As you have noticed, intrepid readers, I have been away from the blog for a couple of weeks. I have a variety of well-rehearsed excuses, but the real reason is that I have been doing the pick-and-shovel work of writing Skins and Bone, whose plot is based on a somewhat intricate set of financial transactions. My struggle has been how to provide enough background without boring the reader.
The leader of a writing group I’m in suggested that I watch a 2011 movie, Margin Call, which is based on the intricate financial transactions behind the 2007-8 financial meltdown of the financial markets and seems to be channeling the Lehman Brothers story. The movie has helped me immensely. It made me realize that that there are two groups of readers for any book with technical details in the plot: the presumably smallish group that understands the details and will be critical if the author slips up on details, and the much larger group that wants to get on with the story. Margin Call handles this by using technical detail when it needs to without lengthy definitions … in fact, without any definition at all. For those of us that know VAR means Value At Risk, for example, the movie uses the term accurately. Margin Call doesn’t explain VAR or MBS (mortgage-backed security) or counterparty risk, but it develops a plot that depends on those concepts. Instead of intricate detail, it goes straight for the conclusion: Kevin Spacey, looking at a monitor over the shoulder of a junior analyst, says, “This number here is telling me that we’re going under, right?” So, both the critical techies and the interested general readers are given what they need.
Phew! I guess that means I don’t have to get into stochastic calculus in Skins and Bone. It’s just sufficient to know that my character Weezy understands it.