Or maybe you know wayÂ too much.
In the comments section earlier, Daisy wrote:Â
“Iâ€™m a biologist (okay, research associate at a biotech company, but thatâ€™s a lot of words for â€œwhat do you doâ€) and I have never managed to write a decent story in a scientific setting because I keep getting hung up on the details and the need to explain what everything is.”
Her problem is not unique.Â As I’ve mentioned before, I teach an annual course for doctors who want to become novelists, and one of the most common problems they have is “explainitis.”Â They know too much and they want to tell you everything.Â So they do.Â
Readers don’t WANT to know theÂ intricacies of the KrebsÂ cycle.Â They don’t want to knowÂ the biochemistry of digitalis.Â Â They just want to know how these things affect the character they love.Â Yes,Â you have toÂ include enough detail to make the setting and the story accurate.Â You have to useÂ enough jargon toÂ make yourÂ character sound like he really is a doctor or a biochemist.Â But in the end, it’s not the technical stuff that will be interesting.
It’s the characters.
I find that aspiring novelists who are highly educated or intensely cerebral have troubleÂ understanding what makes popular culture tick.Â They’re good at writingÂ elegant phrases that have noÂ emotional content.Â They think that anythingÂ elseÂ smacks of melodrama, and good heavens, that’s like watching that horrid Jerry Springer!
Well, imagine this.Â You’re sitting in Starbucks, and the couple at the table to your left is having a deep discussionÂ about the merits of Proust.Â And the couple on your right is arguing about the affair that one of them is having.Â Which couple would you listen to?
There’s a reason Jerry Springer was so popular.
No matter how unusual your occupation, no matter how much you knowÂ about quarks and ion propulsion and string theory, if your novel isn’t at heart about people and their conflicts with each other, then it’s not going to hold our attention.Â Yeah,Â string theoryÂ may be interesting — but how does it affectÂ the lives of John and Jane Doe?Â
A lot of us don’t have what could be called “interesting” jobs.Â Some of us have downright boring jobs.Â But we do know what it’s like to grow up, toÂ argue with our parents, toÂ fall in love, to care about a cause that’sÂ bigger than ourselves.Â We know what it’s like to lose someone.Â
We know what it’s like to be human.
And really, that’s all you need to know to write a book.