This Book Ain’t No Sandwich! (On the Subject of Filler)

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!

Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora

I was hesitant to post this review as soon as I finished it, mainly because it was actually for something! So you can actually find it on the Gollancz blog right here!

 

So quite excited about that, I don’t mind telling you! But now onto the review (which seems slightly pointless as I’ve just shown you a link to where you can read it… Never mind!):

 

Two things struck me when I first beheld The Lies of Locke Lamora. Firstly, the book itself. And secondly, that the quote from Richard Morgan contained the word ‘swashbuckling’. With regards to the book itself, I would like to give a quick nod to the look of the book. It’s easy to overlook but it has been crafted into a gorgeous piece with a golden script proudly pronouncing the title underneath an intriguing picture of a vaguely Venetian landscape. This is enough to draw the eye (quite apart from the quote from George R.R. Martin) and the back cover of the book only serves to create further intrigue and of course, that’s where we find ‘swashbuckling’. All of this together makes the perfect precursor to the book itself, a slightly dark, well polished swashbuckling story.

 

With a series that’s called ‘The Gentleman Bastard Sequence’ and being promised swashbuckle aplenty one expects a certain tongue-in-cheek attitude from the writing. And that is exactly what you get. The Lies of Locke Lamora is a wonderfully spun tale of the Gentleman Bastards a group of first rate confidence tricksters in the city of Camorr, much like a fantastical Venice. Lynch’s creation is a wonderfully constructed world with colourful characters with language just as colourful as they are (although the main characters mainly have silver tongues).

 

We meeting Locke at the start of his illustrious career and we learn with him very quickly that mixing his lack of restraint and his shady career path is a very dangerous thing to do indeed. Shady is, indeed, also a good word to describe the world that Scott Lynch has created. The city of Camorr (or at least the side we see of it) has its own twisted charm with its own rules and system of honour. Lynch introduces us to the dangerous world that Locke lives in steadily but surely, you never feel as though you’re out of your depth but there’s always something new to explore.

 

Similarly, I also found that the way Lynch introduces Locke Lamora’s backstory to you as the reader was different but refreshingly it kept the pace of the story without succumbing to the dreaded information dumps that the fantasy genre can be danger to. But was also infuriatingly successful at keeping you suspended above the cliffhangers. Instead of running through Lockes’ story from beginning to end, we see the beginning of his story and then jump forward. At certain points Lynch gives us an interlude to show us how Locke Lamora came to be. I found that this was a good way to get to know the character, we don’t suffer through what can be annoying character develop as we metaphorically shout at the screen about what the character clearly should do.

 

Lynch’s tale of Locke Lamora is well told, stylishly written and compellingly structured. The characters are thoroughly lovable, well developed and utterly devious. The story will drag you in, tickle you, perplex you and confound you. Lynch isn’t afraid to slap you in the face with a big meaty plot twist but it never happens to to shock just for the sake of it. The writing is reminiscent of Pratchett in that it is entertaining without sacrificing any of its loquacious charm. Overall I would thoroughly recommend this book, it is well written, the story plays out exceedingly well and the characters absolutely bring the book to another level. Swashbuckling adventure is promised and that is precisely what you get, a fantastic swashbuckling tale.