Ever hear the one about the architect who killed himself because he forgot to include bathrooms in his design?
It’s note a joke, actually, but a myth. As legend has it, the architect of Vienna’s expansive Rossau Barrack’s built in 1848 committed suicide from the shame of forgetting to incorporate toilets into the structure.
Whether or not it’s true is not the topic of this post. The point is how much danger lies within the details. Or as I like to put it: Minutiae Kills!
My least favorite part about writing are the mind-numbing, minute details that plague an otherwise satisfying activity. Let’s say you’re writing a novel about cowboys in 1910, and one of them draws his gun for one reason or another. What kind of gun is it? How might he have come to carry that particular weapon? What were the gun laws during that time, if any? And so on. As you can see, the details can quickly pile up, as can the stress of trying to get an answer to any of those questions. After considerable research, I could not learn what the laws were regarding the carrying of firearms in Denver in 1911. So, I gave up and wrote this:
…Thomas had us pack our pistols away before leaving Scofield saying that we would be better received [in Denver] without them. He did, however, keep a Colt Thunderer – its 2 1/2″ barrel made it a perfect pocket pistol – concealed in his coat.
This turned out to work well, I think, because it hints to the changing times that the main characters were living in.
Now you may ask: Why fret over such details? Why not just say the cowboy drew a pistol and leave it at that?
This brings up something I call “coloring.” The initial drafts of my manuscripts tend to be flat, two-dimensional, “black-and-white” you might say. Coloring gives writing shape, depth, and substance; it makes good writing better. It turns: There were all kinds of vendors in the market. To: I remember a man with teary, swollen eyes selling fresh horseradish that he grated right there. You could have your fortune told by a woman in a gypsy costume and her parakeet that snatched cards from a deck.
I fret over details because I know which of those sentences I would rather read.
When I wrote The Quieting West I didn’t set out to pen historical fiction, as the book is often referred. I just wanted whatever details I used to be accurate. It’s the minutiae that breathes life into a story. My current novel, Of Gilded Flesh, takes place in 18th century Salzburg. While primarily a fantasy, I still have to be true to the era as I can. What did they wear? What did they eat? When was the metronome invented? And what about those damn wigs?