Technically Brilliant, Still #@%$*!

19 Mar

What is the point of creating a wonderful, detailed world if you can’t write a story in it? What’s even worse? Writing a story that bores your readers.

I’ve talked about the difference between storytellers and stylists before, but since I started a book recently, it’s been back on my mind. After stopping by a Little Free Library, the book that I found is Brightness Cove by David Brin. I’m sure part of my discontent is that this the beginning of a second trilogy in this universe, so I have no history with this series. So I’m coming into this book blind.

Right from the beginning, the world building was exquisite. Six different races living in harmony, a whole religion based on hiding from the rest of the universe. Brin writes well-developed characters that inhabit three (or four) different storylines, telling the whole planet’s story as it is revealed. It’s a brilliant creation!

But I’m halfway through the book and… I couldn’t give a damn. Part of the brilliance of the world building is its downfall. Six races are about three too many to keep track of in my head. Oh, and throw in alien animals with strange terms, and I have to think, “Is that the cat thing? Or is that a cow? Which is it?” When I start getting confused, I just tell myself to ignore it–after all, it’s not crucial to the plot. However, I was finding myself ignoring more and more of the detail that the book was becoming incomprehensible.

This book includes a map, which is good because it’s one of my pet peeves, but if you don’t mention where any of this action is happening until page 80, it’s useless to me. Which gets to the three (or four) different storylines–technically there’s four, but the fourth so rarely comes into play that I’m surprised when it shows up! It follows the three adult children of this papermaker we meet at the beginning, which helps, but then there’s this group of tentacle alien kids who are obsessed with English lit who are built an undersea ship so they could fulfill their dreams of being Jules Verne. (It actually makes sense in the story.) Oh, and there’s this other alien that’s supposed a leader, but only appears to let the reader know that “here’s what’s happening at the higher level.” Of course, I didn’t know it was an alien–or what type of alien–because the author didn’t bother explaining that race until page 150.

I think any one of these stories would be worthwhile to follow on its own. I like the young woman taking care of the wounded man who came from the stars. I like the scout who finds a girl who came from beyond their hiding spots. I could do without the monk or the alien kids, but maybe if I had time to concentrate on all the characters there, I might care more. There is just TOO MUCH going on here for me to care enough to keep reading the story.

This is the problem between stylists and storytellers. The stylist wants to write a story that will allow him to play with themes and sentence structure and different characters that will show the ennui of existence. Or whatever. The storyteller just wants to tell a good story. It might play with the same things, but that’s not her intent. She just uses those tools in service to the story; not the other way around. This is the reason Samuel Clemens wrote at the beginning of his novel:

NOTICE

PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR,
Per G.G., Chief of Ordnance.

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

He got tired of literary critics telling him about the themes and what he meant when he was writing Tom Sawyer. He was telling them–I didn’t think any of that! Just enjoy the story!

So I’m not sure I’ll finish this book. It’s great, brilliantly written, but not gripping–I barely care what happens to any of these characters. Have you run into this problem? Authors who care so much about using conceptual tricks to make art that he forgets to write a good story? Let me know in the comments below!

As you might have guessed, I fall under the storyteller category. It’s not great art, but try picking up one of my novels and let me know what you think! If the $1.99 threshold is too high for you, download some of my stories for free!

3 Responses to “Technically Brilliant, Still #@%$*!”

  1. Silk Cords March 19, 2021 at 3:17 pm #

    I think you hit upon the problem with quite a bit of writing nowadays, even for TV and films. They’re so busy with world building and inserting “deep” messages and preaching values that they forget to actually tell a story.

  2. SirNolen March 21, 2021 at 9:01 am #

    I’m sure some people out there like the artsy-literary “stylist” stuff, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever met them. Which makes me wonder: is this the kind of stuff that only literary critics and college professors like? Does everyone else just go along with it because they don’t want to appear stupid by admitting that they “don’t get it”? Is the emperor wearing no clothes, but no one has the courage to point that out?

    Or are people like me, who merely want to be entertained and not “enlightened”, are we the stupid ones who don’t appreciate what the majority of the population considered to be high art?

    • albigensia March 22, 2021 at 7:28 am #

      It’s the same group that likes serious films–you’ve either seen so much “entertainment” that you want to be challenged–or you’ve convinced yourself that that is the only reason to watch “cinema.” (shrug)

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