Friday, November 8, 2013

So Common, So Easy to Prevent

My favorite webcartoonist, Shaenon Garrity, is posting 12-panel summaries of X-Files episodes every Friday (because she can), and today she addresses something close to my heart: "Nitpicking details of the setting!" Because Season 3, Episode 19, "Hell Money," is set in San Francisco's Chinatown, and she lives in San Francisco. She pairs script assumption with reality right down the line, pointing out both cliches ("X-Files: Asian-Americans want to tell you colorful stories of your homeland! Reality: In my experience, they mostly want to tell you about their mini-comic." But then Shaenon's acquaintance in all ethnic groups is weighted toward cartoonists.) and obvious assumptions that aren't true ("X-Files: It's possible to hide bodies by burying them in cemeteries. Reality: Okay, this is the big one. San Francisco doesn't have cemeteries.")

This has got to be the most common, and the least explicable, type of research failure in all media. Most common, because we see it all the dang time. Least explicable, because we all pounce on media set in our familiar territories and nitpick the details. If the writer of that episode were to see a show set in his own home town he'd treat it in exactly the same way. "Ha! In Podunk, Nebraska, the grain silos are all on the west side of town! It's only in West Podunk that they have one near the watertower!"

It's not that complicated, guys. If you're setting a story outside your own stomping ground, go visit the place! If that's not practical, find somebody from there and have her vet the manuscript for you.

Because somebody is from there, and will notice.

Besides, walking out the story territory is fun and, in the case of travel locations, tax-deductible!

This is why all my stories are set in Texas, by the way. It makes walking out the territory so much simpler.

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