The Secret Is: Paying Attention
There are so many things we take for granted. Things are just so in our minds, because we have always believed them to be “just so“.
As writers it falls to us, sometimes, to be above common conceptions, and the more common misconceptions that much of our world that we know and trust are based upon.
You may not want, or need, one of your characters to be super-intelligent (seeming), but now and again your story arcs will require you to be better informed than your reader, whether or not you rub your reader’s nose in the fact of it.
Being able to bring to the fore some bit of arcane knowledge will often do the trick, but being aware of this or that fact is necessary for that to happen.
For example, if asked to list Roman Numerals from 1 to 12, in order, we would undoubtedly write: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII, and we would of course be correct. Or would we?
Yes, yes, those are correct Roman Numerals. We learned them in school, and for most of us, thankfully, never had to attempt doing math using them.
But are they ALWAYS the correct representation of 1 through 12?
No. In fact, they are not.
20 years or so, ago, you could have stated with some authority, that when it came to watches and clocks, the progression shown above is absolutely INCORRECT. Now days, it is no longer true, and that is probably because of misguided complaints from customers. It IS still true, however, that MOST watches and clocks which use Roman Numerals use the characters IIII instead of IV. Yes, I know. That can’t be right. But if anyone in your household owns a clock or watch with a Roman Numeral face, the chances are VERY good that if you look at it, you’ll see IIII instead of IV for 4.
To be fair, as mentioned earlier, there is now a trend to use IV in place of IIII more and more often. Frankly, that surprised me. It turns out that I am victim, as we all are, from time to time, of knowing something to the point of being unobservant of the truth.
See, I was being rather snooty when I envisioned this post, knowing, as I did, that ALL Roman Numeral faced clocks and watches used IIII instead if IV. It turns out to no longer be the case. And while this is a fairly new turn of events (the older the clock or watch, the more likely it is to use IIII), the change almost got by me.
Paying attention makes the difference. And that is a big part of our job as writers.
Standing in a room of 30 or more people wearing watches, the chances are still overwhelming that someone will have a Roman Numeral faced watch, and that they will not have noticed, no matter how long they have owned or been wearing it, that the four is represented IIII rather than IV.
Mostly we just don’t pay attention at that level.