…and do you really care?
That’s a question I’ve been mulling over the last week or so. I read an article in a fiction-writing how-to book a while ago, and they emphasized the need for specificity when writing descriptions.
The example they used was
The trees were green.
They suggested that a better way to write that, so it really paints a proper picture in the reader’s mind, is to use specifics.
The leaves of the maples were emerald.
Which is good advice, up to a point. Anything that helps create a scene inside the reader’s mind is better than flat cliches that have lost all meaning through overuse, or general words that mean nothing in particular.
But I hit a mental bump on this one, when I thought about some of the stories I write, and you, my readers who read them.
Harriet picked up the automatic rifle and checked that it was loaded.
That’s a fine, active-voice description of action. But if I was to be even more specific, I would write something like:
Harriet hoisted the 2B-A-40 to her hip, checked the box,
slapped it back and raised the stock to her shoulder.
If you came across that paragraph cold, would you even understand it?
Please be clear: I’m not saying you’re stupid if you don’t. But the vast majority (something like 96%) of you are:
2) With kids
3) With some college education, and
4) Around 25 years old and up.
That’s a very specific range of people, and generally, you’re not interested in the types of semi-automatic assault weapons available on the market, or that the ammunition they fire are rounds, not bullets, and the rounds go into a box, not a magazine.
Do you know what the difference is between an AK-47 and an Armtech C30R? (One’s Russian, the other is Australian-made.)
When the heroine picks up a hand-gun to shoot the monster, do you care that it is a SIG Pro semi-automatic pistol, or a Walther P99? Or do you only care that the heroine stops the bad guys by shooting at them?
On the other hand, if you were guys, young, and single, then the chances are very good that you would care intensely about whether the hero (unlikely to be a heroine) is pointing an Uzi or a Timberwolf* at the bad guys. You’d also give a damn about the type of ammunition being used, the type of scope (if any), whether the gun had been modified or tailored in any way and anything else about the weapons that the author cared to give.
So how out to lunch am I? Does peppering the story with specific details about firearms make the story come alive for you, or do you gloss over the details, think “gun” and move on?
I’d really like to know.
[*An Uzi is a sub-machine gun, generally. The Timberwolf is a Canadian-made sniper rifle, and considered to be one of the best in the world.]