Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Using Your Jeweler's Loupe

One of the great pleasures I’ve discovered in writing time travel is that the past can be every bit as exotic as science fiction, that building the world of the past, though not a flight of fancy, can be just as creative.

When I wrote Screwing Up Time, I got to explore Bodiam Castle. I memorized the entire map of the castle, and I could probably find my way around blindfolded. I learned all about Medieval cuisine (cockentrice, wines, and spices), heraldry, and religious observances. In Screwing Up Babylon, I researched city maps, food, the Hanging Gardens, etc. I know all about palm wine, cuneiform, harems, and Archimedean screws. And for book three (here’s a hint), I learned about ostriches, anti-psychotics, tasers, and cone mosaics. I could write a dissertation on dumb waiters or draw an engineering schematic.

But all this information is the bane of an author too. Sometimes you come across a fact so amazing you want to share it with your readers, but it doesn’t fit into the plot. You try to make it work, but it doesn’t. And if something doesn’t advance the plot, you have to cut it—Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch called it “murdering your darlings.” And it’s so painful. I actually have documents where I store my murdered darlings because I just can’t quite snuff them out. When I put my little beauties there, I tell myself, I can always add them back in if I need them. I never have. I’ve never actually re-read them. They weren’t part of the story. They were just sparkly bits, and I was an enthralled magpie. But once I fitted my jeweler’s loupe, I can tell zircon from diamond. And zircon never belongs in a story.

Loupe photo by Adamantios, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
 BTW, Book Three in the Screwing Up Time series is currently with a beta reader. And she’s got her jeweler’s loupe firmly in place.

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