One day a filmmaker made a blockbuster movie and he claimed that he paid the utmost attention to detail so as to make it as realistic as possible. He went over the details of everything in his historical movie to the nth degree. He even used submersibles to go down to the icy depths to examine every single detail of a ship that had sank on April 15th, 1912. I'm talking about the movie Titanic, directed by James Cameron, that went on to gross $1,843,201,268 worldwide.
To call it a blockbuster is no misnomer.
Years later a famed American astrophysicist and science communicator went to see the movie and while sitting though the film he noticed something. He noticed that the stars in the sky during the sinking of the ship were all wrong! Not only were they wrong, one side was a mirror image of the other. This egregious error drove Mr. Tyson up the spout, and he went on to try to correct Mr. Cameron on several occasions. For a movie that was to have supposedly paid so much attention to detail, how could Mr. Cameron let such an error fly (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8B6jSfRuptY)?
Such a horrible mistake made by Mr. Cameron. When approached about it he had only one response. He said to Mr. Tyson: “Well, last I checked, Titanic, worldwide has grossed $1.3 billion dollars. Imagine how much more it would have grossed had I'd gotten the sky correct?”
What is the biggest lesson to be learned here?
Can a writer, ANY writer, take something away from this? Yes, we all can. There is a big lesson to be gleaned if we understand what's really important.
The reader, the moviegoer, the fan, wants to be entertained not educated.
I like writing cop fiction. I love cop fiction and I love police procedurals. I read through books on the subject, I also listen to online seminars, read blogs, check Google+ and Facebook posts. I love the subject, but I don't make the mistake of thinking that my readers love the subject as much as I do. I want to give the most realistic experience that I can for my readers and that's important to me...somewhat.
I assume that a reader of my work does not want to go to school to become a cop, no more than someone who watches Gray's Anatomy watches it to become a doctor. When someone reads a book or watches a film, such as Titanic, do you think they care that the plates lack the exact design of the Titanic crest? Is the detail that important?
Let's go further. A blogger on a blog post pointed out that the noises of an MRI scanner are completely different from a CT scan and how the show Hannibal got it all wrong (http://jordynredwood.blogspot.com/2013/06/author-beware-know-your-equipment.html). This post was under the title: “Author Beware: Know Your Equipment.” Author beware, huh?
Again, I ask, is there a lesson to be learned here? Yes there is. It might be a painful one for some, but it's one that they need to know for certain. Why? Well in my opinion, which is what my blog is, these critical individuals and many others have their priorities all wrong.
I have a blog that I follow religiously that debunks specifically a lot of cop shows and books. They shoot down many shows and books that 'get it wrong', when it comes to cop procedures. Once again, they make the smallest things seem egregious. Not singling out that blog, but I've also come across another grousing over the fact that Castle shouldn't be working on the police force as closely as he is being that he is a writer.
Let's hit the brakes here.
We need to take stock of several things. It's easy for people who don't write fiction or who don't entertain fans to be over-critical. They loose sight of the fact that writers today are pushing the limits of everything. Now that there are self-published books, the envelope has been broken and flights of extreme fancy are beginning to emerge. Further, a writer can't know EVERYTHING. Writers are not gods, although they are the gods of the worlds that they create, and because of this, stars can be where they wish. MRI machines can make whatever noise that they want, and Castle can be given an assault rifle by Detective Beckett anytime she desires. This is the unvarnished truth.
Who can correct these gods? Who can nit-pick about the smallest things as if they affect the story? The fans. Remember, millions of people sat through Titanic and saw the same sky as Neil Degrasse Tyson did and were more focused on if Rose DeWitt Bukater and Jack Dawson (Winslet and DiCaprio) were going to survive this horrible catastrophe. Who cared that the major characters in the movie NEVER EVEN EXISTED? But we are to care that the sky was incorrect? What made the fans go see this film? The STORY.
In the episode “Buffet Froid” the tenth episode of Hannibal, Will Graham is put through an MRI to see if there was damage to his brain. The MRI shows that he has Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis. But Dr. Lecter persuades Dr. Sutcliffe to tell Will that his brain scan was “completely normal”. Hannibal no doubt had more insidious work to do with the protagonist. What, I ask, do you think was the most riveting part of this exchange? The fact that a homicidal doctor was lying to a patient to make him believe that he was the killer in many murders, or that the MRI machine was making the wrong noise?
Realize that the FANS dictate what's important in a book or movie. Critics who produce nil need to realize that a writer or director can only do so much and can't cover over ever single base, even if they wanted to. James Cameron in fact really wants to make every aspect of Titanic realistic, because he changes the sky in a later release of the film (http://www.mediaite.com/online/james-cameron-alters-stars-in-titanic-on-neil-degrasse-tyson-insistence/). But this is past tense, and behind the fact that his fans have already bestowed him with the highest honor that they can grant him, their patronage, even when he got the sky wrong.
Critics, no matter their degrees or specialty, should realize that to an author or director, it's their fans that they seek to please and fans are not interested in miniscule details if they are reading a book about vampires, zombies, homicidal doctors, crooked cops or whatever world the writer creates for them.
It's the STORY that the reader or viewer is interested in.
Sorry extreme critics, your priorities just do not count. Just like Cameron said, $1.3 million dollars in revenue can't be wrong. The strong seasonal Nielson ratings for cop shows like Castle and Hannibal are what keeps them on the air, and this is not undermined by miniscule errors. One needs to realize that this century isn't the first one that has books and television shows with a raft of errors. This has been going on since time immemorial, because above all else, we are all human.
But fans are the key, they are the arbitrators of the gods of worlds. If a fan finds that the smell of cordite in a gunfight is incorrect and is not more worried about the characters in the gunfight, then the writer indeed has a poor story and has not done his or her job. Remember, the creator of a story can have pets come from the dead, Orcs rise from Wizards, bullets stop in mid-air to have a discussion, bodies dissolve into phonebooths, and people spout fangs, and if the reader or viewer has no problem with it, if they even accept it, how ridiculous is it to find some miniscule error and blow it all out of proportion, as if IT was the basis of the book or movie?
There will always be critics like Neil Degrasse Tyson in the world that will nit pick everything about someone's work and try to hang the value of the entire book or movie on their astute knowledge. Is this really about bettering the movie? Or is this more about self-importance? As Mr. Tyson says himself: “I was just completely immature about it.”
To writers I say, attain your position as god of your world, make water flow up, make people shrink to a quarter of their size, lose ships in space, cause serial killers to jump from three story roofs. Who cares? As long as your readers love your story. Do your research, give your readers realism, but as they say in the urban world: “Don't sweat the small stuff.” Your fans, people that really like your work and are not going over it with a fine toothed comb are the only people that you need to please and the 'minutaeists' (my word) can continue to critique and grouse as they wish. Don't let them rob you of your forward momentum by causing you to walk on eggshells because you might have something small wrong.
Worry about your story, let them spend sleepless nights over the sound of an MRI.