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Thread: Would it be acceptable for a marine biologist narrator to occasionally bring up tid bits and facts?

  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Question Would it be acceptable for a marine biologist narrator to occasionally bring up tid bits and facts?

    I'm aware of the "only use 1% of what you research in your novel" rule, but I have a narrator who is an enthusiastic marine biologist and was wondering if it would be alright for him to periodically throw in some facts? I'm much more of a plotter/planner than a seat-of-the-pants writer, but I tend to like to think about the voice of the character I will be writing and write a first draft of the opening scene early on.

    In the opening scene he is scubadiving with two others and begins to describe the fish to the readers, casually throwing in their scientific name and pointing out the way their bodies are perfectly equipped to dash through the water. Of course he wouldn't go into great depths explaining something like computer coding, another thing I'm researching for the story, because he knows nothing about it. Nor would he go on for paragraphs about where the fish fit in the trospheres. Rather little sentence-long facts that naturally bleed into his narration. Would this be an exception to the research rule, or should I cut it and get straight to the point?

  2. #2
    Making Einstein cry since 1994 Maggie Maxwell's Avatar
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    In the first draft, go ahead. Put in whatever you want. Then, when it comes to edit, start cutting.

    Long term, I think a few single-sentences here or there would be interesting as a character quirk, but also could be a careful line to tread. It can get annoying fast if done too much and interrupt the flow of the story.
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  3. #3
    practical experience, FTW buzhidao's Avatar
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    Yes, put it in. Cos a) it's true to the character and b) the ocean is rad as hell.

    This is, however, subject to overall needs of the story. Is this or that tidbit related in the narrative in a realistic way ("By the way, that fish is a Ichthyobuf bufensis, and it is a pelagic creature who mostly eats krill and gives live birth to hundreds of thousands of little boofs at a time; so anyway, to continue with what I was saying before, I think my colleague ascended too fast and might die of the bends in a sec" vs "I pulled my fingers away from the reef, vividly remembering a colleague's story about losing their thumb to a moray eel, and continued on with the plot" blahdeblah)? Does it bog down the flow of things? Is it boring? Is it confusing? Is it needlessly repetitive? And so on and so forth--

    But all of that will depend on how you write it, so.

  4. #4
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    I'm not too clear what you mean here. Is the story written using First Person POV or is this diver a Third Person Limited POV character?

    What do you mean by 'describe... to the readers'? Is the character actually addressing the reader?

    And if he's an enthusiastic marine biologist it's presumably only highly unusual details he's noticing and commenting on.

    If he's scuba diving and the three of them have some sort of communication devices, why isn't he talking to or communicating with his companions instead of to the reader?

    And don't forget it's the opening scene. Focus on the story.
    Last edited by Bufty; 12-18-2017 at 12:24 AM.
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  5. #5
    Likes metaphors mixed, not stirred Chris P's Avatar
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    I love it when the narrator gets geeky now and then . . . as long as it's kept to no more than a paragraph or so and it's only now and then. I don't mind learning a thing or two as I read. It also doesn't need to be exactly peer-reviewed accurate. For example, Jeff Goldblum's character in Jurassic Park could have gone on for hours, but instead dumbed it down to just the right degree and gave just enough (well, in my opinion just a tad too much and delivered too sanctimoniously) info to tickle my brain with the idea.
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  6. #6
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    If you feel it is necessary for the story then I wouldn't advise against it.
    Last edited by Odile_Blud; 12-17-2017 at 11:18 PM.
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  7. #7
    Beastly Fido Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    It would be odd for a first-person narrator to not insert their personality into their narrative. If the pov character is a marine biologist, it makes sense for them to make occasional asides and tangents that are relevant to their interests or knowledge. The challenge lies in balancing this with the need to move the story forward and keeping it brief enough to be interesting, not annoying.

    And of course readers will not all be the same in their tastes.
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  8. #8
    Unclear. Unfunny. Delete. Helix's Avatar
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    Short answer: Yes.

    Long answer: Yes...with caveats. but what flavour of marine biologist is your character? An ichthyologist, coral biologist, water chemist, oceanographer? As Bufty says, things like how fish move through the water is such a basic element of fishosity, that it's probably going to be taken as read, so to speak. Whatever you do, make sure you get the details right and don't make it look obvious.

    (I just read a book where the main character was a zoologist and it was clear the author had No Idea.)


  9. #9
    practical experience, FTW
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    Moderation is key. Dan Brown does it to an excessive degree in his books. Though the information is very interesting, it does detract from the flow and draw from the narrative at times.

  10. #10
    Cultured vulture Albedo's Avatar
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    Go all out, if it fits the character. I had a character ruin a barbecue with fun biological facts. Because they say write what you know!
    Alex

  11. #11
    figuring it all out
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    Just don't go overboard with it. I was reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea recently and at many points it just becomes a straight up encyclopedia cut and paste, nothing to do with the plot and very boring.

    One option you might consider is using chapter epigraphs like Frank Herbert. Give some seemingly random fact that ends up being philosophically relevant to the chapter, while not disrupting the action of the plot.

    "It is commonly assumed that the migratory patterns of Molluscus Pacificus Slimius are dependent on sea temperature alone. This of course is nonsense- factors such as salinity, pollution level, mating conditions, even algae count all contribute. It is pressure- the universe of combined pressures that cause movement! The right pressure, applied to the right place in the right moment, can move entire worlds."
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  12. #12
    Likes metaphors mixed, not stirred Chris P's Avatar
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    I just started The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith. Two of the main characters are a Dutch painter in the 1600s and an art restorer in New York in the 1950s. I am captivated by Smith's descriptions of how the paints are mixed, the technique of brush strokes, and some of the steps in not only restoring a 300 year old painting but also how to forge one (we know what's going on from almost page one, so that's not a spoiler). Even without knowing the vocab of painting, it's easy to follow and adds to the story and tone. If you need a good example of what you're talking about, I'd offer this.
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  13. #13
    Store-brand Magic Mike Muggle Mike's Avatar
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    Melville essentially scattered a PhD dissertation on whaling throughout Moby-Dick. Was it acceptable? Depends on the audience. But Melville managed to find his.

    I think particularly if it's related to the character you can get away with it. And if you keep the facts interesting, they might even do a lot to enhance the story.
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  14. #14
    practical experience, FTW Jan74's Avatar
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    Sure, when I was reading Morning Glory one of the character's is learning to become a beekeeper so the author tossed in tidbits of info relating to bees and I found it interesting. Throw it all in and then when you edit you can decide what to cut.

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