Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Devil Resides In The Details

Like everyone who keeps a writing blog, I love to read. My tastes run to legal thrillers, police procedurals, horror, mystery, military thrillers, etc. I like my stories tense and scary, but grounded in the real world.

To write stories grounded in the real world, the writer must do their research. A technical clunker, even a small one, can yank me out of the story and back to my hum-drum world and I hate that!

So, from time to time, I'll point out some common technical mistakes I find in books. Just like the military guy who beta read one of my chapters and reminded me that C-4 is not an incendiary material and there would be no flames in the explosion, I will pass on some of my technical knowledge.

My bona-fides. Before I went to law school, I was a civil engineer. I really need ya to believe me on this one.

Nothing is made of cement.

I was reading an ARC put out by a major house and read this line. "The street was lined with drab cement apartment buildings."

BLARGH!

1. Cement is the adhesive/binding powder that when mixed with water, sand, and small rocks (aggregate) form the building material known as concrete.

2. Once the mixture of water, cement, sand, and aggregate is hardened, it is known as concrete.

Buildings, sidewalks, swimming pools, etc. are made of concrete, not cement. It's really miraculous stuff. A bit of trivia, every year about six billion tons of concrete is produced, one ton for everyone on the planet.

Please have your characters wake up on the "hard concrete floor" or break their noses when thrown into "hard concrete walls" or have your streets lined with "drab concrete apartment buildings." It is correct and realistic. A small detail that adds to good writing.

Yes, using "cement" instead of the correct "concrete" is sometimes common usage. However, it's wrong. You wouldn't have a character sit down at a counter and enjoy his "milk" when he is actually enjoying a mixture of milk, syrup, and partially melted ice cream all blended together into a "milkshake."

I love it when a pro catches me in a blunder. No, I don't love making a blunder, I love it when I can correct an error and make my story more correct and realistic. So, I'll toss these out from time to time when I come across common errors. Until then, to quote Mac at Absolute Write, "Write hard. Write true. And write on."

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