Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Stuff It!

Most fantasy writers I know and know of have a love affair with stuff. Much like our love affair with invented vocabulary, I get the feeling that a lot of us know we shouldn't indulge, but we do it anyway. We build these fantastic worlds, and we want to show it all to you, not just the narrow corridor of the main characters' experiences and histories. So, we write extraneous stuff, appendices of history, pronunciation guides to our imaginary languages, huge, lovingly crafted maps, descriptions of noble houses and mercantile organizations and their intrigues. We don't want oto keep it to ourselves, we want to share it. We want to put it in the finished book. We want to send it to the publisher, so he can enjoy it, too.

In yesterday's Deep Genre post, contributor, writer, and former slush pile reader Madeline Robins gives us some bad news: slush readers don't like to recieve stuff with our fiction. No maps, no pronunciation guides, no appendices full of extensive historical details. In short, all the really awesome stuff that we loved creating but couldn't fit into the story... has to stay out of the story.

There are apparently two reasons for this. The first is that apparently including stuff in a manuscript you send to a publisher is just a newbie error. The second is that including all this stuff implies to the reader (in this case, a publisher) that you have neglected the story in favor of tons of abstract worldbuilding. While this might not be fair - in A Knight of the Land I wrote a significant chunk of a fantasy language, and while the story isn't perfect yet, I certainly didn't neglect it - it's important to remember that one of the businesses we writers are in is sales, and in sales, appearances matter.

Robins goes on to discuss what brought this up, a particularly frustrating fantasy series. Although basically a quality read, the maps and pronunciation guide were vague enough to be frustrating and specific and complex enough to be distracting, respectively. I can imagine how this would be a bad combination. Spending half your time peering at vague maps and trying to figure out where the characters are and the other half of your time flipping back and forth between the text and the pronunciation guide to figure out how you are supposed to say what you're reading is no way to enjoy a novel.

The take-home lesson seems to be:
  • Don't include extraneous stuff in your submission to a publisher, even if it's stuff that you're sure the book will need when it's published.
  • When the time comes (and may it come for all of us, amen and amen) for you to put stuff into a finished novel, make sure that the stuff is quality, that it is actually essential to the experience of reading, not just nifty stuff you want to add.

Otherwise, stuff it!

No comments: