Rant #6: In Which
the Author Admits That He Hates Facts
I freely confess to being a very picky reader. Not that picky,
as my wife points out, or the house wouldn't be awash in paperbacks,
but picky enough. There are certain things that drive me absolutely
up the wall, spoil my enjoyment, and take my suspension of
disbelief out back to rob it of its lunch money.
Chief among these is
the "I just read an interesting fact and will now proceed
to build a story around it" method of short story composition.
I am all for interesting facts. They are, after all, interesting.
They're useful at cocktail parties, great conversation starters
in chat rooms, and generally far more useful to know than,
say, Mark Bellhorn's
K/BB ratio during his brief stint in Colorado (A seriously
ugly number, in case you were wondering).
They are not, however,
generally sturdy enough to hang a story on. Those stories
that are constructed around a single tidbit of esoterica tend
not to be good stories, because they're predicated on the
reveal of this one obscure fact, as opposed to, say, character
development, rising action or other things that Mrs. Bintner
back at good old Cheltenham
High School would approve of. You can almost hear the
"Ta-da!" as the author, in the form of the protagonist
(often a two-fisted scientist of some sort or other) whips
out this magical factoid that saves the day.
I don't want to hear "Ta-da!" when I'm reading.
I want the writer to make me say "Aha!" or "Wow"
or, on rare occasions, "Well, I didn't see that coming."
I don't want to read a story whose climax depends on something
that I, as the reader, probably don't know and couldn't possibly
learn from reading the rest of the story.
stories do have going for them is originality. A more sour
disposition than mine, if such a thing exists, would suggest
that this is because no tidbit of this sort can support two
stories, so each new Pokemon of enlightenment spawns one story
and one story only. For my part, I just think that there are
so many of these magical globules of knowledge out there that
new ones are constantly unearthed, and excited authors want
to share the newest, latest and greatest. And it's not to
say that fascinating factoids can't produce good writing.
for one, is a master of taking a whole passel of tidbits like
this and weaving them into something spectacular. The difference
is that in a Tim Powers novel, the surprises are treated as
a matter-of-fact part of the world, not the big surprise at
the end of the rainbow, and they're all very obviously part
of a bigger whole. United they stand as something fantastic,
but by themselves they can bear an unmistakable resemblance
to the Bee
Girl from the old Blind
Melon video - lonely, awkward, exposed, and possibly wearing
floppy antennae. It's not until she wanders off into the hazy
cannabis-fueled meadow that she finds companionship, happiness,
and dance moves that are worth watching.
So I promise - every time I learn something neat, I won't
immediately rush out to write a story about it. At least,
not until I'm sure it has friends. Or antennae.