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July 16th, 2011, 02:13 PM #1
It's like... I've just realized I've been tricked.
Okay, so let's be clear, I love fantasy. It's one of - is not - my favourite genre(s).
But, I was reading ADWD and I reading a review of some other novels my friend had been doing and I realized something.
Why are most fantasy novels, especailly when in series', so long?
Reading the first few chapters of ADWD I'd have to say it was because of infodumping. What do you think?
Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy world building, and finding out about events that shape the characters I love. I appriciate that and it can be a sign that an author knows and can relate his entire world to you, and that's something I always dreampt of doing.
But, the reason I picked up on it was because my friend was recieting that good old, 'show, don't tell' rule from writing 101. So, if a character is a drunk and has a hard family life let's see how he stumbles in, late and confused, and how he sits in his car for two hours because he doesn't want to go home - that way the author can intwine the reasoning into the situation. Let's not read about his backstory in major clumps of paragraphs like we're reading a pamflet, while he sits and has a coffee.
[Spoilers for ADWD prologue]
Spoiler:For example, we learn about how Sixskins used to live in a cave and was treated as some kind of great force by villagers, and given sacrifices. So, why not have had him stumbling through that old village and remembering 'Oh, hey, I knew this place,' or maybe one of his old wounds opened, which he got when fighting some woman's brother, father or lover? If you feel the exposition is inportant enough to add - which, let's face it, a lot of it isn't, but the author choses that - at least find some way of showing it.
Not every fantasy novel does do this, and with some of them the pointless information is actually quite vivid, interesting or even damn right clever. However, I think it is becoming a trope of the genre.
Even if there's a character who appears once, for three pages - one of those pages is going to be his life story.
Why? Do authors just want longer books?
Oh, and while I'm on the topic, finding ways to infodump about your world needs a revamp.
For instance, the good old,
'Jem sat stoic, the evening breeze blowing into the room, causing ripples in the delicate Mirivan silk that hung her windows.'
Usually followed by something like,
'Miriva was famous for it's exports of fine silks and clothes.'
And leading into something along the lines of,
'It was, perhaps, the only fine thing about the Mirivan folk. [Info about their reputation]. It was hard for Jem to accept that now, Miriva was a part of her own Kingdom. [Info about recent world history and wars].
Yes, I know, It's a tad critical. These things need to be said. I enjoy learning about new worlds. But, can we quit it with the characters sitting around and getting into a three-page rant because a curtain moved?
Sometimes, I read through 500+ page books and realize only about 2 or 3 truely 'epic' scale things happened. The rest of the epicness was 'mentioned in passing'.
[This is not about ADWD by the way, that's only what I am reading currently.]
Last edited by Luya Sevrein; July 17th, 2011 at 12:00 PM.
July 16th, 2011, 02:52 PM #2
I know what you mean, jelly bean! I crapped out on several books early on because of too much crapola. Tom Clancy does that stuff. I get bored fast when authors want to show off something they researched, but have never done, it comes off lamed out. And I truly do not care where a screw driver that is being used was made. If a buxom beauty from Booradley is wearing silk, well, goodness, I am just happy she is wearing it. I don't care for an explanation of the mating habits of silk worms, or even where the silk came from. It seems like padding, trying to beef up the books. Maybe not, I just do not care to be bored!!
July 16th, 2011, 03:11 PM #3
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I think "show don't tell" is one of the most misleading pieces of advice you're ever likely to hear.
Imagine reading a novel in the first person. In this novel, the narrator shows us everything, tells us nothing; if he dislikes another character, he never comes out and says "I don't like her." Only his actions show us his feelings.
In that hypothetical book, the show-don't-tell rule is strictly observed, and the speaker's voice is as distant and detached as humanly possible. It's in the first person, and the narrator won't tell us anything. Imagine sitting with a woman and listening to her tell a story about something that happened to her; how long would it take for you to notice that she doesn't include any of her feelings or responses? If she shows and doesn't tell, you're likely to conclude there's something psychologically amiss with her, within I'd guess ten minutes.
ADWD is in the third person, but each narrator's voice is well-developed, and each tells us what the viewpoint character is thinking. To do otherwise, to show and refuse to tell, leads to bad books.
Reading ADWD, I don't have the sense of infodumps. I have the sense that each voice is developed, even though it's in third person. If the character in that opening was unable to reminisce about his past without having physical reminders, I would find his voice lacking.
And, in the example you chose, is the information necessary? To me an infodump is where the author throws in plot points. "Oh, by the way, the only way to kill a Grimblejack is to use the Red Tooth," said Lucky. "Unfortunately, the Red Tooth was lost off the coast of Marglebargle in a storm 23 years ago." If the information is necessary for an understanding of the story and the author clumsily shoots it out there, then I feel infodumped. If I had dozed while reading the passage about the caves, would it have changed the outcome of the novel? I don't think so. It's there because it's interesting, because it affects the viewpoint character's emotion, and not because the author needed to let us know an important plot point.
July 16th, 2011, 03:36 PM #4
'Show, don't tell' is a rule - and like all rules (such as the Pirate's code), it's there to act as a guideline. So, sure, it would be difficult to imagine this book you describe. It would not read easily. You just have to avoid getting to the point I spoke of where you follow a character for twenty pages while he takes a drink. Somehow, in that time, you've learned the name and back story of his third nurse maid, who was with his family for a grand total of two weeks when he was three. Sometimes, it seems irrelevant and I don't feel as if there is always a reason for it to suddenly be explained upon other than to create fleshiness.
As we know, creating fleshiness for the sake of creating flesh only leads to bad things. Usually, heathen abominations.
ADWD is simply an example. I'm not far in as I haven't had much time.
It's not really a case of not adding interesting back story though. As I stated, I enjoy a lot of it, and it's the author's choice regardless. It's more a case of including it in a cleverer way, or including the right amount of it so that you don't add another 300 pages to your book and actually allow for some rather action-packed, epic thnigs to happen CURRENTLY to the characters more often.
July 16th, 2011, 03:41 PM #5
It's like anything really; careful balance is the key to success.
July 16th, 2011, 04:18 PM #6
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Because these days Fantasy readers like the immersive experience: they like the multiple viewpoint narratives, the complex interweaving of disparate tales, they like to know how they got to here and what happens next. They like a backstory and a history, all of which take time/space/type.
Has not always been that way: compare, say, Poul Anderson's Broken Sword (290 pages) with some of the more modern 'classics': or the fact that most of Moorcock's Elric were published in books no more 150 (admittedly small print) pages. Or Conan, or....
July 16th, 2011, 05:30 PM #7
To me, fantasy seems to comprise of a number of series within series. If you look at, say, Trudi Canavan's Black Magician and Traitor Spy series(eseseseses) as an obvious example, you have two different series within the same universe, and I believe the latter is a kind of sequel to the former. L.E. Modesitt, Jr. (Yes, I'm harping on about him again) does this in a less immediately obvious fashion. His Recluce Saga is made up of standalones and duologies, his Corean Chronicles is currently two trilogies and a duology and his Imager Portfolio is planned to be at least two trilogies.
I think there's something about sticking to a universe that works for authors and publishers. Aside from it being a familiar brand, it means the author can generally skimp a bit on the world building and so forth. Look at Sanderson, for example. He has four 'big' fantasy universes of his own (Warbreaker, Elantris, Mistborn & Stormlight Archive), and I dread to think how much of his time was spent world building for them. Quicker/less world building means a quicker write and often a quicker read, as the world doesn't need to be rebuilt each book, and assumptions of reading the previous book(s) can be made.
If you don't like detailed writing, that's fine, and there's plenty out there which doesn't have it. I read Modesitt, despite his work often being dry, because I enjoy it for what it is. If I wanted fast paced stories with lots of boobs and lots of blood, I'd go elsewhere.
I'm feeling tricked with Canavan's Black Magician trilogy, though. This final book is really, really, really doing my tree in.
July 16th, 2011, 06:47 PM #8
One of my big early follies in writing was adhering too closely to the 5 sense rule: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. My fiction teachers often espoused the virtues of describing everything using all 5 senses. And so as an eager young writer I ended up with some ludicrously elaborate stories describing the surface of a gold coin to pay for a flagon of mead, etc. As in the case of "showing" and not "telling"; it all boils down to context and significance. If the story is better served through showing, then it is better for the author to do so. This is typically the case with things important to the story. If the book is about finding a magic sword, when the protagonist finds it after 500 pages of searching, I better know more about it then, "it was a really amazing looking sword." On the other hand, I don't need to know the type of spear used by hoplite number three back in the fourth row of the phalanx.
July 16th, 2011, 07:42 PM #9
Elmore Leonard on his own "spare" writing style: "I try to leave out the parts people skip."
July 16th, 2011, 08:00 PM #10
I'll be the first to tell you epic fantasy is horribly bloated, but that chestnut is as useful as 'write what you know.'
While I'm at it, showing takes more page space than telling. Saying 'Jane was angry' is much faster than showing us her anger 'Jane's face turned red as she slammed her hand on the table.'
Or look at Way of Kings. Sanderson takes two paragraphs to laboriously describe the way a woman eats with her right hand, what she's eating, the implement she's eating it with, and that her left hand is covered by her sleeve.
In A Dance with Dragons, GRRM spends four paragraphs detailing the various dishes in a meal, has a conversation, and then another two paragraphs describing the next course.
Last edited by hippokrene; July 16th, 2011 at 08:07 PM.
July 16th, 2011, 09:42 PM #11
Strange, almost all of the fantasy books I've read in the past two or three years has been between two hundred and five hundred pages in length, with most falling right in the middle.
July 16th, 2011, 10:51 PM #12
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On the whole I agree that there is a lot of bloat, but also that bloat is in the eye of the beholder many times, so for example what I see as such in The way of kings or The Wise Man's Fear others praise, while I loved every page of ADWD, descriptions and all though of course i would have liked a little bit more action sure...
Today a good rule of thumb in secondary world fantasy is:
- mega sellers (GRRM, Rothfuss, Sanderson..) 800-1000 pages
- bestsellers (eg B. Weeks) 5-600
- authors publishers think can break in bestselling 4-500, but maybe tpb not hc
- midlist 3-400
July 17th, 2011, 12:19 AM #13
I've just realized.... that no matter how often you point out that lumping large numbers of books together under a rubric that only applies to some of them is an inaccurate thing to do, people still love to do it.
About a month ago, in the Writing Forum, I had to explain to several people who'd been told on the Internet that the publishers only want short novels that this was clearly not the case. And in this thread, we get the false assertion that all fantasy novels now are super long, and the decision that it must be because they don't know how to handle information because Luya got bored reading A Dance with Dragons (and put the dratted spoilers in a Spoiler box, kiddo, I almost read the thing.)
The Sword Edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe: 320 pages
The Shadow Pavilion by Liz Williams: 240 pages
A Telling of Stars by Caitlin Sweet: 256 pages
Tiassa by Stephen Brust: 336 pages
Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard: 304 pages
The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells: 300 pages
The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia: 304 pages
The Princes of the Golden Cage by Nathalie Mallet: 320 pages
I could go on, but I'm going to bed. War stories are bigger because they are about war. It's not a big mystery. But fantasy isn't just about war stories, and even secondary world fantasy isn't always about war stories. And secondary world war stories are not the only ones that are large bestsellers in fantasy.
Last edited by KatG; July 17th, 2011 at 12:22 AM.
July 17th, 2011, 01:45 AM #14
Last edited by s271; July 17th, 2011 at 01:49 AM.
July 17th, 2011, 03:26 AM #15
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Scene setting is an issue with some books, where without it the story that follows would have to be broken up more to include the references. However, we all have different tolerances when starting a new book. Actually, when you pick up a thick book, you do naturally expect more info at the start.
I actually find this a bigger problem in a different genre, thrillers. Some modern thrillers are massive, and huge amounts is back story. If it's a series, sometimes the whole first book!
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