Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Geography, Anyone?

by Helen Woodall

With the advent of Google Maps I am astounded how many books still have glaring mistakes of geography.

A few years ago there was the famous case of a book that won a bunch of awards. In it, the heroine and her child escaped across the border through a mountain pass – between two countries that do not share a border. Nowhere do these two countries meet!

I am not sure how the author, the editor and the people who judged the awards all managed to miss this, but I can assure you the readers swooped on it. And yes, the awards were withdrawn.

Not all examples of geographical errors are as dramatic as this one, but readers do notice mistakes. And these days of instant maps and atlases on the internet there is absolutely no excuse. Besides Google, there is always:
www.mapsofworld.com
www.worldatlas.com
geography.about.com
and dozens more that can answer your every query from the temperature in Cairns, Australia, in the middle of winter (20-30C = 68-86F) to how much rain falls on the plain in Spain. (http://www.iberianature.com/material/Spain_climate/Rainfall_Spain.htm)

These sites have all sorts of fascinating weather details:
http://www.worldclimate.com/
www.weatherbase.com/
www.weatherbank.com

There are even historical sites that can tell you whether or not your hero and heroine would have been snowbound in London in 1709. (Yes they would have been. It was a very cold year.)
http://news.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=09/02/09/0238206&from=rss

And before your heroine flees to another country, please check to see whether or not she needs a visa or inoculations or an international driver’s license. It would be a real plot destroyer if she got barred at the border or deported as an illegal alien or caught Dengue Fever instead of kissing the hero on the last page.

So, what are the worst/funniest geographical errors you have seen in a novel?

21 comments:

Erastes said...

Many authors don't seem to care, and a lot of readers too, sadly. I've had comments like "I want the story, I'm not bothered whether the facts are right or not." It's very discouraging.

I read one the other day where the characters went from Galway to Limerick by push bike and back in a day. Consdiering they are 150 apart....

Ashlyn Chase said...

Great url's! I have a world atlas (print) sitting right behind me in my office, but I can't zoom in on a particular spot.

I've been checking out India recently since my hubby has to go there for business shortly after the first of the year. I was able to zoom right in on the various temples in Chennai!

Ash

Joanna Waugh said...

Thanks for the links,Helen! As an American Regency author, UK geography involves deep research for me. I do a lot of it on the web. I also check out the flora and fauna for my locale -- that always gives a good indication of what the terrain and weather is like.
~Jo~

Tracy Cooper-Posey said...

I can't...I really shouldn't. But I will. It's related to geography, but it's a bit of a stretch, but I've been sitting on this one, and you just opened the door.

I'll try and keep it anonymous as much as I can, okay?

A certain well known series that everyone is having orgasms over these days. The very first book in the series, the heroine heads to a foreign country on an open-ended ticket.

Excuse me? How the hell do you do that? These days, especially after 9-11, they virtually cavity search anyone who wants to step into a strange land for anything except a short stay for vacation purposes.

Second book of the series, she calmly starts working for the hero of the series...in front of the police detective of the series, who doesn't bat an eyelid about a foreign national working without a work visa!!

I don't know how bad it gets after that because the bloody book got deleted off my reader. It would have hit the wall except it was pixels not paper.

And don't get me started about the heroine finding out she was adopted...at the grand age of 24 (no way you go that long without finding out)....

Lynne Connolly said...

Historicals. People just don't look up how far a carriage or horse could travel in a day, and what it involved.
Countless examples. There's a rather notorious one where a man went from London to Cornwall, seduced the heroine, and brought her back to London before nightfall! The state of the roads being what they are, you'd be lucky to do that these days!
A man who rides from London to Scotland on the same horse.
And while I'm on the subject of Scotland - it's a country, not a state of mind. It takes time to travel from the relatively civilised Edinburgh to the relatively uncivilised Ayr. I'm talking historically, of course. These days Scotland is completely civilised! (natch!)

Tracy Cooper-Posey said...

@ Lynn Connelly

I hear you Lynn. Finding out that sort of stuff can be a nightmare, too! I remember trying to figure out how long it would take to cross the deserts on horseback in Syria during the first war for my Sherlock Holmes novels...that was an exercise in frustration, but I had to know because I knew someone, somewhere would skewer me if I didn't get it right. I ended up buying my father in law a bottle of single malt and picking his brains, as he's a horseman. He figured it out, in the end.

Anonymous said...

The opening sentence of a sniper on a 'hill' zeroing in on a target overlooking a college campus in Houston. We don't have hills. The highest elevation you will find is an overpass. We are as flat as an iron-board. Houston was built on a swamp.

Katie Reus said...

A well-known semi-philosophical book (fiction) that shall remain nameless had enough inaccuracies in describing places, statues, settings, etc. in Rome that I noticed and it pulled me out of the story on more than one occasion.

Anonymous said...

It's called fiction for a reason?

MsSnarkyPants said...

I totally obsess about such things, and nothing makes me happier than finding the PERFECT historical reference. Thanks for the great links!

One thing I saw that made me just CRINGE was a pretty darn famous author whose heroine went the Cafe du Monde in New Orleans for their famous baguettes... Now maybe I missed out on some darn good baguettes, but I'm pretty sure she meant beignets.

And to anonymous...I agree that you get to take some liberties when you write fiction, but if you're writing something set in our real world then you should see that what you're referencing is accurate. If you don't want to be concerned at all with facts then I'm totally cool with that in Sci Fi and Fantasy. If you're in another world then perhaps even the laws of physics don't apply. Just my two cents, of course. :-D

Desiree Holt said...

Okay, I hated this because the author is one I love and I have every one of her books. I met ehr at RT two eyars ago and she is the nicest person. But in her latest bookshe has her hero and heroine at the end going to Disneyland in Florida. DisneyLAND is in California. The one in Florida is DisneyWORLD. Like you said, Helen, the Internet gives you the world at your fingertips. You can find out anything you want by a simple Google. For example, anyone want to ask me about Mexico's Quintana Roo jungle?

jean hart stewart said...

Thanks for the links, Helen. I obsess about research, but still manage to get a few things wrong. In fact, I love the research and these links sound great. Jean

Amarinda Jones said...

I'm always amused when non Aussie writers try and write a book set in Australia and they haven't got a clue what city is in what state, the weather is always hot and kangaroos jump down every street...I know one book in particular that fits this description. Either write what you know or research it.There's no point looking like a nong.

Angelia Sparrow said...

I can't recall reading any glaring errors. I made a huge one, though, in draft stage, and really needed the adventure.

I got the Valley of the Kings (400 miles from Cairo) and the Saqqara necropolis (35 miles from Cairo) switched. *headdesk* It did all work out.

I don't honestly read enough stuff set in the "real world" to notice.

Marianne Stephens said...

Thanks for the links, Helen! I don't notice these type of mistakes when reading...guess I just go along with the "creative fiction" the book represents.
I did notice a glaring "surprise" on a TV movie once. It had a major dam bursting in Kansas City and my husband and I looked at each other and said, "Huh?" Don't remember if the movie was based on a book but if so and the book had a Kansas City major dam in it, that's a mistake.

Regina Carlysle said...

I usually write about areas that I'm already familiar with because I'm lazy and I suck at geography. That being said, if I pick up a book about an area familiar to me and they've got it ALL WRONG, I put down the book and seldom read the author again. I just find it irritating.

Jamie said...

There's this one book that was set in Florida relatively near the area where I grew up -- I'm a FL native. It was a decent book, but the author obviously failed to mapquest because the routes that she had her characters traveling on were either ridiculously out of the way or not even near where the story was set. Mapquest isn't always reliable, but when in doubt, I much prefer a generic term over referencing a wrong highway.

Anonymous said...

Also thanks to the Internet, it's possible to recruit critique partners from the geographic location. They can give great, first-hand help, like how long it actually takes to travel by train from one place to another or if you'd see certain monuments from an airplane as you flew over a certain area.

Ann Bruce said...

One romance author decided Banff is in British Columbia, Canada instead of Alberta, Canada. When I e-mailed her to correct her, she told me my research skills are lacking.

Uh, no. I live 45 minutes east of Banff and drive there several times a year, especially during winter to snowboard. I think I know what I'm talking about.

Of course, I shouldn't be surprised since CNN mistakenly reported Banff as being in BC during the Banff Squirrel photo incident.

Anonymous said...

Recently read in an excerpt a character arriving in Whitby (east coast of england) and getting their first glance of the ocean (actually the North Sea.)

Anonymous said...

My family live in Cambridge, England and travel to Kings Cross on the train all the time. We arrive at platform 9, 10 or 11. I'm sure that this has been said before, but there is no platform between 9 and 10, hence no wall to run into to get to platform 9 and 3/4.