Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Little Details

I like John’s theory of literary telepathy. I think the concept very nicely informs Peter’s statement that “the purpose of research is to inform you, the writer. So that when you come to write, you do so from a position of knowledge - not putting all that knowledge on display, but using it to give you confidence in your material, while at the same time subliminally informing your reader that he or she can trust that you know what you’re writing about.”

I too do tremendous amounts of research. One would expect this of a historical novelist. But only a very small percent of the research I do for each book finds its way onto the page. I’m not writing a history book, I’m trying to create a world, and it’s amazing how little it takes to add just that perfect touch of authenticity to your story.

Why, then, do I spend so much time learning everything I can about the times, lives, and mores of my characters when I know I’m not going to write about most of it? Because my own familiarity with the era I’m writing about is going to show without my having to make a big deal of it. The characters are going to move naturally through their world without thinking about it, just like we do in our own world.

Alafair ponders a problem while scraping the ashes from the fire box in her kitchen stove before breakfast. She doesn’t think about the history, configuration, or general use of the cast-iron, wood burning stove in rural Oklahoma in 1915. But I do. It isn’t a bit important to the story that the reader knows any of those things either. All he needs to know, or cares about, is that Alafair ponders a problem while scraping the ashes from the fire box. One single sentence in the book represents an hour of research and quite an education in cast iron cook stoves for me that may or may not ever be used again. Yet, isn’t that a picture? As John noted, one tiny detail triggers a mental image and puts the reader in a country kitchen early one morning in 1915.

Bit of an aside, here, Dear Reader. I’m guest-blogging today on Mysterious People. Come by and say hello. The entry will be up all week.

Also, I just learned that the book launch party for my latest novel, Crying Blood, will take place on January 29 at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, AZ. Also joining the party will be Poisoned Pen authors Jeffrey Siger and Tina Whittle, who are also launching new books, and the great Dana Stabenow.

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