You know the feeling. You pick up a KitKat, or some such biscuit (and yes, you convince yourself, the diet will start tomorrow!) and you unwrap it, crumple the paper up and toss it into the wastebin.
You take a bite and, just then the phone rings. So what do you do? You put it down and go and chat to Great Aunt Maude. When you return … no biscuit. It’s not really a problem. There are at least ten more waiting in the box, but it’s not the same … you want THAT biscuit. That particular one. And you feel bereft, lost … your hand searches for it, that elusive missing half of a biscuit.
Got the idea? And I bet there are people out there nodding their heads in agreement!
It’s the same with stories. You start reading … all looks good … and then it just seems to disappear. No plot, no development, as if the writer started and then lost interest (or some evil plot bunny thief sneaked off with all the ideas!).
I’ve read so many stories where the writer promises a detailed involved tale full of intrigue. Great I think! Something to really get my teeth into, all those little subplots, all the hints that the writer is about produce a story that is really satisfying. Then, it’s like that biscuit. It vanishes without trace.
We are left with a feeling that something is missing, that the story hasn’t been planned or thought about, or worse, that the writer can’t be bothered to actually put the effort into the ‘boring’ parts!
But those boring parts are the filling. The bits that make the story real. I WANT to read about the way the characters feel when they wake up, about the everyday minutia of their lives, however humdrum. I want to know more about people that are mentioned, however briefly.
And I want the whole thing, not just that first bite. I want to finish the story with a feeling that all the questions have been answered, that all the details have been considered and added. That the author has put all everything into writing that story. I want the cherry on the icing on the cake.
Perhaps it’s like making a chocolate cake. You can buy cheap packet cake mix. Add water and one egg. Easy. But not satisfying. It tastes of what it is. A ‘quick fix’ for people who either haven’t got the time or the skill to do it properly.
A good story takes time. It takes effort. It takes commitment. And I’m not talking about short stories here, or stories such as Loopstagirl’s Flyboy. That is a deep look inside the mind of a character. No plot, no action, but it’s jam-packed with images, with feelings, with emotions. It’s short, but very intense. And incredibly good. Like eating Chocolate Ganache (ever get the feeling I like chocolate?) … Small portions are more than sufficient. It’s simply too ‘filling’, too rich, too good. But it’s something you revisit time and time again.
So, there are the stories that promise a lot, but don’t deliver. The ‘thin’ stories. What about the others? The ‘fat’ stories. And boy are there some FAT stories out there in the world of Fanfic! (some over 300,000 words and ongoing!)
Go on … you’ve all been tempted. That HUGE doughnut … with the pink icing and the little sprinkley bits on top. Looks impressive. Looks good.
Then you bite into it and it’s pretty much tasteless. Instead of being rich and creamy and moist it turns out to be dry and difficult to swallow, full of unnecessary E numbers and monosodium glutamates and anything else that is available to pad it out.
I know I like details in my stories, but not a ream of techno-babble that is both incomprehensible and irrelevant. It makes the story bland, flavourless, boring. It happens in a lot of sci-fi fandoms; great long explanations of technical details that we either don’t understand or we don’t care about, and generally the details are not pertinent to the story. If I want to read about the science of time travel, or parallel universes, or computational astrophysics, I will get a book to read; E=Mc Squared for example, or perhaps Classical and Quantum Black Holes (which costs £121.00 – knowledge doesn’t come cheap)
But who needs to spend that much money? We are writing UFO/ Thunderbirds/ Captain Scarlet fanfic. Not a treatise on ‘Jets from Black Holes and their effect on High Performance Computing in Rotating Star Clusters’ (and sorry to disappoint some readers, but there is no acronym in that title.)
Aquaboi’s wonderful story ‘Traitor’ has an explanation of time travel, in one sentence: ’The time corridor opened out in space, triggered by a sonic/antisonic crash and Greg and his space ship were thrown out in a purplish haze that stretched like a rubber band and snapped the ship thirty years into the past.’
Simple, readable, and actually understandable. It’s all the information we need. And now we can get back to reading about Greg and his butchered brain and his desperate need to kill Ed Straker. Far more interesting. The reader is pulled into the story, and whether you understand time travel or not it doesn’t matter. That short explanation is sufficient.
After all, this IS Sci-Fi, believe it or not!
(trying to complete her thesis on ‘The Search for Galactic Compact Massive Objects using Positive Microlens Gravitational Forces’