Shoehorn Pt. 2: The Shoehorning

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-03-25 12:00:00 No comments

My earlier post may probably have felt like I was just rebranding the term "infodump". In fact, I did use that very term in context there, but I was trying to think about something larger: the effects that 'dumping has on not only one's own book, but the general culture of SF&F writing. It's not just that it's easily to write badly, but that it's even easier to write badly when everyone else seems to be doing it and getting away with it.

Here's something I hear often from other writers. They, and I, can't count the number of times they've been told not to infodump, to show-not-tell (bad advice anyway; tell what needs telling and show what needs showing), to do this and that -- only to open a dozen other recently published SF&F books and see every single one of those rules and more violated with impunity.

Why? The easy answer is, there's a lot of editors out there who don't do their jobs. But the answer I'm coming to is that they are doing their jobs. They're assembling books that are salable, and the way to do that is to make them most closely resemble the last generation of salable books. It doesn't matter if those books have infodumps or other bad writing habits. As long as they have certain attributes in abundance -- this kind of main character, that kind of setting, etc. -- that's what matters, not whether or not they are aesthetically informed. 

I'm not suggesting that the presence of familiar attributes by themselves is a cardinal sin. Only that when they come at the expense of other things of merit. But what's bad about them being so common is how they make it harder for fledgling authors to find good examples to learn from that also happen to be popular. What's bad about so much of what's popular is not that it's bad per se, but that it teaches the wrong lessons to everyone looking to it for some notion of how to create. And so we have to point people at things outside their window of immediate awareness, things that more properly embody those principles.

Tags: editing publishing writing