Thursday, December 8, 2011

Ulysses Plot Peeves: "Padding" or, "The Breakup"

Current Reading: The Bible Repairman, by Tim Powers

Inspirational Quote: "It is better to have loved and lost... Ah, forget it. Give me two beers." -- Me, I guess.

Dear Scribe;

I'm a reader. You're a writer. For the most part, it's been a good relationship. We've had some great times. Remember Chapter 3 of Massive Zombie Death Parade? When Redd Meat decided to clear his block with the customized lawn trimmer and the improvised flame thrower, only to discover that the noise and smell attracted even more undead? I'll always remember that. You kept me up nights, and I love that in anyone I take to bed (to read).

But lately, I just haven't been feeling it. I'm sorry. I hate to tell you this, but I think any relationship has to be built on honesty if it's going to last. So.

It's not me. It's you.

I got into this relationship because I thought you could fulfil my need for a good story. I thought you could excite me, satisfy my desire for a great character and a terrible situation that forced him to struggle every moment, only to have his struggles make everything worse. It started out wonderful. I couldn't wait to riffle through your pages, to soak up every word. But somewhere around chapter 5, we lost the magic. That was when you went into that long passage about Redd's brother, who'd been a Marine before but had been killed by an IUD in Hackysackistan. That was a great bit, and I shed a tear when he realized his first foray into unknown territory was going to be his last, that although there was no risk of pregnancy, there was also no possibility of escape.

But what did it mean? What did it have to do with anything? I spent all 20 pages of chapter 5 wondering how Dedd Meat's death would inform Redd's story, how it would change or at least explain some of his actions. But it didn't. It was just there. A one-night stand which both parties quickly forgot.

How could you do that to me? I put myself in your hands. I trusted you. You promised me a story, and I thought chapter 5 was part of it, but it wasn't. It was just a fling. It didn't mean anything. I suppose I could have overlooked it, but then in chapter 7, your have that bit where Redd goes out to get some groceries, kills a couple of zombies and gets back to his hidey-hole with a crate of twinkies and the last ripe tomato in the city. The presence of the supplies didn't trigger any catastrophe. The trail of bodies he left behind didn't lead the wild dog pack to his door. The whole episode changed nothing in Redd's world.

Do you even know how wrong that is? Do you understand how you cheated? All those words didn't mean anything! The plot didn't move an inch! At the end of those passages, I was right back where I started. I'd wasted 60 pages of my life on something that was going nowhere.

How could you do that to me? You know that every scene has to have a point. You know that every scene has to change the direction of the story, that it has to make victory more unlikely, survival less certain. You know every scene has to challenge Redd's principles, and force him to sacrifice one thing in order to obtain another! You know all this, and yet you ignored it. For what?

Well, I've had enough. That's the last time you disappoint me. I'm putting your work down, and I'm not picking it up again unless I have to dust under it. I've had it with pointless diversions. I've had it with padding that seems to serve no purpose beyond elevating word count. You led me on. You were all promise and no payoff.

So I'm leaving. Good-bye. You can have your bookmark back. I'm going down the the bookstore and I'm going to pickup that vampire novel, "Dusk," that all the kids are going crazy over, and we're going to have a wild time together while I forget all about you.

Sincerely, your Ex-reader.

2 comments:

maine character said...

This is not only a perfect reader's remark, but excellent tips for writing, as well.

I once gave someone a book with three chapters marked "Do Not Read This One - Just Don't - Move On - You Won't Miss A Thing." Perfect book except for all that padding.

Ulysses said...

Fortunately, it's something I run into only rarely in published work.

Unfortunately, "only rarely" is not "never."