People are beginning to pack their pens and make their way to the September Thriller School, which is centred around getting the details right, so that your readers can be convinced and carried away. An example of how not to do it occurred in a book I read the other day, which, for discretion’s sake shall remain nameless. Unfortunately for the author, they had set the heroine’s house in the street behind where I used to live as a child – Markham Street in Chelsea. On one occasion, in this nameless tale, the author had the heroine pop out for a croissant ‘to the local delicatessen at the World’s End’ – which is about a mile away, a good 20 minutes’ walk, and with at least 3 other sources of croissants within infinitely easier reach of the heroine’s house – even on a Sunday. On one level this doesn’t matter at all, but, on the other hand, this tiny error of detail took me right out of the book, made me slightly grumpy, and meant that I lost the thread of conviction which had led me through the story to that date.
Details which convince are integral to the relationship between reader and story. An example of superb research lightly and convincingly deployed is Hilary Mantell’s Wolf Hall, in which intimate details of clothing, transport, heating (or lack of it) allow the reader to settle into the narrative and trust the author. Those aren’t the only good things about Wolf Hall, which has, I think, one of the most interesting narrative techniques I have ever come across… More of that another time.