Semantics

CerberusI read a really great post yesterday over at David Ben-Ami’s blog Fiction All Day that talked about details; covering the tedious aspect of researching in order to enrich our fictional stories with facts that our readers DO appreciate.  I nearly just re-posted it here today, but it’s so well written that it got me thinking about all of the times I’ve ever run across an excellent book that ended up being highly disappointing, because of the author’s lack of research.

Research!  It can’t be impressed upon you enough!  I’ll even take it one step further and recommend that you always cross-reference your research to make absolute certain you have the correct information.  In this modern age where Google and Bing are constantly updated, new data constantly added to the world wide web, it’s too easy to get incorrect or only partially correct information the first search out the gate.

One of my biggest pet peeves, as I’m sure with everyone, is when it comes to the things I like/know the most.  For example: Myths & Legends.  Don’t tell me Eros (aka Cupid) fell wailing at the roots of the Laurel tree, devastated over the loss of his love, Daphne, when I know for a fact it was Apollo.  That kind of blatant misstep just irritates the ever living daylights out of me.  If what you’re trying to do is put a new twist on an old tale, then make absolute certain the reader knows that from the get go.  Don’t just write whatever you want and then hide behind the excuse of creative license – because readers aren’t stupid, especially when that reader is a writer.

I can’t tell you how many times I have run across this issue as an e-book reviewer.  I’m all for recycling the classics, but do it with purpose, please.  Do it with style and make sure you have your facts straight, and that the reader isn’t going to get halfway through your book before throwing it in disgust, as you paint their favorite fairytale into a wrecked, unflattering mockery.

Can anyone tell me what’s wrong with this quote?

Listen to me, as if I were Sybaris barking with all his heads, at the gates of Hell, I will tell you where to take it. But don’t … don’t open the box! – A.I. Bezzerides

I found this while…yep, researching.  It glared out at me like a bright, neon sign.  Sybaris was an ancient Greek city in Italy known for its inhabitant’s excessive hedonism.  In fact the definition of a Sybarite is: (n.) a person who is self-indulgent in their fondness for sensuous luxury.  It is a synonym for Pleasure, Ecstasy, Gluttony, etc.  It is NOT Cerberus (Greek Kerberos), the three-headed dog that guards the entrance of the Underworld (Hades).

Now, granted, I haven’t read the screenplay that this quote was extracted from (Kiss Me Deadly 1955), so I’m not sure if it was deliberate, all I know is that it’s wrong.  It’s wrong in a way that really irks me, because it’s advertised on Dictionary.com as being associated with the definition of Sybaris.

Which, is why I recommend cross-referencing!  Not that, as a writer, you should get your “facts” from screenplays, but it’s just a great example of how easy it is to find misinformation, even from a trusted source or site. So, please, as a writer, DO worry about the semantics, the details, the facts.  Otherwise, you’re not only insulting your readers, you’re cheating your own stories out of living up to their amazing potential and why would you want to do that?

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