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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Heisenberg’s Writing Block (Katerino McIver)

Image description: Katerino decorating a cake. 
Heisenberg’s Writing Block

By Katerino McIver


Heisenberg compensators.

It's an important principle.

"Transporters can't work due to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle!"

"Yes they can!"

"OK - how?"

"They just do."

"That's not realistic!"

"Um... OK, got it! Heisenberg compensators!"

"Really?"

"Yup."

"How the hell do they work?"

"Why ask me? Do I look like a 24th century quantum physicist?"

You don't have to explain everything.

You just need enough to be able to say "yes, we know about that, and this universe has taken account of it, kthxbai."

This is also known as the Suits principle.

They have entire episodes about the ins and outs of a case and who's doing what – without ever going deep into the actual detail of the case. Or sometimes, even what the original issue is!

Like when Louis made a mistake that could derail everything. You don't see the mistake. You see the reactions to it. You know it was big. You know it's something he would never normally miss. You know the fallout from it and how it pushes the plot forward.

You don't need to know what the mistake actually was.

Detail is important.

It is. It gives the writing a sense of realism, and the reader the confidence that you know where you're going.

But trying to work out all of the detail can lead to block.

At least, it can for me - it's right up there with not knowing where to start and being deathly afraid of writing pure shite.

"I can't write that scene because I need to work out exactly where they built the house to get that view..."

"I can't write that scene because I need to work out the exact details of what  he's going to do to break the code of ethics and with what his client was charged and..."

"I can't write that scene because I need to work out the exact details of the treaty..."

I'm currently working on what I hope will become an SF novel. In it, there was a war in Ecuador, from which the main character is a refugee. She's now living near Glasgow (see above about the difficulty of deciding EXACTLY where on the 30-ish mile long coastline between Gourock and Ardrossan she's going to live... yes, that caused me to spend far too much precious writing time spodding on googlemaps...)

The details of the ceasefire agreement directly affect her access (or lack thereof) to her family's estate. This is a major plot point.

No, I don't need to know all the clauses of it. Or all the signatories. Having a good idea of who the interested parties were is necessary - knowing the details isn't.

Having her mention the section & subsection that is relevant to her shows that SHE knows it. Having her express frustration at how it affects her matters. I don't need to quote the legalese.

In a real world example - if I'm discussing Brexit - I don't need to quote the entirety of Article 50. I just reference it.

The details are there. They don't need to be drawn out.

But what IS there is the confidence that if we needed to, we can find the detail.

So when writing, all I need to do is convince the reader that the details are there. I can do that by having characters, who have reason to know, refer to an act or clause, have characters react to the implications of it and have characters behave as if they know all about it - and take it as read.

And if the "details" don't actually exist until I need them - that's OK too!

And if I never need them? Meh.

I may never know the date the treaty was signed, or where, or the name of the politicians that put their name to it. I may never know where the new boundaries were drawn, or what reparations were given between the governments.

And that's OK.

Now, I'm not saying forget the research. You do need some details. Like she's from Ecuador - I played with idea of not specifying which of the 12* countries with a land mass exactly on the equator - but that was too loose and became unrealistic.

So I looked at them all, ruled some out for one reason or another, saw the Bahia – San Vincente Bridge, imagined her crossing it as a child and falling in love with it, and that was that!

So details are good. Background that the reader will never see is good. Little details dropped in that suggest more underneath are very effective.

Just don't let them get in the way of actually writing.


(*Yes, there are 13 equatorial countries, but the Maldives don't have any land ON the equator - there are islands & atolls straddling the line, but none directly on it.)


40-odd Scottish mum currently living in England. I studied physics and now work as a QA analyst where I get to break developer's heart.

Still unpublished writer; I'm working on SF novel and completed short stories including a sequel to Tam O'Shanter. I also roleplay (favourite is old WoD larp system), am learning esperanto and make wedding cakes.

Katerino doesn't have a page to promote and asks that you pop over here if you are feeling generous: https://refuweegee.co.uk



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