It’s challenging to write a book containing technical elements. My current novel, “Wings of Valor,” features the Sikorsky UH-34D helicopter as much as any character in the book. Describing a character is challenging all by itself. Describing a mechanical entity, without boring the reader to death, is even more challenging. There are many facets to describing the operation of a helicopter: sights, sounds, scents, vibrations, heat, aerodynamic effects, etc.
Describing one’s own sensory perception is another technical challenge. Helicopter pilots and crew members often speak of their aircraft as if it were a living entity. “She was cranky today,” is something a pilot once said to me. And, as it happened, I agreed with him.
I’ve observed that my sensory perception seemed to have peaked at times when I knew my aircraft was laboring under the demands of maximum military power. I vividly recall the scent of overheating transmission oil as the pilot pulled the collective stick to the maximum, while performing a rotor climb at eight thousand feet above sea level.
Writing a description of the sound of a Pratt & Whitney R1820-84C radial engine, as it cranks to life, is something I want to describe without rhetoric. Including excessive technical information could cause a reader to lose interest. But, I don’t want to leave the reader wondering what the heck I’m talking about either. I may have a crystal clear idea of the sound I have in mind as I describe the cranking radial engine as a “chugging” sound, but what will my readers hear with their virtual ears?
Then there are the issues of, does it really matter? Is it important to the story? This is something I must constantly keep in mind. Honestly, I don’t know how Tom Clancy does it. Maybe, as I continue to study his descriptive writing, I’ll learn. He certainly has a way of pulling such things off in a most impressive manner.