Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Scope/Research/Logic


by Daddy X

                                        

Scope is a quality I look for in a read. When I engage with a book, I want more than just the story. I want to know what the story implies and impacts in a larger sense, how it relates to fundamental cause and effect.

When our mind wanders, one thought follows another, establishing a kind of sense to us, a logical progression incorporating our own experience, knowledge and reason. Problem is, to someone else our so-called logical progressions may not make sense. Plotting a path of logical thought can be a quite personal thing. If our reader knows something about a subject, it is perfectly possible for them to fill in connective blanks supplying their own experience. But how do we supply just enough correct information to lead the reader to what they suspect are his/her own conclusions?

Perhaps a few examples will more effectively explain this tie-in of scope and logic:

When I read Simon Winchester’s “Krakatoa”, a non-fiction work, not only did I learn how big the explosion was in 1883, how it reckoned to be the loudest noise humans have ever experienced. I learned that the blast was heard in Australia, all the way from Indonesia. It affected the skies for years, creating lower worldwide temperatures. The eruption launched eleven cubic miles of the planet into the air. I learned that there was no dawn in the area for three days

I also learned the workings of the geological structure of the inner earth, below the crust we live on. How currents of molten metamorphic rock constantly flow in predictable patterns over millions of years. How these destructive vents we call volcanoes, though devastating in violence, are actually relief valves, periodically releasing pressure that if not checked, would result in much bigger cataclysms.

I learned that the eruption of Krakatoa could have been connected to the first known act of Islamic extremism. The notion that the world was ending made earthly matters no longer relevant.  How it all fits together. Logical cause and effect—backed by history and research.

Winchester does his due diligence. Research, research, research. In this case, research is certainly an indispensible tool.

Another book, this time fiction, Smilla’s Sense of Snow was a mixed read for me. Popular back in the 90’s, they made a film (which I didn’t see) of the screenplay. Although I read it at least twenty years ago, the conflicting impressions are still clear.

Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg began as an all-encompassing read. The first person MC, an immigrant female investigator, is working a murder in Denmark. While relating her story, the history of her mother’s native land and people comes alive with facts and anecdotes about the Greenland culture and how they fare socially when transported to Europe. Her people are described to fit within the sturdy genetic and cultural stock of our far northern Inuit tribes.

(Consider the village in “The Highbottom Affair”, available in “The Gonzo Collection” for a fuller, more fanciful description of these people.)

Those tangential drifts didn’t detract from either the flow of the story or a reader’s attention. Hell, it was one of those books that one resents any time not spent reading. The book had scope. Everything happening on the ground coincided with the MC’s drifts of whimsy. In the first half.

Unfortunately, at one point, the story turned around on its face. It was as though another writer (a not-too-bright one) had pushed the author away from the word processor and took over, turning the story into cheap sci-fi deep-core earth bullshit run-of-the-mill pap.

 If it sounds like I’m angry about that—I was. Although I got over it—at the time I felt as though something had been stolen from me. A stellar read had been bastardized and I still don’t know why. Maybe they ran out of info? Not enough research to get through the book? So they piled it all up front and filled in the rest for readers with a double-digit IQ? Man, was I pissed!

Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch” really did deserve its Pulitzer. Not only was the story wondrously compelling, her research seemed faultless. Being in the antiques trade, I saw that her impeccable references to art history and enlightened attention to aesthetics appeared to represent a tremendous amount of knowledge.

But did it really? Can authors, using selected and sometimes subtle facts and hints, fake that knowledge? Can we give ‘em a little that seems like a lot? Give the reader enough so that their own logical thought progressions will provide veracity? This is fiction, after all.

The idea of research is daunting, and for me, not much fun. Writing is fun. But what constitutes the correct level of inside info to convince a reader? Yet not get weakened by inaccuracies or omissions? How to work those subtleties to our advantage as a writer? I know there’s no substitute for knowledge, but can we fake it in fiction? Is there some fine line that can be walked? Anybody have a process?

What would one even name that skill?







13 comments:

  1. Okay, so I have a question for you, Daddy. Did you do any research for your story "Spy versus Spy"? Because the details in that tale really ring true, from the description of her unceremonious deflowering to the food they order for dinner!

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    2. My first reaction to your question would be 'no' since I didn't specifically look up information. But around the time I wrote that piece, I was reading Norman Mailer's "Harlot's Ghost", a massive, 1300 page read centering on the formation of the CIA and the department's formative years. The read may have put myself into that world, and some may have leaked out of my pea-brain into the story.

      I'm quite glad you mentioned that piece. It's one I'm quite proud of. Available in "Daddy X -The Gonzo Collection"

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  2. Thanks for an excellent mini-dissertation. It certainly behooves a writer to do his/her research in a story because, as they say, the devil is in the details.

    Even tiny inaccuracies can leap out to a reader, who is familiar with an element the writer includes in a story, but which hasn't been researched by the writer. Whatever the scope of the story, if a writer is unsure or a particular element, then the homework must be done.

    I recall once being totally put off by a writer (a big name in thrillers) who truly should have known better, when he mentioned that the character flipped the safety on on a revolver. Problem was, there is no safety that you can "flip" on a revolver. (Qualification: When I asked my husband about this -- he was more of an expert than I -- he did say that some very, very few revolvers had a safety, but that they were rare bird.) Of course, a lot of non-savvy-about-guns readers wouldn't have picked up on that, but anyone familiar with revolvers would immediately pick up on the error. You can uncock a revolver, but it isn't a simple or casual flip, and although it can be done relatively quickly, requires a focused procedure. It does not, however, involve a safety *switch*. The writer did not perform his due diligence. (In writing this little bit, I can across an excellent weapons resource that writers can use: https://crimefictionbook.com/2015/08/13/do-revolvers-have-safeties/ )

    And, of course, yours truly isn't immune to having an embarrassing "duh" experience. Once, when I was writing a story that included a cane, I called it a rattan cane, when, in fact, what I described was a bamboo cane. I sincerely thought bamboo and rattan were different words for the the same material. Wrong! And it was pointed out to me. My face was redder than the spankee's bottom.

    The bottom (ha-ha) line is that if a writer is going to include details on elements with which he/she is *not* familiar (and don't assume you know something just because you think you do), then as tedious as it can be, do the research.

    And then, beware the infamous info dump. (I don't always read the Editor's Corner -- my bad. Has anyone done a piece on info dumps?)

    What an interesting topic you chose to blog upon, DX. Thanks for stimulating this reader's synapses.

    Rose ;-)

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  3. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Rose-

    This is one beauty of the ERWA Storytime list. Before we subject our work to a publisher or to the public, we first get opinions from what basically count as beta readers. (though we would expect more from a professional) Maybe each of us can't personally go into detail on every aspect of a given subject, there are so many fellow subscribers that the sum of their knowledge and life experiences add up to our benefit. And we've got some big brains here. :>)

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  4. I call it 'bullshitting', because that's what I do sometimes when I don't really know everything about something, I bullshit my way through it. So far no one has ever called me on it ; )
    Thanks for the interesting read Daddy X, lots of food for thought!

    Meno<3

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  5. There's a delicate balance, isn't there? I've read too many stories that are ruined by the author showing off their first-hand expertise for the sake of it, not for the sake of the story.

    That's why I stick to writing what I know nothing about :-)

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    1. Research should facilitate a fictional read, not vice-versa. There is also the phenomenon of telling a lot of detail, so as not to be misunderstood, that we wind up giving readers too much to think about. Again, the detail should facilitate the read, not give 'em an extra job.

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  6. Lawrence Block, in one of his four writing books, gave a commonsense piece of advice that served to tame my obsession with research. When you find yourself seeking the answers to facts that most readers won't know, or won't care about, then stop. Omit it, or fabricate if necessary, assured that no one will call you on it.

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    1. I'm not sure it's that simple. One detail, perhaps. But this one assumed detail, if wrong, could go contrary the whole of the theory of the subject matter, skewing the story for more readers. Thanks for commenting. It is a valid point to make.

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  7. What Daddy X mentioned in his Editing Corner post is even harder to do with sci-fi and fantasy since you have no way to conduct real-world research most times. You must create the world from your imagination and blend them with this one’s science or throw everything to the wind and start with something entirely new.

    Either way, I’ve found it is the smaller things that lead the reader to remember “home” in the story and feel more at ease. Michael Birch was recently taken with the idea that my sci-fi world still used the simple things known as tea bags. I questioned this, and he hinted that in most sci-fi things came from machines or were prepackaged as in most movies and books.

    People might not realize it, but many things in the worlds I and others create are there to add that sense of “home” to the world for the reader. And how do we do it? The simple way Daddy X stated in his post, researching what might go and still exist within an advanced culture because of desires for connection to the old ways or ways that are not unlike our own.

    So, when I research new advances in techs here in this world to use in my stories and then improve them. I also look back to what might still exist or fall behind to make something special or cultural. Then I must blend in the history and background into the dialog of the characters, scenes, buildings, and environments that I portray in the story. You can’t tell why something is there. You should let it be, and the reader will slowly understand because of other things of those types.

    In sci-fi, the struggle is the hardest because you need the reader to be able to grasp your world and possibly alien concepts but have something there in the background that speaks to them of “home” on some level. If they cannot relate to something in your world and of your character’s interaction with that world, you will lose the reader.

    Take, for instance, The Price of the Phoenix and later the sequel Fate of the Phoenix, two noted Star Trek books, by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath. In these, they used simple details to make the reader identify with the things on board of an alien ship however alien the tech might have been. A simple sink with handles that was described because the race’s strength was far greater and had to be loosened to be used by a human. It was this that I still remember about one scene. These were the things that made their world building excellent and their stories memorable.

    The mindset of the main character is also something that must be preserved throughout the story. This is the very reason why Daddy X and so many others were so angered at the turning point of Smilla's Sense of Snow. The author switched from her inner emotional voice and memories to her logical only side that tossed even the movie into a tailspin of torment. It’s why I’m so careful in my writing and so slow in creating a story.

    It is no different in any writing. You must walk a fine line between the emotional and logical mind of your character’s POV. The emotional mind will pull the reader in but will often lead to paths that won’t tell the real story. The logical mind will and can tell the story but will do so flatly that the reader will either fall asleep or put the book aside.

    A lifelessly crafted world can do the same to your reader. If you do not make the world part of the story, your reader feels as if something is missing. You must try to make your reader live your world as they step into your characters. To do any less is to fail.

    Romance and erotica writers have it a little easier in world building with standard worlds. Historical stories are research heavy and can become more history than story. Sci-fi and fantasy writers create our worlds in volumes with our little stories around them until finally crafted. Only then do we write and maybe say hallelujah at the world we create.

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    1. Thanks for the insider's comment on world-building, Damien. You do have a solid knack for setting a believable atmosphere.

      What scares me about writing worlds I have created is the very real possibility that I would introduce disparate elements that would invite contradictions simply by someone observing the situation with another set of eyes (and values and reactions).

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  8. Whooooops! Sorry about the misspelling, Damian. :>)

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