I was writing a scene that takes place in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and had done all sorts of research in advance. I visited the museum over year ago when I started writing the book, and I took all sorts of notes about the rooms, the sounds, the light, and anything else that would make the museum come alive in the scene.
Just now I was doing some online research about a specific artist’s painting that I suddenly decided would have a role in a scene I was writing. So I was looking at his paintings, the method he uses, the history behind the technique. And I also wanted to make sure that the painting the characters see is actually in the museum in Boston, as opposed to some museum in another city (because I’d hate to get an email from a disgruntled reader berating me for my lack of art history knowledge).
And in the end all that knowledge takes up maybe two lines in the scene. Because in the end it’s not a scene about the piece of art but about the characters who are having the conversation while in the museum gallery. And I’m not writing an art history book I’m writing a novel.
I often wonder if readers even realize how much time authors spend on stuff that, when the story is over, may have contributed to a scene but hardly even appears. Or maybe other authors don’t spend as much time making sure the details are right. But I do know that when I read books that have details or facts wrong, it ruins the story from me, it’s like a giant STOP sign has popped up and ruined the illusion.
So I’ll spend 20 minutes learning about pointillism and the history of the technique even if it only informs a sentence in an entire scene. And even if I never use that knowledge ever again, at least I’ve learned how to accurately spell pointillism (because when I first googled it, I totally spelled it wrong).