Thursday, February 27, 2014

Spare Me the Details by Susan Page Davis

Susan Page Davis
While writing The Prisoner’s Wife (my novel in the New England Romance Collection), I had to learn a lot about the Maine/Massachusetts legal system in colonial days. A quirk of the law led me to write this story, about a marriage intended not to last that turned out to be one of those forever unions.

My research included a trip to the old jail (Old Gaol) in York, Maine, with three of my children. We had a wonderful day, and I highly recommend a day touring Old York to anyone who has the chance. (Learn more about The Museums of Old York at http://www.oldyork.org/ )

While we were there, we toured the Jeffers Tavern and several historic houses, in addition to the Old Gaol. I learned many intriguing tidbits, but they weren’t all suitable for my story.

Did the man who beat his wife to death with a codfish make it into my story? No.

Did the fascinating mourning samplers on display in one of the houses made it into my book? No.

Did the pleached alley or the herb garden or the secret hiding place in the fireplace… You guessed it, they did not.

But all of these things are still in my mind and may show up in one form or another in another story. Immersing ourselves in the past for a day gave us a feeling for early times and the way people lived in them.

But not all the things I dig up in research can go in the book.

My first book, Protecting Amy, was also a historical romance. In it, several cavalry troopers were protecting a young woman. When confronted by a band of bad guys, they made a stand. The story is pre-Civil War, and they used muskets. The loading process takes time. I went over the steps with my husband, a former gunsmith. I wanted the reader to understand how agonizing it was to have to reload after every shot, so I described that in detail in the story.

My editor cut it all out. He wrote a note to the side—“Just let him shoot.”

At first I was upset. After all, this was my first book, and I was proud of my story and my accuracy. It took me a while to come around to his way of thinking. I had to learn that the reader didn’t necessarily want all the minutiae. The reader wanted a fast-paced, smoothly flowing story. This was an action scene, but I had slowed it to a crawl.

So, yes, writers, revel in your research. Soak it all up. Enjoy it. But don’t try to give your readers a history lesson. Set the scene with vivid touches and stay true to the times in all that is said and done, but remember, it’s the people and the relationships that count most. As a writer, I’m a stickler for accuracy, but sometimes as a reader, I can do without the details.


Dora here. As a reader, I tend to get bogged down with too many details, especially technical aspects of a particular profession, but usually I will keep reading. As a writer, it's painful to slash sections or details that have taken me hours to research, but with every book I write, I become more comfortable with what to include and what needs to go.
How do you feel about this? Readers, do you skim past areas laden with unnecessary info or do you put down the book? Writers, do you find it difficult to accept your editor's recommendations to weed out unnecessary details? 


Buy Link
Susan Page Davis is an award-winning author with more than 40 novels published in the historical, mystery, romantic suspense, and contemporary romance genres. A Maine native, she married an Oregon man and now lives in western Kentucky. She’s a winner of the Carol Award, the Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award, and the Will Rogers Medallion. Visit her website at: www.susanpagedavis.com , where you can enter her monthly drawing for books.

The New England Romance Collection contains five complete historical novels set in Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, including Susan’s award-winning novel, The Prisoner's Wife: Jack Hunter is about to be hanged for the murder of his neighbor. Jack knows he's innocent, and the unscrupulous constables will seize his land when he's dead. He asks Lucy Hamblin, the only girl he ever loved, to marry him in the jail. Her father broke them up three years ago, but now her father is dead. Will Lucy be willing to grant his last request and become the widow Hunter? Set in Maine, 1720. Buy now from Amazon: http://is.gd/qM11Sh or Christian Book: http://is.gd/JSjF7H

15 comments:

  1. No one wants to read a how-to in fiction, but as writers we come across those interesting little tidbits we're dying to include. I think including it depends on how it affects the character or plot. For instance, Susan might have needed a number of those loading-the-musket steps if the time factor added to the suspense of the scene. Frankly, the story about the man beating his wife to death with the codfish sounds interesting--in a warped way. :)

    Good post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Sandra! You're right, some sense of the time needed to load and frustration was needed, but not as much as I had put in there. Yeah, every once in a while, I think about that codfish...

      Delete
    2. A codfish? That's totally weird...although I wouldn't have minded learning more about the secret hiding place in the fireplace. :)

      Delete
    3. Hmm, I can't remember the details on the fish murder. I think it was a dried codfish, but I guess it could have been frozen. And the fireplace nook was interesting, but was in a house built later than the story I was writing at the time, so ... later! There are just too many interesting things out there to write about.

      Delete
  2. Good to know! I'm writing my first historical romance and I'm as much in love with the history as I am with the story. Glad to hear early on that I need to keep the history part less than the romance part. Sad, but necessary, I guess.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yay, Marti! I'm sure your passion for the history will shine, even without all the extraneous details. :)

      Delete
  3. Well, since it's a historical ROMANCE, yes. It does depend on the type of book you are writing. And details are wonderful...just not too many at once. Modern readers seem to have less tolerance for exposition in general than those of earlier generations.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm laughing out loud in sympathy,Susan, at the editor exciting all your glorious description. I too have many lovely piles of words dying in cyber-heaps. There's a real trick to being accurate without being school-teachery...and I don't think I've mastered it yet LOL. I think putting brief details during dialog can work, depending. But yes, I think I have ADD in my old age. I skip long paragraphs. Sheesh. Great post, loved it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Tanya! I think it helps when we encourage each other. The pain WILL lessen as we go on and see the results.

      Delete
  5. Great post, Susan! As a "writer," I normally don't overindulge in unimportant details, but I'm not without blame. After going to great lengths to get details about the interior of a mansion I'm using in my historical romance, an editor told me to cut a lot of the description out. Not needed! It was painful, but I deleted much of it. ;-)

    As a "reader," there are times when I skim or skip over lengthy descriptions.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oooh! That must have hurt, Dawn. I empathize to my core.

      Delete
  6. I'm with Dora, I don't like too much "how to". I tend to skip over, not put the book down. I rarely just put a book down.

    Dawn, I feel for you. A beautiful mansion and you didn't get to describe it.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I like the "how to" just a idea. Maybe you could put a page at the end of the book with that process. I like learning interesting things of life past and present. If its musket guns, to how to culture pearls, medical practice, food, herbs etc. Then the reader has a choice. Thats what I like historical reading not just the "romance" part they all work together . Thank you

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a thought, Kathy. Lots of times I write blogs about my research and how I learned certain things. There are lots of opportunities for writers to create companion pieces, bibliographies, and other items related to their research.

      Delete

We'd love to hear your thoughts! Please leave comments. We'll moderate and post them!