Monday, October 26, 2009

The Significance of Insignificant Details

It’s the smallest of details that can make our stories seem real. As a reader, I want the details to blend with the story, not stand out in a glaring way that will disrupt or contradict my knowledge of a time period or venue. As a writer, I want to cultivate the trust of my readers so they will not get tangled in a web of details, but rather relax in the backdrop of factual fiction.

Research is the key ingredient for preparing a delicious tale – whether it’s contemporary or historical. Research is not dull or dry, it’s vibrant and versatile! While writing and rewriting my first novel, a contemporary women’s fiction piece, I have applied what I learned in banking: Gather the facts!

Before closing a deal, bankers have the opportunity to conduct what is called due diligence on a company and the transaction. This can involve visiting the factories or distribution points, meeting with management, speaking with their clients and reviewing even more financial statements. I always loved this part of the process and even walked through numerous industrial factories wearing a hard hat. There is something invigorating about seeing in person what you have studied on paper. That is the experience we as writers need to deliver to our readers.

But what if my novel is set in a different country, and I can’t travel there? That’s okay. It’s still doable. Google. Email. Telephone. I’ve done it all. Today, for example, I am rewriting a section in my novel in which my main character visits London and dines at Simpson’s-in-the-Strand, a traditional British restaurant. I remember dining there with my parents as a young girl, but of course much has changed since then. After researching online, I telephoned the maitre d’ and asked him specific questions. “What does the menu look like? Is it laminated or paper?” And the list goes on.

There is also another wonderful resource that a lot of people are not aware of: The New York Public Library. Here is a link to that website: Look under the heading Ask NYPL. The library provides online chat services to answer your question in addition to email and telephone inquiries. Some research is fee based so you will need to discuss this with one of the helpful librarians as to the scope of your project.

Tricia Goyer, a dear friend and author of many historical and contemporary novels is one of the real experts I know on research. I will feature her expertise on research in an upcoming blog. Meanwhile, enjoy a recipe from Amy Lathrop as you get ready for the holidays.

Take-away Tidbit:

Crescent Rolls

1 T. yeast
¾ c. warm water
1 t. sugar
Set aside for action –
Meanwhile, beat:
2 eggs

1 c. warm milk
1 c. warm water
1 t. salt
¼ c. sugar
½ c. oil

Add yeast mixture. Stir in flour. Knead on floured board. Place in greased bowl. Cover. Let rise for 1 hour. Divide into 2. Roll to about ¼ - ½ inch thick, about 15 inch circle. Butter heavily with nearly melted butter and cut like pizza. Roll up from large end to small end, let rise for 1 hour.

CAN BURN EASILY!!! Bake at 400 for 15 min. Enjoy!

“The failure of incomplete success of a recipe oftentimes depends upon some little detail that has been misunderstood or overlooked in the preparation.”
A Book for A Cook, The Pillsbury Co. (1905)

(photo courtesy of Warwick)

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