Sunday, June 30, 2013

Little Did I Suspect

This isn't as much a deep or profound observation on writing as much as an annoyed gripe about a pet peeve.

I'm amidst of reading some military SF and the narrative is first-person. I just read these words: "I would get an answer to that question, but not until years later."

First, let me tell you how good it feels for the writer to tip his hand like this. It is like exulting in one's godhood.

Second, it tells the reader too much. Sure the narrator is in space armor on an alien world with lots of hostile forces arrayed agains him. We fully expect him to go into battle and face insuperable odds. And we fully expect him to have to face and conquer his inner fears. Most likely, things that should work will break, and expected allies will betray him. All at the worst times imaginable.

But we know this guy is going to survive for years to come. Moreover, he'll survive in a manner that he'll be in a position to know the answer to his question. He's immortal. Though he may be wounded, he won't be killed. Though he may be captured, he'll escape with his mind intact. And we know the timetable for resolution of the matter is years in the future.

The writer is tipping his hand on what's coming and the reader need never fear for the narrator's safety.

I think this damages the relationship between reader and writer. OK, if we know our hero is going to make it, cut to the chase and take us to something we don't know. This isn't fair of me, because the reader ultimately wants to know HOW the hero wins the day. But I think this is a poor transaction on the writer's part. S/He gets an ego-boost. The reader gets an quantum of reduced suspense.

It's my opinion that the reader should get maximal suspense as most story questions are answered after a chapter or two except for The Big Story Question being raised in the opening pages and answered in the novel's climax. Something like the "little did I suspect" passage throws this pattern into a cocked hat. Is it a major infraction? Probably not.

It is just a pet peeve

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