Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Speaking Your Language by Andy Scheer

Besides English, how many languages do you speak? Likely more than you suspect.

One guest at our Super Bowl party works as an electrical engineer. Because he is fluent in a technical vocabulary he shares only with those who work in his field, I asked if he could interpret the title of a job description I'd recently stumbled on: a “mixed signal design verification engineer.”

As someone who works with words, I had my own understanding of “mixed signals.” But to Dan, the title made perfect sense. The meaning has nothing to do with conflicting messages, but to input from both analog and digital sources.

If your novel ever includes someone who works in electronics, I hope that character talks something like Dan. Even if your readers don't catch half the jargon, it provides a sense of authenticity. And that, every reader can understand.

I've never done any fly fishing, but I sure know that Keith McCafferty, the author of the novels I'm reading, has. His protagonist works as a Montana fishing guide. Every page offers a richness of details that ring true: about trout flies and fishing techniques, the geography, plants, and wildlife, the people and their way of life.

While I've never done more than just drive through Montana, after reading The Royal Wulff Murders I felt I'd spent considerable time there. A visit I enjoyed so much, I booked a return trip – in the form of the sequel: The Gray Ghost Murders.

After reading those novels, I don't pretend to know what kind of trout fly to use in different conditions. But I know there's an important difference and that a good guide – or a good author – can inform me.

Do that well and you won't send your readers any mixed signals.


Diana Flegal said...

I talked with an acquisitions editor from England once who told me he rejected an authors regency novel because she mentioned turtles. England has no turtles. He said if she hadn't bothered to research that, he couldn't trust the rest of her story. He thought it a shame as he had been considering offering her a contract before the turtle arrived on the scene.

Linda Glaz said...

Great point, Diana! That makes me cringe as well in historicals when they use products not invented yet. That is a huge turn off.

Terry Burns said...

That brought a smile, Linda. Early in my writing career I used a rifle in a western a mere year before it was introduced and was eaten alive by western readers. I figured a year was close enough, but not so. Readers, particularly western readers, know their genre extremely well and tend to be adamant about details.

Linda Glaz said...

Oh goodness, yes. I have to listen to that whenever my husband and I see a CW movie. "Did you know that Sharp's carbine (or whatever) didn't come out for another month? That was model...blah, blah, blah...(my eyes glaze over) and their consultant should have known that. That weapon changed the war and those changes didn't happen until its release." UGH, but I hear ya. One little thing. And it hurts even more if it's a change from an editor that the writer doesn't okay and it goes to print anyway. Double UGH!

Linda Glaz said...

For those who think I'm kidding, I had to sit through this watching the North and South. Over a button on a uniform. How the heck could he even see the button let alone know it was the wrong kind for that uniform???

Andy Scheer, Hartline Literary said...

Yes, sometimes huge errors make it through into print. Like the novel Putnam released a few years back by a NYT bestselling author in which someone in 1906 was driving a Model T Ford (introduced in late 1908). But handled accurately, details about that vehicle (such as the gas tank being located under the front seat)can help create a sense of place and time.

Linda Glaz said...

Oh, dear. Glad my husband didn't read that one. LOL