Online, I’ve found myself in many debates with other writers about technical details versus character development. When I’m listening (reading actually) to someone’s argument that a story lacking the human element is no story at all, I find I must agree. At the same time, I feel that deep in my quite human heart, I want the same thing for the technical aspects too.
After sitting and thinking for a time, I’m wondering, “What’s the difference?” Isn’t it all technical when you come down to it?
Bear with me, here.
If you’re reading a book, and it was billed as partly romance, you’re all excited because romance is what you’re looking for. In the story, there’s a beach. You don’t see any description about the surging, elemental power of the waves, the seagulls flying free above the waves. The sand isn’t teasing your toes as the seas kissing your feet. No, all you get is, it’s a beach. The MC sees a guy. She smiles. He says, “Hey baby,” and they live happily forever.
How would you feel about this story? Would you feel cheated? I would. What the hell kind of romance is that? C’mon, you’re supposed to draw it out, make them both earn it, fight for their love interest. Wooing someone is difficult, it’s complicated. It’s takes time, skill, and luck too. In fact, it takes some technical knowledge, about how love works, to succeed. We have love experts, for a reason after all. We just don’t think about romancing as technical because, well, it’s about love.
Let’s switch places now. An author billed his book as military scifi. I’m all excited because that’s what I’m looking for. The MC is “flying” along in the clear-glass cockpit. Whatever for? Ships are so far away, you’ll never see anything with the naked eye. I wonder if the author knows he’s doing. An enemy ship appears. It starts shooting. With what kind of weapon? I have no idea. The writer doesn’t say. The MC gives the order, “Fire on the enemy ship!” They hit it, and it is destroyed. The crew hails the MC as a tactical genius.
Really? The bad guy showed up and you shot him? You’re supposed to do that, stupid. How much smarts did it take to do the obvious? What the hell kind of combat is that?
If you can see how the oversimplified romance just doesn’t cut it, perhaps you can also understand how oversimplified spaceship combat doesn’t work either. Any human endeavor, from forging a horseshoe to creating a nuclear missile is complicated. Think a farmer’s job is simple? Try spending a day with one explaining everything all he or she has to think about. I dare you to try it without your brain blowing up only halfway through the day.
Life that is productive and/or effective is always complex. Detective stories are popular for a reason. Agathie Christie lovingly portrays all the details Poirot goes through while working out the case. It’s complex, and all that detail that none of us ever consider in our daily life is fascinating. Why? Because Christie bothers and cares enough to make us understand just how interesting it is.
When I wrote my book I took a certain amount of risk. Pundits warned me don’t get caught up in the technical details too much. Nobody cares about that, they said. Focus on the human element. I did include a lot of detail about humanity, world-building, and character-building, because I believe these things are important. I also included intimate details about the technology. “Shoot your blaster and bad guy fall dead,” was never enough for me. I included details about how the tech works, because any worthwhile human endeavor isn’t simple. It’s all interesting if you look at it the right way.
The Air Force and the Navy have literal aerospace engineers flying their planes. These super-brilliant guys and gals are sometimes overwhelmed by the “information overload” of modern combat. If combat was easy, then these people wouldn’t get overloaded. Truth is, it’s super-complicated, and to me that makes it interesting.
Luckily, expressing all the complicated details of modern combat in science fiction has earned rewards for me. My theory is: if I put enough thought and care into it, then it becomes interesting, even if it’s something the reader isn’t familiar with. Hell, maybe someday someone might write about a horse whisperer and put enough care into it to show how cool that is. Oh, wait…somebody already did.
I worked hard to make all aspects, whether human or technical, interesting in The Huralon Incident. Check it out and see what I mean. You can get it below. This is book one of the Springbok Chronicles. Book two, with a working title of, “The Madrid Solution” is due out by the summer.