One of the craziest parts of writing a novel is in the details.
What do you do when there's truth in your details, but that truth doesn't ring true to your reader?
Usually the answer is fleshing out the details, giving them some explanation.
But sometimes it's the wrong place for that explanation and slows the momentum of the story.
I run into this problem because I write novels set in a different country and culture. I'm sure fantasy, memoir and historical writers have a heck of a time with this, too.
See, I have China in my head when I'm writing, so I forget not everyone has experienced it. It's hard to know how to weave in an explanation that will satisfy the reader without bogging her down with a big info dump.
I ran into this problem with my first (shelved) novel, which was set in Hong Kong.
Most apartments in Hong Kong have a two door system. First, there's a gate. Then, there's an inner wooden door. The outer gate is there for security. The inner door is there for privacy.
This is something I grew up with. It came out naturally: my mc opened the gate and then unlocked the door....
But this detail threw my critique partners. All of them.
So, I needed to find a way to explain the gate system without over-explaining the gate system, without hosting a lecture in the middle of my novel about how doors in Hong Kong work.
Small detail, right? But it derailed my readers. They were confused about the gate system, so they couldn't completely immerse themselves in the novel.
I've experienced this with my current novel, too. When I mentioned my MC catching the school bus, my CP Christa asked, "Are there school buses in China?" Now, I know what she's thinking-- the big yellow bus with the flashing red and yellow lights. No, there aren't those kind of school buses in China, but all international schools hire buses to pick up and drop off their students.
But do I want to take the time in the novel to explain this?
It's a tough decision. Sometimes it's best to remove the detail. Other times, it's good to explain.
Whatever you decide, I've learned to take my critique partners' questions seriously. Assume that if he is dragged out of the story now by your little detail, innocent readers later on will be confused, too. In other words, emailing your CP with an explanation about school buses in China won't solve the problem. Right? Of course, right. (And don't ask me how I had to figure that out for myself after confusing ALL my CPs with the gate issue. *blush*)
Writers: How do you handle the details in your books that you know are true, but don't ring true to your readers?
Readers: Have you ever noticed this in a book you've read--pulled out of the story by a detail that just seemed off?