Too Many Books In One

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-08-27 21:00:00 No comments

This might be familiar to some of you. Right now one of the projects on my rear burner, Absolute Elsewhere, is looking less like one book, and more and more like it's two, three, possibly four books, all being forced to coexist badly. And not in the sense that I just have to break it into volumes, but in the sense that the whole sweep of what I had in mind is too baggy and diffuse to pack into what I consider a suitable container for a single story.

Here's my beef. Too much of modern SF&F is essentially glorified serial fiction. I don't say this as a slap at serial fiction, but rather to say there's a confusion of intent that corrupts the finished product. The focus is less on telling self-contained, self-sustaining stories, and more on perpetuating a kind of continuum that sorta-kinda eventually drifts to a conclusion.

A contrast. Vampire Hunter D is a serial, but every installment in it is more or less self-contained. It could end gracefully at any time. What gets me is that this model is no less reliably monetizable than the books-get-fatter-each-installment model (see: Game Of Thrones); as long as you've got someone to keep writing them, you can keep selling them. And the VHD books are on balance shorter, too, meaning you can pump out more of them in the same timeframe.

With all I had going on in Absolute Elsewhere, I could have, I guess, broken it across four or five books. No way in hell I was going to do that, because in the time it would take me to tell the parts of Absolute Elsewhere that actually should be told, I could have written four other, completely different books. So my mission to myself is to find out what it is about AE that most needs to be told, and focus on that.

You've heard this from me until you're good and sick of it, but here we go again: selectivity is the essence of any art. Every time we ignore that we get more than bad art, we get bad teaching examples for the next generation of artists. My big objections to Game Of Thrones were its relentlessly Jacobean worldview, its laughable pretenses towards repurposing real-world history and cultures — but most of all its total lack of storytelling discipline, which made the other two issues even worse. A book that's six volumes is not six times better than one that's one volume, but the pathetic profit margins in publishing (and the inverted incentives of writing material to be licensed rather than read) all but guarantee that it makes better economic sense to perpetuate a story indefinitely than to write it properly the first time and be done with it. And now we have generations of authors who've been taught by the marketplace not to focus themselves and write what matters, but to pump everything full of air so they can string their readers along indefinitely.

Rant over. My mission to myself is what I meant to document here in the first place. There's too much there there in Absolute Elsewhere, and I need to pare away at it until I find the there that most needs to be there. Good thing I'm not working on that immediately next.

Tags: Absolute Elsewhere creativity editing writing