A creative writing teacher once told me to be careful about diagnosing my characters. Be sure, she said, that you know exactly what you’re talking about before you do. In that particular case I was writing about a woman with OCD – something I strongly suspect my son to be afflicted with, though he has never been diagnosed.
I can say with every bit of authority that my professor’s advice is valid, having seen an episode of Law and Order: SVU entitled Bullseye, in which they included a character who had “Noonan’s Syndrome.” I was enraged. The show went about explaining the character’s mental retardation by passing it off with a diagnosis the writers quite obviously didn’t research. Yes, some of the people with Noonan’s Syndrome are mentally delayed. My youngest son is one of them. But through the extensive research I did when my son was a baby, in order to find out what his life might be like, I met some fantastic people with university degrees who were inflicted with the same genetic disease, which is most often characterized by its physical symptoms. Not its mental ones.
There are many ways to piss off a reader by not thoroughly researching an element in a work of fiction. The more emotionally driven the subject, the more it will affect the audience.
Have you ever been enraged over an author’s lack of research? I doubt there are many of us who haven’t, at some point or another.