Strip the Willow and Rip the Bodice

Because everyone needs a hobby …

I apologize for the lack of snarky-ness in my last post. May 18, 2010

Drink for Thought and/or Thank God for Wegmans

So – why am I apologizing for my lack of snarky-ness?

Well, I know that’s what a lot of you are here to read. And, let’s face it. Yesterday I went a little academic on all of you – I applaud whoever managed to get through that heap of ‘here are six points and me explaining those six points and aren’t you glad this is the first post?.’ Really, I blame it all on this kick I’ve been on lately – let’s call it … Dickens Mania. It isn’t just Dickens though – it’s Victorian writers, it’s theory – all my cups of tea.

So, tonight what I am saying is – be glad I am on my third Strongbow and am talking about canon, exposition, and the skipping of scenes.

Just to give you all a little background, I am drinking lots and lots not only to use up the obvious plentiful amounts of alcohol I have left, but also because I am packing. Packing, to me, is stressful beyond the usual ‘omg I have so much’. My OCD is through the roof plus it’s mixed with a lot of other problems that make packing/throwing things away an absolute nightmare. So the formula for today has been: Strongbow starting at 4:00 pm + the Little Dorrit mini-series starting a little earlier + a lot of music I can dance to since the morning. Happy to say – it’s working and my room is rather clear beyond my computer and a few other things that will be moved in the morning before I leave.

Anyway. Canon.

Canon - The Camera

Me and a cannon in Scotland (Sarah, either your Grandad or your Granny took this photo)

For those of you who have no idea what canon is – wiki that shit, I’m not your babysitter (god, I think I said that in my last blog almost word for word, but there you go – you know how to use google).

Before I actually get into the novel (which, as I told you last night, I would finish and I did – of course), I need to say that this particular book is part of a series. Not like Harry Potter but a series with an established canon, what I assume to be recurring characters, etc.

Thing is – canon in this book really doesn’t matter much. Exposition doesn’t matter either. I mean – the two things are there to a very small extent – but the reader isn’t treated to a warm up on the canon or even details into exposition.

For instance, look at this chapter transition – it contains these two points (lack of canon, lack of exposition):

Prologue (ending)

“With something of a plan formed, he pushed all thoughts from his mind. None of them mattered for the moment. When he finished the task his king had assigned him, nothing save death would keep him from his oath to see to the safety of Isabella MacGahan.” p.5

Chapter One (beginning)

“As it turned out, death was exactly what had kept Robert from fulfilling his oath to protect Isabella MacGahan. Or more precisely, the death he would have suffered had not Conner MacKiernan’s bride not whisked him more than seven hundred years into the future through the use of her Faerie Magic.” p.8.

While you’re digesting that – let me write out my marginal notes for you:

Are you joking?

What is this paragraph???

Done digesting? Good. Confused? Well, maybe not confused but left wanting at all? I mean … wtf? Seriously. Wtf.

I know I talked A LOT about transitions yesterday but that was from person to person – this chapter to chapter transition is unforgivable. And yet …

Okay, I’m not going to make excuses for the author. Clearly, this sucks. It just does. You can’t dance around the fact that is some shitty writing. There’s no exposition. There’s sudden introduction to canon we’re expected to know. Why I pause with that ‘and yet …’ is the whole ‘series’ aspect of this particular novel.

The plot itself is self contained, but the canon – the Magic – as a whole isn’t. It brings to light something rather interesting about these books – their following. Obviously, there is a following – I never doubted that. What I didn’t realize was how – at least in this book – how ‘insider’ it seems to be.

Let me go back to Harry Potter. And let me first say – I am not comparing. This happened in my seminar, funny enough. I made a comment – more of a joke that was misinterpreted by a few at first. I said that Stephenie Meyer needs to step away from the fog. Fog is Dickens territory. I didn’t mean that I was comparing the two. Same thing here, I’m not comparing Mayhue to Rowling. I’m just using an example to prove a point – like Dickens uses fog, Rowling uses exposition and canon. Mayhue – not so much.

Explain. Yes. I know. When you pick up a Harry Potter book, you obviously don’t start from book five and continue on. But, let’s say if you did, Rowling provides you with some backstory. Not an egregious amount of it – not an outlining of the books that preceded the fifth – just a bit of background, enough to remind the usual reader and let the newer reader slip in as best as possible (I can say this from experience. I read the first three books when I was Harry’s age (haha) and was rather out of the loop when then fifth came out so what exposition she gave was helpful as I couldn’t remember a damned thing).

But, in Mayhue’s work, we’re not really given that chance to … catch up. Granted, we gradually learn about this Faerie (god I hate that spelling and I cannot tell you why) Magic, but, in my opinion, it functions as this sort of deus ex machina (wiki that too if you don’t know what I mean). Oh the Faerie Magic can heal people! Oh it can send you back and forth in time! Oh it can control the weather! Blah blah blah – yadda yadda yadda.

Needless to say, I was the one at a disadvantage. I had no idea what the established canon of Mayhue’s world was, nor did I gain any information from her exposition … of which there’s rather little of. This time jump that occurs from the Prologue to the first chapter is strange. We never actually see this happen, we’re just told that it does.

This is where a good following comes in handy. This, I think, is one of the perks of writing a trashy romance novel – I may be wrong – I’m only hypothesizing at the moment so no one strike me down! You can get away with little to no explanation of canon or any exposition in a series because there are fans – fans who know the ins and outs and – let’s face it – probably don’t care too much about the specifics. I mean, what are these novels really centered around, one must remember.

Anyway, sum that up. Your canon is not explained – you just … tumble upon some of it and hope it’s enough to carry you through to the end. Your exposition is … to the point of hardly being tolerable, but again it’s unneeded. A plot is unneeded. In fact, when I finished the novel, I wondered why there was a plot at all, canon at all, exposition at all (though for the latter two there was very little) because we knew the ending, didn’t we? In fact, one of my marginal notes reads: ‘What does this have to do with anything?’ – strangely, it was concerning the actual plot. I’m not saying my mind was addled but plot becomes something annoying, brushed aside – not that I found it annoying, but in the flow of the novel it becomes a bump. It’s all sex sex sex PLOT sex sex sex. The poor dear plot … I wonder, at night, if it really was a good one. Needless to say, I don’t care much since it really wasn’t and I ended up ignoring it.

Moving on though – it’s important to keep this sort of … skipping in mind. The next sort of skipping doesn’t involve prior knowledge of former novels in the series explaining it away. Instead, it’s more of a time crunch.

“As the rains outside had gentled to a fine mist, he and Isa had talked long into the early morning hours. At first, she had wanted to know about her father, but soon she was asking questions about his own life. The battles he’d fought, his family, his home – she’d wanted to hear it all.

He had wanted to know everything about her life, hoping by some small miracle he could ease his sense of guilt at having abandoned her for so long.” p. 111.

“She’d spoken last night of readying her garden and of her ongoing battle with the small animals that raided her vegetables each season. Stepping out into the sunny morning, he’d decided that building a fence would be a good logical use of his time.” p. 112

Theme here is – all of this ‘talk’ they … talk about is never actually in dialogue form. We just sort of hear that it happened. I will say – all right, by pass some boring jabber but this struck me. And it has to do with the exposition and canon as well.

It is as if the author or narrator, whichever, wants to spend as little time possible going through the details between the couple. The main point is to get them together to have rather that romantic, unoriginal sex that you can pretty much find on any fanfiction website (again with the fanfiction!).

My personal preference takes over here. I like sometimes hearing mundane things. The build up is sort of fun – but we aren’t really given it. There was potential in the conversations mentioned above, for instance, for one-liners or even just to unravel the characters more … but no. This ‘skipping’ had a strange effect of me – I wrote it down almost immediately when I noticed it. As I said, there’s plenty of novels – fantastic novels – that I have read that don’t always go word for word in dialogue but the skipping of some of this vital information is strange.

But then again, not a strange choice.

Again and again, I remind myself what I’m reading – what the formula is – what the readers want from it. It’s a high – they don’t really care about Isa’s or Robbie’s background in detail … do they?

The great thing about this being the first novel I’ve read is that it’s raised a lot of questions in my mind about what I’m going to encounter in the other books I read. Will the narrative voice be similar? Will the exposition, canon, skipping be formulaic? I just may be. Or it may not be.

As I read more, I plan to compare the novels I read. I really want to see how this formula works – not just that it gives people thrills on the beach – but why people will spend $8 on these novels (if not for an academic reason …). Is it the easy reading? Just the thrill? Do they look for anything more?

There is something lacking … lacking lacking lacking (and I need to repeat that for that is how I felt for most of the novel). Not to mention that whole Ginger mess …

Right. I’ve talked about canon. About exposition. About skipping scenes. Hopefully that was more entertaining than the last post … though, you know I like that post. I was tired as hell when writing it, but I like it. Tomorrow I’m skipping a day – obviously with packing, riding in a car for a million hours, then unpacking doesn’t leave much time – or mood – for writing a post. But there will be five posts for this novel as there will be fore each I read.

Ah – and according to my outline, I tackle the Ginger problem next.

Know what it’s time for?

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Reference

Mayhue, Melissa. A Highlander’s Homecoming. New York: Pocket Books, 2010.