I Don’t Like Epic Fantasy

Today I read a thing that pretty much blew my mind. Elizabeth Bear posted something on her Tumblr in response (and agreement) to something else Scott Lynch had posted about Game of Thrones, and how it was basically a high-fantasy soap opera. Both posts are pretty brilliant, and you should click over to read the whole thing, but the part that really blew me away was this:

In fact, the long running soap opera is the modern equivalent of the newspaper serial or comic book or radio drama, and all of those are progenitors of epic fantasy as we know it today.

A story told in western 3 (or 5) act structure has one long peak with a series of quick up-and-down ticks in tension (rising and falling action, always trending upwards to the climax).

But the plot cycle in an epic fantasy or soap opera or serial is a series of overlapping sine waves. (One for each character or plot thread.) Each peak in each sine wave is one of those three-act structure peaks in miniature.

Here’s the thing, I’ve never enjoyed Epic Fantasy of the long-form variety. But I’ve never really been able to pinpoint why exactly. The only thing I could say was that I found them boring. I’ve also never enjoyed soap operas, long-running comic books (one-offs or short series are different) or serialized stories. It wasn’t until today that I finally realized exactly why, or how all these story forms were connected.

I get bored, and confused, with the sort of long-running, serialized, complicated story lines told in those types of fiction. Even when it’s a genre that I’m a passionate fan of (fantasy) I can’t really focus for that long. I’ve only ever really read two particularly long series (as opposed to interlocking short series and trilogies such as Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar). Those are by my two favorite authors, and my writing idols, Lois McMaster Bujold (Vorkosigan Saga) and Elizabeth Peters (Amelia Peabody). They’re a little different, structurally though. There IS an overarching narrative for both series, but each book can also be read as complete in itself (mostly), unlike the ongoing structure described in the quote above.

The only exception in this personal preference really is with non-western media, specifically anime and manga. I haven’t done an in-depth study or anything, so perhaps it’s simply a difference in narrative structure which appeals to me.

Anyway, these are the sorts of things I think about sometimes. Some people are introspective about their own lives, but I prefer to ponder on my many imaginary lives. 😉

Checkmate (Revision)

There are several metaphors for writing a first draft. Most of them are rather along the lines of the quote:

‘Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.’

This and many other similar metaphors are certainly apropos of my writing process. For a first draft I may do a certain amount of outlining, some research, but I usually try to drop as much of the story onto the page as early as possible before it starts to fade.

Revision is another story entirely. It requires careful thought, planning, more research, and generally being able to think several steps ahead. Revision reminds me a bit of chess because of this. Each change, whether adding details or removing unnecessary wordage, affects other details further down the narrative. Changing a character’s reaction to another in chapter 4 alters the conversation between the two of them in chapter 8, which is the turning point of a particular plot point. This changes how the story itself is resolved and so on. If one isn’t careful, moving a bit of the story around can unravel the entire narrative, and leave you with mess. Each move must be carefully planned to avoid this metaphorical checkmate.

This process can be exciting occasionally, but it is far more often tedious checking and re-checking of each part against all the others. Even a short story revision can get a bit boring after the first run-through, no matter how engaging the prose is.