They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I’d have to disagree when it comes to writing fiction. Fiction is like a river. It needs to flow to survive (and a few rapids thrown in when it comes to crime fiction). When a story gets bogged down by heavy detail and technobabble, the writer has effectively created a log jam. The river stops flowing and the water turns foul.
Agree, disagree, I don’t care, I stick by this. I like stories with pace. It doesn’t have to be a fast pace but I don’t want the story to get sidetracked with too many little asides and procedural blah-blah-blah.
I really should listen to myself sometimes. During the writing of Paying the Piper, I dug myself a big pit that took six rewrites to get myself out of. I tend to steer away from procedural things when it comes to cops, etc. I write about “everyman” characters (or Novice Heroes as it’s been dubbed). I tend not to make my leading characters cops or FBI agents because I don’t know the mindset well enough. However, I broke that rule for Paying the Piper. I have an FBI agent as an important secondary character. FBI procedure is important to the story. I did my homework and inserted the FBI procedures into the story, like a diligent little writer. It seemed like the right thing to do. It wasn’t. It was bloody boring. I’d killed the pace stone dead. Bugger!
The problem was I felt this obligation to insert everything into the story that I’d been told. The story’s subject matter was very important to the FBI. They’d spent a lot of their valuable time outlining all this information to me. I felt that I needed to get this down as faithfully as possible out of respect for these people and the work they do. That’s all very nice to the FBI, but not my reader.
Getting every detail correct is great for non-fiction book about the FBI but not for a fast paced thriller. It was time to break a few G-man hearts. It was time to cut.
I didn’t ignore what I was told. I just became selective. What did my readers need to know to understand what was going on? If I showed the characters doing something, did the reader need an explanation to back it up? I decided no. The story isn’t about how the FBI do their job. The story is about a vindictive kidnapper tearing a family apart. This simple analysis became my mantra. So I removed everything extraneous to the story and kept only what was relevant. As I trimmed, the flow returned and the excitement was back. This was a story worth reading again.
This is the problem with research. A strong and varied knowledge base, while essential can be explained away in a couple of sentences on the page. I can spend a day researching the ballistics of a 9mm pistol, but all I need to know is that a couple of rounds at close range are going to hurt a person quite bit.
Details are important, but the story is more important. Everything else is TMI.
PS: I received the cover art for Paying the Piper. It’s quite bold. I’d just like to point out that no teddy bears were harmed in the making of this cover. A professional stunt bear was used.