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Article: The Rantings of a Historical Nitpicker

  1. The Rantings of a Historical Nitpicker

    17 Comments by pepperlandgirl Published on 17 Aug 2009 02:01 PM
    My friend and editor, Trace Edward Zaber, agreed to write two articles for the front page. Ravings of a Historical Nitpicker is actually a pretty good demonstration of why he's my friend. How could you not love somebody who is so full of rage over historical inaccuracies?

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  3. #2
    Obeah Man, Mischief Maker, Lord of Bees Skald the Rhymer's avatar
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    Default Re: The Rantings of a Historical Nitpicker

    I enjoyed the article, Pep. Good job recruiting.
    "Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon." (Chesterton)

  4. #3
    aka ivan the not-quite-as-terrible ivan astikov's avatar
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    Default Re: The Rantings of a Historical Nitpicker

    Yup. You've got to love someone who can get angry over a book, especially one without pictures.
    To sleep, perchance to experience amygdalocortical activation and prefrontal deactivation.

  5. #4
    Oliphaunt featherlou's avatar
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    Default Re: The Rantings of a Historical Nitpicker

    Well, he's missing the obvious solution - white-out and a fine-tip market.

  6. #5
    Oliphaunt dread pirate jimbo's avatar
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    Default Re: The Rantings of a Historical Nitpicker

    Speaking of nitpicks, shouldn't it be "The Rantings of an Historical Nitpicker?"
    Hell is other people.

  7. #6
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    Default Re: The Rantings of a Historical Nitpicker

    I thought the article was great! The author's kind of knowledge of historical detail would also be useful in a genre of fiction I like, that of alternate history. If you don't know history well, how can you say what would happen(plausibly) on an alternate timeline, once something had happened differently?

    You said he'll write two articles, when will the second come out?

  8. #7
    Porno Dealing Monster pepperlandgirl's avatar
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    Default Re: The Rantings of a Historical Nitpicker

    I'll publish his second one on Sept 15.
    I'm still swimming in harmony. I'm still dreaming of flight. I'm still lost in the waves night after night...

    Do you have an idea or an article you would like to see on the Electric Elephant? Email me at theelectricelephant(at)gmail.com!

  9. #8
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    Default Re: The Rantings of a Historical Nitpicker

    His example would have made me twitch as well. Heck it made me twitch reading it in his essay. I'm a little more tolerant of movies fudging stuff ( depending on what it is ), rather less so for books. But seriously fudging historical fiction is a sin. It breaks the whole premise.

    That one would have taken me entirely out of the experience. I probably wouldn't have hurled it anywhere ( I don't really do rage ), but unless it was otherwise riveting I'd be done.

  10. #9
    Oliphaunt jali's avatar
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    Default Re: The Rantings of a Historical Nitpicker

    Great article.

    Thanks.
    They weren't singing....they were just honking.
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  11. #10
    I've had better days, but I don't care! hatesfreedom's avatar
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    Default Re: The Rantings of a Historical Nitpicker

    Well, don't anybody tell her that occasionally this happens in real History books too.

  12. #11
    my god, he's full of stars... OneCentStamp's avatar
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    Default Re: The Rantings of a Historical Nitpicker

    Quote Originally posted by Tamerlane
    His example would have made me twitch as well. Heck it made me twitch reading it in his essay. I'm a little more tolerant of movies fudging stuff ( depending on what it is ), rather less so for books. But seriously fudging historical fiction is a sin. It breaks the whole premise.
    Yes, especially when you're a professional writer, which in the field of historical fiction means your job is at least 50% professional researcher, and it's a factual error easily refuted by a 7th grade history textbook.

    Quote Originally posted by Tamerlane
    That one would have taken me entirely out of the experience. I probably wouldn't have hurled it anywhere ( I don't really do rage ), but unless it was otherwise riveting I'd be done.
    Exactly this. I would simply have set the book down.
    "You laugh at me because I'm different; I laugh at you because I'm on nitrous."

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  13. #12
    Prehistoric Bitchslapper Sarahfeena's avatar
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    Default Re: The Rantings of a Historical Nitpicker

    I don't know much about history, so historical fiction writers are safe with me. I remember though, laughing to myself when I read a book set in Chicago once, and the author referred to one of the expressways as the "JFK." I have never. ever. heard it called that. It's called the Kennedy. Seems like a small thing, but it really takes you out of the plot, you know?

  14. #13
    Porno Dealing Monster pepperlandgirl's avatar
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    Default Re: The Rantings of a Historical Nitpicker

    Quote Originally posted by Sarahfeena
    I don't know much about history, so historical fiction writers are safe with me. I remember though, laughing to myself when I read a book set in Chicago once, and the author referred to one of the expressways as the "JFK." I have never. ever. heard it called that. It's called the Kennedy. Seems like a small thing, but it really takes you out of the plot, you know?
    I don't think that's such a small thing. Every time I see a movie or read a book set in So Cal, I get very annoyed when people refer to the freeways as "Interstate 10" or the actual names of the freeways. Nobody talks about them like that. It's always "The 10" or "The 5." Or "The motherfucking 405".
    I'm still swimming in harmony. I'm still dreaming of flight. I'm still lost in the waves night after night...

    Do you have an idea or an article you would like to see on the Electric Elephant? Email me at theelectricelephant(at)gmail.com!

  15. #14
    Sophmoric Existentialist
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    Default Re: The Rantings of a Historical Nitpicker

    Dick Francis, the mystery writer/jockey, once sent his protagonist either up or down Fraser Canyon. It is NEVER called Fraser Canyon. It is called either "the canyon" or if you're being genteel, "the Fraser Canyon". It made me grit my teeth really hard.
    Sophmoric Existentialist

  16. #15
    Oliphaunt Baldwin's avatar
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    Default Re: The Rantings of a Historical Nitpicker

    Quote Originally posted by OneCentStamp
    Exactly this. I would simply have set the book down.
    I've done that occasionally. I started reading a book once, and in the first scene, a ruler was being presented with gifts that included a telescope. The year: 1500.

  17. #16
    aka ivan the not-quite-as-terrible ivan astikov's avatar
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    Default Re: The Rantings of a Historical Nitpicker

    Ah, this is where a little knowledge is a good thing.
    To sleep, perchance to experience amygdalocortical activation and prefrontal deactivation.

  18. #17
    Curmudgeon OtakuLoki's avatar
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    Default Re: The Rantings of a Historical Nitpicker

    Quote Originally posted by pepperlandgirl
    Quote Originally posted by Sarahfeena
    I don't know much about history, so historical fiction writers are safe with me. I remember though, laughing to myself when I read a book set in Chicago once, and the author referred to one of the expressways as the "JFK." I have never. ever. heard it called that. It's called the Kennedy. Seems like a small thing, but it really takes you out of the plot, you know?
    I don't think that's such a small thing. Every time I see a movie or read a book set in So Cal, I get very annoyed when people refer to the freeways as "Interstate 10" or the actual names of the freeways. Nobody talks about them like that. It's always "The 10" or "The 5." Or "The motherfucking 405".

    Similarly, I've heard of movies set in the Boston area where they talk about I-95, instead of 128. Sure, none of the signage refers to 128, it's all for I-95, but everyone talks about 128. Especially the traffic reports. Or worse, the way that film companies often seem to expect the streets in the LA area can be substituted willinilli for streets in other metropolitan areas. In some places the illusion works. Boston is not one of them. Rectangular grids do not exist, most streets other than arteries are one-way, and give the peninsular nature of Boston's original shape, they don't go very far. So, having car chases going on for minutes down a wide, straight street for minutes is just completely surreal.

  19. #18
    Curmudgeon OtakuLoki's avatar
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    Default Re: The Rantings of a Historical Nitpicker

    Thinking about it a little more I have to admit that while I have a great deal of sympathy for the viewpoints that Trace Edward Zaber expressed in his article.

    But I don't agree with him completely.

    There does come a point where "It's fiction and if the story requires it, I'm going to screw with what really happened," is a valid defense of some counter-factual points in historical fiction, or it's bastard cousin, alternate history. The key element here isn't that I'm giving a bye for anything - the changes have to be demonstrably required for the story that the author wants to write.

    I do agree completely that there's no excuse for shoddy research. I recently read a review of a book that criticized the book for talking about how the pilot of a military cargo aircraft feathered the props on a C-141. Which is a little hard to do with an aircraft and airframe that's been jet powered it's whole 40+ year career. It's absolutely a minor, nitpicky point, with damn-all to do with the plot that the author was trying to expand into a story. But if the author is screwing up something that simple, what else is he going to screw up?

    A more egregious example (as in, I've actually endured it, not just going by other the reports of others who have jumped on the grenade for me) is Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor. I won't get into the details (anyone who needs to see those details can go to my post in this thread back on the Dope, and see me go off on the movie) for fear of sounding like a monomaniac. But the numerous historical inaccuracies made it impossible for me to enjoy the story that the movie was trying to tell. As did the numerous logic failures, but that's my rant, not Trace Edward Zaber's.

    In the end, however, fiction is about writing a story, not about telling the absolute historical truth. Some of the common ways that facts get mangled in fiction are even necessary for good stories: composite characters are a narrative shorthand that makes a story comprehensible in the time the storyteller has available. BAT-21 does this beautifully. Likewise building narrative links between characters who never actually met is often a good tool with military historical fiction. (Just how many fictional WWII Naval officers just happened to know Yamamoto Isoroku?) Obviously, for the US Civil War, manufacturing such links is often unnecessary. But even there, depending on one's characters, it may be useful, too.

    There is a corollary that goes with my permission to warp history, though: the storyteller has to make the story work.

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