I saw two interesting but inaccurate things on two of my favorite TV dramas this week. I work as a receptionist at a blood center. I’ve been there for over a decade, and although I have no contact with the blood or drawing it, the company works hard to educate all of us about blood, blood products and procedures. I have learned more about blood than I even thought was possible to know, and there is still much, much more I don’t.
Detecting details through the eyes of experience
I share my background so you understand my comments. When my family watches TV shows, we notice details. Details from our own experience. My son, former army, will mention the military equipment for a foreign army in a battle scene is really US army issue. His experience makes him aware of inaccuracies.
My years working at a blood center makes me painfully aware of portrayals of blood banks on TV, in movies, and even in commercials. In a recent episode of one of my favorite shows I couldn’t help picking apart a scene where thugs rushed into a blood bank and stole rare blood. So many things were wrong with the scene. 1) Rare blood is not stored at your local blood collection center. All blood collected at small centers are shipped to their main office where the labs prepare it, and it is stored for hospital use. 2) Very rare blood types may be frozen and are usually not in large supplies.
Unrealistic settings and procedures
The scriptwriter did have a few things right. The donor was taken to a private room to go over his questions. It is not however referred to as an exam room, but a screening room. I’ve seen shows where the characters sit in the waiting room and discuss their answers to the questions. Never allowed to happen in real life. However, in this show the HEPA privacy issues were handled appropriately.
Another unrealistic issue: security. As I said, the rare blood would be stored at the main office. It would be tricky to steal the blood because we have lots of security protocols. And the blood is coded and refrigerated so it wouldn’t be easy for a laymen to choose the right blood bags.
Most viewers don’t know this and for the sake of the overall story line I can overlook their faux pas.
Rare Blood type error
Last year all employees were taken on an extended tour of our labs and distribution center, carefully explaining the process of preparing blood. Additionally they shared lots of factors about rare blood types. One particular piece of information stuck out in my mind. There is an extremely rare blood type called Bombay. It is so rare that you would have to search a national database to see who has some frozen on hand. Bombay is unique to India. These individuals are not good candidates for type 0 negative—the universal donor. It could be fatal. Because it was identified among residents of Bombay, it is only reasonable to assume only people of Indian descent would have that blood type. Yet, the second drama I watched this past week had a white youth with this rare blood type getting a heart that gets stolen by a white criminal with the same blood type.
Again, very few people would know this. So, no one is going to call the producers of the show and complain. I, once again, overlooked this detail for the sake of the I-did-not-see-that-coming plot twist.
Sprinkle in the details along with the plot twists
If I were writing a scene in a blood center I would be more aware of the correct details. It would be a question of which details to share without boring the reader. As you research details for your novels and short stories decide how much detail to share and get it right. Readers can be taken out of the story if they catch your details lacking accuracy.
If you watch a favorite movie often enough, you catch weird details. My sister watched Tombstone often. She started counting the shots fired from the six-shooters in the OK Corral gunfight. One gun shot fourteen bullets. But in the minutes it takes to film the scene, the extra bullets are necessary to intensify the drama. The same is true of rare blood types and criminals. It ramps up the drama.
As you write your dramatic scenes and plot twists, sprinkle it with just enough disbelief to make it fun. Be careful not to deviate too far from actual facts; otherwise your readers may scoff and close the book. Or worse, give you a bad review because of it.
What inaccurate details have you found in a movie, TV show or book? How did it impact your enjoyment?