Friday, January 27, 2006

The Devil Is Not in the Details, the Devil is In My Pants. Yeah!

Spare me a media fan moment.

Can I tell you that I love the new Battlestar Galactica? I know, I know. I'm not exactly bleeding edge here with this admission. Thing is, we don't have cable. I've been catching up on this series as soon as the DVDs arrive at Netflix.

I'm sure there are plenty of blogs devoted to this series, so I'm not going to say much. Except that last night while I was watching the first few episodes of season 2, I turned to Shawn and said, "Do you know what I really love about this series? What I love is that when people get hit hard enough to bruise the bruises don’t magically disappear in the next episode! Apollo has been sporting a shiner he got in the middle of the last season during a prison riot."

My suspenders of disbelief are made of the strangest kind of stretchy material. I have no problem with faster than light or machines that can mate with humans.... IF, and this is the key, IF you provide me these "contemporary fantasy" details I talked about in an earlier post. I will roll with the most insane plot holes -- like a virus that can infiltrate a LAN -- because the people, the situation, and the details captivate me.

This is true in writing to a fair degree as well. TV has the advantage of being singularly consuming. Pretty pictures can completely distract from a lame storyline (sometimes). Reading is a slower more internal process, so you have to be much more careful with plot... BUT, I still think that a detail can make or break a book. A detail that knocks the reader out of the story is a very, very bad thing. Cops don’t use those kinds of handcuffs anymore! Bang. The book hits the wall and bounces into the recycling bin. (And, if you’re my partner, the author's name is committed to memory on the "never buy again" list.)

Meanwhile, bits of arcane minutia can fascinate and captivate a reader. My experience as a reader tells me that a reader wants to feel like they're experiencing something new in a "true" way. Like reading about an archeologist might actually give you a tiny bit of understanding about archeology as a science, or a profession, or a lifestyle. (Like, the summer I did archeology camp I got eighty hours of sun. I had the best farmers' tan ever that year. Of course, my snot was black from the dust... but hey, I looked good.)

I think about this in reflection of the other posts I’ve made recently. Like, one of the reasons I think it's important to represent all the various ways of being in the world (ethnicity, queerness, religious bent) is because the more of the weird, fascinating truth you include about your world, the more real it becomes to the reader, and the more interesting. Knowing that Minnesota has a large Armenian immigrant population, for instance, is just the kind of cool, useless knowledge that readers love to collect, IMHO.

And, in some weird way, you can get away with minor plot problems if your details are all right. At least a satisfied reader is more likely to forgive.


anne frasier said...

my editor and i have been going around in circles over this subject. i feel that whatever you can make real, make real. it gives the book a deeper sense of authenticity.

tate said...

Really? What does your editor say about it?