Editing Rant: Copper Pennies

Fingers Holding A Penny Stock Photo

Image Courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What do your characters know?

So last editing rant I went off about Know Your Topic. You don’t want to lose readers because you presented parasailing or embroidery incorrectly. If you don’t know the topic find someone who does: topic experts, beta readers, at least a research librarian whom you are keeping in chocolates and coffee.

Equally important be aware of what you character knows.

This isn’t limited to the more common Point of View (POV) main character (MC) limitations; you may know character B dyed her hair yesterday, but MC doesn’t know yet so describes character B as a blonde. Don’t get me wrong, as an author making certain you only let your MC work from the information known to them rather than to you as the writer is essential. And challenging.

But you also need to limit them on what they are familiar with. Having a twenty-fourth century engineer know how to use a twentieth century keyboard to input information into a computer system is improbable.

Or a twenty-something person forty years after the zombie Apocalypse comparing the scent of blood to new pennies. Yes, this is a common comparison to the point of being clique. But someone born after coins stopped being minted isn’t likely to know what new pennies smelled like.

A person who has never seen the shore would not understand what the salty breeze meant.

Someone who had never been off a spaceship isn’t only going to be shocked by no sky – no walls is as big an issue. And the ship isn’t breathing. Could they even sleep at night? No mechanical noise means “we are all about to die”. How long does it take for the panic to wear off?

Back to the Smell of Blood – as an editor I couldn’t rewrite the line about new pennies. But I did find an article on the scent of blood. If you are describing lycanthropes, vampires, or just have splashes of blood throughout your manuscript you may want to follow the link to Writeworld – “Describing the Smell of Blood”. (AMENDMENT  on 10/24/2019 (original post 11/8/2016) – The link for the Writeworld article  is now dead. Search on “describing the smell of blood”, there are a lot of resources now.)

(sigh) … And it is research like this that puts writers on watch lists.

WRITING EXERCISE: Create a scene (500 words or less) where your WIP character describes a common day item on your desk s/he is not familiar with and what the actions are taken to discover its use.