The successful storyteller has the ability to lift his or her audience out of their world of reality, suspend belief, and plunk them into the writer’s world. Whether that world is on a written page, movie, or TV scene is immaterial. We want the reader or viewer to enter the new world and become a part of it like an invisible companion until the end credits break the trance. This is accomplished with the details.
Jules Verne has us actually aboard the Nautilus. Sir Arthur Doyle has us walking with Holmes and Watson. Edgar Burroughs has us swinging through the trees alongside Tarzan. J.K. Rowling has us flying with Harry Potter in a Quiddich match. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quidditch). How? By describing the scene in such a way to make it 3-Dimensional.
Some time back I discussed building characters and the detail the writer should attend to even if not used. The same goes for the backdrop, the world in which the character moves. A writer of science fiction or fantasy taking place on another world needs to create that world in detail right down to a piece of gum stuck on the walkway. A story taking place in the mountains of New Mexico needs the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of New Mexico which are different from the Colorado Rockies.
The Order of the Brethren, currently in production, primarily takes place in the Caribbean Sea in the early 1600’s. To recreate that takes a huge amount of research as to geography, history, and cultures. This was a period of upheaval in this area. Natives were being killed out, new people inserted (African slaves), and the European powers jockeyed for position to elbow Spain out of the picture. This is not an historical novel, but it is historically based.
Going into descriptive details about places might be nice, but too much could risk putting the audience to sleep. For instance, Nevis Island plays an important role in one chapter as the characters bounce from one island to another trying to hold the attack fleet together. It is a small, circular island with a towering central volcanic cone. From a distance Nevis looks like a hat. The sides are gently sloping with rich volcanic soil for agriculture. I could go into an extensive description of its rich, green tapestry of vegetation and colorful flowers, the turquois water washing up on long, white sand beaches, the . . . no, it’s a circular island that looks like a hat. The decision was to dwell more on time which is becoming a factor in the rescue, the relationship of one island to another, how far apart they are, and how long it takes to get there is more important. Travel time between islands is measured in hours, as in five to eight because ship speeds ranged from five to eight knots/hour. (That’s walking to slow jog speed). In countries like Australia and the western United States distances between cities are huge in comparison to Great Britain, Europe, and similar small regions used to short travel distances. The audience won’t have a chance to nap because they will jog right along with no more time to shop than our hero(s).
Besides geography are the people already living on the islands, the last remnants of the native people, some Spaniards, and an influx of Europeans. As this is a story about people, I want to go into some depth about what is known of them—their appearance, social structure, and living conditions. This has not been an easy research. More information is surfacing, but over all, we know little about the Taino and the Carib. By 1700 they will be wiped from the face of the earth, existing today only in pockets of DNA. How did this happen? The Taino were peaceful. The Caribs were cannibalistic. In this story, our hero(s) must interact with and get their cooperation, and in doing so, their stories can be told, not in an indigestible block of information, but spread out over several chapters so not to overwhelm our invisible companions.
It is a tricky tapestry we weave to move the story along with the audience pulled into the story and experiencing life in the times with our hero(s). Unlike the venerable authors of yesteryear who could go into minute detail about geography and science, today’s reader/viewer is too impatient. We authors must be brief and more concise. In some ways, that’s a pity.