Today's blog entry is brought to you by Sarah McLachlan. Okay, not really, but it's the most appropriate title, so I might as well pay homage. :P Also, many thanks for the encouraging comments on "First and Foremost", the short story/potential prologue I posted last week; if you missed it, you can find part one here and part two here.
This week's entry was inspired by two books. The first is one I'm no longer reading, because it got something important very wrong. The second is one I'm currently reading and enjoying, as it got the same important thing very right.
To quote Stephen King, "Good books don't give up all their secrets at once." I agree with this; if there's no mystery, if there's no wondering about what's going on or what's going to happen, then a huge chunk of the reason to read on is gone. However, it's possible to go too far in the opposite direction - for the book to hold so tightly to its secrets that it becomes counterproductive to telling the story.
This happened in the first book I mentioned above. The book was so caught up in building its own mystery, so fraught with bringing up new secrets without actually explaining anything about them, so set on making everything vague and ominous and mysteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeerious, that I stopped caring about both the story itself and the people involved. They all seemed to know what was going on, but they'd be damned if they would say anything about it, aside from talking like they were consulting a pessimist's customized Magic 8-Ball. I know that having characters explain things to each other isn't always a good thing, especially if the explanation starts with "As you know", but what happens when nobody explains anything?
In my case, what happens is I get tired of the constant mystery with no sign of forthcoming answers, and I close the book and put it up for sale used on Amazon.
If a story brings up questions, it has to provide answers. Those answers can, and probably should, lead to more questions, but the answers are essential to the story's progress. Characters need to learn things, so the reader can learn things, so the reader understands and has reason to care about why the questions came about in the first place. The longer a mystery goes on without any solution, the greater the chances of it being wrapped up neatly in the last five pages, and I just don't think that's any fun.
Fortunately, the book I'm now reading doesn't have the same issue. I'm learning bits and pieces about the world and its history as I read, which helps me to see why the events that started the book are such a huge problem and never should have happened. With every explanation I get, I wonder what that answer is going to lead to, and how the characters are going to deal with it. And that keeps me reading.
Which is, I'm sure we'll all agree, kind of important.
Next week: chaos, panic, and disorder.