This blog post is coming off a comment a friend made to me at a book signing, Specifically that second book in this particular series was a bit of ‘filler’ and it really picked up again in the third and latest book.
And that got me thinking.
I’ve heard tell of people having that opinion of Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, and I’m warning you now, that this isn’t really spoiler-y but if you want absolutely everything in that book to be a surprise then look away now….
Okay you were warned!
Well my friend said that by the end of the book Kvothe ‘is still at the University’. Now, he said this to me when I was just getting into the book (damnable actual work getting in the way!) so I was surprised by this, especially as I regarded the weight of the volume. But, I trust Patrick Rothfuss, not only does his writing excel but he’s a very funny man and does a tremendous amount for charity. And I’ve often thought that the Kingkiller trilogy won’t necessarily wrap up Kvothe’s entire storyline but will rather wrap up the story he’s telling the Chronicler and possibly end with him running off to do more adventuring and truly becoming Kvothe the Bloodless once more rather than Kote the Innkeeper. But that’s my opinion.
Anyway! What surprised me once I’d finished the tome (that seems appropriate for the gargantuan hardback) and checked back with my friend is just the sheer amount of stuff that he seemed to gloss over in his statement that he’s ‘still at the University’. Kvothe effectively goes on a gap year across the Four Corners! I won’t say any more than that but still. I thought he was doing a great injustice only thinking about the start and end position of the protagonist. He was missing out all of the character development, all that he’d done! Argh (I thought, vehemently, at the time)!
But it’s not for me to judge (aloud) how people interpret and enjoy books, their experiences will be very different from mine and it’s all the more personal and unique for that. So fair enough.
And I was reminded of my friend’s comment at the book signing last week. Commenting that Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch and the second book in the Gentleman Bastard sequence felt a bit like filler for him.
I have to say here that what filler is can differ for different people but it seems to me that the stories that focus on character development rather than plot development will get hoisted and people will call them out for being ‘filler’ and not really moving forward.
That’s just not true though. If at the end of the story your characters are better off, and they’ve learned something (even if they haven’t defeated the bad guy!) and aren’t exactly where they started then the story has moved forward.
It can be difficult to try and introduce new elements without halting the story for a time, especially in fantasy as you need to give the audience time to adjust and get used to your world. And I think that this is in a way what’s happened with both of those books. The readers become disparaged when you can clearly see the obstacle and it hasn’t been overcome, they’re almost spoiled by episodic programmes and works and so expect it all to be wrapped up in a neat little bow.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want all my stories to never end, and I think that it also reflects as bad storytelling if you have a book and absolutely nothing gets resolved at the end. You need to have resolution at the end of your book, it doesn’t have to be the be all and end all resolution but there has to be something the audience can hold on to.
So what am I getting at? A good question.
That you need to be careful when accusing/using writing that might be filler. Before you consider how much the plot has progressed take a look at the characters, there might be a huge emotional pitfall that they’ve overcome. If the setting is still the same as it was on page one, what have they done since then? Have their efforts moved them towards the ultimate goal, no matter how small? And if they were small steps have the characters developed? Keep all those things in mind before you start talking about filler. It can be harder to identify if the series doesn’t have a clear indication of where it’s going and the books could be largely stand-alone (Yes I’m looking at you Gentleman Bastards), but do keep it in mind.
That’s my thoughts on the matter anyway. I know that turned out into a bit of a rant so thank you for sticking around!
I’ll be back soon with something less rambley. Until then, be well, be kind and have fun!