“Langdon smiled. ‘You must be a teacher too.’
‘No, but I learned from a master. My father could argue two sides of a Möbius Strip.’
Langdon laughed, picturing the artful crafting of a Möbius Strip, a twisted ring of paper, which technically possessed only one side. Langdon had first seen the single-sided shape in the artwork of M.C. Escher.”
-Dan Brown, Angels & Demons
The point of this post isn’t to stir up another picnic cooler of Dan Brown haterade, but to consider how to explain complicated technical things in a piece of “lay” writing, especially fiction.
And just try full-throttling through a Dan Brown book without realizing the difficulty of this. We’ve got Robert Langdon, this Harvard man who knows a lot about a lot, and he keeps the company of Europeans who, bien sûr, know even more.
References to things like Möbius Strips zing around like fat black flies when Langdon is talking (or listening, in which case he usually catches the bugs easily in his sleek intellectual chopsticks). Quickie histories of sects, subsects, sex subsects, they’re always there when you need them.
And you do need them. Dan Brown’s stories rely on the reader knowing certain factoids–often arcane ones–to make the next scene work. Nothing is more important than communicating them, even if it forces Langdon to woodenly “remember” things he’s learned in his tenure-track studies.
At its worst moments, these briefings are so incongruous with the way people’s interior and exterior monologues play (I know that sounds presumptuous, but just read any chapter of A & D and tell me I’m wrong), that it throws a splash of cold water on that great dream he’s put us in.
Again, the point of this post isn’t to dump manure on Dan Brown, who does plenty of things well in his books.
I wonder if there is a right way to get this sort of info into the story while maintaining the flesh and blood of the characters? I am just now recalling some real howlers I wrote in college full of long Ayn Rand declamations about how music affects the brain, how the oil industry started in Saudi Arabia, and other things loosely adapted from Wikipedia. I bet Dan Brown’s sources were better.
The point of this post is actually to ask you to check out my other weblog where I’m posting some short fiction that has caused me to think hard about this lately.