Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Delving in Details

In crafting a narrative extensive emphasis can be placed on sculpting believable worlds from the nothingness of a blank page. A single flaw and the magic is gone, the story fades, dies.

Often a writer will build their world upon the structure of our own. An decisive and easy way to draw in an audience is to give them something that is familiar. A great many writers use this tactic so they can draw on what they know and give their audience something to relate to immediately. Through this method, a writer can focus their attention on building the story without much care to where it takes place in the world.

The reliance on letting the audience infer the believability of the world becomes a linchpin for the story. Even if the writer is crating a world from scratch their reliance on 'reality' and the knowledge of the world determines the audience's immersion within their world. 

"...the devil is in the details..."

In a narrative it is neigh-impossible to create a truly alien or unique world because writers utilize their knowledge of our world as a foundation for that world. This is where flaws can break a story, kill the narrative. Whether by choice or sub-conscious the details of a work are echoes of a writer's knowledge. While this may not be wholly visible to the writer these details are virtually transparent to the audience.

In a crime fiction an author should know that firearms are never called 'guns' but weapons, they should know the weight, the action, procedures. In a colonial romance it should be known that all houses had low ceilings, people ate with knives instead of forks, etc. In a horror, the motive should make sense for the antagonist even if it is never revealed to the audience. The writer should understand the psychology of their characters, they should be true to themselves. A writer must understand that their audience may know more about their world than the writer. Even the slightest details can break the immersion. 

The only way for a writer to overcome these obstacles is through research. Understand the world before they try to extrapolate.

How do you overcome the details?


LemonyTrystan said...

I agree wholeheartedly. When reading a book, nothing pulls me out of it faster than incorrect details. I enjoy reading books about subjects I am knowledgeable about, whether they are non-fiction, fantasy, romance, etc, but I can't stand when authors get something wrong that is pretty easily discovered by a handy little thing called 'Google'.
When I write, I make it a point to make sure that I am accurate with my details, and go out of my way to take the extra time to look things up when I am unsure of what I am talking about. Those few extra seconds can make a huge difference to people reading my work in the future.

Michele Shaw said...

Bingo! What a way to kill a story, incorrect details. Yet another reason for the mighty beta reader. Even if we research until our eyes bleed, sometimes we just don't notice certain things, and a fresh reader spots the mistakes with ease.

Amber said...

You're right, research is key to creating a believable story. When I'm writing a horror story, a lot of times I am creating an antagonist that is directly from my imagination with no real "rules" or prior knowledge to base it upon. That could seem frustrating, but I find it fun and exciting. This is where I can take off with my most morbid fantasies, or childhood nightmares that haunt me still today.

It really is limitless.

PW.Creighton said...

Kate, very true. That's something else to keep in mind. Quite a few readers today might actually Google what you're talking about if it sounds outlandish or even if they are invested in the story. Thanks for stopping by.

Michele thanks for the comment. You're very right. Sometimes we need that outside opinion when we are describing or talking about something. It is a great way to kill an otherwise engrossing story.

Amber, thanks for stopping by. Yeah, while we may feel it is limitless we are actually imposing subconscious knowledge on our creations. Details that are added from behavior can seem creepy or they can deviate entirely and break the story. Even an utterly alien psychology still has a psychology. Look at the Shoggoth in Dean Koontz's Phantoms.

Julie Musil said...

This is one of the many reasons why I really respect historical fiction writers. The good ones immerse me into this world, and I forget it's another time. Amazing.

PW.Creighton said...

Julie, thanks for stopping by. Truly. I think that's what every writer aspires to do. If you're convincing then you've already won half the battle.

Aisha said...

Thanks for this thoughtful piece. I think Kingsolver's book "Poisonwood Bible" had a short "authors note" where she said if the details of the setting, etc are fabricated entirely then the reader knows, and then any mention of such details is simply boring. I write with setting sin Pakistan though I am relying on research and recollections of those who have lived there- and its a bit nerve wracking to describe places you have not known but feel you do in your heart. Thanks for a thoughtful post!

Jen J. Danna said...

Excellent post! Maybe it's my academic background, but research really is key to believability in my mind. And you can only learn so much through books/journal articles etc. When it came to research for our manuscript, I got on a plane and flew to our location. Being on the ground in Massachusetts really solidified details of the story (for instance, our body dump site totally changed when I was standing in that salt marsh) and make the writing process more visual for me. And I did interviews with the people whose counterparts I was portraying. Win-win in all ways and it made for a MUCH stronger final product.

PW.Creighton said...

Aisha, thank you for stopping by and the comment. Excellent quote and so very true. There is so much we can do with our narratives to create believable worlds whether through research or experience.

Jen thank you for stopping by. Oh, absolutely. We can read and stare at photos until our eyes bleed but there really is nothing like being on site and drawing on the details that you experience first hand. It wasn't until I went out to Salem/Marblehead for a weekend and actually went sailing that I truly got a feel for the details. It shifted a number of things in my story and made it ever the stronger

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