In my last post, I wrote about a particular book I’m reading from StoriesOnline and concentrated on its length and my feelings that it was Too Much of a Good Thing simply because it’s longer than I feel it needs to be.
I mentioned in that post that there are some techniques that the author is using that are pricking the senses of my inner editor and that one of those is contributing to the inflated word count.
There are other things the author is doing that have me rolling my eyes – an overuse of alliteration at times being one of them – this word count inflation technique is probably my biggest bug-bear.
It’s a technique that the author has used throughout his series – hell the entire series essentially starts off on this technique – but he’s used it sparingly in the previous books.
In this seventh volume, he seems to be using at least once a chapter and using it multiple times in some chapters. In the chapter I’ve just finished – chapter 28 – he used it for multiple situations, but then three times for the same situation.
That annoyed the fuck out of me.
The technique is, I believe, called In medias res – a Latin phrase that means “In the midst of things”.
Essentially, the author starts the story/chapter/scene “in the middle of the action” and then goes back and fills in the blanks. When used well, it is an effective and engaging story-telling device.
But it is a really, really difficult technique to get right and when done badly (for want of a better word) it can come across as ham-fisted and just plain annoying.
Now, as I said, this entire series essentially starts In Medias Res. The prologue of the first book in the series starts with the protagonist taking the virginity of one of two twin sisters while the other watches in the summer of his Junior Year. (I think that’s what we Brits would call Year 12 – the year before the year before you start University). The author then takes us back to the spring of his Sophomore Year (Year 11) and tells the story of how he got to the position he was in at the start of the prologue.
Now that is an example of using In Medias Res well. It pulls you straight into the action and then teases you that the sex-god you’re reading about wasn’t always like this so would you like to know how he got to be one?
But in this seventh volume, the author is not only overdoing the use of the technique, but he’s doing it in such a way that is nowhere near as effective as that first one, simply because rather than “going back” by over a year, he’s “going back” by a couple of hours, leaving this reader to think “Why are you bothering to do this?”
It’s also far less elegant in its set-up in this more recent book. Whereas in the first In Medias Res it’s set up that we’re going back in time at the end of the scene we joined part way through with a description of the protagonist’s feelings, wants and desires and with the phrase “It wasn’t always like this…”
Instead, we’re now getting “perhaps I should explain…” or “Maybe I need to back up…”
It’s far less elegant. And, significantly, whereas that first instance of it in that first book, takes us back and tells us a really important part of the story, all too often we now not learning anything of any significance when we “back up” or “explain”. In most instances (not all, but most) if the scene had just carried on from where the author started it and we didn’t “go back” and fill in the blanks, we really wouldn’t have lost out at all.
It feels as if the technique is being used for the sake of it, rather than for any good literary reason. And every time I come across those phrases that indicate we’re going to fill in the blanks, I find myself asking “do we have to?”
Sorry, but it just annoys me.