Michelle Diener offered warning yesterday over at Magical Musings on giving out too much information (the dreaded T.M.I.) in historical novels. Michelle’s cleverly stated rule of thumb is, “If you are putting something in to clarify your story for the reader, you’ve written the story wrong.”
I’m sure we’ve all encountered books where the plot is racing along and then suddenly the main character stops to discuss some item of “interest” for five paragraphs. First, such a mistake reminds me that I’m reading a book, which is never good. I also have to say that it makes me feel awkward reading those passages. It’s like I’ve pointed out to a stranger that he doesn’t belong in the room we’re both standing in.
All historical fiction writers are, by nature, historians at heart. Most keep the family photos in order and save newspaper clippings, etc. We love researching interesting tidbits to integrate into our novels. This naturally makes us very adept at conveying the past nature of a place. Of course, this also means that we revel in meaningless details that have zero appeal to the mainstream population.
Personally, when writing PHAIAKIA, I learned a plethora of ancient Greek names for different places and things. It tempted me sorely not to work all these into the story. Admittedly, I did work them in initially which made for a lousy first draft. I eventually made use of a few but only as they came up integral to the plot.
It took me awhile to learn, but I at last realized that the secret to the tempting peril of over-information is ironically more knowledge. The more I learned and felt comfortable with ancient Greece, the easier it became for me to integrate words and concepts and places into my writing. I stopped trying to work these into the story and instead simply made use of them as I wrote. This subtle difference translated into a real paradigm shift for me that really elevated my historical fantasy, PHAIAKIA, to a whole new level.
When in doubt, I find having a friend read my manuscript as being very helpful. When you bore your friends, you know you are in trouble. If you’ve never been inspired to seek out a critique group, check out Barry Summy’s blogs from this week on her Denny’s group.
Alright, that’s all for me. I’d hate to be accused of T.M.I.