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Reality Check Are You Being Too Careful With Your Writing?

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
I'm notorious for missing the obvious. I'll spot subtleties that most people miss, gleaning meaning from what's not said, but if something is staring me in the face I'll not take it in.

This peculiar trait has passed over to my writing. I was halfway through writing my recently completed fourth novel, when I suddenly noticed a glaring omission. Not so much a plot hole, more something that I should have mentioned, as readers would wonder about it.

Briefly, I've written a series of stories about a Cornish detective. In the first novel, my protagonist has been widowed for a year after losing his wife in a freak road accident. In book two, he's spiralling into depression and suffering with panic attacks; he clings to his work as a way of getting through. Book three sees him recovered, following counselling, and he's in an online relationship with an attractive witness from the first story. She has returned to her native Wyoming, but by the fourth book their Skype conversations are getting more frisky. My detective's hormones have reawakened.

I'd written all of this, showing how my protagonist was coping with inner turmoil while hunting serial killers, smugglers and human traffickers, when it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn't mentioned whether he was still wearing his wedding ring. It was only writing a scene where he had to wash his hands clean of a noxious substance, that I remembered the ring.

Maybe it's because I haven't worn a wedding ring for 14 years :) that I forgot it! I went back through my novels and slipped it onto his finger.

Have you ever forgotten to mention an obvious detail?
It took me ages to realise where a missing body was, when it was in plain sight.

But not everyone even wears a wedding ring these days. I don't. The hub doesn't. I think though, you would be right to make at least one reference to your man either still wearing his, or not.
I know an artist who has a lucrative sideline in designing flash art for tattoo parlours. The tattooist told him that lots of couples these days have a tattoo to show their devotion to one another...which is then lasered away a few years later when they split up, leaving a strange scar!

Much easier to take a ring off a finger.
My worst was a fight scene in which one of the MCs was not mentioned at all- presumably he was leaning against a wall, filing his nails, watching his mates pile in on the bad guys.
Even book publishers miss the obvious. I've just started reading Six Stories, by Matt Wesolowski. It received fabulous reviews and has an unusual structure built around the narrator being an online journalist who's presenting the story of an unsolved murder in a series of podcasts.

The design artist makes much of a sound wave graphic, using it for section breaks, with the conifers on the cover mimicking a sound wave when turned sideways to show their reflection in a lake. All clever stuff and the cover and opening pages show excited blurbs by fifteen writers endorsing the novel.

What the cover doesn't have, at least in my first edition is the author's name! It's on the spine but is hard to read as it's obscured by the sound wave design. This is a good example of over-emphasis on making a product look good, window-dressing that lacks real content. The mistake was corrected in later editions.

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Reality Check Are You Being Too Careful With Your Writing?