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Research for a novel

PostPosted: Jan 6, 2020 1:25 pm
by Scrittore
I'm working on a novel that has as a sub-plot three guys caving in southern France. I am not a caver, nor do I know its unique language, but I've visited a few websites and cobbled together what I "think" might be the right language for a scene I've just finished, and thought I better turn to the experts here to make sure I'm saying the right things. I would be grateful for any help in rewording the following as appropriate. If anything stands out as incorrect, or improvements can be made, please reply accordingly, with thanks!

Approaching their first pitch, an extremely narrow passage leading vaguely downward, Dengler rigged a traverse line to its head. For Dominic’s benefit he also rigged a coiled ladder to prevent his novice friend from struggling too much through the passage. As they made their way in, the pitch quickly widened and reached a rebelay several meters down, above a breathtaking shaft. A couple more rebelays and a slight deviation completed the full descent, and they found themselves in another magnificent gallery, the light from their headlamps dancing off crystal formations with massive boulders jutting out from the gallery walls.

“There’s a rift up this way,” Dengler said, pointing to a large passage split between two giant boulders. “Grab your gear.”

The entrance proved easily climbable, but once they were inside there was a three-meter drop, followed by a scramble down a steeply descending passage. Dengler attached a rope to a couple natural belays further up the rift, then placed two anchors over the pitch head to allow for a free-hang down into a drop. The others followed him dutifully.

The bottom of the pitch required a low, awkward crawl between two granite slabs, and they squirmed through a few puddles along the way. After another ten meters the passage widened at a trench, followed by a four-meter climb down to the floor of a small chamber, too narrow to accommodate them all. So, one by one they crawled forward through a tight passage bending left, then right, culminating with a tricky sideways wriggle leading to another short drop.

Again, thanks in advance to anyone giving me a hand here.

Re: Research for a novel

PostPosted: Jan 14, 2020 7:47 am
by trogman
Hello, Scrittore:
A few minor issues (in my opinion, anyway):
Let me preface this by saying that I am an American caver, and am unfamiliar with European cavers or their jargon and practices. Nevertheless, I will give my 2 cents worth:
I am unsure of the context of your story, but I will say that most cavers I know would not take someone identified as a "novice" into a challenging vertical cave with rebelays. Negotiating rebelays is a rather tricky maneuver, something usually the purview of more experienced and skilled cavers (at least on this side of the pond).
I also noticed the mention of "two granite slabs." While there are some granite caves in the world, I think most of these are formed in talus, and are not true solutional caves. Reading the earlier description of the "magnificent gallery" with "crystal formations" leads me to believe this is a typical solutional cave formed in limestone. I suppose that one could find places in limestone caves where granite boulders have rolled in from upper rock layers, but I think this would be pretty unusual. In my area we will occasionally see sandstone boulders in caves, but these are usually around the entrance, the result of rocks rolling in from above. As one goes further in, the rock is generally almost all limestone.
I am unfamiliar with the term "pitch head," and this term may be commonly used in Europe.
Of course a lot of this is contingent upon who your intended target audience is. Is this book aimed more at the general public? If so, then many of these folks won't be familiar with terms like "rebelay", traverse line", or "rift." If this is the case, perhaps you should work in definitions for these terms, or else use other terms that the general public will understand. Also, the general public likely won't care about the minor issues I mentioned above. On the other hand, if your intended audience is experienced cavers, those things do matter.
I will say your overall writing and descriptions are good. From my own experience writing descriptions of cave passages, it is sometimes difficult to know how to describe what a passage does, and the correct wording, etc. Good luck with your novel!

Trogman :helmet:

Re: Research for a novel

PostPosted: Jan 14, 2020 5:02 pm
by Scrittore
Fantastic response, Stephen/Trogman, thanks! My audience is definitely a general fiction readership, though when I write, I prefer to have every historical nuance and technical detail completely accurate. I suppose my protagonist could have a little caving experience, maybe resolving the rebelay issue. The biggest potential goof you've pointed out is the granite! I just assumed there would be granite.... That now needs more research. Very grateful for your help. I may ping you again soon....