I hit a snag in my plot a few days ago. My heroine and her savvy hero had escaped their captors, and were on the run. Now, too many of us get our information from watching television, or maybe from reading novels written by authors who get their information watching television. We've grown to believe that DNA and fingerprint records come back in minutes, complete with pictures of the suspects, their entire life history, and what they ate for breakfast. In reality, that doesn't happen.
Can you be found by using your credit card or ATM? Calling someone on your cell phone? Maybe--but be honest. Do YOU know how to do that? In reality, most of this information goes only to law enforcement, and only with a lot of paperwork. John Q. Public can't simply call up the AmEx office and ask where Joe Hero last used his credit card.
But -- if a reader thinks something is real, then is writing it right going to make them stop reading because they think it's wrong? One RWA speaker, Julia Hunter with the FBI said that even she writes things wrong if it's reader perception.
I've tried to have my savvy hero explain to my heroine why he feels safe using his credit card--because he knows the system, and he's sure the guys who found them earlier are penny-ante thugs who could never get the requisite warrants, since they're not law enforcement by any means. However I also created a special perk for his account which would alert him if anyone tried to trace his charges. Is that real? Maybe. I know you can get alerts if someone tries to access your credit rating. And I know that AmEx called me once when someone was trying to charge a plane ticket from Japan to Ireland. And, I created a fictional company that my hero works for, which allows some more of the fudge factor.
So--my hero and heroine managed to elude the bad guys, and are on the road again. I followed all the normal precautions for them, and was convinced they could get away clean. Only problem--I need the bad guys to find them for another action-high tension scene. I decided that the heroine will send a couple of emails to someone she's unaware is working with the bad guys, and he'd use the header information in the emails to trace where the messages came from.
But--I wasn't 100% sure it would work. I tried plugging my own ISP into WHOIS and it took me to my Internet Provider's corporate office. I questioned my crimescenewriters Yahoo group and my fears were confirmed. Without a subpoena, the ISPs won't reveal exactly where the emails come from. So... do I fudge here and hope readers think that every time they log onto their computers, anyone can find them? Or do I try to keep it real.
I've always opted for real. So...back to the plotting board for another way to get that hero/heroine confrontation with the bad guy.
Does it bother you when an author bases an important plot point on something you know can't really happen?
Causes Terry Odell Supports
Pro Literacy Worldwide, The Nature Conservancy, The Adult Literacy League, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society