In the short story that I’ve been writing (albeit slowly), I’m planning to have the main character read about a topic that she needs to understand quickly, and I want to include small snippets of text in the story, because the topic is one that readers might not know much about, and I want them to learn along with the main character. I’ve never done this before in a work of fiction and I can’t figure out how to handle it.
The nonfiction writer in me wants the information that comes in these brief blocks of text to be as accurate as possible…even perhaps quoted from an actual real-life source. But I kind of want to write my own blocks of text to better suit the flow of the story. The problem with this being… I don’t know enough about the topic to convincingly write in the voice of the type of book that she’ll be reading. (It’s a scientific topic.) I have tried writing a couple of sentences to this end, but kept coming up against my own lack of knowledge.
Have you ever done this? Is there an accepted way of handling this, i.e. is it more appropriate for me to write my own blocks of text and make up the names of the books that they came from? Or should I simply quote existing books?
I’ve been trying to look for help in published fiction, and it’s not necessarily helping. In Anthony Doerr’s About Grace, the main character is enamored of a book of his mother’s:
The only thing he still had of hers was a book: Snow Crystals, by W.A. Bentley. Inside were thousands of carefully prepared micrographs of snowflakes, each image reproduced in a two-inch square, the crystals white against a field of black, arrayed in a grid, four-by-three, twelve per page. Bound in cloth, it was a 1931 first edition her grandfather had bought at a rummage sale. (p. 45)
I don’t know why, but I assumed that the book was made-up. It’s not.
There are plenty of books out there in which a character is writing
something, and quotes from said writings appear in the story. About Grace also does that. So does A Confederacy of Dunces, for example. But I can’t think of any other works of fiction right now in which a real-life book is quoted to advance the fictional story (although surely there are plenty of novels that quote the Bible. But that’s different, isn’t it? I don’t know.)