Thursday, 21 April 2011

Why Writers Need to be Accurate, Even If They're Making It Up

I've been reading JL Carrell's The Shakespeare Secret and debating whether I can be bothered to finish it. I don't like slagging off other authors - whatever you may think of the writing/story telling, it took the author's time, effort and energy - but this is a book that lost my attention pretty early on for a very simple and fixable reason.

The story's main character is a Shakespearean expert on the hunt for a 'lost' Shakespeare play, so I started with every expectation of enjoyment. But within the first few pages the expert quotes "All that glitters is not gold." Without irony. Without any other qualification. I checked again - yup, that was being presented as a direct quote. A few pages later it was quoted again - it had now become a clue in the mystery.

I did a quick poll among my friends. All but one knew that there was something wrong with the quote, and one could say that the correct quote is "All that glisters is not gold." It's one of those famous misquotes, like "Play it again, Sam". A character, who is supposed to be a Shakespearean expert, in fact the whole story starts from the premise that she's the only person who can unravel the mystery because of her expertise, and she doesn't recognise that the quote is wrong?

The trick in writing is to weave fact and fiction together seamlessly, but in order to swallow the fiction, the fact must be accurate. And if it isn't? The reader can't trust the author on anything, and if you can't trust the author then there's no point in reading on.


Penelope Overton said...

I'm just glad I checked my Lear quote yesterday before I tweeted you (though I accept I played around a bit with the punctuation) Penelope x

Jim Murdoch said...

Even the best can get it wrong. My wife still grumbles about Jeanette Winterson having a character in the USA eat a Polo Mint instead of a Life Saver.

Sarah Duncan said...

You could have misquoted as much as you liked, and I wouldn't have noticed! The glisters/glitters one tho is famous.

I think a polo is more forgivable than a misquote from a Shakespearean expert. Unless, of course, the Jeanette Winterson character was supposed to be a confectionary expert.

Karen said...

I can't believe that slipped through the net. It may be that many readers wouldn't know the correct quote, but if you do... well like you said, it tends to ruin the whole experience!

Sarah Duncan said...

I did wonder if it was an over zealous typesetter who took it upon themselves to "correct" the quote, but I can't believe it'd get through new editions.