Monday, February 20, 2012

Fact Check: Ringo Starr is Not Dead

Yesterday at Sunday Mass, the priest gave a homily with the message of: wouldn't it be wonderful if churches were filled to standing room only like arenas are for sporting events and major concerts. 

(I agree; it would, except maybe for parking.)

During the homily, some examples he gave of SRO events were the Super Bowl, the World Series, and a concert given by Paul McCartney--"the sole surviving Beatle."

Screech . . . Rewind. What did Father say?

At that point I stopped listening to the homily.

Paul McCartney is not the sole surviving Beatle. Unless I missed something, Ringo Starr is still alive. I hadn't read it in the news or heard about Ringo's death on TV. No way I could've missed something newsworthy like that.

Confession time: In the mid-60s, I attended an all-girls' Catholic high school and got caught up in Beatlemania. Our cliques were divided along musical tastes. There was a group who loved the Beatles (I was in that group). There was Clare and her group who loved the Beach Boys. And then there was everyone else.

Back then I could tell you the birthdate of each of the Beatles. I still remember that Paul is the only left-handed guitar player in the group. I knew the drummer Ringo Starr's real name is Richard Starkey, he's the only Beatle with blue eyes, and the sole Catholic (not sure if that's still true).

One of our nuns chided us for our obsession with the Beatles. She told us that five years after graduation no one would remember the Beatles. Umm. I don't think so.

The good news is that Ringo Starr is not dead. I visited Ringo's website this morning. He is still alive and planning a tour with his All Starr Band later this year.

Which brings me to the point of this post.

In writing and in speaking, facts are important. If you don't get them right you risk losing your audience, the same way I zoned out yesterday remembering the Beatles instead of thinking about how wonderful it would be if more people attended Sunday Mass.

Several years ago I attended a writers' conference where one presenter talked about the topic of how important it is for writers, including fiction writers, to get their facts straight. The speaker called it verisimilitude, which means (I looked it up for meaning and spelling): "the appearance or semblance of truth; likelihood; probability."

As someone who has been guilty on occasion of not having verisimilitude in her writing, I speak from experience.

In the first critique group I belonged to I read an essay about going to a book fair with my sister and finding a Latin book that had once belonged to the boy who took me to my grade school's eighth-grade dance and who later died in Vietnam.

The essay was based on an actual experience, but I embelished one of the details for dramatic effect. In my essay I wrote that my sister and I met up in the snack bar, where I showed her the book, when we actually met up at the drinking fountain. No big deal, right? Not for one reader.

The leader of the critique group called me out on the fact that there was no snack bar at the book fair. He knew that because he was a long-time volunteer at the book fair. Even though the crux of my essay was true, because I changed that one small detail, I lost credibility with him.

The lesson I learned was to check my facts and don't embellish minor details in non-fiction.

In the current critique group I belong to, we have several spot-on fact checkers who can catch even the slightest mistake or minor detail that doesn't ring true.

A couple weeks ago one of our guys read an entertaining short story about a gangster who was a driver for a mobster. In the story, during a trip from Chicago to St. Louis, the gangster drove past miles of cornfields in Illinois in the winter.

Illinois. Winter. Cornfields.  Like they used to sing (and still might) on Sesame Street: "One of these things doesn't belong here. One of these things just doesn't belong."

A few of us jumped on the fact that corn doesn't grow in the winter in Illinois.

The point of this post rant is that for writers, facts and details really do matter. A drinking fountain is not the same thing as a snack bar. Corn doesn't grow in Illinois in the winter. And Ringo Starr is not dead.

28 comments:

  1. Loved this post! It is so true. I have a picture of me when I was just a little kid and I am wearing a top with the Beatles on it. Wish I still had that. I have also read books where the facts don't ring true and it just gets you off track for the rest of the reading, you will find yourself searching for other mistakes. They talked of a Lincoln penny and the time period was before the Lincoln penny was issued.

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  2. Hi Janet,
    Yay! Another Beatles fan. I bet your shirt would be worth a lot, and your example of the Lincoln penny in the wrong time period is a good one.
    Donna

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  3. Wow, great post this morning!Interesting and the tie ups were great. Our last guild meeting had one of best critiquing sessions ever, and I was subject to their reading among others. SO helpful when it works! Two things I learned: nursing is something mothers do, not nurses. And one writes out 911 in words if it appears in dialogue. Didn't know that!

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    1. Hi Claudia,
      Thanks for sharing those details about nursing and 911. I hope I can get them right if I use them.
      Donna

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  4. I am always afraid of getting my facts wrong - even in fiction! My books/stories are definitely going to need one of those lines that says, "All mistakes are the authors" or "Some facts were changed..." etc. :)

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  5. Hi Madeline,
    Same here. If I ever write an entire book I'll have to do the same.
    Donna

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  6. And you forgot to mention that the Beatles' lovers were subdivided into groups of WHICH Beatle was your favorite. Mine was John Lennon. I can still get a little misty when I hear a Lennon song...

    As for that facts thing, SO true. The sermon AND a manuscript. (Although if I'm being honest, if the priest goes over that 10 minute line, he's pretty much lost me. Unless he starts talking about the Beatles. :-)

    And P.S. I was JUST at the dentist's office and there was a framed Beatles album and I turned to the (very) young hygienist and asked, "Can you believe that some people didn't know Paul McCartney at the Grammys?"


    And she said, "Who's Paul McCartney?"

    I seriously thought I was gonna cry.

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    1. You are right about Beatles' lovers being subdivided into camps. I was in Paul's camp; my sister (also named Kathy) was in John Lennon's.

      I realize going to the dentist can be discomforting, but it must've been down right painful to hear that the dental hygienist didn't know who Paul McCartney is.

      Donna

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  7. My next-door-neighbor, Sally, had gray-striped cats named for the Beatles. Paul was a girl.

    As for fact-checking...I hate watching a sports movie where the basketball players' jerseys have numbers higher than five. Such as 7, or 29, or 56. Referees hold up fingers representing the numbers when reporting fouls. I don't know any with more than five fingers per hand.

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    1. Val,

      Cute name for a cat.

      I never thought about the basketball numbers before. Interesting.

      Donna

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  8. Great post, Donna!! I'm the same way about hearing a speaker who doesn't have his/her facts straight! I guess if anyone else at Mass caught the mistake, they felt the same as you. I picture you holding up your hand, like in school, and saying, "Uh, Father. I'm sorry to interrupt, but that's not correct. Ringo is still alive!"....LOL

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    1. Hi Becky,
      Thanks.
      Actually I thought about saying something to him on the way out of church but figured I better check my facts before opening my mouth. I've done dumb stuff like that before.

      Donna

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  9. Whether through embellishment or faulty fact checking, errors in writing (or speaking) will stop the reader (or listener) short. You are "write-on" with this post, Donna!

    Pat
    Critter Alley

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    1. Hi Pat,
      Thanks.
      I have to admit that after writing this I worried about having a typo or mistake in the post, which I've been known to do.
      Donna

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  10. So, so true. Most of the time, people are happy to provide all the details you need while you're researching. Every once in a while you come across someone who doesn't understand why you need to know.

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    1. Hi Carol,
      You are so right. People have been very generous when I've done research.
      Donna

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  11. Donna--Your sister Kathy is the smart one. John was the best Beatle.

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  12. Hi Sioux,
    You are right. My sister Kathy is the smart one in the family. I'm guessing John was your favorite Beatle too?
    Donna

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  13. You make a really great point. I have often been distracted by some error that has been made in a work of fiction. I hope no one says that about one of my novels. And I'm glad Ringo is still alive.

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    1. Hi Clarissa,
      I bet Ringo is the happiest of all. ;-)
      Donna

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  14. John my favorite Beatle? John was the ONLY Beatle! (ha)

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  15. Love this post, Donna! I get so distracted by research sometimes, but it is really important. Still, there is that niggling advice to "Don't let the facts get in the way of a good story"! But that is for fiction only, and only for minor stuff, right?

    Yes, Ringo is going strong, thank God. One of his sons tours with him, and with Paul too. Wasn't Paul's little Valentine song at the Grammys wonderful. He seems happy again, and has let his grow a bit too.

    George was MY Beatle. Mine. But in later years I felt more connected with John.

    -Marcia Gaye

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    1. Hi Marcia,
      George was a cutie too. He was the shy one. Back in the day, his sister Daphney lived in Southern Illinois, and once a week she called into a local St. Louis-area radio station to give an update on what was going on with George and Beatles. I lived for her weekly updates on the Fab 4.
      Donna

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  16. It is so important to get the facts straight. I find myself stopping as if at a roadblock to figure things like this out in books. The one author who claimed they jumped into the river from inside the Arch, sure got that wrong. The Arch doesn't span the river.

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    1. Hi Linda,
      Jumping into the river from inside the Arch would be an impossible feat. Guess that author didn't follow the old "write what you know" advice.
      Donna

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  17. Nice post. Getting the facts correct. And I'm a Beatles fan too!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Lynn,
      Lots of Beatles fan among us.
      Donna

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