January 7, 2011

enjoying the scenery

As those of you that follow me on Twitter know, I’ve been catching up on The Adventures of Merlin. I absolutely love this show… the dynamic between the characters, the hilarity of the situations, and the ever present tone of underlying evil. I just love it.

My husband would hate it.

Not because of the characters, or the dialogue, or the low budget special effects, but because he already knows the ending. **Spoiler Alert** Arthur becomes King of Camelot, establishes the Knights of the Round Table, Lady in the Lake, Excalibur, Mordred, yada-yada-yada… The End. That’s how he sees a lot of stories. Any historical novel or movie that comes out, he wonders why anyone would read or watch it. They already know what happens.

I’ve tried explaining it to him, how it doesn’t matter what happens in the end; it’s what happens along the way that’s important. It’s how the story unfolds, not merely a progression from Point A to Point B. Sadly, that’s how he sees these things.

Now, what does this have to do with writing? I’ve hit a snag in my work in progress. There’s a scene that I love dearly, and it takes up quite a bit of space in my early drafts. I’m rewriting it now, and there’s this ever present nagging in the back of my mind that something is wrong with it. I immediately considered skipping it and deleting it altogether, but my love for the characters and a particular moment between them has kept me from doing so. Even though there’s this nagging feeling that this particular scene will be just as relevant as Grawp was to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I can’t just let it go. Without it, the story would be more streamlined, more Point A to Point B, which is good right? That’s what I thought until I asked a trusted friend their thoughts on the matter (yet another argument for beta-readers’ usefulness!). He also enjoyed that same particular moment that I loved, and offered his opinion.

The scene comes near the beginning of the story, and it offers a nice calm before the treacherous journey ahead. It offers that last breath of fresh air before delving into the unknown and perilous world.

Now, does it really matter to the overall plot? Do the actions in this particular scene contribute to the final event? Not really. And I’ve decided that even after I finish this round of revisions, it will still be essentially the same. I may add relevant storytelling to the scene, but these particular characters don’t have to show up again. The main characters don’t necessarily need to learn lessons from this scene. They could merely take away a memory of a last good moment before the suffocating presence of danger takes over them. All in all, it doesn’t matter that the scene doesn’t offer much to the plot as a whole. Wasn’t I saying how much I loved Merlin?

Each episode of the show has a beginning, middle, and end, just like every good story should, slowly building up to the individual season’s climax. Does each and every action in each and every episode add to the main plot? No. There are things that happen in each episode that have nothing whatsoever to do with Arthur becoming King of Camelot.

So, why can’t my novel have moments like that – moments that readers will love and remember, even though they aren’t directly linked to the main story? They can! Just because something has little to do with the main quest, the main point of a story, that doesn’t mean it’s entirely worthless. Characters can learn about themselves and each other; they can develop and change in those moments of quiet reprieve. For me, that’s what makes a story, those moments of change within a character. Those are the stories I remember and love.

So, maybe it’s okay to break away from the imminence of the main plotline for just a little while. Stories don’t have to be all about getting to Point B. There’s scenery to be admired along the way.


  1. You know, there really is no ONE King Arthur tale by which all others are measured. I mean, sure, T.H. White's is probably the best written one, but that story has been around since the Celts and it changes with the times. I like stories because they can change. Change one detail and you may change the whole story. What if Voldemort had chosen Neville instead of Harry? What if Guinevere never married Arthur and chose Lancelot instead? Etc.

    That's why it upsets me that people complain about how the Hitchhiker's Guide movie was different from the book. Douglas Adams originally planned the stories to be a radio or a TV show, I'm not sure which. Regardless, it became both, and a movie, and who knows what else, and he changed the story every time he did it. Because stories can do that. They can stretch and bend and not break.

    One more example from Smallville

    --*spoiler alert*--

    In the comics, Clark's adopted parents live to be pretty old. In the show, Johnathon was killed--which was a huge surprise.

    --*spoiler alert*--

    I can see his point for things like historical movies. Even still, biographies have been published forever. The point is to see how all of the events in someone's life culminate to the person that you currently know.

    I think I'm rambling, but I think you get my point. And now, to buy car insurance!!

  2. My husband looooves Merlin. I'm not allowed to talk while it's on. (Seriously.) I'm kind of lukewarm about it-- I like it, mostly, but not enough to silence my spouse. :)

  3. @Justin personally i find a certain satisfaction in stories like the legend of King Arthur, where they have many different versions. there is a strange suspense in seeing if it will turn out like the earlier tales. there's something nice about taking a tale you know very well and turning it on its head to see the other possibilities.

    @Su my husband is that way about Battlestar Galactica. i'm the same way as your husband. just last night i griped at him for typing too loud while i was watching. :P

  4. Hee hee-- I came back to tell you that last night, my husband watched about two minutes, then decided that it isn't his favourite show any longer, and went into the other room. I, on the other hand, watched the entire thing.