Having bad grammar is like talking with your mouth full: Listeners can’t understand you and they may lose their appetite for what you have to say.
The novel I’m currently working on will feature strawberries. I know a lot about strawberries. I know they’re nutritious and tasty, which is why I use them quite often in my breakfast smoothie. I’ve even grown strawberries in my garden. I know what the plants look like and that their tendency to send out runners can be a good thing or a bad thing, that they mostly bloom and bear fruit in June. And I know that picking them is a lot of back-breaking work.
But I don’t know how strawberries are grown, harvested, and processed commercially, which is what will be happening in my novel. (This will be more interesting than it sounds. I hope.) And since one of my pet peeves is agricultural errors in books, I will be researching all that before I write about it. (I have written elsewhere about factual errors in historical novels and How Not to Write Christian Fiction.)
I was reminded of the importance of research last night as I watched an episode of Jericho, a highly rated TV show that I am just now getting around to watching on Netflix. People rave about the show.
Glenn-e-waters from United States: This has been one of the best shows on television in a long time! Very good drama!
I loved the first five episodes, but then came episode six. You can see it here.
The promo trailer looks awesome, but wowza! Were the regular writers on strike, or what? Episode 6 is filled with factual errors. Here’s a link where people grouse about some of them.
For me, the biggest goof of all was the one concerning Stanley, the easy-going token farmer, and his corn crop. Stanley is in distress because his corn is being destroyed by insects. He and his girlfriend first discover this when she looks down and notices “cockroaches” crawling all over the cornfield. (I snorted delicately as I watched because cockroaches aren’t high on the list of insects that prey on corn. But my mind glosses over this error because I want to find out what is going on. Why didn’t he spray for insects earlier? Maybe the insects have become unstoppable (a la Spider Man) because of the radioactive rain that poured out of the sky earlier.)
But, no, radioactivity won’t be a problem, Stanley assures us. The corn has stopped growing and didn’t absorb the rain. (Really? Seems far-fetched but I am distracted as Stanley dramatically rips an ear of corn on the green corn stalk.)
Sure enough, when he pulls back the husk, worms are devouring the juicy kernels of corn. Oh, no. (Since it is October in the story, it seems a little late for this stage of corn development, but I ignore this for the present.)
Stanley tries to no avail to get insecticide so he can save his crop. He is reduced to a hair-brained scheme to burn off the affected section of the field. (Hey, this might work, but how will he control the fire?) But at the last minute, kind-hearted townies from Jericho come out to help him harvest the crop. (I wonder why Stanley doesn’t use his combine to make harvesting so much easier. And then I am even more confused. That corn is awfully short and puny and why is it still green in October? And then I think, is this field corn or sweet corn? But, wait, surely farmers don’t raise sweet corn commercially in arid Kansas.)
The helpful, hardworking town folk pick the ears of corn and put them un-husked into big plastic tubs. (Oh, then it is surely sweet corn and they will take the tubs to town for refrigeration.) Then they haul the tubs of corn to Farmer Stanley’s barn to store them there. (Wait a minute. That corn won’t last long in a hot barn! And where did they get all those plastic tubs anyway?)
Stanley and the townies have a heart-warming moment of satisfaction for a job well done. Now, the hungry citizens of Jericho will have corn to eat for the winter. The moral of the story is that all will be well in Jericho if they can continue to resist selfish thinking and work for the good of the whole community.
At least that’s what the screenwriters wanted me to think.
But all I could actually think about was that the job wasn’t over yet. If it is sweet corn it will have to be distributed and eaten quickly instead of languishing in Stanley’s barn. If it is field corn it will have to be husked, dried, and stored in grain bins to be doled out all winter. If they leave the corn in Farmer Stanley’s barn all that hard work will be for naught, because very soon Stanley will discover that his corn crop is not only worm-infested but also moldy, rotten, and completely inedible.
I realize that I pick up on agricultural errors such as these more than the average bear because I am a farm girl. Maybe all this silliness didn’t ruin the story for most watchers. But, I for one was jolted out of the story and lost all respect for the intelligence of the characters (and the screenwriters). Further, I felt disrespected. Did they think that such a small percentage of their audience would know or care that it wasn’t worth the thirty seconds it would take to do a Google search on “basic farming practices?” Or do they not even realize they don’t know?
I figure it’s one of three things– incompetence, laziness, or intellectual dishonesty.
Or maybe the screenwriters are just copying the politicians who know that if you state a lie forcefully enough with much gusto and bluster from a position of authority people will usually believe you.
But what happens if your audience discovers your incompetence, laziness, and intellectual dishonesty?They vote for the other guy. They flip to another channel. They throw the book across the room.
I’m going to start my strawberry research tomorrow.
It would be so nice of you to share!