Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sweating the Details

When it comes to the details, should we worry or not?
If you have a scene in your novel where your villain is putting together a nuclear bomb, do you need to know the different types and quantities of the materials needed? Do you need to list them?
It’s a tricky subject, actually. Originally, my approach was this : I research the subject for hours on end, trying to get the correct information that my story is completely scientifically correct. Sometimes, I couldn’t find the answer and then I simply stopped until I found a reasonable solution.
This matter is a double-edged sword (where does that phrase come from anyway? Who ever cut themselves with a sword because it was double-edged?) that can lead both ways. By listing details and gathering specifics, your scene can come across as compelling and interesting as well as realistic. However, that’s not always the case. Sometimes it comes across as boring and slow, much the same way as an overexposure to a clump of history does.
I’m not saying that you should skip details and make all your scenes vague. All I’m saying is that I found many of my scenes extremely slow and boring when I read them again, because of the over abundance of information.
Then of course, there’s the other problem. What if you don’t know the information and can’t get a hold of it? Let’s take the example I gave above. Your villain is building a nuclear bomb. You’re sure to get a visit from the FBI if you start asking people what you would need to make an a-bomb. In cases like that, I’d say the best idea is to guess. Sure, some nuclear physicist can email you, reprimanding you on the vast amount of incorrect steps, but the majority of people won’t know the difference. I guess the only thing you can do is to make sure it sounds realistic. But that’s a discussion for another day.
The important part is that you should spend a reasonable time to research the problem, but if seems impossible to get the information, just do some guesswork and you'll see that it isn't so bad.

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