1. Sifunkle
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    Sifunkle Dis Member

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    How/when to hand-wave?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Sifunkle, Aug 29, 2014.

    Hello again everyone! Let me preface this by pointing out that I haven't actually started drafting yet, so perhaps it will come out in the wash, but...

    I feel I'm getting bogged down in some setting details. Not entirely the 'world-building' thing fantasy authors in particular get sucked into (I'm not inventing a whole elvish language or anything), but maybe I'm trying to make things more logical/realistic/fleshed out than the audience will actually notice/care about/understand.

    How does one go about 'glossing over the details' when writing? Is it as simple as 'just don't include them'? Are there any other tricks you, my esteemed colleagues (if I may be so bold), use? And how do you decide what to include and what to gloss over? Does the evil monocrat's rise to power matter if the story only concerns the rebellion that begins long after he's attained the throne (just a hypothetical)?

    In context, I've hit a roadblock in planning: I want to explain something, will need quite a lot of research to figure it out (which I don't really have time for), and question whether it's even necessary. I feel as if I don't explain it, the reader will instantly think 'How would this ever come to be?' (even if it doesn't actually matter in terms of the plot).

    I'm probably just baiting the usual 'it depends on your story' response, but I'm more interested in generalities or your own examples. I think the problem I'm having is mostly psychological... I think my non-creative pursuits have made me such a reductionist I have trouble resisting the temptation to delve into finer detail (I'm not even sure how to resist it).

    Thanks in advance!
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    About 90% of the "facts" of your world are things that you need to know in order to maintain internal consistency, but the reader does not. A good rule of thumb is to tell the reader what (s)he needs to know to appreciate the story, but nothing more. That means you need to tell the reader enough to be able to orient him/her in the story and to set the scene. You don't need to get into how the scene became that way unless something within that history is germane to the story.

    So, to answer your question, you might very well need to do that research in order to have the knowledge yourself, but make sure you resist the urge to pour the details of your research directly into the text of the story simply because, well, you spent all that time researching it. You may need fragments of it to set the scene in a way that the reader understands but that doesn't bog down the story.
     
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  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Ok, examples. I agree that "depends on your story" serves no one. ;)

    In one of my stories I have two ships, last representatives of a race extinct before our Sun even sparked into fusion. The ships are able to manipulate the matter contained within them to create any environment the ship's captain (and sole denizen) would like to experience. It's not holo-matter like in Star Trek. It's real, honest to goodness matter. I don't explain how they are able to do this in terms of real-world physics, of which I know enough to know that doing what they do would release catastrophic amounts of energy. But that doesn't happen in my book because how they do what they do is core to something else that is non-real world and an integral part of the story. I don't have my characters sit down and have a bewildered chat about how these ships break a laundry-list of Laws of Physics. I don't. It's unimportant and would only be a detraction. I focus only on the part that is importance to the story and the progression of the characters, even though I myself am sufficiently well educated as to know there is a shit-ton of science I am glossing over.
     
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2014
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  4. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    It can be hard sometimes to decide on exactly which story to tell. With my latest project, I tackled it four different ways so far, depending on what I decided was important and what was not. I have about 40 k words all up, several story lines that interested me. Slowly, it's all crystallising, my characters are being re-cast in different roles, as I continue to figure out what (or whose) story I want to tell. It all works out in the end, but it can take a long time. Unless you just decide on one story, jot down plot points and don't deviate from the course until you are done. In the process, the word limit will dictate the amount of detail, unless you are judicious with what detail you present.
     
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  5. Nightstar99
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    Nightstar99 Contributing Member

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    I'm on my second draft of a novella at the moment and I am finding that I am happy to delete a lot of the description I used the first time around. I was getting it out of my head and down on paper because I needed to, but as Ed said, my reader doesn't need it.

    I think if you put everything into draft number one you can always take out whats not needed. Or do what Tolkien did, and put it in an enormous appendix.
     
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  6. Count Otto Black
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    Count Otto Black Member

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    The one time I met the late and (mostly) great Iain Banks, I asked him about something very similar to this topic. And he sold a book or two, so I guess he should know.

    His opinion of over-use of background filler in sci-fi (which of course also applies to any fantasy genre) was that it was always a huge authorial mistake. In novels set in the real world, if the protagonist hails a taxi, he doesn't interrupt the narrative to explain how an internal combustion engine works in order to justify the fact that his conveyance is moving without the aid of horses, unless the author intends us to understand that this guy has the world's worst case of Asperger's (or he's trying to land a gig writing Mr. Logic strips for Viz Comics).

    Similarly, if you're a fictional character in a universe where teleportation is a normal way to travel because the author says so (I'm still paraphrasing Iain Banks here), you don't think about teleporting any more than you do about stepping into a lift, because it's an ordinary aspect of everyday life. And you certainly don't have an internal monologue explaining the entire history of teleportation going back 300 years, because that's not something an ordinary person would do, and anyway, once the reader understands that teleportation is a thing that happens all the time with no fuss, they don't need any more information.

    To return to reality, Hitler's rise to power was very complicated and surprisingly close to being democratic (for a dictator - he did have to cheat a bit in the latter stages), and couldn't have occurred if post-WWI German politics hadn't been in such a mess. But if your novel is set in Germany in 1937, your protagonist is unlikely to think very much about exactly how Hitler got into power, since presumably he doesn't much like the Nazi regime, so he spends most of his time worrying about far more immediate problems. The readers obviously know that Hitler is the bad guy (unless you have an absolutely amazing plot-twist up your sleeve), so they don't really need to have his background filled in. And if your Hitler-like villain is utterly fictional, your readers still understand the generic evil overlord trope, so a few sentences should be enough to establish that the land is ruled by a very bad person.

    If he has an actual personality, and maybe isn't as black as he's painted, that's something the protagonist probably doesn't know until much later in the story. As a citizen of the UK, I know very little indeed about how Margaret Thatcher, one of our most controversial Prime Ministers, got into power, and even if she'd somehow turned into Girl Hitler, my immediate priority would have been to survive, not to bone up on her pre-political history. Without googling her, the only thing that springs to my mind about her pre-political career is that she used to be an industrial chemist, and she invented a very weird kind of synthetic ice-cream called Mister Whippy. That's probably the kind of thing a typical protagonist knows about an evil leader with good PR, even if he has vague doubts about him. Which become a lot less vague when the Ringwraiths trash his apartment for no apparent reason...
     
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  7. Sifunkle
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    Sifunkle Dis Member

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    Thanks for your comments everyone! I won't respond to each specifically, but have read and appreciated all :)

    With planning thus far, my impression is that the '90% rule' will certainly be in place when I start drafting! This issue arose while I was profiling my final MC, who is strongly tied to certain aspects of the setting. Now that I've reflected, this character-setting stuff isn't necessary for plot, but is to portray one of my themes (which I think stands under the umbrella of 'appreciating the story').

    I agree with the consensus on not showing excruciating detail without reason. People see their doctor for a diagnosis, treatment plan and prognosis; not the complete aetiopathophysiology of their problem (although a few points may be important in ensuring treatment compliance)... that analogy ended up overly detailed... :oops:

    @Count Otto Black : Your last paragraph hits upon my problem :) A character has ended up quite sympathetic in my head. I don't need to explain why to communicate the plot, but will need to to portray a 'grey-vs-gray morality'-type theme. I think, as @jazzabel suggests, word limits will dictate whether I have room for that theme. For now I'll plan to include it, and it can always come out in editing/redrafting (being optimistic that I'll ever get there!).

    I think I've resolved my specific issue now, although the overarching psychology is still interesting. What do you do if you notice an obvious question the audience might ask, but that's not integral to the story? Most contributors so far would seem to have an answer ready, but exclude it from the work. Does anyone take the opposite approach (recognise that it won't make the cut, so never bother developing an answer)? I suspect not, as perhaps most writers explore the question's potential in case it leads to improvement.

    Then there's the question of what the audience wants vs needs? Prominent example: many of Harry Potter's zealous fans were disappointed when the final book was released and didn't include every minor character in its denouement. I suppose Rowling started Pottermore partly to address this, and as @Nightstar99 pointed out, Tolkien had the Silmarillion, etc for those who were interested (actually on that note, did Tolkien himself choose to publish those? I don't recall...).

    I suppose this ends up as the old favourite of 'Are you writing for your audience or your own vision?'.
     

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