It’s Just a Story: Nitpicking and Accuracy in Media

In the Michael Bay disaster movie Armageddon, there is a scene one of the spaceships sent to land on the asteroid heading for Earth makes a crash landing. As the crew escape the wreckage, there are flames in the background. Obviously, fire doesn’t seem out of place shortly after a crash- except they are on an asteroid with minimal oxygen, thus there is no way a fire could be burning in the vacuum of space. Of course, this asteroid also somehow has the gravitational pull equal to Earth, even though it is much, much smaller than the moon. And there is the whole awful plot point that NASA thought it easier to train oil drillers how to be astronauts rather than train astronauts how to use a drill. Piloting a high-tech drill should be enough for astronauts to handle, right?

The inaccuracies and plot conveniences pile up the longer I think about it, which leads to complaining to whoever I’m watching the movie with about them. Cue the phrase I hear the most in those moments: “It’s just a movie.”

As a writer, I have always strive for accuracy and logic within my stories, relentlessly researching anything that I might not know. As a reader, my entire enjoyment of a novel can break when something feels illogical or-worse- when I know there is something illogical. Fantasy and science fiction are the worst offenders of this. Don’t get me wrong: I have always loved fantasy as a genre and I have no problem buying into the worlds there. Yet there are moments when I can’t help but find corrections.  While reading Harry Potter  and the Deathly Hallows, when Harry, Ron, Hermonie leap from the back of a dragon into a lake below, I remember wondering if jumping from so high up would have killed them. Perhaps the dragon was a high dive’s height from the water. Even so, the impact would have at least hurt a ton, especially if they weren’t making a practiced swan dive into the water. I spent so long thinking about this, I had to remind myself that I was supposed to be reading something.

Or take a book series I read when I was younger, Warriors by Erin Hunter. As a middle schooler, I was brought into the world of feral cats fighting for survival, but now, it is hard to deny how much anthropomorphism there is. Characters are named after lions and tigers when there is no way they would know what big cats are. They devote themselves to one mate. (Real cats often mate with multiple cats within a mating season. In fact, it’s possible for a cat litter to have more than one father.) Even the main character, Fireheart, would not have a striking red fur to the other cats, as cats do not have good color perception on par with humans.

Of course, a book targeted to a younger audience is limited and relating to cats would be hard if Erin Hunter had restricted themselves to accurate cat biology. Still, I cannot help but think about these inaccuracies. It’s fictional. In the fantasy genre, rules bend. But physics still exist in the world of Harry Potter. The cats in Warriors are still cats, even if they are anthropomorphized.

I know that perhaps I am being too analytical. I’m looking too hard and not just enjoying the more important elements, like the narrative. I know it is exceedingly difficult on the craft side to make a story believable. But to me, a story’s world should stand up to the test of scrutiny. An author should strive to be accurate within the worlds they create, otherwise they risk losing those of us who can’t help but think too much while they read.



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