The success or failure of a manuscript can be found in the details. But which details?
You have done your research. You have stacks and stacks of 3X5 notecards carefully annotated with source material, page numbers, and pertinent quotes. You are ready to write. Whether your book is an epic historical, a hard science space opera, or a deep sea diving thriller, you have talked to experts and read enough books to write a Master’s Thesis. Maybe even a doctoral dissertation. And you love every one of those details. You want to include them all.
Let me give you a couple of examples of how not to use your details, facts and figures.
Recently I started reading a space opera. The first 75 pages were filled with interesting plot points, vivid characters, and an intriguing plot. And then the author spent 3+ pages explaining all the scientific reasons for each of the multiple layers of a pressure suit and the struggle to don each of those layers in zero G. We know the p-suit will be necessary for the heroine to survive the coming action, already foreshadowed. We appreciate that the human body is fragile at best in a space faring environment. But 3 pages of data?
Some people really get off on these kinds of details. They understand the science and would question anything less than a full explanation.
I was bored silly and ended up tossing the book. That is too much detail. About half of that would have satisfied the science geeks and not bored those of us who are more interested in plot and character.
On the other hand there is a bestselling series out there where the heroine is a competitive ballroom dancer. The author has some vocabulary and an eye (or rather the words) for elaborate costumes. But no amount of watching dance competitions on TV cannot give you the feel of the stretch of muscles, straining for that extra inch of elevation; the glory of blending movement with music, drawing the audience into the story and that awesome moment of executing an exquisite spin or perfect lift. Can you tell I’m a dancer? I grew up in a ballet studio.
The author of these books has never taken a dance class in her life, and it shows. But her books top the lists every time. Her audience does not dance, at least not at competitive levels. I can’t read the book for the lack of details. The right details.
A friend of mine claims that when he needs to build a bridge in a book he calls an engineer and talks for half an hour or so. During the conversation he will glean three esoteric words to sprinkle into his description. His audience thinks he’s a genius who knows everything. People who actually build bridges are not his audience.
So, how do you figure out which of those stacks and stacks of research cards do you use? Usually about 10%. Let the story tell you which facts are needed rather than force the story to require those facts. The rest of your research feeds your brain, and allows you to give your story texture that draws in the reader and makes your world more real.
Oh, and a beta reader doesn’t hurt either. But remember, it is your book and critique partners can steer you wrong. You don’t have to agree with them, but if more than one finds too much detail (the dreaded info dump) you might want to look at that section again to see if there are ways to break it up.
If God is in the details, pick and choose the best ones rather than all of them.