A Need for Speed

Good grief. It’s 4 a.m.

Despite my frequent yawns and drooping eyelids, I’m still awake, still reading. See, there’s this book, an interesting story with a cool description, so I started reading just before bedtime.

I told myself I would read one chapter before bed.

Then the characters’ emotions engulfed me. The details had me swiping page after page to discover more about the story. Scenes filled my mind until I could see the landscapes, rooms, and conversations.  The story drew me in, making me wonder and worry about the characters.

So one chapter became two chapters, three chapters, four.

I need to sleep, but I haven’t reached the conflict yet.

I’ll stop when all the key characters have arrived and the characters’ difficulties have presented themselves. I’ll stop when I reach the conflict.

But who knows how many chapters that’ll require.

Now if my novel was a romance, I would’ve met the main characters already, probably by chapter two. I’d met the best friends cheering the hero and heroine as well as the naysayers warning the main characters away from the relationship. I’d know if the couple is resisting, if they’re dating, and which conflict they’ll experience mid-novel.  If I’m reading a romance, the couple has already kissed, fought, and exposed the obstacle impeding their epic romance.

Romances are like horses wearing blinders galloping through darkened tunnels focused only on the light—the happy ending—in the distance.  No matter how long the story is, a romance moves fast.  Without searching, I know the conflict I seek appears halfway into the story.

However, this novel is a fantasy (although sci-fi could keep me up just as late).  I’m not there yet; after more than a dozen chapters and nearly half the book, I haven’t spotted the conflict.  I haven’t even met all the characters.

Because while romances are sprinting plots, sci-fi and fantasies are. . .well, I can’t call them marathons. They’re like strolling through forested mountainside, stumbling into an unfamiliar patch of foliage, and settling on a cliff to take in the landscape while coddling a scraped knee. In other words, the whole story is a lot to take in, but everything is new and fascinating.

That’s how I felt as I delved into Ink by Alice Broadway. When her father dies, a girl discovers his secrets, which he and her mother hid from a town that knows everything about everyone. The story is great, but incredibly involved and detailed before I reach the conflict. 

{spoilers out of sequence} I stuck with Leora (Ink’s main character) as she lost her father, prepared meals at home, grieved her father’s loss, experienced daily life in the village, enjoyed her favorite breakfasts, completed her final exams, graduated, interviewed for career placement, received her career placement, recalled the history of ink marks, recalled and recited the fairy tales that led to their ink marks, practiced her drawing, cleaned the inking shop, met her new boss, remembered an unspeakable memory (a minor conflict that worries Leora but no one else), endured advice from her mother, suffered a complicated frenemy, shopped at the local market, walked in the snow, discovered a feather (a symbol) in the snow, questioned her confusing job placement and boss, witnessed a banishment, recalled another memory, suffered injuries at the hands of her frenemy, lied to friends and family, wondered about her mother, and wondered about her father, AND THEN her father’s ink and banishment was discovered.  This conflict wasn’t a surprise since her father’s issue was in the back cover summary, but I endured a lot of town life before I reached that big reveal, which occurs in the final fifth of the book.

I was exhausted by the end of this long, treacherous hike.  I had to stop often to reflect and regroup, so I spent weeks on Ink instead of my normal days, and the audio book hours felt twice as long despite my satisfaction at the end.

Attempting Ursula Le Guin’s Gifts was even more daunting. I discovered the clan, its village, the various gifts, and some history as the main character lived life. Two weeks and six chapters later (I think. I hope I achieved six chapters.), I gave up when the main character recalled how his father “captured” an unexpected bride in a nearby village of ungifted people.  And again, the story was beautiful.  The details were fascinating.  The characters and environment were lush, but the story was so long and full that I lost track of what I read and where I was and where the story was going.  I had to stop; I was lost.

I understand the slower pace.  Fantasy/sci-fi plots can’t be a sprint since the world building, which romances don’t require, is slower.  An environment must be built.  Rules of the world must be described and explained. Characters’ personality quirks and interactions must be experienced.  I appreciate the depth and detail of a good fantasy/sci-fi world.  Understanding the culture, its rules, the character, and everything else story-related allows me to enjoy the story’s nuances without groaning my frustrations over sieve writing (see Editors save me from Sieves).

And then the story begins so many chapters later.

As much as I enjoy a good meander through the woods, this slower pace can be a struggle.  But as a product of my environment—a binge reader and watcher, an enthusiastic speeder in real and faux life—I beg of you.

I need some speed.