Daily Archives: April 19, 2010

Droppings of Various Kinds

I just finished reading the newest Alex Rider book and loved every second of it.  Anthony Horowitz has done it again–even better.  And  yet as I read, one thing stuck out in my writer’s mind.  A reference to Obama. 

Authors might use major events to ground their work in a certain time period while others use trends or slang to add authenticity.  Music is another popular reference that helps readers relate to the setting and characters.

I’ll call these instances “droppings”.

Much like the mouse droppings that littered our garage for our annual spring cleaning.  In past years, I’ve seen a dropping or two in expected locations.  However, this year, our garage appears to have housed not one rodent, but an entire colony of them.

They had “dropped” more than enough clues for us to realize our geriatric lab hadn’t really been eating all $52.00 worth of dog food each month.  Instead, we had provided our furry little guests with an all-inclusive winter resort while our poor canine suffered through hunger pangs. 

And so I got to thinking.  I’m okay with one or two droppings.  Really, life does go on, even for tiny little field mice looking to snug down during our near-arctic cold fronts. 

One or two are virtually unobtrusive.  These droppings ground us in the reality that our garage is not mouse proof, that there are more creatures in this world than us and that we must share a certain amount of our resources with others less fortunate.

But more than a dropping or two and I get a whole lot of grouchy.  Namely because I can’t ignore them and have to sweep them up.  Which, by the way, I don’t recommend doing in flip flops, as the droppings tend to get stuck between your toes.  Everything has to be moved, burned disinfected and put back in a more orderly fashion.

Kind of like editing. 

One or two references per novel is enough to ground us in the reality of setting, character and time frame.  They are a nice addition to any book.  However, an entire novel littered with references becomes tedious and might make the average reader a whole lot of grouchy, as if they have mouse droppings between their toes.

Some genres demand more droppings than others, like historical fiction.  Others seem to sprinkle droppings around just for fun and the novel feels like an all-inclusive at one of the poshest, dunce camps on earth–as if the author is trying to impress the reader by name-dropping, but the reader is too stupid to pick up on it. 

What I took away from Crocodile Tears is that one reference is enough.  By including an Obama tid-bit in the book, it indicated a current or post-presidency time frame.  The use of Trafalgar Square grounded me in the setting without beating me over the head–and I’ve never been there.  An i-pod gave me insight to the characters.

Anything more and I would have started skipping pages.  And that is the last thing any writer wants to happen.  Because dropping a reader’s attention is the worst kind of dropping imaginable. 

As a reader, do you get distracted by too many real-life references or do you need them to help you visualize the book better?

As a writer, what types of droppings do you tend to leave in your manuscripts?  Do you over-use some or not use them enough? 

P.S. I will cull my comments today and name the winner of my Slumber Party Bash contest tomorrow!  Thanks for playing.