Dealing with The Quiet of The Quest

6 Jun

I will start this by saying this is sort of but not really a response to the reviewers last month that said that some of my scenes dragged in TMatU. It prompted me thinking of the idea, but really the idea isn’t “Hey this scene is too long” so much as, “What do you do if you’re at a boring part of the journey?” Some writerswill just skip to the next interesting bit, but some authors want the reader to really get a sense of what the characters are going through. I think there’s different strokes for different folks, so I’m going to be looking at this from a lens for those who like mainstream adventure-style stories, not more literary ones.

Wheel of Time is infamous for the “Slog” where very little happens in several of the middle books. Things do happen – major events, really – but those events take up a relatively short time in a book where we spend a lot of time posturing with nobles for a succession story that could easily be removed, as well another story about one of the main characters searching for his kidnapped wife that could have been removed without effecting the plot, but ultimately built up the world and characters. It seems that they take up an awful lot of time and when we could be learning about the Dark Tower, as well as taking away from the fracturing of the White Tower.

 WoT isn’t unique to this. In the final Harry Potter book, The Deathly Hallows, tensions rise and the trio get into an argument and Harry points out that Ron shouldn’t be expecting to find a Horcrux every other day.

The PS2 game Shadow of the Colossus only has boss battles, but it’s not like you go from colossus to colossus immediately. Part of the reason for not having any other real obstacles – short of you pitching Wanderer off a ledge that will kill him – was to emphasize how alone and isolated he was except for his lone horse companion.

Video games don’t translate like books though. I think if you don’t want to bring it to the audience’s attention, you can use the lull to build something up. That can be character development, or world development, or something else that the reader would find interesting.

For the most part I think it depends on the audience and expectation, but for the most part this is not a big deal so long as you consider who your audience is and what their expectations are. There is already a precedence for really long, really involved world building, so if that seems to be your audience, they might be fine with it. That being said, if people are waiting years between sequels, I think it’s important that they have some pay off in books. I’m was told that I could skip certain books if I so chose, but because it was a first read through, I wade through.

Maybe I’m in the minority, but I for one like the extended scenes in the original Lord of the Rings even if they don’t have any real bearing to the overall story. Small scenes, especially in the shire, build up the world. I like the scenes where Bilbo painting his kinfolk in an unflattering light, them choosing baking over a kiss and the comforts of home over grand halls or great feats. I also never complain about the ‘fake out’ endings for the end of Return of the King, if anything I was disappointed that the Scouring of the Shire didn’t happen and at least in the theatrical version, what happened to Sauromon and Grima Wormtongue was left ambiguous. Would another battle at the shire have seemed smaller and less significant then the climax of finally destroying the ring? Yes, but Tolkien wasn’t writing an action-adventure cliffhanger novel. It’s stood the test of time and builds slowly, and because it did the work, the pay off is there and doesn’t seem hackneyed.

I don’t think there’s an easy answer and I don’t think writing tight novels where every scene counts is necessarily a bad thing. I do know, however, that I for one will skip sections if I see that the author doesn’t have dialogue (and we’re not in a battle) or even POV’s I could care less about. For the most part I think audiences don’t want the author to show their work and marvel at world building as much as to know what happens next, or how someone they’ve built an emotional attachment to will triumph. I think there are definitely audiences for slower, more literary styles where we spend an awful lot of time contemplating feelings, but for the most part I would give audiences some pay off or mention that the character was bored on the long dusty road, and almost got into a scrap for amusement and then move on to the next part of the story that people would reference. It may not always work and there’s no pleasing everyone, but I think in general that less is more – that most audiences will fill in the gaps that the writer doesn’t tell them. It’s not the easiest to show loneliness, doubt, or despair, because these aren’t emotions that the majority of readers particularly want to feel when they’re reading.

It’s like characters who brood. A little goes a long way.

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