It's been years, if not decades, since I saw the movie in which that exchange occurred. I no longer remember the name of the movie or the stars or any of the plot, only the huge mistake the writers had made and the scorn I felt for them. It would have taken only a few minutes to look in a cookbook to find out how pesto is made—only seconds if the Web were already around—but they didn't bother."What are you cooking?" she asks, looking into the pot he stirs."Pesto," he answers.
This story takes place on an Indonesian island in 1598. To describe the setting without an info dump, I have one of the lead characters, a Portuguese sailor, admiring a few features he can see from his ship. One of the features was a vast sprawl of flowers, and in my final round of polishing, I decided to add a smoking volcano.
I checked online to see whether any of the volcanoes were live; a smoking volcano would be silly if none were. Yikes! It hit me then for the first time that volcanoes erupt and I had not checked any on the island had erupted in or shortly before 1598. Luckily, none had. But an eruption could have changed the look of the island considerably and possibly forced a relocation of the story to a different part of the island or a different year.
Second yikes! To make the description of flowers more specific, I went Google-surfing to find out what colors the flowers the island is known for are. That was when I discovered that the "flowers" were in fact the many species of brightly colored corals that the Portuguese saw in the clear tropical water under their ships. I not only had to take out the reference to flowers in the lead paragraph, but also add a mention of sharp-edged corals in an underwater scene.
I thought of the pesto-cooking writers then and felt a little sympathy. If I had skipped researching these two important points, I wondered what else I hadn't researched enough. The story is on submission now; if it gets accepted, I may find out from alert readers.
What is the silliest mistake you've ever made in a story or book? Did you catch it before it got published? Did any readers write to you?
I'll be blogging again on March 21, the second day of Spring. May you make no factual mistakes in your writing between now and then!