The 3 day novelists from TextFIGHT brought up a question in Monday's post comments that I wanted to poke at further, because it seems to be one of the key questions for writing today: how much detail do you dispense and when?
They were talking about this in the context of their characters, but the same problem presents itself in other kinds of writing too. It's a question anytime you're an expert on something and want to write for people who don't know as much about the subject as you do.
How do you figure out how to include just the right number of details, and which ones your audience will be interested in? I realized awhile back that this is why I was so intrigued in the writing of the TV series West Wing--at the time I started watching, I was profoundly ignorant of and disinterested in the very detailed subject matter it portrayed, and yet it kept me interested and taught me just enough about the subject matter to get me by in the narrative. If I could find that balance myself...
This seems to be to be an even harder question to answer today than it used to be, when, as they point out over at Good Letters in the commentary on the excellent post "Maybe Google Isn't Making Us Stupid", the taste of readership seems to be undergoing a sea change, though it's unclear to me exactly what kind of sea change. On one hand, people don't read long pieces anymore so much, we're told. But on the other hand, they'll spend hours reading all the info they can find on a subject they're interested in, wanting more and more detail. By the same token, many are addicted to watching or reading the same stories over and over again, or looking for more installments to a series to get more info.
It's hard, in this climate, to know where to stop. How to write so that people want to get to that "wanting more" point, and then how to keep them happy while you're trying to engage those who also want less and are easily distracted? Finding that balance sometimes gets harder now that I'm an academic that spends a lot of time writing for academics, who are also similarly intrigued by questions that don't so much interest the general populace. But what is the general populace with so many people interested in different niche topics?
I don't know. I only know that I find test readers to be invaluable in giving me feedback on what's interesting and adequately-explained and what's not.
Anyone have thoughts on any of this?
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
How Much Detail?
I'm a writer, an incurable reader, a narrative theorist, a media researcher, a scholar/author/writer/consultant, a PK, and the Queen of Soup Making. I write a lot, and I've taught a wide range of topics in universities. Along my journey I've picked up a PhD in Communication from Purdue and 2 degrees in English. I've been turning my ideas about communication as author-audience relationships into a communication paradigm that can be applied to a wide range of situations. I'm also writing a historical mystery series. I'm a member of Sisters in Crime, and the co-chair of the Mystery and Detective Fiction Caucus of the Popular Culture Association. My MA thesis focused on connections between T. S. Eliot and Thoreau, who each wondered about how to remain still and still moving. Before I went to grad school, I spent 7 years working for a division of HarperCollins Publishers.