Lyla Campbell

Back in my college days, which sadly seem further away than ever have before, I took a water modeling class as part of my graduate program. In order to help us wrap our minds around the difference between a model and reality, our professor used Plato's Allegory of the Cave as a tool. In this story, Plato tells the tale of people who have for all their lives have been chained up in a cave so that all they are able to see is the back wall of the cave and none of the outside world. Their perception of reality is limited to the shadows projected on the wall from life going on outside of their cave. My professors purpose to telling this story was to illustrate that a computer model for a water distribution system, or predicting the weather, etc., was only a projection of reality and not a mirror image there of.

In short, you can never duplicate reality, only approximate. In the engineering world, you can get copious amounts of detailed data, and develop an excruciatingly detailed approximation, but it's still not an exact replica. And in all honesty, you wouldn't want to try to replicate the real world. It would be impossible to gather every single bit of data needed and one would most likely go insane in the attempt.

Writing a fictional story is much the same. It's not possible to wholly replicate the reality you have created in your head. A reader would not want to trudge through a book that describes monotonous and irrelevant details. A writer doesn't need to describe everything in minutia. The task at hand for the writer is to create a story that's construction contains only the necessary information for the reader all the while keeping it artful and entertaining. Keeping both form and function in balance is no easy task, so here are some points to keep in mind while your prose are under construction:

  • Gather data on things you don't understand. Does your character surf? Do they sing opera? Do they sew? Are they Manic-Depressive? If you have no prior knowledge of a character trait or lifestyle aspect of a particular character, do your research. Take a surfing, or voice or sewing lessons. Don't have access to lessons or their not in the budget? Youtube has video lessons on just about anything. On the flip side if you want to understand a mental struggle, Psychology Today and other journals have a wealth of information on human behavior.

  • Eliminate Noise. Does the reader really care about what kind of sandwich your MC is noshing on at lunch? If it has no bearing on the plot or revealing something about the character, leave it out. In computer modeling, extra junk makes it run slow. In your story, pointless garble makes it drag.

  • Keep it Simple. This is probably the cardinal rule of engineering...and for writing as well. For the essential information you need to convey to your reader, don't weigh down your writing with flowery language. It sounds contrived and people will mock you and chase you with sticks.

Keep these things in mind when piecing together your prose and you'll come out with a sleeker manuscript in the end.

One final creating models much like crafting stories there is a certain unique style that one develops. Just like an author can be identified by the feel of their prose, one can also identify who set-up/created a computer model, not just by the notes they leave behind, but in the way it is constructed. And in both instances, this style evolves over time.
2 Responses
  1. Jeff King Says:

    Awesome post, great info... thx.

  2. It is best to keep it simple.
    Most writers drift to one side or the other but all very successful ones favor brevity of detail. Good post.

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