Archive for November 2nd, 2011

A Writer Reviews: Them Apples

I love Honeycrisp apples.  And really, who wouldn’t?  They were scientifically created by the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities to be the perfect apple for eating raw.  They’re crisp, they’re sweet, they’re juicy, they really are the best thing that you can grab out of the grocery store produce aisle and just sink your teeth right into.  Except they’ll probably want you to pay for the apple first.

But this is A Writer Reviews, not Eat This.  So why am I talking about Honeycrisp apples?  Well, first I want you to see a picture of a Honeycrisp.

Honeycrisp photo released under the Creative Commons Attributions-Share Alike 3.0 license by wikipedia user Jonathunder.

Aw man, that looks good, doesn’t it?  They get that great two-toned skin similar to a gala apple that makes them visually distinct.  I show you that picture to show you another picture.  These are the kinds of apples that Once Upon a Time has been using for the Evil Queen.

Red Delicious photo released under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 by wikipedia user Fir0002/Flagstaffotos.

That’s a Red Delicious apple, the apple that put Washington State on the map as an apple producer, and that still makes up most of the crop in the state.  Not as good for eating raw, great for cooking.  It has an iconic look to it, somewhat tall with very distinct bumps on the bottom, and a uniform red coloration throughout.  Every apple we’ve seen thus far on Once Upon a Time has clearly been a red delicious.  However, this week’s episode made a point of calling them Honeycrisps.  Several times.  It expounded on the ability of the Honeycrisp to grow in harsher northern climates.  Which is true, it’s what they were partially bred for.  A character talks about tending a Honeycrisp tree since she was a child.  Which is unlikely for the age of the actress, since they were only recently released, but since she’s also the Evil Queen I can forgive her a lie on this matter.  But to go out of the way to pick one very specific type of apple and then show another?  I can’t understand that.

If the store the prop department goes to doesn’t have Honeycrisp apples, they you go to the farmer’s market or the off ramp in Valencia and you buy a bag from Pedro.  Where’s the effort?

Sorry, that’s not me getting into random racial profiling, but rather it’s from another show that featured very specific species of apples this week, American Horror Story.  In a great scene, Zachery Quinto, playing a ghostly house stager (fantastic sentence to type) wants Granny Smith apples for a bobbing station, but series star Dylan McDermott bought Galas.  And, by god, those are Gala apples floating in the basin.

In the case of a television show, this is a prop department issue.  The prop department for American Horror Story is clearly a little more up on its apple varieties than the prop department of Once Upon a Time.  Or cares a little more.  Or realizes if a character is going to get mad about a variety of apples, it better as hell be that variety of apples.  If you think I’m being harsh and pedantic on Once Upon a Time (“I think you’re over-reacting.”  “Because I’m the only one who actually gives a shit?”), well, I am.  But I’m also not the only person who noticed that they clearly were not using the new darling of the apple world, and instead using mealy cooking apples.  But it’s still a prop department issue, not a writing room issue, so why am I even bringing it up?

As writers on the page, rather than writers for the screen, we are our own prop departments.  And we are writing for an audience that is going to include harsh and pedantic people, because that’s who people are.  So we have to do what we can to ensure that the props we put in stories are accurate, especially if we’re being precise about their nature.  If there’s a bowl of gala apples on a table and a character examines their green skin, that’s a prop error.  If Dirty Harry is running around shooting his .44 Magnum, he better fire either five shots or six, because if there’s a seventh, that’s a prop error.  Anytime a real world object is mentioned by name, it better work and look the right way or include an explanation of why it doesn’t.

People will notice these things.  People will call bullshit.  And it will pull people out of the stories.

What’s the solution?  There are two.  Less specificity and more research.  The former works where specificity isn’t essential to the plot, but be careful not to turn it into a cheat.  Sure we’re not going to know the make and model of every gun being shot at our hero as she escapes the death trap set up to finally kill her, especially if we’re in third person limited or first person perspective.  But we’ll probably know what her gun is, even if it’s a fictional one, just so that the rules of the weapon can be internally consistent.  So when specificity is called for, it’s time to do enough research to make sure the details are right.

So get your apples right.  And while you’re at it, go out and try a Honeycrisp if you haven’t.  Me?  I’ve actually got a bottle of Honeycrisp hard cider at home I’ve been meaning to break open.

Honeycrisp photo released under the Creative Commons Attributions-Share Alike 3.0 license by wikipedia user Jonathunder.
Red Delicious photo released under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 by wikipedia user Fir0002/Flagstaffotos.

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