Saturday, May 2, 2015

How much detail do you need?

I developed a hobby in the last few months, one that I never had interest in, until I was curious about something for a short story.

I started to make my own yogurt.

It started innocently enough, I had an idea for a scene in my head and it involved making yogurt. So I researched how to do it. I realized as I was reading about it, that it was pretty simple. So I decided to try it. I didn't have to make the yogurt just for research. But doing it myself made it easier to write about it. I keep doing it because it's the type of yogurt I like, that is hard to find in the stores (full fat). Also it has led to making farmer's cheese, which my husband loves.

Did this mean that that scene became a recipe for how to make yogurt? No. Because that would be boring. But it was tempting.

We like to show off what we know. I don't think it's a pride issue. I think it's because we want to share knowledge with other people. But if you are writing a story, that is not the place to give a chapter lecture on theoretical physics. Even if you are writing hard science fiction. The reason, you will lose a lot of the audience.

It's happened to me as a reader. I remember a really interesting story about this man that could flip between parallel universes. The author must of been a fan or studied Eastern marital arts. Because when ever the hero got into a fight, every blow was named. Every fighting style was described in such detail, that I forgot I was reading an adventure story and thought I was reading a fighting manual. The story was slowed down with such detail, to the point I stopped reading.

How much to put in?

Enough to drive the story.

If you want to test yourself to see if you have put too much detail in. Read the story and skip that part. Better yet, get another to read it. If the story still makes sense without all that detail; CUT IT.

There are a lot of things I do as a hobby, that would be great to put in a story. And show off how much I know. But really, does a reader need to know that grandma screw up her gift sweater because she used the wrong cast on stitch while knitting.

If the detail is needed, add it. Maybe it becomes a plot point that you need to know every step in the tanning process, to figure out how the murder happened. Even then, just give the reader enough. Especially if you are describing the pre 20th century tanning process, you don't want your reader getting nauseous.  Skip to about 3:20 in the video if you want to know why.

by Mari Miniatt