Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Greatest Mistake

Last night we were caught between two tornadoes, apparently. But I’ll get back to that.

Mistakes. We all make them from time to time. I certainly have. Several months ago, a friend called. They’d moved across county and I hadn’t heard from them in about 8 months.

I lost their address, and have been hoping they’d call back ever since because Mr. P doesn’t seem to be listed in the phone book.

More recently, I opened up a manuscript and was skimming over the first page and caught a mistake. How many bloody times did I go over that thing? And it wasn’t only read by me – I can think of three other people who’ve gone over that section of the story with the actual purpose of giving me critique and we all missed it. The mistake? ‘His’ instead of “He’. Sigh.

I say this so it doesn’t sound like I’m picking on anyone, because last night, as Evil Kev and I continued the Homicide marathon, we were watching an episode that was a crossover with Law & Order. So not just one, but two teams of writers and whatever researchers they employ screwed up.

The storyline? To do with a gas attack on a subway that kills twenty people. The style of attack is similar to an attack on a church five years earlier, in Baltimore, that was never closed.

Through the Homicide episode in particular, Frank Pembleton continues to recall the scene outside the church, the row of bodies, one girl sitting over her father’s body. He mentions the burning in the air as he’s approaching the scene, how he can feel it in his nose etc.

Which is when Evil Kev tells me that would never happen. Why? Death from breathing in poisonous gas would result in quarantine of the bodies – they’d never leave them out there because they would expose others.

And of course, at the end of the episode when the suspect has a heart attack and they try CPR for five seconds and then give up, well, that wouldn’t happen either. Once you start you aren’t supposed to stop until paramedics call it, and cops would know that. Should know that. Even I know that. But, as Evil Kev said, “It’s more dramatic this way.”

This morning, I’m still left wondering if we really were caught between two tornadoes last night.

We certainly had the weather advisory. First it came over Evil Kev’s radio for the fire department. A tornado had touched down in Crossfield and was headed east at 40 km per hour. Confirmed the alert online. Heard it on the ‘real’ radio. Was actually standing outside as the rain came pelting down. We were spared the hail that fell just east of town, though.

Then, heard it on the TV. A second tornado, this one to the south and east of us, heading west.

A lot of things go through a person’s mind when they hear this. The first was get the dogs inside. The second was what else do we do? And you realize there isn’t much you can do. Certainly nothing to stop a tornado if it’s coming. And for all the predictions of where a storm system is moving and what they anticipate, nobody can tame the wind. The one thing you know is the weather system moving through is apparently perfect for creating twisters and you may or may not be sitting in the path of two of them.

This morning, nobody seems to know. Apparently, not enough people saw the tornadoes to confirm they existed and, thankfully, there was no damage directly attributed to tornadoes. Just thunderstorms and hail.

Of course, all during this Evil Kev’s getting ready, in case he has to go out.

Um, remember that post yesterday, about us not having our wills done? And Kevin’s explaining to me the process of dealing with a hazardous goods call as we watch Homicide, and talking about what you do when it’s gas, and then he’s preparing himself in case he needs to go out in a tornado.


I realize now that if Homicide hadn’t made those errors with the episode, I wouldn’t have received an earful about it. And it wouldn’t have reinforced the nature of the risks Evil Kev takes when he responds to a call. But even if I don’t think about them, or he doesn’t talk about them, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t take them.

It certainly is easier to cope, in some respects, by putting your head in the sand and ignoring reality. After all, if I don’t think about the risks, I don’t have to experience the fear, right? But it doesn’t reduce those risks. In some respects, it’s actually a horrid thing to do. You don’t take people for granted when they walk out the door to a call and are ordered to proceed with caution and wait for the police. A part of you is steeling yourself for the potential knock at the door.

Also, how can you really appreciate the enormity of what firefighters/paramedics/police do if you don’t understand the risks on even a basic level? You can’t.

A little piece of wisdom I got from a Christmas cracker:

Without the sorrows of life, the joys would not exist.

One thing I don’t think I mentioned here was that recently I had a bad dream about a tornado outside our house. And in the midst of it arguing with Evil Kev about windows.

Last night, faced with the possibility that there were tornadoes moving through the region, I remembered that the greatest mistake is not taking a bit of creative license with reality to make a story work, or even losing an address, much as that sucks.

The greatest mistake you can make is letting your life slip by. No risk, no rewards. Sure, there’s a chance you fail (and fail spectacularly) but I’ll always give people their due for trying to fulfill their dreams, even if things don’t always pan out the way they hope.


Brian Lindenmuth said...

I blame the mistake for this episode on the association with L&O.

L&O obviously tainted Homicide, anyone can plainly see that. :)

Sandra Ruttan said...

Well Brian... I hate to say it, but Homicide treads the line on their fire episodes. I know it's TV but NOBODY would be allowed inside a building just after an arson fire (no hot spots?) at the very least without a helmet.

In a way, doing research and knowing stuff really undermines the enjoyment of a lot of TV. I'm drawing the distinction in my writing, and going for plausibility not reality. Sometimes, reality is harder to sell than fiction, and sometimes that's because of the prevalence of errors elsewhere.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I'm glad you discovered the no risk adage in your thirties. Discovering it ten years later is bad/

Sandra Ruttan said...

At the rate I'm going Patti, I'll forget it and re-learn it at least half a dozen times this decade!

Peter Rozovsky said...

The Homicide mistake is a lot more serious than your his/he error. I might not have caught the error about entry being barred after an arson fire and likely would have overlooked the failure to quarantine the bodies as well. But viewers who did notice them were pulled right out of the story -- not a good thing.

But hell, the heroes of these shows are crime-solving American supermen who can go anywhere, smell anything.

A joke, of course. But I recently drew a fairly big response on my blog when I asked readers for errors that drove them nuts. Make a mistake like some of those, and suddenly no one's talking about your great plot and characters, they're talking about how lazy and even stupid you and your editor are. Readers (and viewers) want to be pulled into a story and resent being yanked out of it by a mistake.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Brian Lindenmuth said...

Plus, I think we can all agree the Mike Kellerman was a punk and deserved what he got in Homicide and The Shield.

He could NEVER fill Crosetti's shoes.

Mindy Tarquini said...

The greatest mistake you can make is letting your life slip by.


We've had some wild weather here. It's monsoon season.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Peter, there's an argument to be made there about not reading things that are set where you live or involve things you have a lot of inside knowledge on, because you'll be pickier. And I have come to the point where I feel that plausibility is more important than reality sometimes. Here's an example: a book I read had a suspect flee across the border and when the US cops found a vehicle abandoned they phoned the RCMP to check on the owners in Ontario. The jurisdiction for the location is Ontario Provincial Police. But then, if pressed to explain the difference between the various forms of law enforcement officials in the US, I'd be hard pressed to do it. Someone tells me it's a sheriff in one setting, it's a sheriff, someone tells me detective I don't look it up. I ask, "Is this plausible?" If so, fine. Of course, if I know differently, then there might be an issue... But that's why I don't watch much tv anymore. They certainly have the money to research and get it right and have no excuse for getting it wrong. I can at least appreciate the limitations put on authors who can't even earn a living from their writing, and therefore might not have a chance to visit their setting while writing the book. It must be easier now with the internet, but still not perfect.

Brian, Mike Kellerman was on The Shield? How'd he get a job after losing his badge? I'm so confused. ;)

Monsoon season? Sound fun.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Peter, there's an argument to be made there about not reading things that are set where you live or involve things you have a lot of inside knowledge on, because you'll be pickier.

I’ve often said that I have an uneasy feeling about reading stories set in areas I know well. Perhaps this is part of the reason.

And I have come to the point where I feel that plausibility is more important than reality sometimes.

Of course. Fiction’s job is to be convincing, not accurate. That’s why I offered practical objections to errors: They distract the reader from being convinced.

That being said, I can't think of any errors that put me off reading a book or story. The example I gave in my post just made me roll my eyes a little. I then resumed my reading.

Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Anonymous said...

Yeah, inside knowledge is an excellent way to spoil wonderful storytelling.

Here in Oz, there's a medical drama called All Saints that from a characterisation and storytelling perspective is just superb. However, I have a friend who is a nurse, and when I mentioned this to him, he and his wife (also a nurse) exchanged a knowing look. They then proceeded to tell me how unrealistic the various medical procedures were.

Ignorance really is bliss sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Homicide was a wonderful show. Great cast, great scripts and the location was perfect. I think the last few years of the show got weak as the cast turnovered, but in the end it was the real deal. Andre Braugher was wonderful.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Peter, and error that put me off a book had to do with a mistake with a hospital in a setting I was familiar with... but it wasn't the mistake that put me off. It was the fact the author wrote a paper on how to properly research for your novels. I'll be the first to say I've made mistakes and am sure I'll make more over the course of time. It's bound to happen. But if you set yourself up as an authority and say 'this is how to do it' then you better get it right, and it was two simple facts. All you had to do was google the hospital's name and it came up first set of hits that the hospital had been closed for a few years, for one thing. Plus it was long-term care for geriatric patients, no ER, no onsight surgeries, but the author had hookers being treated in its emergency ward. Sorry, lived a few blocks from the hospital and my best friend worked there for years, so I knew all about that, but when one minute on the internet would establish that, well...

Kris, my best friend is a nurse, her husband a firefighter. They do that to me all the time.

David, I would agree with you about Homicide - there's no way we would have purchased the DVD set if we didn't think it was top notch. Doesn't mean there weren't a few blips, but overall one of the very best shows ever put on the air, although yes, the last few seasons had some issues. In fact, I thought what happened to Kellerman was unfortunate. Andre Braugher is amazing, and the pairing of Pembleton and Bayliss is my personal favourite. The episode that always comes to mind is from season 1 or 2, the one where they're trying to figure out who lights the candle in the squad room. You just didn't get that quality of character development in most shows on tv. Not heavy handed or overdone, although after watching the series through now, I cringe hearing all the music and how its used to manipulate emotional response or set up the viewer for what's about to happen - this is what happens if you listen to too many Wire commentaries, you become a tv critic.

In my book, anything that stems from David Simon is worth watching. He's a genius. I've probably watched every season of The Wire five times through and he remains the only person in film/tv I'd love to interview.

Brian Lindenmuth said...

Kellerman was in the very first episode of The Shield and was killed at the very end.

Also, on the other side of the coin is The Corner. This is Simon's forgotten masterpiece. It is a real transition piece from what he was doing in Homicide to what he would do in The Wire.

I think it may lack popularity because of its subject matter. A tapestry of junkies instead of a tapestry of cops.

It too is just brilliant.

Sandra Ruttan said...

To be technical... it was Reed Diamond as Terry Crowley, not Kellerman!

And you're probably right about why The Corner isn't as appreciated, but anything DS touches is pretty much genius.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Wow, hookers being treated in a hospital that offered only long-term care for geriatric patients. Now, that opens up a universe of possibilities.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Sandra Ruttan said...

Peter, as the population ages, perhaps that will be a growth industry.

(I know, I know, I'm going...)