Science fiction and fantasy are known for their action. Sword fights, space ship battles, magic spells and solar storms. All of the exciting bits that make us cling to the edge of our seat. I even write a bit of this myself.
So imagine my surprise that my favorite reads this past year didn’t have any of that. At least not in the traditional sense.
Take “The Name of the Wind” as an example. There isn’t a lot of fighting in that book. 600 pages of studies, trying to get into the archives, miss adventures with girls, and a rivalry with another classmate. Not a whole lot of magic or swordplay. It was all about the main character using his wits to outsmart everyone else.
“The Martian” is another one. There is some action in the sense that he is trying to survive, and everything is going wrong, but the majority of the story is about the main character using his wits, and science, to figure out how to survive in a harsh environment. 95% of the story is one person against a landscape.
Nathan Lowell’s clippership books are about playing the markets and rising in rank. Much of “Wool” is about the mystery of the setting. All books I loved. All books with little to no actual struggle against good and evil. No main bad guy. No saving the world. Just quietly making their way in their own fashion.
It goes against conventional wisdom . I hear so often that you may “write to the market” but which market?
The times are changing. What makes a good story isn’t always good verses evil. Sometimes it’s just a man verses the environment, or the subtle hint of a mystery to be solved. Sometimes it’s just good old fashion economics.
This shows me that I need to be true to the story, no matter where it leads. No one knows what will make a hit book some day. No one can predict what will catch on and what won’t. You can only be true to the story, and make it the best that you can.
And it isn’t even just in books. The Anime “Spice and Wolf” is about a wild goddess learning about buying and selling between cities and countries. It’s fasinating. “Hetalia” is a funny way of teaching history. Then you have nerdcore music about games, history, computers, etc. Or we can go into games were thousands of them are just about solving puzzles, or just surviving.
Write what you love. Do what you love. Be friendly and open. Show your work to others. SOMEONE out there will like it if it’s interesting. You just have to keep working toward finishing it, whatever it is.
I agree that laser battles aren’t necessary You do need a strong three act structure and people will enjoy it. I think people lose sight of that when they look at the books they enjoy. They’re enjoying the setting, characters, twists and ideas, but they’re enjoying the structure too.
Libbie Hawker put it very well in her book. She said she’s read books that are popular tend to have solid structure, even when they’re not the most original or well written.
I’m going to admit… I don’t even know what the “three act structure” is really. I just know what the story tells me is going to happen and I write it. I’ll bet most short stories don’t have three acts either.
Most writers follow three act structure unconsciously, even if they don’t know what it’s called 🙂
It’s just the basic quest structure:
Act One: The hero is living their normal life when something happens to take them on a quest. Sets up the villain usually, including Mars, in the case of “The Martian”. Act one should be short or people get bored, which is why “Ready Player One” felt slow to start. Act one ends when the hero decides to go on the quest.
Act Two: The hero goes on a quest and does a lot of stuff to try to achieve their goals.
Act Three: The showdown where the hero either wins or loses.
Ah, see, that’s the simplest and best explanation I’ve ever heard. Yep, I think most, if not all, of my stories fall into that.
The resurgence of the “boring story” resonates with my ideas on great writing. Most stories that I love are about characters testing themselves against an environment, whether that be the wilderness, a city or a different world. Or disparate people grouping together to achieve a goal. Or solving a mystery not involving serial killers. Except for the latter, these have almost disappeared from the published landscape and are extremely rare in films (think 127 Hours.)
I believe the current assumption that readers are unwilling to invest more than a few minutes into a story before bailing is a self-fulfilling prophesy. That technique is probably more prevalent, and maybe more appropriate, in genres such as Science Fiction. When the Immerse or Die approach is well-done, it can result in remarkable storytelling. If it is used to comply with a supposed standard, the reader can feel manipulated.
I agree with Crissy- you have to let a story take you where it wants to go. There are readers for all stories. It may be that marketing techniques targeting an Immerse or Die audience drives the sales results demonstrated for fast-paced, grab-you-from-the-beginning writing. Authors may need to find new discoverability tools to unearth readers excited by their styles.
There is a time and place for Immerse or Die thinking. But I agree that it shouldn’t be the ONLY thinking.
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