Greetings from Geekdom! If you’re not one of us but you have geeks in your life, you may have noticed that we’re a bit scarce these days. There’s an easy explanation: We geeks have been forced to up our game, reading-wise. Many of us have been trying to get caught up before tomorrow. Allow me to explain.
In a trying and often-brutal year like 2020, one of the few sources of solace for readers of adult epic fantasy has been a plethora of solid new editions to wonderful series-in-progress. We’ve been feasting on releases from the likes of Evan Winter, Jenn Lyons, and Joe Abercrombie, to name a few. But tomorrow comes the motherlode, when two more giants of the genre drop: The Burning God from R.F. Kuang, and Rhythm of War from Brandon Sanderson.
That’s 1,872 new pages of expansive storytelling, just from those two alone! Now do you see why we’ve been scarce? (Well, the lots to read thing, and then there’s the whole global pandemic thing. Still…)
I’ve written about my love of expansive storytelling and its benefits before. In fact it was three years ago on this same third Monday of November, the day before the last release of an edition of Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives. I was prompted to revisit the topic by a couple of things. Most recently, and most coincidentally, by Kathryn Craft’s post here at WU last Thursday. If you haven’t read it, you should. Kathryn’s posts are always great, and she’s a wonderful teacher. If you ever have the chance to attend one of her conference sessions (remember those?), don’t hesitate.
The piece is full of excellent advice for trimming excess in a manuscript, but in the course of offering it she said something that caught my attention: “If a reader can understand the story without one of its scenes, it isn’t needed.”
As much as I admire Kathryn and the piece, the more I thought about that one sentence, the more firmly it became lodged in my craw.
To Be Fair…
I suppose it comes down to one’s definition of the word needed as it relates to story. Or rather, the importance one places on what’s needed (versus wanted or desired) from a story. The first thing that popped in my head in response was something like: “If Van Halen fans can better understand Diamond Dave’s lyrics without Eddie’s guitar solos, they aren’t needed.”
I quickly realized that songwriting is too dissimilar to provide a solid counterpoint to a storytelling tenet. Which sent my mind scrambling for storytelling examples, and The Mandalorian sprang to mind (hey, I’m writing this on a Friday, and it’s one of the few shows I actually look forward to). If the overarching story is about Mando getting the Child home, did we really need the awesome fight with the spiders to save the frog-lady’s baby-eggs in S2, E2?
Again, I rejected Mando on the grounds that episodic television is probably an unfair counterpoint, as well. I’ll bet those of you who’ve read even a few of my columns here can guess what next popped into this geeky noggin. [Read more…]