Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Literary Onion: Details and Research

A good book is like a literary onion.

Stay with me and my weird analogy.

Novels are made up of many layers. The plot and character are usually the top layers, the obvious ones, but once you peel those ones back you start to see layers like symbolism and foreshadowing. The elements of the book that you might not notice right away are like the inner layers of an onion. Lately, I've been appreciating one of the more subtle layers: the detail layer.

The detail layer is made up of all those well placed, precise pieces of description. This is the type of description that you can just tell the author went the extra mile and did some research. The author isn't writing vaguely about the subject; they are writing like they understand their subject inside and out.

I just finished The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton, where the MC was a lock picker. This is a perfect example of an author who used research to support his descriptions.

Another example of an author using their research to give detailed descriptions is Dan Wells who wrote Partials. I remember being blown away by the scientific details when I read this book awhile back.

Hamilton could have just said "I used a tension bar to pick the lock," instead we get a detailed description of how the lock is picked and what type of lock it was. All throughout the book the author describes different types of locks, how the MC picks them and the challenges he faces.

Wells could have just said "Partials can sense things", but instead we get a detailed description of how Kira finds that Partials have pheromones.  All throughout the book we get these medical details to back up what Kira is discovering. Whether or not they are true scientific facts, Wells has obviously researched biology enough to be able to write these details with confidence.

This attention to detail, in both books heightens my belief in the characters that Hamilton and Wells have created. I believed that Michael, the MC, was a "lock artist" because of how he talked about his craft. I believed that Kira, the other MC, was a dedicated medical student because of how she searches for a cure, describing her findings with medical details. I can tell that Hamilton and Wells have both researched for their books, and the result of that is a richly detailed description layer to this novel.

When I start to find authenticity in the characters of a book, I start to enjoy the book. I start to feel my world slip away as I lose myself in the "realness" of a story and setting. That small escape, that comes from a few well researched details (don't over do it; balance is key!), is what can make a break a book.

How about you? How important are details in a novel to you? How much description is too much? Thoughts on anything in particular? Let me know in the comments!

Reading: Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
Listening: Callie Moore
Watching: Youtube!


  1. I love those details. They're something I have yet to add into a lot of my books because I don't know what I need to research before I begin. But I think that the attention to detail is often very aopealing, as long as there's not an overabundance of it that slows the plot down
    Oh, also, would you be interested in being tagged for the Writing Process Blog Tour? All you have to do is answer four questions, post them on a certain day, and tag three other people. No problem if not, but I thought I'd ask. You can email me at imogen(dot)elvis(at)gmail(dot)com if you're interested. Thanks!

    1. I agree with the balance of detail!

      I emailed you! Hope I'm not to late:)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...