As a writer, I aim to avoid all the tropes I’ve forever loathed as a reader. For instance: have you ever noticed that everyone in every individual book you’ve ever read conveniently has a name unique from all the other characters? There’s never two Toms in a story, or two Johns, or two Marys, people who have to go by nicknames, last names, or middle names to avoid confusion. Authors shy away from this level of realism, which always feels a bit forced to me.
Now, I’m sure this kooky example bothers nobody but me, so here are two I think we can all agree are annoying:
1. The straight path. This is the story where the adventure simply connects the dots. Go here, grab that, take it there, plug it in, save the day. One thing leads perfectly to another. I call this the CSI chatter.
Next time you’re watching ANY serial crime or mystery show, note the CSI chatter. This is when a long-ass page of dialog is read off by a series of characters, each one finishing the sentence of the one before, all of the details laid out perfectly in sequence, each illogically good-looking detective speaking with the same damn voice (the writers’).
“Susie fell into the well–”
“–which is where she struck her head–”
“–which explains the contusion on her skull–”
“–that I found with the 3-D holo-mapping rotoscoper–”
“–and then she drowned–”
“–which we know from the water in her lungs.”
Each line is from a different actor. It drives me nuts. No group talks like this. Somehow, CSI shows get away with violating the “show, don’t tell” rule with these massive info-dumps that seem to be driven by a union-mandated-equality-of-spoken-lines-clause. It smells like horeshit in the room when these conversations take place. My wife has asked that I please never point them out again.
2. The “Gotcha.” I’m sick of the “Gotchas.” Don’t get me wrong, I love twists, I just like for them to be logical, I like them interspersed throughout my entertainment, and I like to see, at the end, that I could have seen it coming. (Even better if I realize I should have seen it).
Mission Impossible 19 (or whatever this latest one was) nailed the “Gotcha” in a good way. I just saw this over the holidays and loved it. Every time you thought you knew how they were going to get out of trouble, a gadget broke or something blew up, and they had to improvise. THIS is my style of storytelling. The Molly Fyde series is built on this idea: Make the reader think you’re doing one thing while you carefully hew a path some other way. Misdirect them. So when they see what you did, they realize you were doing it all along.
The WOOL books are like this (in my opinion. At least, I tried to make them like this). If I tell you the way forward is through door A, rest assured it isn’t going to be. I don’t want things to be neat and linear (like the CSI chatter), but I also don’t want to yank the rug out from under you at the end.
The goal is to tell a realistic story. Maybe not in a realistic setting, or with all the science perfectly reasonable, but the dialog should sound real, individuals should sound like individuals, and the way forward should require quite a few steps back.
If you don’t notice that this is going on, it means it’s working. I really hope no one notices.
And now I need to get back to WOOL 5 and do it some more. :)