Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Background Details

Part of the fun of writing a novel, to me, is researching the various aspects that lend credence of the work.  I get that I'm a total nerd, but I truly enjoy digging into things and finding out about the ways in which energy moves in a vacuum or how cells absorb oxygen into the blood.  However, the thing that balances that out is finding how much detail to put in for the reader, and what distracts them from the story(and looks a bit like bragging about how much I know).

This can be frustrating for many of us who want to essentially shout at the reader, "LOOK AT ALL THIS RESEARCH I WENT INTO!  IT SHOWS I CARE, AND YOU MUST NOW LOVE WHAT I SAY!"  We're all proud of that time and effort, but it makes us sometimes lose sight that the point of such research isn't to showcase our knowledge, but rather to help us tell a good and credible story.

This may even create instances whereby we don't even get to detail the extensive background behind some of our concepts.  I did several chapters in Akeldama around the town of Salina, Kansas, but talking about it having a population of just over 47,000 or how its wettest month is May has no bearing on the novel I wrote.  The reason to do such research, beyond helping set the scene, is credence.  There are lots of readers out there who, upon reading about a place, go out and do extra research on it to see how much real life matches up with their favorite story.  Just ask the folks in Forks, Washington.

It's okay to leave stuff to the reader's imagination.  Hard though it may be, don't go into every detail about the correct way to skin a bear or how the structure of DNA works; just use enough so that it enhances what you want to say.  If it doesn't advance the plot, leave it out, or at least leave it out in the detail you really really really want to get into.

Writers are pompous jerks sometimes(it's okay...as a writer, I can say that), and we often feel that people don't appreciate what we write.  However, it's those same people that keep us employed by buying our stuff, so coming off as a boor turns a lot of them off, to say nothing of putting them to sleep.  Don't.  Know how much to say, and no more.  Find solace in how much you know about a topic and leave it be.  Anything more, no matter how tempting to engage in, risks alienating your audience, and that can be hard to recover from.  Sure, you'll be smug...but you'll be smug with no one to read your brilliance.

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