Today I read a thing that pretty much blew my mind. Elizabeth Bear posted something on her Tumblr in response (and agreement) to something else Scott Lynch had posted about Game of Thrones, and how it was basically a high-fantasy soap opera. Both posts are pretty brilliant, and you should click over to read the whole thing, but the part that really blew me away was this:
In fact, the long running soap opera is the modern equivalent of the newspaper serial or comic book or radio drama, and all of those are progenitors of epic fantasy as we know it today.
A story told in western 3 (or 5) act structure has one long peak with a series of quick up-and-down ticks in tension (rising and falling action, always trending upwards to the climax).
But the plot cycle in an epic fantasy or soap opera or serial is a series of overlapping sine waves. (One for each character or plot thread.) Each peak in each sine wave is one of those three-act structure peaks in miniature.
Here’s the thing, I’ve never enjoyed Epic Fantasy of the long-form variety. But I’ve never really been able to pinpoint why exactly. The only thing I could say was that I found them boring. I’ve also never enjoyed soap operas, long-running comic books (one-offs or short series are different) or serialized stories. It wasn’t until today that I finally realized exactly why, or how all these story forms were connected.
I get bored, and confused, with the sort of long-running, serialized, complicated story lines told in those types of fiction. Even when it’s a genre that I’m a passionate fan of (fantasy) I can’t really focus for that long. I’ve only ever really read two particularly long series (as opposed to interlocking short series and trilogies such as Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar). Those are by my two favorite authors, and my writing idols, Lois McMaster Bujold (Vorkosigan Saga) and Elizabeth Peters (Amelia Peabody). They’re a little different, structurally though. There IS an overarching narrative for both series, but each book can also be read as complete in itself (mostly), unlike the ongoing structure described in the quote above.
The only exception in this personal preference really is with non-western media, specifically anime and manga. I haven’t done an in-depth study or anything, so perhaps it’s simply a difference in narrative structure which appeals to me.
Anyway, these are the sorts of things I think about sometimes. Some people are introspective about their own lives, but I prefer to ponder on my many imaginary lives. 😉