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!

My Very Quick Write Up of the WFC2013

Well then, it’s time for a write up of the World Fantasy Convention.

I think it’s important to note at this point that this was my first convention, world or otherwise, that is specifically centered around fantasy, and definitely my first coming at it with a professional interest in the industry and genre.

So I’m not really sure what I was expecting but boy howdy was I not disappointed!

It was a fantastic weekend (and I’m sure I bored my family when I got home with tales of panels and meeting new people), the panels were interesting, everyone was friendly and there was some really great other events on too. All of the publisher’s parties were great fun and it was just astounding to be in the same room with so many important and fantastic people! I won’t lie to you there was some slight hyperventilation to start with (hmm, perhaps from this point forward I’ll try to sound less like a fan-girl).

I feel like there’s almost too much to talk about! And regretfully I didn’t take any pictures (a couple of Patrick Rothfuss’ reading but they’re super blurry), well apart from all the books that had to be hauled homeward!

The panels were all very interesting, ranging from whether women can write legitimate martial fantasy (spoiler alert: they definitely can), how to follow up writing with that pesky second book, world building, short story writing and everything in between! So I’ve come out of the convention with loads of ideas and there was even a panel on editing and putting together a short story anthology (so keep your eyes peeled for some news like that next year…), and what it’s like being a small independent press.

The art dealers room I found very cool, especially as I seem to have an unusual fascination and love of how books are designed and the end product. So there was much snooping around the artist room to see what cover art there was an even some snooping with covers for something I’m now thinking about (see above bracketed hints).

That’s also one of the reasons that I’m so excited with the Bragelonne sample book with translated excerpts of some of their fantasy works. I always find that the French edition covers that I’ve found to be some of the most exquisite of those on the market and really bring elements of the story to life before you’ve even picked up the book.

In a lot of ways, for me, it was an eye-opener for some unsung aspects of the publishing industry, like the short stories, the anthology editors and the agents. I’ve come into contact with some of these in my short time in the publishing industry but it was also really nice to see them explored in such an accessible and excellent manner.

Everyone was really friendly and it was quite a quest if you wanted to find someone that wasn’t smiling (not that I did, mind you)!

On a personal  note I was thoroughly ecstatic to see Mr Patrick Rothfuss do a reading ( I’m going again to the Forbidden Planet one in London) and it was a phenomenal reading. Mr Rothfuss said he wasn’t sure if it worked well if it was read out, but I think my goosebumps can attest that it works just fine!

And listening to the authors and the panels on various aspects of writing really helps you appreciate so much more the dedication, effort and skill that goes into a truly wonderful piece of writing.

So that’s all I’ve got to say on the subject for now, no doubt I shall think of more later on and curse myself for not telling you about it! But, thank you for stopping by everyone, and I’m sure you can tell that from all the exclamation marks how excited I was/am by the convention!

Until next time: be well, be kind, and have fun!