Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Details, Details, Details

So I've talked about research and its importance to crafting a vibrant story -- you don't want to make a faux paus like having a fictional doctor prescribe the wrong medication (unless that's part of your plot), for example. Similarly, you don't want to give knowledge to a 17th century natural philosopher that wasn't discovered until well into the 20th century. More important than this, though, is knowing which information to include and which to leave out.

In this manner, one rule and one rule only needs to be considered: What is important to your plot?

You can have books upon books of research on 17th century science or 19th century medicine (I'm almost certain such things exist), but if it's not germane to your story then there's little to no point in including it anywhere within your text. An example from my own writing -- one main character started his life on a farm. I show little to no aspects of farm life in the story, except in the very beginning of the story where he's discovering certain things about himself while doing the farm work. I'm not going to do a lot of research on the proper operation of a Renaissance-era family farm when the farming section of the book is perhaps fifteen to twenty pages out of more than 200. There's no point to communicating that much detail when it doesn't influence the plot.

Similarly, the steam-engine science and biogenetics of my current WiP are at or slightly above basic understanding. That's all the research I need to include in order to craft a vibrant world in the story. I could go into much more detail, and perhaps might now that I think about it, but one of the things I know I'll have to remember is not including details for their own sake. If it's relevant to the plot, then it's included. Otherwise it's left on the proverbial cutting room floor.

What about your own WiPs? What is the most interesting piece of research you've done that wasn't important enough to include in your story? 


Stephanie Thornton said...

I think I've mentioned this before, but in ancient Egypt, women used a pessary of crocodile dung as a form of birth control.

I actually did have the opportunity to include that, but decided to stick with the vagueness of a pessary. The crocodile dung part is just icky. :)

Matthew Delman said...

Supreme Dictator --

I had to look up what a pessary was (not really, I could've gotten the meaning from context, but this is me we're talking about), but yeah that bit about crocodile dung is going well beyond icky.

Though not unsurprising for the period you're writing in.

L. T. Host said...

Well, in my first book, I did a whole ton of research to nail down the time period where the events would be feasible (even though it was a fantasy), where the Germanic and Roman boundaries were in Europe at that time, and on the Greek/ Norse gods (really all the same). Very little of that actually ended up in the book, but it was important for me to have it behind me nonetheless.

Rick Daley said...

It depends on the plot, but also the genre and target audience. For historical fiction, your audience is less willing to suspend their disbelief than in horror. For example, I just finished CELL by Stephen King, and has to suspend a lot of disbelief on technology for sake of the story. In a book like PILLARS OF THE EARTH by Ken Follett, he provided great detail on building cathedrals and life in the thirteenth century, but it was all critical to the plot.

I find that when I write a first draft I research a lot and include copious amounts of it, and trim it or remove it completely in revisions.

Susan R. Mills said...

I did a lot of research on police dogs. Probably only 1/8 of it made it into my story.

Lady Glamis said...

I've done research on the CIA, from online searching to reading biographies. That has been interesting. Now I'm doing research on life in the 15th century. That has been fun. :)

Bane of Anubis said...

Rick, I enjoyed Cell, but, yeah, the 'phoners' weren't the only crazy thing about that story.

I've researched how to pronounce Aztec names -- that was kind of cool (for example, the 'l' in a 'tl' combination is silent). I'm kind of the opposite of Rick -- I'll tend to leave out and only add in a bit here and there later.

Iapetus999 said...

I decided to make up my own version of birth control for my Steampunk novel. I researched it but didn't find anything useful.
I'm not shooting for straight historical accuracy anyways. :)

Susan Quinn said...

I've had gobs of research I've had to pare out, especially to have my MS be sensible to my middle grade audience. However, I found that I had really distilled it down to its elements, as it were.

Also, I would say you need to only keep things that pertain to plot, or character. The example you cite - about learning about himself by living on the farm - I think of that more as character development. For me, tidbits about genetic engineering were important to my MC's character development, but not to the plot. But, I think we are saying the same thing here, actually.

Jemi Fraser said...

I haven't started on this book yet - still gathering ideas - but looking into some First Nations legends has been really interesting. I won't be able to use all the info, but it's fun :)

jbchicoine said...

I had at my disposal GOBS of information on building ships and equatorial flora and fauna, only a smidgen of which I included. At least, if I'm ever shipwrecked on a tropical island, I know how to mend the boat and plant cassava!