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 )

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: , 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: or Christian Book: