Monday, October 12, 2009

Too freakin' hot / Storytelling

From 7/28/09:

98 degrees F today. It's supposed to be even hotter tomorrow, over 100 degrees. I called my mom today to see if she's bearing up under the heat all right, and she said that when she went to her doctor's appointment in the late morning, she saw two bank reader boards that showed 103 degrees. I looked at the forecast for Eastern Washington--10 degrees COOLER than the Puget Sound area.

We may break some records in Seattle.

I feel so lethargic in this kind of weather. I'd like to knit and spin, but it's too hot for that, even with cotton yarn. My hands get all sweaty and the yarn doesn't slide smoothly over the needles. So, I'm reading instead, which is good, because I've slacked off dolorously in my reading for too many years. It's not good to slack off reading when one is a writer.

Got hold of and am reading the latest Dresden Files paperback by Jim Butcher, Small Favor. I am a major fan of Butcher's series, because he's a marvelous storyteller. I think he tries too hard on the quips occasionally (he throws in a quip or two that I think aren't likely for the scene or action, and it pulls me briefly--I want to emphasize briefly--out of the story), but I'm more than willing to forgive him this one small flaw because I love the characters and Butcher has followed through with his storytelling promises enough so that I trust him to follow through every time. I understand something very, very unfortunate and unhappy is going to happen to one of my favorite characters in this series, but I'm willing to travel down that path, because I trust Butcher will do it right.

And that, to me, is a mark of a good storyteller. I don't ask that an author not go down an unexpected alley, or make a left turn when I'm looking for a right, and though I have my standards and sense of right and wrong, I'm willing to have the evidence presented to me and be convinced. What I do ask for is psychological consistency, for follow-through on the world-building and the characterization.

All stories have a framework on which they are built, and I really do not care how avant garde a story might be, there is always a framework. If an author says his or her story has no framework and that it is this free and wild and avante garde thing that cannot be confined by mere human expectation, then either he or she is lying or is a poseur. That's harsh, but that's my opinion, and since I am way older than 40, I'm not taking it back.

When a story has a framework, a reader instinctively understands whether the story that hangs on it fits or not. This applies to characters as well as the structure of the story. One big error that immediately screams amateur to me is when I see that the author has said upfront that a character has certain attributes, and then proceeds to contradict it. If a character is supposed to be smart and sensible, I don't care how emotionally involved he or she has become in a certain situation, that smart and sensible part is going to rant and rave and be disapproving even as the character does something wildly unlike him or herself. The smart and sensible part doesn't suddenly disappear. No, Smart and Sensible Part will sit there sobbing its little heart out because the character it is inhabiting is doing something dumb and wildly wrong. And as a result, you will have a character that is very conflicted, and much, much more interesting to read about.

Now, have I committed this sin of psychological inconsistency? Yes, of course, but hopefully not in print. And if I have, then no doubt it was while I was becoming increasingly anemic many years ago, and had not the mental stamina to examine such a horrendous error in literary judgement. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. :-D