1. novemberjuliet
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    novemberjuliet Member

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    What is too much detail?

    Discussion in 'Research' started by novemberjuliet, Apr 1, 2014.

    In describing a character in a technical setting (medical, engineer, military, etc.) , your reader may not have as much in-depth knowledge as you would like to skim by certain things. My question is how much detail can you include in describing an object or its functions?
    An example is I'm writing a novel in a military setting and have to explain the employment or different weapons systems and equipment such as radios, vehicles, night vision systems and etc. I want to explain them without losing the reader because, quite frankly, the military issues a lot of equipment in combat. What would any of you consider as going too in depth? Also is stopping to explain the functions of certain systeams and weaponry going to pull you out of the story?
     
  2. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    I think the answer to your last question is 'yes', but it might depend on how you do it.

    I think most people have a general idea about how radios and vehicles work, and the specifics of the operation of military equipment might not matter to the story. Weapons could be a different matter, but I would guess that anyone who would be interested in reading a story with a strong military focus would have some knowledge in that area.

    Also, those who are interested have the Internet to look stuff up. I'm currently reading Clive Cussler's latest (The Bootlegger), and I've been to Bing three times so far to find out more about the (historically accurate) equipment his characters are using.
     
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  3. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Keep details interesting but tight. Use the lingo. Don't explain too much. It's like anything in a novel that uses terms that maybe foreign to the reader - either they'll look it up or get the gist of it. It's like reading a story about knitters. The reader may or may not know what bind off means but it's best not to over explain.
     
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  4. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    When you write a novel, you are presenting the reader with a specific story world. You are not writing a manual or a textbook. If you want to emphasise all the different weapons and technology, your book will have a limited audience, those who understand, can relate or are interested in these details. But if you want to have wider appeal, focus on the events, characters, relationships, rather than technological minutiae. But whatever you do, don't go 'educating' your audience about your story world, it never reads right. Total immersion and suspension of disbelief is the goal of good fiction. Make the story relatable with or without the technology.
     
  5. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You can do just about anything as long as you do it well. My favorite way to include techical details about firearms etc. is to show the characters doing stuff with them. For instance, a character might adjust a two-point sling or do a fieldstrip while having a conversation or they might do a tap, rack, bang when there's a failure to eject, or they could twist the elevation knob of their scope a couple of clicks before taking their shot etc. etc, i.e. "tell" the stuff through action.
     
  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Tom Clancy included quite a bit of military/technical information in his novels, particularly in The Hunt for Red October and The Sum of All Fears. It's probably more than a first-time novelist could get away with, so you might want to use that as a guide to your upward limit.
     
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  7. Daba
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    Daba Member

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    When it comes to military novels, technical details can have a huge impact on the story. Battles had been won and lost because of details. But important thing in storytelling is to never stop and explain. If you are explaining armoring of a certain vehicle, do it in combat, not while it's parked in base. I've recently read a novel where the writer managed to give me, in a single scene, a complete technical specification of a WWII AA gun, and make me cry and think about humanity at the same time. Ok, perhaps it wasn't a maintenance manual, but it was more than enough information to give me a complete description of the said gun, what it's purpose is and how it operates.

    Don't skip the details, don't explain them like you would to little children. Respect your readers, believe that they can understand something basic and believe that they will google it out if you manage to keep them interested. Know when to go into technicalities and when to simply ignore them. You don't have to explain everything right away, it's ok to just mention something, and explain it's purpose a few pages later.

    Simply put, explain things when they become important for the story. And if you have things that are present, but not important for the story, don't explain them, as you would just be wasting space and readers time.
     
  8. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Only if it helps the reader visualise the equipment or to understand what is happening, or it matters to the plot. Otherwise the jargon should do it. For instance, categories of body armour won't matter unless you want the reader to understand that what the person is wearing will or won't stop a particular round. Similarly, a tank HEAT round and a SABOT AP round are both basically just big bullets for the tank to the layman reader *unless* it matters that one won't explode etc.
     
  9. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    Yes it is important that the reader understands what is going on, and generally people that pick up a book of a certain genre will have some sort of background education in that genre so that things don't have to be too simplistic. The key is not to 'info dump' and instead try to make any important information you are going to provide flow well with the rest of the novel.
     
  10. novemberjuliet
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    novemberjuliet Member

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    Thanks for the feedback. I asked the question because I have heard some criticism on the part of military authors for losing the audience with these sorts of things. Typically I won't go off on a tangent about details unless they keep the plot moving but some thing s such as using acronyms and technical names I feel can't be put into layman's terms and I'm forced to explain them. I've read a few Tom Clancy novels and find them to be highly enjoyable, though he can lose me from time to time. Because I also switch between different perspectives I also wanted to make sure that wouldn't add any confusion. The only people who have criticized my work were current military or English professors and the latter would always say "it was entertaining until i had to loo up what blahblahblah was". I know I'm writing to a certain audience but i don't want to isolate readers either.
     
  11. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    When writing about any kind of subject matter that involves its own jargon and is heavy in technical aspects you are always going to bore or confuse some people. Just try reading some novels that involve (wind powered) sailing!
     
  12. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Maybe include one of those little pages at the back - glossary for technical terms.
     
  13. Smoke Z
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    Smoke Z Active Member

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    Write it down with the amount of detail needed for you to understand it. Maybe pepper in some opinions and details that should give a layperson the context. Then hand it to a beta reader who will write down the questions that take them out of the story.
     

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