Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Background is vital to a story.  It provides context and lets the reader know why a character is doing a certain thing.  It can also provide mood by drawing the reader into a particular piece of the story(imagine the drama created by describing the explosive properties of gunpowder and how it propels a bullet from the end of a gun while the main character finally shoots the villain).  However, such things require balance.

Part of the fun when I'm writing a book is researching parts of it so I can make it more real.  And when I get back around to putting words on paper, I want to share all of this vast new knowledge with my audience.  It can take a few minutes to remember that the audience may not care anywhere near as much about it as I do.

Salvation Day, for example, is an incredibly complex book.  The main character creates a machine to challenge God Himself.  Along the way, he has to use the tools at his disposal to analyze the nature of the soul.  I did an enormous amount of research into various technical gadgets, and it felt great to put down their inner workings.  Then I had to step back and wonder whether anyone gave a shit.

When explaining a concept, we writers have to ask how much it advances the story.  Sometimes it's absolutely necessary.  Other times, we sound like pompous blowhards.  Our speech about parliamentary procedures in the Senate, or the specific reason a vampire's body absorbs the blood he has taken, may be nothing more than filler material.  Do we really need to know how the time machine works, or is it enough to know that it does?

Don't get me wrong - there are times when going into detail is important to our work.  Without such explanations, what the characters are doing may make no sense.  However, there are times it just puts the reader to sleep.  When I was forced, as most high schools students are, to read Moby Dick, I skipped over most of that stuff where Melville described, in agonizing detail, the specifics of the whaling trade.  Sure, some of it was necessary to provide insight into why they were doing certain things, but most bored me out of my skull and did little to help me enjoy the book.

Strike a balance as a writer.  Yes, we know you were excited to share what you learned, but the reader wants you to advance the tale, not demonstrate how well you can research a topic.  Cull this stuff out as you edit.  It may kill you inside, but it'll help you have a better novel.

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