Today I discovered a pretty severe error in my manuscript. And not a plot or grammar or character or consistency error.
My story is based long after the undead outbreak that destroyed the world as we know it today. How long? Who knows, but long enough that the past is a distant memory, and the world has been rebuilt on shaky foundations. I didn't want to write about an outbreak. Or a horror movie style "run from the zombies." But my story is still based, in its roots, in the real world.
In my manuscript, there's a copy of the Divine Comedy by Dante. The book is somewhat significant for a few reasons. First, I made a bit of metaphor out of it. Oh, clever me! Actually, I'm really quite proud of this passage. (Which, out of context, will probably lack the impact I believe it has in the manuscript, but what the hell, here it is.)
It worked well. Heaven read during the daylight hours or slept under the canvas they pulled out across the roll cage of the Jeep. Her sunburn was getting worse. Even though she took care to keep her delicate skin covered, the light always found a way in. The back of her hands were by far the most uncomfortable, but she sacrificed them in order to get through to Paradiso. Once it was done, she simply started over again, putting herself back to the beginnings of hell.
Second, the copy has changed hands between two characters in the book, and that exchange is important to a third character.
And third, I wanted the fact that the book itself still survived and was very, very old to act as a memory of what once was and now is lost. So old, in fact, that Dante himself touched the pages.
So what's wrong with this whole blog post?
No copy of Dante's original manuscript of the Divine Comedy exists today in 2009.
What started for me as research as to what exactly the book would look like turned in to a big problem. Sure, not many literature buffs or historians might be reading a book about zombies, but it only takes one reader to discredit your book for a screw up like this. This is one of the reasons I always write science fiction and fantasy. It's much easier for me to keep the history of my own made up world in line.
So, some slight tweaking and I should be able to fix this whole mistake. However, had I sent out an earlier draft, I never would have noticed this mistake. It took a number of passes, looking for different things, for this to finally jump out at me in the polishing phase.
So don't rush. Give your manuscript the attention it deserves to make it the best it can possibly be.