A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about my visit to Butte County Jail. Main character Maggie is falsely accused of a crime and hauled off to jail awaiting formal charges and such. To get the details right, I arranged a tour with the jail director, Andy Duch.
Andy couldn't have been kinder, and Janice Young, the deputy who walked me through booking procedures for a female prisoner, was equally helpful. I walked away with five pages of single-spaced notes.
Now I'm writing the booking scene and I'm overwhelmed with details. Yes, it's important to show rather than merely telling. It's important to walk readers through the actual procedure so they can project themselves into Maggie's situation and empathize with what she's experiencing. But if I give them everything I have, they're going to be so bogged down in details, they'll lose the story line--or worse yet, give up reading.
So the trick is deciding how much is enough. Some details from the strip search are important, just so readers know how demeaning the whole process is, but there are other parts I didn't particularly want to know and would prefer not to repeat. Decision made. How about the rest?
Is it important to know that the bag of toiletries is called a "fish kit," that the roll calls only use last names, that the bedroll includes three sheets? I'm still deciding how much detail is enough and how much is too much.
I have already written the scene where Maggie's living nightmare begins. That part seems to have gone fairly well:
“You have the right to remain silent,” Sergeant Russell was saying. We’d already gotten through the first part of the script, the part about how I was under arrest for murder. Now he was pulling out the handcuffs. “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”
Maybe it was a weird reaction, but all I wanted was sleep. That’s the place for a nightmare, right? When you’re sleeping?