Thursday, July 23, 2009

Just asking for trouble

Okay, here's my first gripe about one of my Helpful Readers: he or she wants me to insert a brief general history of Research Region for nonspecialist readers.

I forsee problems:

1. I need to cover this briefly, so that I'm not losing my reader in minutiae, or reinventing the wheel. I'm thinking 1,000 words, tops. But this is a lot to cover in such a short space. Research Region has, like any region, a long and complicated history, one that spans at least five centuries before you get to my book, and one that has complicated links with three neighboring regions.

2. Because of the above complications, I will inevitably overgeneralize, leave out things that some people think are important, and probably irritate specialists.

3. I'm so irked by the enterprise (mainly because others have done this more completely and coherently than I have) that the whole thing is clunky and stupid.

4. I'm fearing a critique along the lines of "What is this clunky, stupid, out-of-place passage doing in this book anyway?" To which I can only answer: "That's an excellent question."

Hm. Again, I'm stuck. So here's a picture of something red (always a good bet, photographically speaking):


Digger said...

It's so hard to do sweeping context in small packages. Harder to do it well. I make no claims on quality, but I always pretend I'm explaining it and why it's important to an old friend over dinner.

Are you required to do what every reader requests? What if the others didn't see a problem?

Tangential: I love the photo. Do you take them that close? Or crop after? Or is that like asking the magician how they got the bunny in the hat?

Susan said...

Why not write a paragraph on region that gets you to your period then a paragraph or two on the framework? That is, anyone looking at this will know it's potted history. What's important? Wars? Religion? Famine? Work? Migration? How do these come together in your period. It's a matter of being very focused. Complete with a footnote that says "The following paragraphs draw on the far more thorough works of . . ."

An approach like this provides enough of a sop to the reader, while not derailing your narrative.

Having written such paragraphs in my most recent introduction, I know how you feel.

Anonymous said...

I feel your pain. Almost every paper I write has one of these sections because experience has taught me that people don't really know where Catalonia is and why it's any different from Spain. My book will have such a section, but in my case it's worth it because there is almost nothing in English to send them to. I still get reviewers telling me to remove the unnecessary background when these papers get submitted. It's one of the biggest problems with peer review that you are reviewed by experts (hopefully) but they're often not your audience.

dance said...

Are there perhaps other ways to orient the non-specialist than with a single potted 3-page overview? A paragraph at a time as appropriate, maybe? Or present it as an appendix and signpost it in the intro? what about in timeline form, at the end, for easy re-reference? or an appendix/glossary of major terms/people with 1-sentence descriptions.

Failing that, subsectioning it off should signal to reviewers that you *know* it breaks the flow and that it's not really part of your book.