Over the past few months, I’ve received quite a few critiques of a certain type that first frustrated me and then got me thinking. And, just to be clear, this rant isn’t aimed at the critiquers; I’m not angry of them or anything. I’m just wondering how this reflects to the SF readership at large.
And let me explain further with specific examples, although paraphrased.
1. Bob, the Pyramid Builder
Comments from critters on historical fantasy:
“Those names are so weird. Why isn’t anyone named Bob or Mary?”
Or its variation:
“Netjerykhet is such a complex name. You should use nicknames so your readers won’t get confused.”
Nicknames? Seriously? And it’s not as if I give everyone in my stories railroad names like ‘Mentuhotep II Nebhepetre’. I try to keep the ancient names short, like Hapi. But when there’s an actual historical figure featuring in my story, a person who has been mentioned in historical texts, I can’t shorten their names to indulge certain readers.
Unless those readers are the majority. And this thought troubles me.
2. Who’s this guy again?
Moving away from the woes of writing historical fiction, but (probably) dealing with short attention span again, I have to wonder if it’s me or the critter. Snippets from a story (paraphrased):
“Mary’s sister had killed herself, unable to face the humiliation. Oh Jane, Mary thought, why did you leave me alone?”
3-4 paragraphs later:
“In Mary’s dream, Jane was there, her wrists slashed open.”
And here comes the critter’s comment:
“Who’s that Jane gal? Perhaps you could tell us more about their relationship and how she died?”
Head, meet desk.
If this was one isolated incident, I’d just brush it off. Gods knows I’ve goofed aplenty in my own crits. Sometimes, real world issues interfere, kids cry, cats complain, colds mess up your head and you cannot be 100% there. In a similar way, if there was a consensus of comments pointing to something unclear, I’d go back and clarify.
But no. There’s always a random comment from certain people at random parts of the story that indicates to me that they missed my not-so-subtle hints. Do I really need to spell it out for them?
“Jane was Mary’s sister who cut her wrists to kill herself.”
This is not how I want to write. But it left me wondering how this reflects to readers in general, and not just critters.
3. But what does Bob feel now?
I blame this on how-to-write books.
It’s the middle of a fight scene against dragons (or Cthulhu, or the Antichrist, or Sauron or any other big bad Evil Guy). Bob has trembling knees, almost drops his sword and thinks he should have stayed in bed that day. Or something along these lines.
Gee, I wonder what he may be feeling.
Do I really have to spell it out? Bob was scared/terrified/whatever?
And then there’s its evil twin: What is Bob thinking?
In the middle of a dragon fight scene? During the adrenaline rush and its “Fight or Flight” effect? Newsflash: sometimes, people don’t think. They’re just trying to avoid getting barbequed. They don’t have the time to calculate the pros and cons of hiding under that wagon or inside that well or in that cave. (Yes, someone actually suggest I should do that). There’s a fraking dragon after them, for catnip’s sake.
I don’t blame only how-to-write books. I also blame action movies with their slow motion scenes, in which the hero can eat breakfast, boink his girlfriend and have a smoke in the duration of a single kick/shot. Yeah. Sorry, fight scenes in fiction rarely work this way.
Again, the above rant does not apply in places I’ve failed to display my characters’ emotional response. Those become apparent very quickly, and there’s generally a critter agreement on those. Moreover, if something is lacking, at some level I already know it and it takes just one comment to identify it. This rant is aimed at those instances where critters seem to wake up at random intervals, post a random comment to show they’re still reading. Much like what some of us did during classes back in high school or university.
But it still leaves me baffled.
So is this a sign of the times, an indication of reduced attention span of modern readers, or should I just find myself new critters?