Here is my fourth and final post as part of the Book of Apex Volume 4 Blog Tour – a guest post by author Adam-Troy Castro. As part of the tour so far I’ve shared my review of the Book of Apex Volume 4, an interview with Adam-Troy Castro and an interview with author Rahul Kanakia.
Things Seen By The Story Guy
by Adam-Troy Castro
You see, the thing is, I’m a story guy.
I would be a story guy even if I wasn’t also a writer of fiction and therefore a producer of stories myself.
My hunger for story is insatiable; it is in large part what drives me. It probably drives me too much. I live what is very likely too much of my life following lies about nonexistent people, caring about them as if their troubles impact my own.
I can bore you senseless, just on the subject of Batman.
But part of being enamored of any form of art is growing so familiar with its various manifestations that you recognize when a practitioner has done a half-assed job. This makes us incomprehensible pains in the ass to those whose love of the art in question is not quite so fervent.
As a story guy, I am therefore in the position I observe when a music guy (or for that matter gal) insists on telling me that a certain song is a three-finger exercise, a piece of hackwork shit, when I am less sophisticated myself and know only that it’s something I can hum.
Few things demoralize a story guy more than when we point out that a given story contradicts its own premises, makes up its rules as it goes along, makes no sense, depends entirely on you completely forgetting in any given five minutes what happened five minutes earlier, and is morally reprehensible to boot, and the friend not a story guy sniffs, why do you have to analyze everything? Can’t we just, you know, enjoy it?
Yes, I suppose you can.
If you’re not a story guy.
Me, I always see where the scaffolding has been left behind when the story has been declared done.
Even in classics.
I see how this one brilliant writer I can name, whose talent I venerate and whose prose is driven by rich sensual description and an unerring sense of place, inevitably runs into a wall at the two-thirds mark of his novels, when he realizes that the story he’s been writing will soon have to be wrapped up; and he’s still only midway through the first act. I see how his prose becomes less lush, how his narrative speeds up to the point of desperation, and how he is all too clearly in the part of his tale that he didn’t plan for and must somehow wrench to an end anyway. I see that this never quite works. I still think he’s brilliant. But plot is not something he excels at.
I see how one very popular series of novels works only because the writer happens to be very good at making sure you don’t ask some pressing questions about its universe. I further notice that there was a vast and important element of the background that the writer just didn’t want to get into at all, and that the solution was having everybody tell you that the only person who could tell you about it was so boring he put people to sleep. I see how this fulfills the desired function of putting all that dull stuff aside, and I have actually praised the solution as perversely brilliant. But I also see how it renders the narrative all foreground, dependent on you the reader not asking questions you might otherwise be moved to ask.
I see how in this classic epic story that the entire world loves, the writer maneuvered himself into a situation where his characters were so thoroughly screwed that the only way to get them out of trouble was to invent a whole bunch of previously unestablished supernatural allies. I see how this story is driven by many such cases of the author playing favorites with his characters, acting as a kind of benevolent God to make sure they all make it through okay. I see how this becomes harder and harder to ignore on subsequent exposures.
I see how in one of the greatest books in all of American history, the writer established a murder mystery, somehow didn’t find the time to get back to it in a story that happened to be about matters richer to the human condition; and how, with the end of the book in sight, he threw in some half-assed shit on the last page, just to wrap it up.
I see how in one of the most important works by one of our most beloved genre writers, he found himself wandering around for the length of a shorter book trying to find the story again; and how he finally did find it again, and how he managed to hide the fact that what happens between then and the end of the book still doesn’t quite work.
I see how one of the greatest works by one of the greatest writers who ever lived builds to an unbearable tragedy at about the 2/3 mark, that results in the protagonist being estranged from his whole support system; and how he simply returns not long afterward to grins and smiles and to disastrous consequences that an idiot would have been able to see coming.
I see how another great work by yet another of the greatest writers who ever lived depends on coincidence; how a love story subplot is the deadly dull poison pill at the center of it; how the young couple involved are pretty damn intolerable; how it is impossible to go without that subplot but it’s less a compelling story element of its own than a McGuffin that wrenches a lengthy tale into its final act.
These are all books.
One of my favorite movies is built around the search for all-important documents that, at the end, don’t have much to do with anything. Another depends on a ruthless villain somehow failing to do the most practical thing, which she has actually threatened to do. Another depends on a trapped protagonist not realizing until the last five minutes that he can defuse a dangerous situation by doing something that he could have done hours earlier.
These are all, mind you, things I see in stories I love.
They are all real examples, so real that I suspect story guys (and gals) reading these words may be able to identify the individual works by their capsule descriptions.
I am still capable of loving the stories I cite because I also see what they do well. I see how they illuminate. I see how they resonate. I see how they are flawed gems and not just rickety structures. I get to the point where I regard the flaws I’ve mentioned with bemused affection, as the imperfect elements that make the surrounding beauty possible. I see the achievement. But I can feel solidarity with even the greatest of writers, losing rhythm while spinning plates.
So when I point at some much lesser work and say, no, this doesn’t work at all because of this, this, this, and this; when I conclude that the sins overwhelm the virtues, and that the story just isn’t very good; when people accuse me of being a picky scold out to ruin things for everybody else, I absolutely understand how they feel.
But I’m a story guy.
I honestly can’t help myself.
And when your defense of a work you love is a sputtering, “It’s just a story! You’re over thinking it! It doesn’t HAVE to make sense!”, I simply don’t understand you at all.