The novel is such an imperfect form. It is the sum total of a zillion tiny fragments, gathered over hours and minutes and years. It is like a wall that has been painted and repainted, and repainted again, and again, but only very rarely stripped. I am on draft 3 or 4 or 6 or something—it's hard to keep track—and still I am finding woefully nonfactual details, mismatched leftovers from several drafts ago that no longer go with the document of today.
Take for example the issue of my main character's camera. When I first started writing the book I knew almost nothing about cameras, so she was just using your basic analog machine. Okay. I realized that such a thing does not exist—every camera comes with its own reputation and implications, both artistic and socioeconomic—so I asked a few kind friends about what kind of camera she might have had, and made it a bit more specific.
Then I decided the photograph around which my plot revolves had to be in color, not black and white. Because she develops her film and prints her photographs at home, the decision to have her work in color changed her darkroom processes significantly. No longer could she make the print in her studio. She had to go out and spend money on having it printed at a shop.
I incorporated that into her story, and it worked all right. She is a struggling artist. That she would have to pay to get a photograph printed both exacerbates her financial woes and makes it more clear how committed she is to her work. However, after a couple of drafts, it became clear that not only did she have to be working with color film; she had to have a highly detailed negative, and film that was speedy enough film to capture something going past the frame extremely quickly. So the average, generic color film I was counting on wouldn't do, either. I upgraded her to a very specific film and a very specific camera: medium-format Kodachrome, and a Rolleiflex (the kind of camera that Diane Arbus used).
But the decision to get specific about her film and camera had other implications in the manuscript. Now, as I'm going through it yet again, I am finding that there are inconsistencies about the negative, left over from early drafts: its size, its color. The way a slide of it might fit into a slide carousel (or doesn't). Hunting for one type of inconsistency only reveals two or three more. Thanks to a smart early reader of the manuscript, I discovered another glaring error this week: apparently making both a slide and a negative from the same roll of film is impossible.
They say to write what you know, but that should come with a caveat: write what you know unless you're committed to doing a shit-ton of research. I am sincerely committed to doing a shit-ton of research, but regardless of how much I try to uncover about my known unknowns (I was aware, for example, that I needed to learn about specific types of cameras and film), there will always be those unknown unknowns, which can only be revealed by true experts. I am wildly nervous that when this book is finally published analog photography enthusiasts will come for me en masse, clanging their developing bins and demanding to have me exposed (so to speak) as the fraud I am!
Then again, I am just as wildly nervous that they won't read it at all. Which would be worse?