Expectations

Happens all the time: I expect one thing but get another.

I like simple things. Direct things. Pretty’s all right, too, but that’s subjective and can be a trap.

at the Crescent, 2011

The fireplace pictured here is, in reality, simple: a mass of bricks laid out in a plain pattern intended for functionality rather than form. But even functionality is questionable, because the heat from the fire doesn’t translate into the room. The friendly flames lead me to expect warmth, but, in the end, deliver only cheery light.

After the fireplace was built, ornate overlays were added, drawing the eye away from the original stolid, mundane appearance. It’s trying to be more than it is.

An aside: The circular decoration conjures the image of a pipe-smoking hobbit with his feet propped near the fire.

Ever read a book that’s trying to be more than it is? As if the author thinks he can distract us with the pretty-pretty lights so we’ll be too dazzled to realize how shallow it is?

I’ve watched movies like that — many in the superhero vein, but many based on bestselling or classic literature, as well — and left the theater with a sense of disappointment that I might not even be able to articulate in that moment. Hope had been deflated by something I could not quite name until later, when the dazzle had dimmed and reality could shine a sharper light.

Under a pseudonym, I write sprawling fantasy with deep history and mysterious characters. One thing that’s helped me create the world is to simplify the language in which it’s presented. The original version is heavy with complicated sentences and old-time wording. Now, drafts and drafts later, and with the second book almost complete, some of that remains, but more as flavor than as the whole meal. Readers of the early drafts had difficulty wading through all the verbiage to get to the story. They expected a compelling tale but encountered a murky mess.

I was so enamored of the trappings that I forgot to tell a story readers could understand. I forgot to make it simple.

There are books known for their parts: evocative settings, witty dialogue, realistic characters, exquisite detail, elegant turns of phrase. Some are known for their provocative subject matter, grand themes, epic scenes.

Done well, such books can envelope readers in a rich world of imagination, one which those readers are reluctant to leave.

But is there a quiet, simple book that speaks more than its gaudier neighbors on the shelf? Why?

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