the circular runner

a question for writers of fiction everywhere….

In humor, media, observations, writing on July 17, 2012 at 6:16 am

whoa, dude. stopping bullets with my mind is so cool…

OK here it goes, writer-peeps.  I have a craft question for you.  I put a variation of this question to the great Marc Schuster of Abominations fame, but I thought I’d put a generalized version out to the general population of writers.  So here it is: what do you do when you’re writing a story that is set in a world that doesn’t follow the same rules that our world does?  How do you craft the story so that you don’t end up putting tons and tons of exposition in the mouths of your character or bog your plot down with development stuff that is necessary though painful to read?

I could give some literary examples, but since that would cause me to bog this post down with a lot of detail about books that you might not have read, let me give an example from the movies.  I will admit that not everyone shares my enthusiasm for the first Matrix movie, but man, oh man, I liked that flick.  Even if you don’t agree, I think it’s pretty hard to argue with the fact that the first movie sketched out a strange new world–sketch being the opportune word.  The first Matrix movie gives you just enough facts that you can follow the plot.  You might have questions about how or why, but the movie keeps you going and when it ends, you either think, in classic Keanu-manner, that what you just saw was frickin’ cool or you don’t.  But you can’t punch too many holes in the premise because the premise only had to be developed enough to get you through the two hours.

And then…and then, the directors got greedy or maybe they got artistic.  And they decided to come back and make the world make sense in another couple installments for a novelistic seven hours of film.  And that, my friends, is where it all started going to pot.  To keep the plot aloft, the writers had to come up with a lot of hot air–yes, I mean, the story-telling equivalent of flatulence, a veritable stinky mess of poop-connoting gas.  Not only was the plot dumb, it was also dished out in densely written scenes that made the plot stop and start like…like a bad night on the toilet.

(I will cease the potty-stuff going forward because I sense you are all getting fed up and because I think I’ve made my point.)

Look, I’m not just a critic.  I’m a participant in this crap-style of story development.  The third issue of my graphic novel, Ostenspieler and the Book of Faces (coming soon) is all flashback and explanation.  I managed to create a pretty decent story line set in a world different from our own over the first two issues, but in order to set up the fourth and final issue, I had to bog that third issue down with info–yes, hot-air, flatular junk.

Has anyone come across this problem?  Does anyone have some examples of writers who avoided the “fill-in’the-gaps type of plotting?

In other words, HELP!!!!!!!

  1. I am afraid I do not have the answer. But I do share your view on the Matrix series.
    I probably just wasted your time. But we write blogs, so we are good at that.

  2. “The great Marc Schuster.” I’m flattered! Maybe I should become a magician! In (further) response to your question, though, sometimes the story of the setting can become a major aspect of the overall narrative in a compelling way. Your example of The Matrix is a good one. And writers like Neil Gaiman do a great job of weaving back-story into the main narrative, suggesting that the past and present are inextricably linked.

    • I like the Neil Gaiman suggestion–can you name a book in particular?

      • Mainly I was thinking of the Sandman series as a whole. Gaiman isn’t shy about providing back story in any of the narratives within that series. If I recall correctly, he also does it quite a bit in American Gods and Anansi Boys.

      • Good call. The Sandman books are what made me want to write a graphic novel to begin with. I’ll look at them again and see how he put in backstory.

        Thanks, Marc.

  3. Great question. I’m going through that process myself, both with a recently completed novel and one that I’m working on. Both take place in worlds that are not quite this one, where a few different rules apply. And in both cases I’ve decided to let the worlds be what they are, and hope that through the actions of the characters, all can be deduced by the reader. As I’ve mentioned on my own blog, I detest the unnecessary backstory and exposition, which unfortunately, are so popular in commercial fiction these days. I occasionally read some of that to try to determine why my own work can’t seem to pass muster with agents, and what I see are decent stories derailed like trains so the author can dump five pages of background manure on the scene. Why? I can only assume the average reader is too impatient or too dumb to figure things out for himself. For now I’ve decided to keep writing it my way and not sell out to the demands of the market. Probably not the best decision I could make, but then some of my favorite authors didn’t do it, so why should I? If you want names, here’s a few: Laird Hunt, Roberto Bolano, Rivka Galchen, Jose Saramago, even, come to think of it, James Joyce and Anton Chekhov, both of whom would roll over in their graves if they had to read some of the crap that passes for literature today.

    • Hey Joe,

      I don’t know Laird Hunt–exciting to get a new author to check out. I agree with you, by the way, which leads me to warning you not to read the third volume of my graphic novel since I pretty much have committed the sin we are decrying.

      For me, the basic problem has to do with structure–always structure. It’s my undoing when working on long pieces. I either tend to frontload the info because I’m scared people won’t get it OR I did what I did on the graphic novel and paid later for my sins of omission today. Maybe one day, I’ll be like Goldilocks and hit it just right.


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