December 16, 2011

Important Irrelevant Details

Sometimes in the interest of realism in my fiction, I get hung up on these details, and I don't know if I'm being ridiculous. Today I was worrying about whether readers would notice or care how much time passes in the story without a visit from the grandparents.

The storyline I'm working on involves a couple with a baby, and it takes place over several years. Sometimes in the gaps between scenes, months pass during which the characters go about their lives with only the most relevant occurrences reported to the reader when the story picks up again. This is convenient for me as the author, because it means I can safely assume that while I'm ignoring the characters, they have time to take care of things that are important to them but not the story. Things like getting in some quality time with that grandmother who lives in another state and doesn't do anything in the story until the kid is a year and a half old.

But today I became concerned about the fact that there's no mention of this grandmother between soon after the baby's birth and that one scene she stars in. I'd been imagining that a visit or two happens off the page somewhere and that the reader could imagine that as well, which is fine, but I figured that for my own peace of mind, I should decide when those visits are. But there's also the other out-of-state grandmother. She's more important to the story and has more scenes, but they still might be spaced farther apart in time than this character would believably go without making sure she saw her grandchild. So I needed to schedule visits with her for my own reference, too.

Having arranged all these imaginary travel plans (which, thank goodness, didn't involve the headache of searching for imaginary flights), I saw a way to relevantly mention these grandparental visits in the story with a few words of summary, so I went ahead and did that. Now I can stop worrying that any reader will note the sparseness of grandmotherly visits during the baby's early life.

But now I have to wonder whether there's any chance that any reader would have spared a moment of thought on this issue. What do you think? Am I being thorough in crafting a believable world for my characters, or am I wasting time obsessing over pointless details?

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Mary Kole explains what is and isn't involved in Big Revision: "She'd been doing something that I see a lot of writers do without meaning to or realizing it. I call it a 'tinkering revision.' Instead of going completely back to the drawing board, she'd just been mucking around with what she'd already written and, while she was technically revising, as in, switching words around and making cuts, she was getting nowhere." (Thanks, Becky Levine!)

→ Chris Abouzeid at Beyond the Margins shares thirteen opening lines he tried for different drafts of the same manuscript.


Becky Levine said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Lisa. Glad you liked Mary's post.

I have to tell you that THIS reader would totally appreciate your "seeding" the grandparents before their important scene. It's one of my pet peeves when a story doesn't have that kind of balance, when characters show up out of nowhere/nowhen! It IS more of a believable world when they're already part of it, even with just a few words. So...thank you! :)

Lisa Eckstein said...

Becky, you point out something that I was starting to think about as I wrote this post, which is that I was really dealing with two different issues, or maybe looking at one issue from a direction that was confusing me.

I agree that it's a problem when characters appear out of nowhere, or reappear after hundreds of pages of absence. So for that reason alone, it's important to insert some mentions of the grandparents between their major appearances. It's not so much that the reader needs to know about all the travel plans of the characters, it's that I need to make sure the important people in the characters' lives don't entirely disappear from the story when they aren't being used.

Thanks for your comment that helped me clarify my thoughts!

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