Friday, September 28, 2007

How Much is Too Much?

As I work through a new science fiction story, I’m finding that I have a lot to say around one of the main subjects – software development. I could go into extreme detail in this field because it’s what I do professionally, but how much detail is too much?

This balance of how much detail to give a reader applies to so many items within writing: characters, setting, dialog, etc. My preference is to have too much than not enough, but since I’m not writing for myself, I need to keep things in check.

My main responsibility, as the author, is that I do not neglect a detail pertinent to the story itself. If, for example, I use the term “bit” in a science fiction story, part of the reading audience may not be familiar with it. I could use the term in a way that they pick up the gist if I’m simply adding detail to paint the picture. But if the concept of a bit is crucial to the plot of the story, I need to make sure that I explain enough about what a bit is that allows for its usage elsewhere. Information relevant to the story only goes so far, so if I write three paragraphs on the history of bits, I’ve lost all but the most determined of readers (and if the plot depends on the audience understanding that much detail, I need to rethink the plot).

I feel like writing is like walking a tightrope. Explain, but not too much! Be concise, but don’t leave out anything important! All I can say is pick up a pole, and start heading across the wire.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


My wife and I hadn’t gone on a vacation for several years, so what better time than to go than when she’s six and a half months pregnant?

Our destination was Williamsburg, Virginia. I’ve always had some degree of interest in history, and with Jamestown, Yorktown and Williamsburg all clustered together, I was pretty excited to be exposed to so much American history all at once.

The museum portions of Jamestown and Yorktown were really interesting because they also had people dressed up in period attire that explained how things worked at that time. These were not character actors, but I prefer being able to interact with historians on this level rather than to speaking with character actors who pretend that we’re still living in historic times.

When we visited the actual sites of Jamestown and Yorktown, it was quite surreal. Jamestown was the first settlement in America that succeeded (unlike Roanoke), settled 400 years ago. It was burned to the ground long ago, and all that remained was the church tower and the foundations of several buildings. The church was rebuilt in 1907 as part of the 300 year anniversary of the settlement, and a visitors’ area houses a number of artifacts and information. Currently, you can also see the chair donated by the Queen of England on her visit earlier this year (one of the workers asked if we had seen the chair, to which we answered yes, but it wasn’t very comfortable; I don’t think anyone had used that joke before based on the lady’s reaction).

Yorktown was where the final battle in the American Revolution took place (though it was more of a siege than anything else). We backed up the British against the water, and the French kept sea-faring reinforcements from coming to their aid. After being bombarded for a while and realizing there was no way to win, General Cornwallis finally surrendered. Upon hearing about the surrender, Lord North, the prime minister, reportedly said, “Oh God, it is all over!” You could still see the raised battlements in the earth, though more as a result of what was reworked during the Civil War than during the Revolutionary War. Still, with the cannons in place, you could picture the sights and sounds as they would have been during the siege from both sides of the battlefield. My writing mind was racing with all of the input.

One thing that really stood out to me at all of the historic locations was how focused on God the people at that time were. From the people’s quotes to the engravings on their tombstones, I could tell that they weren’t just playing church. They knew God personally, and He was everything to them. I’m sure there were those who didn’t believe; there always are. But from what I’ve seen, those who first came to America were primarily followers of Christ.

I’m realizing there’s too much to tell in one post, so I’ll save my comments on the rest of our trip in hopes of telling these tales another time. It was certainly a memorable week, with plenty of fun and relaxation (though I don’t recommend taking a six and a half month pregnant wife on long walks when it’s hot and humid outside).