary romances is having a hero/heroine who can’t cook, especially the heroine. Any idiot who can read can learn simple basics and prepare a meal. It makes me crazy, but all the best authors do it!

  26. cbackson
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 09:57:41

    I’m a former private equity wife, so the current crop of books in which the hero is a 25-year-old billionaire are unreadable to me. Mark Zuckerberg aside, unless you inherited your money, the ultrawealthy are still at Harvard Business School at 25. Think 35 or 40, not 25 or 30. Also, no, in the 21st century, if you’re young, you made that money in finance or in tech, not as a real estate developer or an industrialist (I’m looking at you, dude from “Bared to You”).

    Honestly, everything from the heroes’ work hours (you don’t leave work at 5 PM for a gym session with your girlfriend – think 4 AM pre-dawn workouts with a personal trainer) to the fact that there’s never a scene in which the hero and heroine have a throwdown fight about the fact that he took a call during sex (yes, this happens) or answered email throughout a romantic dinner (this happens pretty much all the time) leaves me eye-rolling.

  27. Nathalie T
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 10:00:39

    My biggest pet peeve is lack of research. I’m interested in history these days I’m very careful when I buy historical romance. I can’t read a book with a completly unbeleavable plot. It just doesn’t work for me.

  28. Isobel Carr
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 10:06:31

    However, the fact that it is a cultural issue can make it feel like a substantial lapse in both knowledge and respect for someone who understands or is part of the culture

    This. OMG, THIS!!! It feels so disrespectful to the culture, to history, to readers (and insulting to fellow authors).

    And if you write, how do you approach your world building, and how does it rate in comparison to the emotional journey of the characters?

    I approach world building the same what I approach historical re-enacting. The minutia of everyday life is extremely important. So is understanding the social mores of the time, and cultural, and class of people you’re writing about. This stuff is foundational. As a writer, I want to make my story bend to history, not the other way round. And yes, this can be a challenge, but that challenge is the very REASON I write historicals. If I toss out or ignore anything that that throws up an inconvenient roadblock, then I’m failing at the main challenge of my genre.

  29. Jeannie Lin
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 10:08:06

    Just a bit of a side-track:
    The comments about sports misrepresentations are making me smile because I remember my Communications professor asking us in one lecture who in a newscasting team needs to be an bona-fide authority. Several people guessed the weather person, thinking they had to have a meteorological background. “Hell, no!” he said. “You’re going to be wrong occasionally about the weather. It’s expected.” As you may guess, he argued that the sports guy was the one team member who had to seriously know their stuff and have some street cred, otherwise the entire newscast loses credibility.

    I don’t know if he was just being anecdotal or whether this is actually institutional, but listening to the conversation here, I can see how sports faux pas would be less tolerated that other cultural misappropriations. :)

  30. Laila
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 10:08:45

    Really interesting discussion going on here.

    As a reader I have to admit I am mostly pretty over getting annoyed. I’m German, and you basically can’t find American movies, series or books that get German backstory or German characters right. Many go so far as to think our history is up for unresearched grabs like the atrocious and insulting Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (which was called an outrage by most Jewish counsels here) etc.
    You get used to it, really, and so smaller things hardly bother me. I mean I used to point out that in medical tv shows everybody always does cpr on a bed without putting a hard surface under the body etc. but, like I said, you get used to it in the end.

    Unless it is something so ludicrous that the plot would have turned out differently, I am not too bothered anymore. I find plot holes and stale dialogue much more difficult to deal with.

    As a writer, I try to do my due diligence. As I said, I am German, but not all my novels take place there. Some in England, some in America, some in imaginary fantasy realms – but as people pointed out above — for real life city scenarios a local beta reader is pretty much necessary. But then I also spent hours on google maps and zoom in until I can “walk” the same streets my characters walk down. That helps.

  31. Scarlett Parrish
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 10:10:29

    I’ve never read Scottish dialogue written well by a non-Scottish author; particularly when it comes to American writers. They always seem to go overboard with the “Och aye!” and “Jings!”

    No, we don’t speak like that. Honestly. We don’t.

    It comes across as ignorant at best, patronising at worst.

  32. LeeF
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 10:18:40

    I really didn’t think I had much of a pet peeve until I started reading everyone’s responses. Mine would also be based on my profession- I am a Medical Technologist and have worked in hospital laboratories for 30+ years- and on others who work in ancillary fields (radiology, respiratory therapy, etc).

    So often when a doctor/nurse/hospital storyline is used, the laboratory, for example, is mentioned as “holding up that work” or someone gets on the phone to find out “what are they doing down there- we ordered that lab an hour ago”- such wonderfully negative and condescending stereotypes. I remember this specifically in Linda Howard’s Kiss and Tell, a favorite of mine.

    My personal favorite is the doctor/nurse performing lab work or some other function that generally would not be in their skill set. Maybe draw blood but take it to the lab and know what to do with it- probably not. Television has more of a problem with this than books (since we are so rarely characterized in books)- one of my favorite memories from a good medical show showed a doctor dashing into the blood bank, pulling units of blood off the refrigerator shelf and dashing back to the ER to save a life- LMAO.

  33. hapax
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 10:44:55

    I typed in a long comment an hour ago and I don’t see it. It’s not that it was all that interesting, I’m just wondering if it got eated?

    (Our online access has been having problems, and I’m trying to figure out how far it goes)

  34. Kelly
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 10:52:39

    @hapax: I didn’t see it on the back end, so I’m guessing it’s gone – sorry.

  35. Patricia Eimer
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 11:04:35

    My pet peeve? Very special names. Anytime I pick up a book and the characters have these really out there names with weird spellings just to show you how special they are it’s an immediate put down for me. After a dozen Chances, Jayces, Dangers, Dakotas, ect. I long to have a romance with a hero named Bob.

  36. Lammie
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 11:05:19

    I recently read a romance where the heroine was a female figure skater, and there was casual mention of her doing triple Axels. This is something very rare for a female figure skater to do dependably, and it pulled me out of the story – it was obvious it was just a jump name the author was familiar with, but how she used it was wrong. The author also had the skater gluing good luck charms to the bottom of her skating boot – not very likely, as it would affect how she jumped, and could also come off, land on the ice, and cause any skaters on the ice serious trouble. I still enjoyed the story, but I had to kind of tell my brain to ignore the figure skating details in order to do so. I know nothing about MMA fighting, so I could appreciate the hero worry free.

  37. hapax
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 11:05:52

    Grrr. Thanks, I guess I have to confab again with our IT guy.

    Anyways, the gist of my comment was my biggest problem is with historicals, especially medievals. I don’t care so much about the authentic details of dress or food — I mean, it’s a bonus if the author gets the shoelaces right and I appreciate not serving potatoes in Europe in the tenth century — but the nigh-universal practice of putting twentieth (or twenty-first) century brains in people who supposedly lived almost a thousand years ago is a guaranteed wallbanger.

    No, people did NOT think “just like us.” It isn’t just a matter of factual knowledge or changing morals (although these are important) but actual patterns of thought, processes of reasoning, associations and priorities.

    In other words, Brother Cadfael needs to go back 1980’s Shropshire, where he came from.

  38. Nemo
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 11:08:14

    I’ve been on a rant about Middle English recently. I twitch when people talk about Romeo and Juliet being “old english” when it is, in fact, Modern English. Someone on the forums asked how the English language would develop after 800 years. Someone said it would be incomprehensible because it would be like talking to someone today from the 1200s and they’d be speaking Middle English.

    Except you can totally understand Middle English. Especially if you have someone speak it and write it at the same time. It’s like everyone just vaguely remembers Chaucer’s Prologue from high school and gives up.

    Also armchair anthropology/psychology. Multiple Personality disorder (now Dissociative Identity Disorder) is heavily debated as to whether it’s a real thing or not. It’s also not schizophrenia. Not all native cultures are nature loving or cannibals. You can’t fix clinical depression with a few happy memories and sex. Stuttering is not caused by repressed feelings. Evolution does not work that way.

    Ice Age men did not go out and hunt mammoths. More than likely the women, elderly, and children gathered plants and small game.

    We do not use only 10% of our brain. We use it all. We usually only use 10% at a time. Who uses a good deal more than 10%? People with autism. It does not give them superpowers or telekinesis.

    I can usually ignore science mistakes. I pretend that the “black hole” in Star Trek 2009 was really a poorly understood worm hole.

  39. Mara
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 11:15:05

    If you’re willing to take such care with your plot, characterizations, and so on, why wouldn’t you take the same care with your setting and get the details of time and place correct? This seems so obvious, I’m still mystified when there’s even debate about it.

    If I picked up a novel full of world-building errors, I’d be returning the book, no matter the amount of adoring hype it received for the storytelling. I read to lose myself in another world and I can’t do that if you don’t get your details right.

  40. library addict
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 11:21:27

    As others have said, I’m willing ignore minor errors until they start piling up.

    As for my pet peeves, I do not usually enjoy reading books set in Las Vegas or in the casino/gambling industry because authors tend to get so many details wrong. Also, books set in real cities where I have lived when the author has so obviously never actually been there. Whereas hospital/medical stuff being wrong doesn’t bother me as much even when I know it’s wrong.

    This is where author voice really comes through or not. If a book is compelling I will continue to read despite the errors. If not…well it’s easier to nitpick.

  41. Cheryl
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 11:23:23

    I commented on a recent blog post about sport romances and admitted that I’m pretty tough on them based on my work background and all around love for sports. I read them expecting to see errors that others won’t recognize. But the one I came across a few weeks ago made me absolutely nuts. The author created what I’m sure she thought was a fictional team name for the hero’s hockey team. The problem… the “fictional” hockey team was the Dallas Mavericks. And if you know sports, you know the Dallas Mavericks are a very real NBA team. One quick Google search and the author would have learned this. Or maybe she did realize and didn’t care since the fictional team was hockey and the real team is basketball.

    I realize that authors and editors can’t search the internet for every little detail. If they did, books would never be completed. But a quick internet search for the obvious, well, I think it’s time well used.

  42. library addict
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 11:25:44

    Hmm, it says I’ve posted but my comment isn’t showing. I guess it went to join hapax’s…

  43. Janet
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 11:34:54

    @library addict I fished your comment out of the spam folder.

    @hapax no sign of yours (not even email notification). So sorry!

  44. Carolyne
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 11:42:38

    @Lynn M: I have to peep back up to second that. This is getting down to even more granular detail, but it’s like books that don’t understand Miami’s street numbering conventions, or how addresses relate to Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

    I edited a children’s book set in Chicago where the author used what I suspected was an implausible address. It didn’t take much effort to use Google street view and find her a street, exactly where she needed it to be, where new building construction had actually eliminated one of the building numbers. So there’s a bonus touch of fun in having art where the street is longer by one mysterious extra building (and since the series is about a weird supernatural side of the city, that works well). There’s so much technology available now, from consulting with folks in online forums to googling, there’s no reason not to make a little bit of extra effort. Grumble.

    I do give a lot of leeway to authors who have a nice disclaimer about having researched a city to the best of their ability. I’ve seen notes at the beginning of a book saying things like, “any discrepancies are my own, with apologies to the residents of such-and-such.” Not too self-effacing, but acknowledging that we’re all only human, and we’ve tried our best.

    This morning I started reading the sample chapters of a well-reviewed Regency where the men cuss like 21st-century sailors. I can’t say with 100% knowledge that no one used those particular words and phrases back then, but it’s put me right out of the story. Also the fact that the man’s valet was saying “eff” this or “effing” that to him every sentence. That would be a case where, even if the author has done her research on the cusswords, they just don’t work because they sound completely current. If they actually are the right vocabulary, I think it’d better to be a little wrong.

  45. DB Cooper
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 11:46:31

    @Jeannie Lin: nailed the word that’s in my head: authority.

    I had a professor who taught me that authority is an important component of the author’s voice. Now I was lucky enough to get the details convincingly right in more than a few assignments, but it wasn’t until a decade later that I finally understand what he meant.

    These days, I do some instruction in a very physical activity. People get hurt–it happens. But, if I let the students crowd around an incident, instead of having them keep eyes front, working on their own material, I no longer have a class (and the injured student no longer has the privacy to suffer/muster through it). If I panic, and call for an amublence at the first sign of something wince-worthy, I become the amature who allows dangerous things to happen and has never seen an injury before. Likewise if I engage in an argument with a student about why-this or why-not-that, I have become his or her peer.

    It’s not about a percentage, or a peeve, or even the small things* (in my mind, the small things are a sign that I’ve gotten it right, not the cause of it). It’s about me feeding you something I know, understand and handle better, and you trusting enough to swallow. If you see me making mistakes, if you see me tripping up, ignoring, arguing or bluffing my way forward, than I’m learning my way through–I’m still a student, and not the master you expected me to be.

    (and in the case of rabid cultural phenomenons, woe be tide the master whose readers know more than she)

  46. Carolyne
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 11:56:12


    No, people did NOT think “just like us.” It isn’t just a matter of factual knowledge or changing morals (although these are important) but actual patterns of thought, processes of reasoning, associations and priorities.

    That is my favourite thing about the books that get it right.

  47. Lindsay
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 12:03:27

    For me, one of the most glaring things in worldbuilding will be the complete absence of GLBT people — they don’t exist, the possibility of them doesn’t exist, they never existed, even if it’s set in our world or a slightly modified version. It doesn’t actually come up all that often (and there are plenty of authors who allude to it or even flat-out embrace it and that is wonderful, Julia Quinn’s latest book made me so happy) but in some PNR/UF books it feels like it gets very glaringly omitted as a possibility, meanwhile an insta-love mating bond between one woman and three men is totally fine (as long as the boys don’t get aroused by each other or touch each other, ever).

    Vivian Arend’s answer to wolf-mating-bond — a cat who says “Well some of us TALK about this kind of thing, and then USE OUR BRAINS to decide” — in Cat Nip killed me, so sometimes it’s also nice to have someone just break through some tropes while still embracing them.

    Other annoyances tend to be involving animals, especially horses (no, your horse isn’t going to sit there while you run off to rescue someone, my horse was an ex-police horse who was discharged because even with all his training he’d wander away and sample the local flower boxes), but also children who are perfect little plot moppets without a tantrum or screaming fit to be found no matter what’s going on around them. I’d rather see a hero reduced to a jibbering mess trying to deal with their first toddler tantrum than have him whisper a few sweet words and have a kid cooing and happy immediately.

  48. Annamal
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 12:08:29

    Any use of native populations anywhere as exotic or other (especially names…I’ve never come closer to yelling at my tv than when Jon Stewart spent 4 consecutive nights making fun of a Samoan name).

    Anytime authors forget that what seems strange and exotic to them is perfectly normal and hundrum to everyone else.

  49. Tina
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 12:08:29


    re: The Middle English thing. This makes me giggle because I have become a big fan of the tv show Sleepy Hollow and one of the episodes had Crane & Abbie (the two main characters) stumble across a boy who is from the lost colony of Roanoke and he spoke Middle English. Well the Internets went nuts because of course denizens of the lost colony would have spoken Modern English, not middle. Me, rube, that I am was all…oh cool. My husband, scholar that he is was all…lame!

    Anyway, one of the (many) reasons I can’t read NA is because of the setting that takes place on college campuses. My entire adult life has been spent working for various colleges around the country. No matter where you go in the US, no matter how big or small, no matter what specific institutional cultural differences there are in each school…there are some universal truths about US Higher Education, Higher Ed. administration, privacy laws, social norms, institutional politics etc that are the same everywhere. Especially when it comes to brick and mortar accredited institutions. That said, I thought Tamarra Weber in her book ‘Easy’ came the closest to getting it right in both the quirks of residential on-campus living as well as the often more esoteric nuances that come along with getting a degree music performance.

  50. JJPP
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 12:09:47

    @Carolyne: Carolyne, I don’t think I’ve ever read a romance that takes place in Ancient Rome! This is off topic, but are there any you’d really recommend? That sounds like fun.

  51. cbackson
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 12:10:16

    @susan: Twilight actually really made me giggle for this reason – every time Bella’s dad just popped over to lend a hand to the Kitsap County sheriff, I realized that Stephenie Meyer clearly hadn’t processed the geographic realities of the Olympic Peninsula (see also: Forks is fairly dry compared to the rest of the Olympic, and generally isn’t heavily forested – the area it’s located in is actually known as the Quileute Prairie).

  52. cbackson
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 12:10:46

    @Tina: Ha, I had exactly your dad’s reaction.

  53. Annamal
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 12:13:07

    Oh and anytime any author writes about Fiji as a simple paradise or idyllic.

    It has been through a number of coups in my lifetime and is currently a military dictatorship.

    Doesn’t mean that the people and scenery aren’t lovely but ignoring the ethnic tensions caused by colonialism and forced servitude is bad. My friends’ cousin was killed during the unrest 3 coups ago…

  54. Julia
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 12:27:17

    This is a really interesting conversation! I’m with the several people who have mentioned horses – been around them so long that mistakes jump out without me looking for them. But I also realize that different disciplines do things differently, and even the same discipline on different coasts can be pretty different so I try to give some leeway.

    For me the biggest thing is little details that don’t work within the world. I read a book where a character apparently kept a phone charger in his coat pocket at all times. That really threw me off because I can’t imagine anyone doing that. And it was only mentioned when it became convenient for the plot. It felt like the author was making up details as they went, and I lost a lot of faith in the book.

  55. Kate Pearce
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 12:34:41

    Despite having lived in the USA for 15 years I really struggle with writing contemporary American romances and when I do, I have to get a lot of beta readers to make sure I don’t use expressions or Britishisms that I’m unaware of.

    I sometimes do the same thing for authors who are writing British characters both contemporary and historical. It’s incredibly difficult, maybe even impossible to explain the complexity and depth of the British class system, the zeroing in on an accent. a tone of voice, a first name that doesn’t ring true. It’s something we Brits are born into and understand and it would be like me trying to understand college football. Our history is all around us, still relevant in some ways (look at the monarchy) and not something to be used and abused in order to make a plot point work.

    So as a writer, I do my best to get things right wherever I set my books. I’m sure I’m not perfect but I do my best. I’m also sure that American readers can pick up that I’m not American as easily as I can pick out which authors aren’t British.

  56. Max
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 12:50:12


    As a practicing physician in ICU and the OR’s with a history of working in remote locations as a family doctor and emergency physician, I agree with Lynn. I become quite annoyed at stories that involve nurses, paramedics, or physicians and patients suffering ailments or injuries since they are rarely written correctly or close to factual medicine.

    I think finding a beta – especially for those authors that write in medicine, law, or military – would easily improve books that involve those topics in romance.

  57. Isobel Carr
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 12:55:20

    @Kate Pearce:

    I’m also sure that American readers can pick up that I’m not American as easily as I can pick out which authors aren’t British.

    Biggest compliment I ever got was a ranty email from a reader in England who’d been all pleased to fine a “real” English romance author until she read my bio at the end of the book and discovered I was from California, LOL! I have no idea why she took the time to write me said ranty email, but I sure loved getting it.

  58. Leigh
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 12:56:44

    I read an MM boxing romance not too long ago where the characters lived somewhere in LA – it was never specifically named. There was a boxing event in Hollywood and they got a hotel for the night. Okay, I can believe that. Maybe they would be too tired to drive home after the bout. But then it took them until ten PM the next day to drive from the Hollywood hotel back to home in LA. Even if the hotel had a noon check out, that’s ten hours of driving. You could make it to San Francisco! I mean, I know LA traffic is bad, but come on.

    The story had many, many other problems, but that’s the one that completely killed it for me.

  59. Isobel Carr
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 12:59:37

    @Tina: The Middle English thing drove me nuts. Also, the idea that Crane would know about the lost colony but a girl raised on the East Coast wouldn’t? It’s foundational birth of the nation 101. I’m waaaaay out in California and we covered that in grade school. And it’s in TONS of mysteries and horror stories. I gave up worrying about historical accuracy after getting one look at his shirt though. I’m just along for the ride (and loving the dialogue).

  60. Emma
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 12:59:44

    As many have said, I only get bothered by errors if there are lots of them. Now that I’m writing myself, I think I’ve become more forgiving.

    My personal pet peeve is when characters in historicals either exist in a world without any culture (no books, no music, no art, and no religion) and/or when they’re reading things that don’t make any sense. For example, I read a histrom set in the late 19th C Britain that included a reference to Moby-Dick. In terms of publishing history this was possible, but Moby-Dick sold only a few thousand copies before going out of print. There’s almost no way that someone in that period in that place would have known Melville–pretty much nobody did in the 1890s. It’s such a nit-pick I know, but it really shook me out of the text.

  61. Reba
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 13:43:09

    Do not write about guns if you have never actually fired a gun. Seriously. Just don’t. And whatever you do, do not base your understanding of guns off of visual media. Most movies and films get it wrong. They have to. Actual gun use – and more specifically, gun violence – is not all that pretty or sexy. (It is, however, super fun and cool and exciting to shoot guns at a firing range, and if you’re a woman, men may offer you their guns so you can see how great theirs are compared to the one you’re using. Maybe they do this for guys, too. I don’t know.)

    It takes an extremely deft hand for me to be able to read a written accent. I will accept the regional phrasing, but mostly all you have to do is tell me where they’re from and I’ll fill in the sounds. If I am not familiar with an area, there are you tube videos that will give me a sense of the accent. What matters more, to me, is the cadence. If you get that wrong, you can’t convince me your character is from New Orleans/New York/Sioux City, etc. You can probably fool me regarding European accents and cadence, but I’ve traveled extensively in the contiguous U.S., and I listen intently to speech patterns, as I find them fascinating. At the very least, have a native of your story’s setting read through to make sure you aren’t butchering the local dialect.

    Also, and this is just my preference, if your hero is a monster (god, mythological figure, etc.), accept that s/he is a monster – with all the consequences and implications – or don’t make them one. There are other ways to build character.

    As for my own writing, well, that’s how I figured out that you shouldn’t write gun stories if you don’t shoot. I had no idea how it felt to fire a handgun, much less one too big for your hands. My husband bought me lessons, so I could keep writing my story, and my friend’s husband takes me to the range, so I don’t forget the basics. And I still flinch at flying casings.

    I wrote a shape-shifter novel, and one of my beta readers corrected my animal behavior pieces, as well as clued me into the realities of mountain life: where the tree line ends, how to move in winter as opposed to spring, the many, many ways to die, and the fact that cell service is almost non-existent in certain areas. Most of that isn’t actually in the book, but I needed to know it in order to understand the world my characters moved in and make it real for readers, too.

  62. Tina
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 13:51:52

    @Isobel Carr:

    The show is so nuts with two fantastic leads that my mantra is just…go with it.

    During the pilot my husband was offended that the Headless Horseman started using an automatic weapon. My response was:

    “Oh, so you have no problem with the fact that he is headless and can precision behead people with his axe and unerringly find his way around town tracking his enemy. Yet the fact that he picked up a gun is ‘unbelievable’?”

  63. Billie
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 14:34:16

    How many times do people have to be told y’all is not used when addressing one person. It means, you all. It has to be used for 2 or more people. In most books written about the south, authors use this term to show they know how we speak. It only shows they don’t. I was reading a book, just last night, that used the term, once again, incorrectly. I almost stopped reading. So one more time, y’all is ONLY USED when more than one person is included in the conversation. How hard is that?

  64. Charming Euphemism
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 14:51:38

    As several people have alluded to above, I get especially annoyed when the mistakes would have been easy to catch with a halfway competent beta reader. This is the internet age and there is no excuse for not rounding up someone who knows an area or a cooking style or a sport to read those parts of your book and make sure the details are right.

    A recent disappointment of mine was The Last Day of Summer by J.F. Smith. I liked the story, but I spotted at least five baseball mistakes – and I am not an expert; I just like baseball. This author should have asked someone who likes baseball to read the baseball parts of the story – how hard is that?

  65. Cheryl
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 14:55:44

    @Billie: And if the collective “you” equates to more than five people, that’s a good time to use “all y’all”. lol

  66. Interrobanged
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 15:05:38

    Oh man. There are so many.

    I am a lawyer (civil litigation), so I can barely read stories involving other lawyers. Even stories written by former practicing lawyers either gloss over stuff or just get it plain wrong (for my jurisdiction, at least…). It pulls me immediately out of the story when I read something ridiculous that totally violates the rules of evidence. Argh.

    Grammatical tics irk the hell out of me. Nalini Singh is a good example of this. Where the hell is that woman’s copy editor? She uses the passive voice constantly and could really clean up her writing through the proper use of possessives and reduction of unnecessary repetition in her sentence structure.

    Mistakes in cooking also bother me. I am a huge cook and baker, and when I see inaccuracies or it’s clear the author knows nothing about cooking it is an immediate turn off. And, finally, since I am the daughter of two doctors, medical inaccuracies also bug me.

    For me, the issue is why you would ever choose to write about a specific profession or thing that requires expertise if you don’t have the requisite expertise? There are lots of things about which I know nothing. I wouldn’t choose to write about them and just imagine what those professions or situations are like. I feel like it’s insulting to readers to just assume you know how a lawyer practices because you obsessively watch Law & Order: SVU.

  67. farmwifetwo
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 15:11:22

    A couple of Robyn Carr’s ago our heroine badly busted her ankle, bounced up and down stairs and managed to cook dinner for 40 a few days later on crutches. I slammed it. 4 yrs ago I got a 3″ shrapnel hole in my right shin. It took 12 days for me to master the stairs and my mother to go home.

    Then there’s those that put in ASD characters…. I’m not kind there either.

  68. cleo
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 15:47:21

    I’ve been nodding my head a lot reading the comments. I get annoyed by inaccuracies in things I know about – particularly in higher Ed (I’m with Tina, I work in higher ed and I cannot read NA) and art and design. OMG, do visual artists in romance do eye roll inducing things, like painting a mural without making any sketches or um, getting the design ok’d by the (super hot) client. Or getting a gallery show on short notice, when every gallery I’ve ever heard of schedules their shows one to two years in advance.

    I can usually suspend disbelief for one or two errors, and then I slide into hulk smash rage. And I’m much less forgiving of errors about places I live or have lived. Although, sometimes I will react differently depending on my level of author trust. In Heidi Cullinan / Marie Sexton’s collaboration set in Chicago, there’s a reference to a city councilor, instead of an alderman. If I didn’t know the authors, I probably wouldn’t have read any further. But I let it slide for them.

    I second the invisibility of LGBTQ characters. That’s something that I often can let slide, but it really bothers me in the Psy/Changeling series. It’s set in No Cal and there are almost no queer characters?! I don’t care how alternate the history, I just don’t buy it.

  69. hapax
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 15:49:09


    So one more time, y’all is ONLY USED when more than one person is included in the conversation. How hard is that?

    Hmm. As another daughter of the South, I would respectfully differ. One can use the singular “y’all” but it carries specific subtle connotations: e.g., “Y’all think you can keep me from that ice cream?” implies “You and what army, pal?”

    But it’s like the “Bless your heart” expression, which usually implies sarcastic condescension, but can mean approval or concern or even warmhearted affection.

    Which, once again, is why one shouldn’t try to set a story or character in an unfamiliar culture without doing the research.

  70. Carolyne
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 16:05:42

    @JJPP: I really wish I could recommend some. There are non-romances set in the ancient world that I adore, but in Romance I’ve been disappointed, whether it’s f/m, ye olde potboilers, or m/m. Even the ones I’d say are OK are hard to recommend, because I think I only like them because I haven’t found much else on offer.

    Lindsey Davis’s Falco mystery series and her standalone The Course of Honour each involve a romance–in Falco it’s ongoing throughout the series, and it takes several books for the couple to resolve their differences in class and background. I think the author slips up with anachronisms here and there (nobody’s perfect) and the first book feels kind of unpolished, BUT: overall, I love spending time in her Rome and I enjoy rereading the books (especially the one with the dinner party where the only thing they have is a fish that’s too large to fit in a pan so they…well, you had to be there :) ). The books are quirky with a wry sense of humour, and once the relationship gets moving, I just plain adore the main couple, and all their boisterous and no-good family and in-laws. It’s written in the hero’s 1st-person POV.

    I aspire to write ancient romances that get it right. DA will be the first to know if I ever achieve this….


    @Leigh: Omigosh! Like the book where it takes the couple three days to drive from NYC to New Hampshire, so that they’re forced to stay in seedy motels overnight (and therein fall in luv). I was so stunned I had to make sure the author wasn’t from anywhere in the US (I mean, it takes a long time to get across TX, but still…). And even so…there’s Google.

  71. Jenny
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 16:27:40

    I think as a rule, I am pretty forgiving as far as inaccuracies, especially in historical romances. Unless something is WAY off base I can forgive it. Geographical errors are my only real pet peeve as far as research goes because that is so very easy to look up. It just makes me think the writer is too lazy to put in the effort.

  72. Nicole
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 16:30:17

    I tend to cringe whenever I read that a character is a librarian, works in a library, or has to interact significantly with any library staff. What? The librarian in the large public library is checking out all the books? The librarian? Okay. Sure.

    I get it, most people aren’t librarians or library employees. But why wouldn’t anybody writing about a library take the time to learn about what he or she was describing? For me, the issue here isn’t inaccessibility, it’s what ends up feeling to me like laziness or over-reliance on the author’s grasp of whatever setting is being butchered.

  73. Isobel Carr
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 16:52:01

    @Jenny: Geography errors can be SOOOOO irritating. I hesitate to read stuff set in the Bay Area unless I know the author is a local. Christopher Moore’s BLOOD SUCKING FIENDS opens with the fog rolling INTO San Francisco from the bay. I literally chucked the book. That’s something so basic any tourist who’s ever been here would know it was wrong (and Moore supposedly lived here at some point; clearly not a very observant man).

  74. Lynn S.
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 17:03:26

    First off, I apparently need to check out Sleepy Hollow.

    Now, for a few of the things that made me smile or frown, depending on the book:

    -A Greek hero who suddenly exclaims in Italian.

    -A heroine whose baking skills unintentionally approximate those of Ellie Mae Clampett.

    -A heroine who is from Arkansas in Chapter One and Alabama in the Epilogue.

    -A hero who would die before hurting his beloved and then proceeds to have sex with her up against a brick wall.

    But remember, it is fiction and, at its best, is about truths even if the book itself contains not one mote of accuracy. When it works, it is more about confidence than authority and is just as inexplicable as that song now stuck in my ear.

  75. MissE
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 17:47:59

    I’ve always wanted to write to Harlequin just to ask if they even understand the idea of masculine v feminine last names for their characters. Presents consistently has Greek male characters with names like Dimopoulou or Markopoulou. Those would be the feminine forms and it drives me nuts. And of course, it’s not just the Greeks who do this with names. Please stop.

    And God those Jill Shalvis baseball books made me want to throw things. She has the hero go on the DL for just one day. The fact that I can still remember the ridiculousness of the details years after reading them just shows how much it killed me to read it.

  76. cecilia
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 17:48:59


    I was reminded by one of your points of this video:

    A Canadian version of the dipshit ingenue going west: With a piano. In a canoe.

    True facts.

  77. Larissa Ione
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 18:04:58

    @Billie: Well…it depends on where you’re from. When I lived in Mississippi, in the area where I lived, people used y’all singularly and “all y’all” to refer to two or more people. My Texan in-laws did that too…they were from the Stephenville area. I really think the plural y’all thing is very regional. That said, when I use it in books, I use y’all in the plural sense because I think that way is the most common, and I don’t like angry emails. :)

  78. Larissa Ione
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 18:06:19

    @Tina: Ha! I had the EXACT same argument with my husband! Pretty much to the letter.

  79. Teresa C
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 18:19:34

    It is the little things you don’t know, that you don’t even think of questioning your own knowledge about, that will trip you up as an author.
    Evidently, my pet peeve involves EMT/Paramedic actions. No, an EMT isn’t going to put in a couple of stitches “to stop the bleeding” on the way to the hospital. No, an EMT isn’t going to set a broken arm, and give the patient narcotics as he is signed out AMA. Not going to happen.
    Then, when that incorrect action forwards the plot? Unhappy reader.
    Everytime I read a scene like that, I stop and ask, did they really just do that? In what country is that normal procedure? Totally not the effect you were going for, Dear Author.

  80. Megaera
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 19:22:56

    @Amanda — oh, yes. I hate it when authors assume the reader knows arcane details and words and doesn’t bother to explain them. To the point where I get ticked off when now long-dead authors sprinkle untranslated bits of foreign languages into their dialog without making it obvious what those phrases mean to non-speakers of those languages. I don’t really care that it was the norm for authors to do that back then — I want a damned footnote. But that’s more a publisher/editor issue than authorial, I suppose.

    My pet peeves, like almost everyone else’s, are the author not knowing as much as I do about subjects I care deeply about. And since I’m a professional dilettante, I’ve got a lot of those subjects [wry g]. One in particular that I simply cannot forget was geographical — Jennifer Greene once had a heroine go swimming at the Oregon coast. In April. Without a wetsuit. I almost come down with hypothermia myself just thinking about it.

    But this whole conversation reminds me of a paleontologist friend, with whom I once watched Jurassic Park. You haven’t lived till you’ve watched Jurassic Park with a paleontologist. We also went to see Kenneth Branagh’s film of Hamlet together. Right in the middle of the “how all occasions” soliloquy, which is set in front of a backdrop of a lovely mountain range in that particular version, Phil leaned over and whispered in my ear, “How’d he get to Norway?”

  81. Helen
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 19:26:58

    Fern Michaels had a story where the heroine was in a coma for something like 6 months. During that time she lost weight. When she came around from the coma she went home in a few days and then immediately starts running to keep in shape.
    I spent 3 weeks in hospital when I compressed a vertebra – I was conscious the whole time. When I was allowed out of bed I could barely walk in a straight line.
    I hated that book.

  82. Elise Logan
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 20:04:12

    @Kate Pearce:

    I’m tackling this right now – I’ve been doing mad research and hitting up all the British people I know (including my dad’s gf, who is British, and lovely Kate whom I bugged about uni). The uni system in Britain is crazy different from America, and further, Oxford and Cambridge are different yet again. So if I have a heroine who is British and aristocracy and Oxford or Cambridge intellectual, I have a lot of balls to juggle. It’s making this book very slow going, and I’m going to be relying heavily on beta readers to fix what I break on this.

    As an author, I’m a fiend for research. For various stories I’ve delved into the complicated mess of the death of the Byzantine Empire and the corresponding flux in the Catholic Church mixed with Gutenberg Bibles all for one story, I’ve choked through forensic accounting (which totally isn’t my thing) for another, and done reams and reams of research in astrophysics/theoretical physics/space travel/etc. for my sci-fi stuff. I have lots of grad school under my belt, so research is an old friend. But I never feel like I’ve done ENOUGH for a book. I always feel like I will miss something.

    That said, my pet peeves as a reader are really showcased in romantic suspense/thriller stuff. By training I’m a terrorism expert. Really (which is why I do not write in that genre – too close). Which means that when I read about some elite team doing something that I know would never happen that way, it throws me right out of the book. Linda Howard’s Burn was a glaring case of this.

  83. JoanneF
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 20:05:03

    The geography one’s a biggie for me, too. People head west to go places that are to the east. It takes them 3 days (in contemporaries) to go 100 miles, or they’ll just pop over to visit someone who lives 500 miles away. Google is your friend if you want to know where something is. I think, like others here, that bugs me so much because it’s inexcusable. A few keystrokes and less than 5 minutes would get those details right.

    My other big pet peeve is characters – usually young heroines on their own for the first time – living far, far beyond their means. Whenever I read about a wide-eyed small-town girl from the country moving to Manhattan, struggling to pay the rent on her Greenwich Village apartment (where she lives alone) while working part-time as a waitress or at the makeup counter at Bloomingdale’s it makes me nuts. Ditto the poor folks with beachfront property on the Atlantic Ocean. Unless you have a sugar-daddy, are already rich, or inherited it (then the taxes would overwhelm your budget anyway), it’s just a fairy tale.

  84. persnickety
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 20:50:40

    It does depend on how well the author has sold me on their world building.

    Geography of a place I know- depends on how badly they screw up, and whether it furthers the plot- The protagonist entering the Louvre after hours through that glass pyramid (da vinci code)- rage inducing as there is a far better and discreet after hours access that I (not a worker at the Louvre) know about.
    Book set in Brisbane where they go to his beach house on the bay and sit on the sane and admire his sail boat – laughable. moreton bay has a mud shoreline (mangroves) – the islands may be sand (some) but since they drove to the beach house (also laughable) i think not.

    My other peeve is english historicals- the class distinctions, the food references, the traveling times. I can ignore some problems, but when the historical inaccuracies propel the plot- no more. What is irritating me more now is the fact that my husband, who gets his english history knowledge from tv (thanks Tudors) and romance novels tells me “facts” based on these sources. I have to politely correct him.
    For those writing in the late 18th century early 19th- I found Stella Tilyard’s “Aristocrats” an excellent book. Very thorough history of 4 aristocratic sisters involved in the politics of the period, marrying (and one does elope for love, so very good period reaction). One sister who marries an Anglo-Irish lord, has 18 children and then runs off with the tutor, a mini education in the mores and political beliefs of the time- and all true!

  85. txvoodoo
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 21:29:30

    I just realized something – this Molly is a grad student, AND is inducted into a sorority? (in the most bass-akwards way ever, too).

    Err. No.

  86. Jamie Beck
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 21:37:33

    I absolutely love reading this thread. Lots of excellent points and passion. After reading it all, however, I realize I’m a fairly forgiving reader.

    I primarily read romance (all types). To me, the most important elements in a love story are characterization and motivation. If I fall for the characters (they are interesting/compelling for any reason) and believe in their motivations and the way they fall for each other and overcome whatever obstacles stand between them and love, then I’m willing to overlook the “mistakes” of setting/professions/etc. to a large degree (unless those are simply outrageously implausible…like the 27 year old billionaires who leave work at 5, etc.). Thus, my pet peeve is really all about whether or not I believe what the characters do and say. That’s what will either suck me in or pull me out of a story most.

    Sometimes I also feel like it is necessary for an author to fudge certain professional details for dramatic effect. If the story involves a hero/heroine who are opposing counsel on a case, I really don’t want or care about the wholly accurate portrayal of the pretrial prep or courtroom scenes. In fact, it would be nearly impossible (given the average length of time/years between filing suit and a trial) and quite dry! As long as there is some attempt made at accuracy, I’m usually satisfied.

    Now, if I don’t like the characters or believe in their love story/motivation, then those other mistakes really annoy me too.

    As a writer, I rely on my own experiences, online research, personal interviews (when possible), and familiar settings (places I’ve been to or lived in). Still, I’m sure I make mistakes. I think some people are better at research than others (know which questions to ask), or have more access (whether due to free time, money, contacts) to certain information. Recently I’ve been trying to get accurate but basic info about the audition process for reality TV host jobs and, so far, can’t get anyone to return my calls despite help from people tangentially involved in the TV/movie business. At this rate, I’m probably going to have to rely on what I’ve been able to find online (which isn’t great), what I’ve heard/seen in other media outlets, and my own imagination/common sense. Not ideal. I’m sure it won’t be completely accurate (unless any of you can lead me to a good source!) ;-) LOL

    But this experience also makes me a little less critical of other writer’s errors. I do believe many, like me, try to get it right (even when they fail). Maybe I’m naive.

  87. Nicole
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 21:45:46

    It kills me is when contemporary books set in New York City feature characters who phone for cab pickups. Oh really? Maybe the TLC made an exemption for this one family of exceptionally good-looking people, but the rest of us either have to hail a cab, fire up Uber, or call for traditional car service. This is not a new thing, and yet authors situated elsewhere keep making this error.

    Another thing that I find annoying is conversation that is clearly wrong for the given setting. Anachronisms and words that are not usually used in the given locale are the most common instances of this. I just read a book by a British author that is set in the US. The characters were all 100% American. The dialog was 85% British English. I believe that she tried, but I find it hard to believe that any Americans (who aren’t her friends or family) read this novel prior to its publication. I actually enjoyed the book, but so much of the dialog pulled me out of the story. I couldn’t figure out why she didn’t just change the story around to achieve setting-dialog harmony.

  88. txvoodoo
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 21:47:52

    @Jamie Beck: I hear ya on this. I’m not a writer, just a reader. (No deprecation intended with the “just”! :D)

    I try to be generous, but it really depends on the level and frequency of errors in a book. Something really egregious can take me right out of it, much to my dismay. And repeated ones, even if they’re small, make me start going all OCD on a text, wishing I could fix every one. I might still finish the book, but in all likelihood, it won’t end up being one of my favorites, and I’ll be cautious with that author in the future.

    The situation you mention – researching the process of a tv host interviewing – probably won’t engender much world-departing, if only because so few people have that experience or know much about it, as you’re finding out! But something that is part of day-to-day life for a large number of people would do it.

  89. Marguerite Kaye
    Nov 06, 2013 @ 02:09:04

    @Scarlett Parrish:

    YES! Totally agree. I can’t read books with Scottish heroes because of that. I know we haven’t a clue how a Scot would really speak in a historical. I’ve just written a Glasgow shipbuilder in 1837. I used colloquial words and phrases, and then explained it in my historical note. But he doesn’t say ‘och’ or ‘bairnie’ or ‘jings’ . And we never say ‘gotten’. Not ever.

  90. KarenH.
    Nov 06, 2013 @ 02:54:51

    Geography gets me, too. I live in the Baltimore/DC corridor, and I’ve read some hilarious doozies from people who have clearly never been anywhere near the Mid-Atlantic.

    –Evil spy master driving SOUTH from the Pentagon to arrive at NSA (in Maryland).

    –Same evil spy master creating a vast secret lair… the “wilderness” just south of the Capital Beltway in northern Virginia. (I kept wondering if the park service knew he’d taken over Mt. Vernon). Not to mention the isolated back country roads he traveled to get there.

    Then there’s the whole thing about spying and spy agencies in general. Authors should have at least a working knowledge of the mission/skillsets/jobs that the various agencies use. NSA is not a clone of the CIA. If you’re going to write about NSA, ditch the sexy dudes with guns trope; you’re looking for the sexy mathematicians and electrical engineers trope.

  91. Nicole M
    Nov 06, 2013 @ 07:23:05

    I’m Australian rather than English but I do have a history degree and have read many of the great 19th century English novels, and I hardly ever feel than an American author of historical romance has any kind of feel for the chosen time period (whether Regency or Victorian) at all.

    Characters have ridiculously implausible names and use anachronistic dialogue (not only obviously modern expressions but also words that were not invented or used in that context until much later). The size of the average aristocratic fortune or even the price of a pair of gloves is wildly exaggerated. And as has been mentioned above, characters just don’t think with a 19th century mind.

    Unmarried women having carefree sex with no promise of marriage but the risk of pregnancy and ruin, or turning down perfectly nice men with large fortunes to face penury instead, when the only goal of a gentlewoman’s life was to marry well. Being chummy with the servants and kind to street urchins… basically behaving like 21st century Americans playing dress up.

    And there really is no excuse for not getting titles correct. I once ran an experiment after encountering such an error in the first paragraph of a book. It was quite a technical experiment… I googled ‘Aristocratic titles’ and got a clear and simple explanation of everything in about five minutes of reading. The system is really not hard to comprehend.

    And finally, if anyone ever contemplates setting a contemporary novel in Australia, just don’t even attempt to include any Australian slang in your dialogue. It’s really annoying when characters sprinkle their conversation with words like ‘sheila’ and ‘cobber’ that I don’t think have been uttered in Australia since about 1955. Just remember that everyone here is fed a steady diet of American pop culture, and apart from sporting jargon we talk much like Americans really.

  92. Donna Thorland
    Nov 06, 2013 @ 10:46:30

    The emotional journey that I plan for my characters guides my research. If I’m writing about a woman who has been forced to sell everything of value, and she lives in a port town in 18th century America, and she’s being entertained by a friend who is still prosperous, then I try to figure out what possessions she might miss the most, and put those on the tea table, in the possession of the other woman.

  93. Isobel Carr
    Nov 06, 2013 @ 11:54:08

    @Marguerite Kaye: And we never say ‘gotten’. Not ever.

    The English did say this in the Georgian period though (just as they said “fall” for “autumn”). Americans kept it, the English didn’t. But I leave it out of my books because I think it would tick off English readers (and man, that was a huge fight with my editor!).

  94. Jinni
    Nov 06, 2013 @ 13:39:22

    @cbackson: THIS! I never talk about this because Americans never talk about money or class or these issues. But I know so many wealthy people (the kind who’ve earned their money), and I don’t know how in the hell they’d have time for romance. All but a few are actually married to their first wives anyway who virtually live alone.

    These men get up at the crack of dawn, go to bed late, travel all the damn time, were glued to their blackberries and now are glued to their iPhones, and work through vacations, no matter how remote the place.

    For this reason I’ve categorically refused to read any of these. I’ll take a nice middle-class hero with an undemanding job any day of the week.

    Even the blue collar ones are hard because the people I know with these jobs work a LOT of hours too, often six days a week if they’re not civil servants, and I don’t see how there’s so much time for all this calling, and texting, and romancing!

  95. Janine
    Nov 06, 2013 @ 14:12:29

    I was so busy yesterday that I forgot there would be an op-ed. I don’t have time to read the thread now but I look forward to reading it later.

    And if you write, how do you approach your world building, and how does it rate in comparison to the emotional journey of the characters?

    I’d rather answer this one than the reader one, because this is the harder one, the one I haven’t figured out for myself entirely. I definitely prioritize the emotional journey of the characters over everything else, including worldbuilding.

    The easy answer (and a true one) is that this is because the emotional journey is what I read for. Good worldbuilding makes a difference to me, but the characters’ emotional journey is what I pick up the books for, and I think that as distressing as bad worldbuilding can be, more readers will have their “fictional dream” (to use John Gardner’s apt phrase) punctured by a badly crafted emotional arc for the characters and their relationship than by poor worldbuilding.

    But there are thornier reasons for this as well. One is that researching is not a skill I’m good at, though I’m learning and growing in that arena. It can be frustrating for me (I once spent a whole workday on trying to figure out what kind of trees Hyde Park had in the late Victorian era, and wow, is it hard not to feel like you’ve wasted time when you don’t get to put words on the page), and I also don’t like asking other people for help, though I’m trying to get over that.

    By contrast, the characters’ emotional journey is what I love writing about. It’s the most enjoyable part of writing for me, and what makes a scene exciting, what hooks me both as reader and writer more than anything else. A complex emotional journey is a fascinating one. It is easier to write to one’s strengths than to develop one’s weaknesses.

    In addition, flexibility is necessary for accuracy. If I had a direction I planned to take the story, and I find out that it’s not possible due to an inaccuracy, then in order to be accurate I need to change directions. Sometimes it’s easy and simple, even rewarding, but at other times it isn’t.

    There are times when the story I need to write doesn’t feel entirely malleable, and when that’s the case, some of the ideas I have about the plot take confidence to let go of. It is hard to articulate but plot concepts can feel like security blankets. Writing with a great deal of flexibility and malleability is like taking a big dive in the air, and confidence is the net that needs to be there to catch me.

    I’ve grown a lot on that front in the past year or so but I still have room to grow. Confidence can be tricky to develop because as a writer, you have to go back and forth between driving ahead during drafting and critiquing yourself during revision.

    Anyway, what I’m describing above can sometime make research apprehension inducing, especially if I’ve lived with the characters for a long time and the change that needs to be made for accuracy’s sake seemingly threatens the characters’ journey. I get very attached to my characters and their journey, and changing an important aspect of that journey takes courage. Yes, courage.

    All of the above is to explain, rather than to justify, why I prioritize the characters’ journey above worldbuilding. Worldbuilding is important to me and I work at it– I understand that it’s important to readers as well as a valuable aspect of fiction writing.

  96. CathyKJ
    Nov 06, 2013 @ 14:54:53

    I try to be a forgiving reader, but some things I just can’t get past. I read a book a few years ago where the entire setup for the meet-cute was a doctor’s fellowship suddenly falling through. Except, the way it was presented in the book would never, ever happen. If it did, there would be so much hell from the national accrediting body that the offending program would invent a time machine to fix it rather than deal with the fallout. Most of the story was good, but I spent a fair amount of time yelling “that’s not how it works!” at my Kindle.

  97. Isobel Carr
    Nov 06, 2013 @ 15:39:52

    I definitely prioritize the emotional journey of the characters over everything else, including worldbuilding. …. I think that as distressing as bad worldbuilding can be, more readers will have their “fictional dream” punctured by a badly crafted emotional arc for the characters and their relationship than by poor worldbuilding.

    The problem with this, for me (and I may well be far from “most readers”), is that I will never GET to the emotional arc if the worldbuilding is poor.

  98. Janine
    Nov 06, 2013 @ 16:00:41

    @Isobel Carr: I hear you, and I don’t think you are alone. This is why all writers need to pay attention to worldbuilding, and not just the emotional arc.

    As a reader though, for me it’s the reverse of what it’s like for you– if the emotional arc doesn’t grab me, I’ll notice more worldbuilding problems and errors than I will if I am emotionally involved in the characters’ journey.

  99. txvoodoo
    Nov 06, 2013 @ 16:22:27


    As a reader, I need both. Maybe it’s my ADD, but even if I’m enjoying the emotional journey, if there are glaring worldbuilding areas, I can’t concentrate on the emotioins.

    It’s like as if you’re watching, say, “Pride & Prejudcie” and in every scene they have together, Mr Darcy and Lizzie have visible zippers on their garments. I’d keep staring at the zippers.

  100. Isobel Carr
    Nov 06, 2013 @ 16:39:07

    @txvoodoo: Brilliant analogy! Yes, totally that.

    A book with great worldbuilding but a boring emotional arc will also probably get DNF’d, but I might make it farther into the book than I would with a book that confronts me with worldbuilding errors early on.

  101. txvoodoo
    Nov 06, 2013 @ 16:55:50

    @Isobel Carr: Yup!! We need both! It isn’t easy, but that’s what makes a good reading experience.

    Which is one of the myriad reasons I’m a reader, not a writer. :D Although, I *love* doing research, so I should hire myself out for that and for beta nitpicking! :)

    (and holy crap, that previous post of mine was just FULL of typos! *cringe*)

  102. Janine
    Nov 06, 2013 @ 19:28:07

    @txvoodoo: First, I never said that we didn’t need both! I recognize that we do. But if forced to prioritize — not one in place of the other, but if, due to limited resources, you had to rank them — which order would you choose?

    I completely understand where you’re coming from because I’ve sometimes had that reaction to anachronisms that I pick up on. I remember complaining to friends about a popular historical a few years ago that the characters might as well go though a McDonalds’ drive-thru as far as I was concerned. With some poorly built worlds, I feel that it’s like reading a historical set on the moon.

    But then with others, I don’t feel that way. For example I enjoyed Julie Anne Long’s What I Did for a Duke, and Robin’s A- review of the book is linked to above. I can’t speak to why Robin liked it beyond what she said in the review but for me the reason I can enjoy it while being unable to enjoy some other anachronistic historicals has to do with the appeal of Long’s characters and their journey, as well as the appeal of her prose.

  103. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 06, 2013 @ 19:53:27

    @Isobel Carr: Only in very particular circumstances. I did a concordance of the word in the books of Jane Austen. In all her books, the word is used maybe half a dozen times, whereas the word “got” is used nearly two hundred times.
    No occurences in Fielding’s “Tom Jones.” But to the modern reader, especially outside the USA, “gotten” screams “American.”

  104. cleo
    Nov 06, 2013 @ 20:04:08

    @Janine – this is so interesting. As a reader, I think my priorities depend on the specific emotional arc and worldbuilding. I have different standards for different types of books. Generally I think I rank believable emotions first, unless the worldbuilding involves something that I know a lot about and have strong feelings about – like my hometown or my profession. A story that gets Chicago wrong has to have a pretty damn amazing emo arc to even sort of work for me.

    And sometimes the emotions and worldbuilding overlap for me. Frex – in a character with PTSD. I love a good recovering from trauma character arc, but since I know a lot about PTSD from personal experience, I’m not at all forgiving of authors who deal with it superfically or inaccurately or who use PTSD to add angst and then conveniently cure all the symptoms with lurve or great sex. It doesn’t work like that.

  105. Alk
    Nov 06, 2013 @ 20:10:12

    I work for the FBI in my second career and it has basically ruined any books that have anything to do with federal law enforcement or national security which were among my favorites. Julie James is one exception I will read because I love her writing. She does not get all of the details right (please none of the agents wear shoulder gun harnesses and no one except supervisors have their own offices) but I still read her books.

  106. CD
    Nov 06, 2013 @ 23:02:58

    This is a really interesting thread and has obviously struck a chord!

    On historical accuracy, my main issue is not so much the type of champagne flutes people used back in the 1820s (I honestly don’t know or care) but the “feel” of the period. And very VERY few romance writers get that right in the sense of being able to transport you to a different with different mores and attitudes. This is particularly when you have American writers who write historical set in the UK. It’s not so much the language (although that’s an issue – particularly in terms of speech patterns) but the attitudes – towards trade and class, individual freedom and responsibility, manners and hypocrisy.

    So yes, if I were to hold to the principle of only reading romances which had convincing world-building – I would only be able to enjoy a minuscule proportion of romance books out there. I would lose out, for one, on Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, Julie Anne Long, Mary Jo Putney and most especially Loretta Chase. And, you know, the vast majority of romance plots including my beloved amnesia trope. Not to mention dukes with six packs who perform cunnilingus like a pro. And who wants to do that?

    So there is a balance between world-building and the emotional journey. I’m a fantasy reader so world-building in romance when it’s done right makes me squeal with excitement [I love you Lynne Connolly!]. But when I read romance, I’ve learnt to deal with 21st century Americans in a parallel universes as long as they give me my hit of the warm fuzzies.

    When it comes to contemporaries, as most of them are set in the US, that’s kind of a fantasy world for me so yep, I can accept a lot because you Yanks do strange things and it’s weird over there with exotic sports and obscure rituals of behaviour. But set something in the UK and especially in London, and the claws come out. Set something in Oxbridge or the industries and countries that I have worked in, and I will be merciless in my mockery and snark unless you get everything perfect.

    So I think the title of this post should really be “Read what you don’t know”…

  107. txvoodoo
    Nov 06, 2013 @ 23:58:52

    @CD: Interesting! “Read what you don’t know” might be a good way to go, except…I *like* reading things that are set in situations/environments I already enjoy. Geeky programmer girl finds guy, a story set in Philadelphia (why aren’t there more?), South Florida, etc. :D And when I do, I want the authors to get it right!

  108. Gwen Hayes
    Nov 07, 2013 @ 00:41:21

    I’m just jumping in to represent other readers like me who aren’t as bothered by the inaccuracies. Maybe it’s because I grew up watching and loving soap operas and shows like L.A. Law…I kind of expect the implausible and for real world rules to get bent to suit a plot.

    Fiction, for me, is all made up worldbuilding…even if it’s based on reality. It’s reality seen through a lens of story. On TV, I’m fine with DNA results being available same day, with people not recognizing someone is pretty because she is wearing glasses and a ponytail as a disguise, with children who go to military school for three months and come back fourteen years older, so I’m okay with incorrect geography in books I read. It’s an escape.

    As a writer and editor..sure I’m going to try to get the facts right. Plus, it gives me excuses to buy more books and write them off as research. But as a reader, I try to turn all that off and enjoy the “wallpaper” of a hospital, courtroom, or sports setting.

    I’m not saying there is anything wrong with feeling the opposite of me…I’m just representing the other side of the discussion.

  109. Kaetrin
    Nov 07, 2013 @ 04:05:13

    I’m probably more forgiving of inaccuracies in historicals where I’m just as likely to not have a clue what I’m reading isn’t the way it actually was. What bugs me the most these days is inaccuracies in contemporary novels – where there are real, live people to ask and there is plenty of contemporaneous information easily available. When the world is supposed to be one I recognise and it isn’t, that will throw me out of a book faster than anything. It most often bothers me in romantic suspense. I expect some heightened reality in fiction but if it is not grounded in some real world building the author loses my trust and I’m not prepared to go the journey with her/him.

    I listened to a romantic suspense book a while back where the heroine had been in the Witness Protection program for 3 or more years. All of her aliases were very similar to her actual name, she remained an artist wherever she went, including having gallery shows, she had the same US Marshall handler who apparently followed her around to wherever she was relocated and also apparently *only* looked after her. And at the end, WitSec relocated her again so she would be able to avoid the media! If that’s how WitSec was actually run, none of their witnesses would be alive to testify.

  110. hapax
    Nov 07, 2013 @ 08:05:24


    But when I read romance, I’ve learnt to deal with 21st century Americans in a parallel universes as long as they give me my hit of the warm fuzzies.

    Hah! And now you’ve reminded me of a friend who says that whenever she watches a movie or television show set before the year 1900, once the actors open their mouths to display perfect teeth she tells herself, “Okay, parallel universe, just go with it.”

  111. Junne
    Nov 07, 2013 @ 08:29:17

    I’m a Moroccan woman, so I think I can pretty much forget about a romance portraying realistic Arab heroes ( fictional sheikhs don’t count) or heroines ( never read about one in my 12 years of reading romance novels). So it’s no longer a pet peeve to see that someone like me would never be the hero/heroine of its own book, because I’ve lost hope.

    However, what drives me crazy are the french protagonists speaking in either really old school French ( using words no modern frenchman/woman would ever use now) or glaring syntax errors. I’d rather they stuck to English.

  112. Isobel Carr
    Nov 07, 2013 @ 12:06:38

    @Lynne Connolly:

    But to the modern reader, especially outside the USA, “gotten” screams “American.”

    Which is why I don’t use it (if there are any occurrences, it means I was betrayed by a copy editor post galley!).

    @Junne: I’m not sure how high the fantasy element is, but Olivia Gates is Egyptian and until recently, lived in Cairo. Her books/characters might fit the bill.

  113. AlexaB
    Nov 07, 2013 @ 13:44:22

    I read for verisimilitude, not strict factual accuracy. When I want hard facts, I read non-fiction. When I want to explore how a 19th century person might have thought, I read primary sources. And even then I am aware that the works are subjective and come filtered via the writer’s biases and ulterior motives, whether conscious or unconscious.

    I read historical romances as fantasies, not strict historical records. Nor – as a former American expat who lived for many years in the UK – do I think geography has much to do with it. British writers such as Mary Balogh and Jo Beverley are just as guilty of featuring strong-willed, independent heroines who would be perfectly at home in the 21st century with a change of costume as are American historical writers. And that’s because they are all writing for a 21st century audience. Readers need to be able to identify with the characters and their predicaments or they will find something else to read. I also firmly believe that research is in the eyes of the individual writer, not their country of origin. You can’t tell me that just because Barbara Cartland was English and her daughter married into the peerage that Cartland’s novels are more “accurate” than, say, Courtney Milan’s…

    So to go back to Robin/Janet’s question: I care about verisimilitude. Did the author create a world with enough “truth” that I can buy into it, and if the author deviates from my general expectations for the time period/place/characters’ professions or stations in life, does the author provide enough explanation/motivation that I can suspend disbelief?

    For example, “Sweet Home” might have worked for me if Tillie Cole had used a fictional university and a fictional team. (Although she would have to work harder to explain why all the American students, at least in the sample I read, were white and financially secure – even the football players. And there is no excusable reason for not Googling the rules of NCAA football. There are 1.4 million results for a search on “proper address British peerage.” There are 501 million results for “how to play college football.”)

    When I read a historical romance, say Jo Beverley’s “My Lady Notorious,” in which the titled heroine becomes a highwayman and kidnaps a Lord – something that would NEVER have happened in real life – I will buy into it if in-story motivation for the deviation from the expected norm is given. In other words, yes, world building counts, but it doesn’t have to be 100% factually accurate – it just needs to give the appearance of plausibility and allow me to suspend disbelief.

    But if the author is going to make boneheaded, easily researched mistakes such as having a potential #1 draft pick QB throw a football into the stands during a game or putting a mini mall that sells Advil in central London, I will mock.

  114. Kaetrin
    Nov 07, 2013 @ 17:59:45

    @AlexaB: You’re quite right regarding Courtney Milan. I don’t see why a US writer can’t write a Regency set book that is historically accurate. I don’t think UK writers have the monopoly on it. Georgette Heyer was English and I believe there are historical errors in her books (or, at least, so I’ve been told).

  115. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 07, 2013 @ 18:46:17

    @Kaetrin: There are supposed to be 6 errors in 40 Regencies. Sigh. We should all strive for that. The two I can remember was a character having an unsigned marriage licence in his pocket (“The Reluctant Widow”) and when Alverstoke takes Felix to the wrong SoHo (the one in London instead of the one in Birmingham) in “Frederica.”
    It’s not where you live, it’s if you “get” the social nuances that make a book come alive. A lot of my contemporary romances are set in the USA, and I think I do a pretty decent job. Mind you, I have some wonderful beta readers and American editors. It’s amazing the little stuff that gets through. Mostly prepositions trip me up. And I visit the States regularly, so I have that good fortune, too.
    I wonder how many people there are like me who just don’t read historicals like they used to?

  116. Kaetrin
    Nov 07, 2013 @ 21:12:39

    @Lynne Connolly: That’s interesting Lynne. I haven’t actually read any Heyer (she intimidates me) but I have listened to 3 abridged audiobooks (Richard Armitage narrates: enough said). But I recall seeing posts and hearing from other readers the concept that some (many?) authors took their Regency “rules” from Heyer and thereby got it wrong as Heyer herself made stuff up. I don’t know any of that myself though – even if I’d read the books I’m not sure I would have picked any errors up anyway.

    I think locals have a certain advantage in writing about their own spaces but I agree, but that’s all it is, an advantage. Geographical disadvantage can be overcome by diligence and good beta readers and editors.

    Although I have read quite a few historicals set in Ochlassieland (TM Sunita?), I’ve never seen the word “jings” until this thread. I take it that it’s some kind of exclamation?

  117. Junne
    Nov 08, 2013 @ 04:56:23

    @Isobel Carr:

    Thanks Isobel for the rec, I’ve already read one or two books by Olivia Gates (Harlequin/Silhouette) but I didn’t notice major changes compared to other fantasyland sheikh books. I’ll be more careful in reading her in the future. But to be honest, I’m not blaming at all authors for writing books about sheikhs so far removed from the reality they are mere fantasy, because it’s really appealing ( and I’m myself partial to some desert lord love, at times).

    I just find it odd that there’s no arab heroine in romances. Maybe because of the whole religion thing? Maybe it’s too big an obstacle to overcome? Or maybe nobody wants to read about them.

  118. Lesley L
    Nov 08, 2013 @ 13:24:12

    My background has to do with computers so reading (and moreso in movies) anything having to do with computers and technology makes me go “uh oh” and I start to keep a mental note of how many things they’ve gotten wrong (time periods and development not withstanding).

  119. Lesley L
    Nov 08, 2013 @ 13:30:34

    I forgot to mention any sort of military romance. Although I’m more knowledgeable about the Army, I know plenty of people in the other services and sometimes when they get the little details about any servicemember incorrect I start frowning.

  120. Rachel
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 18:34:23

    For me, one of the best things about books in any genre is really good world building, whether it be something completely new for sci-fi/fantasy, or just a very strong and detailed sense of place for contemporary romance. We all have our specific thing that we know so much about, it’s easy to nitpick (for me, the inner workings of libraries, music and musicians), but I don’t think that means writers should only write what they know, otherwise every romance heroine would be a romance novelist! It just means writers need to research, research, research.

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