When you don’t know…

Over-engineer. Over-calculate. Over-everything. I have spent a fair amount of my life undertaking things I knew far too little about, except I could see they were potentially dangerous. Whether we’re talking about opening new routes up cliffs no human (and few monkeys) would consider as ‘a good idea’ (even the good idea fairy left, shaking his head in disgust.) or undertaking crazy construction (or destruction) ventures… if you’re still alive at 19, you start taking on a ‘do it, but assume the most defensive stature you can, while doing the barking insane.’ The sensible person would of course simply not even gone there, or backed off hastily. The idiot plunges in with no caution – and gets hurt (and learns to back off) or gets killed. And then of course you have people like me. I dare say it will kill me in the end, but I have lasted a long time through ‘you can’t possibly’.

I had a guy doing architectural drawing of the house we tried to make into a mobile home today. He said ‘Oh well you’ll have to put in that.” I had of course done that, done the alternative in the building books too, and added a third measure. Just in case. I could still make mistakes, out of ignorance – but I had exceeded the normal minimum by far. Because I could.

This not always a good thing. Sometimes it is a pain in the butt. It is very apparent in the writing world – especially with new authors. Sometimes it is a good thing… But it reaches a point when it isn’t actually adding value. When really that next edit… is taking you nowhere but backwards. There is a time to stop.

When adding that extra layer of beautiful descriptive prose… is improving the description but detracting from the action. I look back on my early writing and I far too inclined to over-detail. I can see that now. I couldn’t then. Detail is a very difficult thing to do right. It’s kind of like stark naked and visible in every detail is sometimes less appealing than few well-chosen glimpses. The imagination is a writer’s best friend. Don’t stifle it.

Accents: another place where it is easy to make it so heavy it is an effort to read. The key with accents is to pick on a few words which the reader can rapidly get used to, or are obvious by context. The reader will swear they were reading Australian or Bangladeshi English… when the actual number of words that character changes from standard English is a fraction of what would actually be accurate. And amusing and different similes and metaphors successfully do the job. Just don’t overdo it. If it becomes an effort to follow… people won’t.

Foreshadowing: three times is the charm. Trust me. Less does not work… more becomes overblown, very rapidly.

And that is all for tonight. Enough.

5 thoughts on “When you don’t know…

  1. Speculation: the rule of three needs to be used for anything you want the reader to remember later.

    There was a story I recently read where an antagonist popped up and the main character has some idea who they were, but I didn’t and couldn’t figure out where the main character has met them. A quick search turned up the main character had been specifically told to watch out for them, once.

    I’d completely missed it.

  2. I have to work to keep from adding too much tech info when it doesn’t add to the story.

    “No, D.A., your muse may have studied under Clancy and Weber, but you ain’t them.”

  3. Accents – you can also do a little grammar instead of trying to type out pronunciation. East Slavic (Russian, Serbian) speakers tend to not use articles in English. You use a little “phonetic Russian-speaking-English” then just go with missing articles, and readers fill in the rest. I did something similar once and had the protagonist observe to herself a bit later that she had to listen closely to catch what the other character was saying. Saved me a lot of typing and readers a lot of puzzling out.

  4. I tend to be light on descriptions, expecting the audience to ‘fill in the blanks’ by themselves. Of course, that can/does lead to problems if I add details in a different book that don’t match what they imagined… sigh

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