Communion Of Dreams


Another kind of feedback.
February 2, 2007, 10:40 am
Filed under: Feedback, General Musings, Writing stuff

In this thread on Daily Kos, someone who had read the first few chapters of the novel had some criticism to offer (go down a bit from where that discussion starts). He said that the first few chapters are too information-dense, and that the reader really doesn’t need to know how everything works.

Now, the issue about presentation – how the information is conveyed – is a legitimate one to criticize. He’s the first person to specifically mention this, but over-loading the reader with too much technical exposition is a real danger when writing science fiction, and I do worry whether I pulled it off as smoothly as I could. You have to keep the reader reading, not getting bogged down in explanations of how and why things are the way they are – but you also have to establish the set and setting of the novel’s reality. It is a tough line to walk, and I’m sure that there will be others who don’t feel that I succeeded.

However, the point the critic made about the information being superflous is dead wrong. As I say on the homepage for the novel, this is classic science fiction, in that a scientific breakthrough leads to a new way (literally in my case) of seeing the universe and what it means to be “human”. I don’t wish to reveal any spoilers here, but suffice it to say that the information I provide in the first three chapters is the key to the entire story arc, and only with that information in hand can the whole book be understood. There is nothing gratuitous about any of it. In fact, I worked very hard to make sure that all the necessary components were in place appropriately, so that no one would think I pulled a deus ex machina at the end.

I think that this points up both a general observation about fiction, and a specific issue about reading a book in this medium. The specific point is easy to deal with first: without a book jacket, and the ‘approval’ conveyed by being conventionally published, a reader will approach an e-book by an unknown author with certain assumptions (that the book isn’t *really* finished, that the writer needs improvement, et cetera). ‘Nuff said.

The general issue is that we live in an era of instant gratification. If the book is too hard, if it demands too much work from the reader without immediate satisfaction, then it will be set aside. Whatever your opinion of this is, it is a fact. Many publishers only want to see the first three chapters of a book for this very reason – on the idea that if you haven’t convinced the reader to keep going at that point, the book will not sell. As a matter of fact, it’s even worse than that: most books on writing stress the importance of the first page of text – how if you don’t get the reader in that short moment of disbelief, you’ve lost.

I like to think that I’ve done a reasonably good job with these issues, but I know some readers will not have the faith necessary to get into the book far enough to make a final determination. We’ll see.

Jim Downey


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