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The Shape of Stories — And Books

Connie Willis sent me this wonderful link of Kurt Vonnegut lecturing on the shape of stories.  It’s short, amusing and brilliant, and well worth a watch.  Let me start by saying that I fear the short story.  I find them very hard, much harder to write than a novel.  I’m getting better at them, but I approach each one with the air of a person facing the gallows.  I have certain rules of thumb for getting through one.  Generally five scenes.  Only one problem for the protagonist to solve.  I also think of them as a thirty minute television episode.  That also helps keep me from laying in too much complexity or back story.  I try to remember that I am dramatizing the most important or shattering moment in a person’s life, and those tend not to stretch over days or weeks or years.

Which then got me thinking about stand alone books versus a series with a defined length — Daniel Abraham’s LONG PRICE QUARTET  or Ian Tregillis’s MILKWEED TRIPTYCH  come to mind, and the open ended series.  I’m reading an opened ended series now which I am very much enjoying because I love the world, the alien culture and the characters, but I just finished book number eleven, and while I still love all the things enumerated above, this book felt unsatisfying.  The book literally ended in the middle of a large crises as yet unresolved.  Now it looks like things are going to work out, but there was no sense of conclusion, of coming to rest after tumultuous events.

This had me worried for my EDGE series, and how to avoid this mistake.  I think Richard is really cool, and I’m interested to see where life takes him, but you can’t just keep a diary of events in your made up world.  Like the short story the events in a given book need to be significant, and add to your character’s development or destruction.  And they need to have a real ending.  At least for the adventure being dramatized in the particular book.  I know one very famous fantasy writer had just started writing the requisite number of pages, and then ending the book, and sending it off to be published.  Rather like someone cutting a length of ribbon.  That’s not fair to the readers.  They want to be taken on a journey and journeys need to end.

I guess I think of a book series like a TV series.  Each episode has to have an end, and ultimately the season as a whole has to build toward something.  I know the Something I’m building to in the Edge books.  I have seen the final scene of the final book ever since I started the project.  Now I just have to get there.

 

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