Thursday, July 25, 2013

Perils of the Writer: Slow March to the Inevitable

So, consider this plot structure: two point-of-view threads of characters with no apparent connection, both engaged in their own events... but the tenuous tendrils of those events being connected are apparent to the reader.  You don't have to read very far to know where this is going to go: these characters will eventually meet.  It will probably be the climax of the story. 

Now, the question is: is the journey to that inevitable climax worth it?  Or is a boring slog where it seems the writer is just marking time, and everyone in the story comes off as horribly clueless?  Is the story stumbling around to finally settle on a "revelation" that was patently obvious to the reader a hundred pages back?

That isn't to say a foreshadowed or even inevitable climax is a bad thing.  A well-constructed story can move towards an ending that the audience is completely aware of without it being boring.  That's the nature of tragedy: the audience watching helplessly while the characters are hurling towards catastrophe.  The best efforts of the characters to save themselves can be engrossing, even if we know that they will fail.  My son recently commented to me about 127 Hours, how even though you know Aaron is eventually going to cut his arm off to escape, the construction of the scenes where he tries to move the rock are engaging and dynamic enough that you think just maybe he's going to escape.

But too often I've read thing where that inevitable conclusion is just obvious and uninteresting.  Where your foreshadowing (and use of tropes) just makes the reader feel smarter than the characters, and then they start to hate the characters and the story for not being smart.

I will admit, sometimes I will push my way through something that feels like it's slogging towards the obvious conclusion just on the hope that it will surprise me.  But more often then not, I'm further disappointed.  I will also admit that I quit reading one of the Hugo-nominated because it was constructed in exactly this way, and it didn't interest me to force my way through the obvious meeting of two characters to discover the obvious "surprise".   

1 comment:

Glynn Stewart said...

Honestly, the split group of characters who are loosely connected and will inevitably meet up... drives me nuts.

I've stopped reading entire series for this, because this seems to multiply the amount of dragging setup by the number of threads.

(Most recently, Brendan Sanderson finally moved from my 'give another chance' pile to my 'nope, not again' pile due to Way of Kings having this structure (well, and boring me to tears ;))