All in the Details

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A friend of mine said he was reading about Native Americans in the south in the 19th century, and was impressed by the detail of the research. He then said it made him think of me and what I’m working on. It could have been just the use of Indians in my novel, but I’ll pretend it was a comment on my dedication to research and detail.

I’ve done a fair amount of research, and at times I have to stop writing to do more. Right now I’m looking at a particular event of the War of 1812 involving the Indians and the Americans at Fort Wayne. These Native American battles were really part of a longer expanse of warfare in the United States, one which carried on for generations and resulted in the near annihilation of a race of people.

My book covers a war that, in my opinion, was the last major push for Indian resistance and independence from American expansion. I try to comment on this, as well as our inherent opinions and perceptions of Native Americans, while giving fair reflection of them as a diverse culture filled with characters both good and bad. All this requires a world fully crafted by details of the people and environment, but how much time should you give to research, and what is the right level of detail to include in your book?

I am not writing a history book. I am writing fiction that takes place in history. I see the distinction, and I think readers will have the right level of expectation, but I don’t know for certain. If the messages and themes and metaphors come across, then I’ll be happy. If they overshadow or distract from the entertainment value, then I’ll lose readers. As a new writer, I cannot confidently give advice on appropriate levels of detail in books. As a long time reader, I will say this:

Too much detail can be cumbersome for a reader just trying to be entertained. Too little can prevent them from being immersed. If you think about breathing too much then it becomes harder to do. Give me just enough detail to breath in your world. If you explain the molecular breakdown of the manufactured gas filling my lungs, I will likely hyperventilate.

I am doing my best to get all the facts right, but this would require years of dedication to a broad collection of subject matter, and I’m not willing to give those years. If something is wrong, but the story does not suffer for it, then I won’t feel too bad. My main goal is to tell a good story. If that falls, all the detail in the world won’t help it stand.

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