Okay, I know that’s a weird title for a blog post. It’s a thought I had recently while reading a book. And okay, I also know that’s a weird thought to have while reading a book, so let me explain: The book was a historical YA set in turn-of-the-century England. The main character had lived in a small English village her entire life. No mention of her ever traveling, certainly not to other countries or continents, and given the time period, she’d likely have very limited knowledge of faraway places. I mean, it’s not like she could Google them or anything. So when she ventured to muse that a certain person in her life reminded her of a hummingbird, the first thought that leapt to my mind was, Wait a minute, there aren’t any hummingbirds in England! How would she know what one looked like?
Now, I won’t claim to be an expert on hummingbirds, but I have a certain fondness for them. I like watching them flit around in the sun, pretty little shimmers of green and blue. I have tried, with varying degrees of success, to lure them into my yard so I might delight in their fluttery forms. And when I bought my first hummingbird feeder a few years ago, I searched online to find the best way to attract these little feathered beauties. Thanks to these online searches, I know that hummingbirds are drawn to the color red—it reminds them of flowers—so tying a red ribbon to a hummingbird feeder is helpful. I know that if I don’t have store-bought hummingbird nectar on hand, I can make my own by boiling 1 part sugar and 4 parts water. I know it’s against Federal law to keep any part of a hummingbird nest or egg—yes, really—as hummingbirds are protected migratory birds. I also know that hummingbirds are a New World species, found only in the Americas.
Now, don’t get me wrong. This is obviously a very tiny detail, not important to the main story arch of the book, and I don’t fault the American author for slipping on this itsy-bitsy factoid. If I hadn’t read up on hummingbirds, I probably wouldn’t know they’re not in England either. I’m certainly not going to pretend that it detracted from my enjoyment of the book in any way. Come on, I’m not that nit-picky. It did make me think, however, how easily details can trip us up, especially when writing about a different culture, time period, or geographic location. I suppose this is why research is so key.
Of course, getting the major details right is the most important goal. Hopefully your slip-ups will be so minor that either 1) most readers won’t even realize you’ve made a mistake, or 2) the rest of your story is engaging enough that they are willing to forgive you an erroneous hummingbird here or there.
What kind of inaccuracies have you found in books? And let’s be nice by not mentioning any specific author names or book titles, please. Especially not if the error is in one of my books ;)