Series of Events

by Meli
(Louisiana)

Question: My topic is based on WWII and merchant marines... how technically detailed do I get when telling my story?


Answer: As detailed as you need to tell the story properly, but no more.

To some extent it depends on genre. Literary fiction, for example, demands a higher level of authenticity, which in part comes from specific details. Genre fiction may be less demanding, but historical accuracy still matters a great deal. While reading, readers like to imagine the story could be real, and that's hard to do when the details are inaccurate or don't make sense.

As a writer, you should try to know ten times more about your story world than what actually appears in the story. You want a reservoir of knowledge that you can draw upon when you need it, but often you can't know ahead of time what facts you will need.

At the same time, too much detail can make a story dull, particularly if it slows the pace or interrupts the flow of the events. Herman Melville got away with inserting an encyclopedia on whaling in the middle of Moby Dick, but not many other writers could do that today.

You want to keep your focus on the character's experience -- what he or she perceives about the story world, what is most important from moment to moment. You will have to explain certain things to the reader so they understand the story and can picture the setting, but avoid long passages of description.

Basic guidelines: ask yourself whether the details are interesting and important to the story. If not, they can probably go. On the other hand, if the reader doesn't feel immersed in a rich story world, maybe your details are too sparse. It's a judgement call.

Best of luck.

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