Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Too Much Information

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I’m blown away by the amount and variety of information available on the web.

For instance, the scanned archives of the UK Meteorological Office tell me gale force winds blew across England on April 8th and 9th in 1928. It so happens that my story requires a sunny period just then (It’s all tied up with the date of Easter and therefore the Easter school holidays, so I can’t change the dates). What’s more, there were thunderstorms on the 10th.

And talk about floods of detail: “much rain occurred widely” on the 2nd through 5th, especially in the Southeast, where London is, the setting for the book. Oh well, gales or no gales, the temperature was above normal from the 6th to the 9th.

In the old days, I could make the weather whatever I wanted and never think twice about it. Now, I shall make it what I need—and feel guilty. And wonder whether I ought to appease the Weather God and possible research-minded readers with a disclaimer at the end...

At the other extreme, in 1979 I wrote my first book with just a couple of books for reference, Prince of Pleasure and the Shell Guide to England. Not only was there no web overstuffed with data, but there was no Amazon to help find the books, often out of print, that might be relevant. You were limited to what your library possessed or you happened to come across in a book store.

Apart from the problem of whether to fudge the weather reports, an excess of information has one major hazard: the info dump.

Science fiction is particularly prone to drowning the reader in a mass of data that holds up the narrative while the entire genesis of an imaginary world is explained. But such dumps can be found in all kinds of fiction.

Perhaps half the art of writing is the art of knowing what to leave out.

Carola Dunn is author of the Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries, Cornish Mysteries, and multitudinous Regencies. The paperback edition of Superfluous Women is now available to pre-order. 

13 comments :

  1. It's true, Carola ... there is a plethora (look at the big brain in Homey!) of info on Internet ... but it's been a blessing to moi ... I can research to my hearts's content without ever leaving my basement. Now, the wife gets a little concerned with smell wafting up from the depths, but ya gotta admit, it's a cool tool ... the Internet that is.

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    1. LOL, Christopher. Always enjoy your comments. There are air-fresheners to take care of that nasty odor. Just saying...

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    2. Christopher--please note "lacunae" below!

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  2. Carola, you are so right about needing a balance between what info we put on paper and what we leave out. I am listening to an audio book by a well-known author, and while parts of the story are riveting, other parts have so much info dumping I keep wondering when the story is going to pick up again. This info has to do with detailed descriptions of some property and a house, and while that might work in an historical romance, it doesn't work in a mystery/thriller.

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  3. LOL, I had to ditch a scene because I was a year off when the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan - re the thunderstorm - even on thunderstorm days there could be sunny weather before the storm.

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  4. I didn't start writing until 2000, but I always wonder how all the authors from way back in the dark ages did everything that is now so easily accessible. The only hardship I've had was when I had to snail mail queries. Seems like the dark ages to me.

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    1. You learn the art of "writing around" things you can't find out. Even now, it's useful. The web has pretty large lacunae, and phrasing a question so that google finds you the info you need, while it's constantly improving, is still dodgy.

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  5. I'm planning a story that involves the different water levels of a particular river here in Aus - a car dumped in the river when the levels were high and the discovery of the car many years later after a dry season when the water level is much lower. I will be carefully scrutinising the records for this one!

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    1. Yes, that sounds like an easily checked one.

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  6. AAACK! You're talking about my nightmare scenario. I make up the weather for my historical fiction story and find out it was something else when a reader finds it on the Internet. Must read old newspaper now.

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    1. I've never had anyone complain I got it wrong. That would be REALLY picky. On the other hand, I dumped an idea for a murder when I found out the weather in NY wouldn't fit. In the same book (The Case of the Murdered Muckraker) I made use of extreme weather north of the Rockies.

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  7. In my opinion the weather should fit the story (exception: well-known storms, hurricanes, floods, etc.). Having said that, I think some readers will no doubt check to see if it was really so -- the weather, that is.

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    1. I think I'll put in that disclaimer in the back of the book!

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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