Where does the slow burn fit into science-fiction? How do writers balance the pace with the need to move the story forward? Where is the point where the book or movie bogs down?
I recently watched Io on Netflix. It was a serious slow burn, yet held my attention. Some might think it too slow, but it never set out to be an action packed adventure. Instead it presented a story of a girl stranded on Earth when most of the population has fled.
The pace matched her loneliness.
The slow burn fit the story.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, I finally threw The Exiles in the corner. Perhaps I’ll come back to it when I’ve read through the 300 odd books on my to-read shelf.
This book, a high fantasy, forgets that there is actually a story that needs to be told. Info-dumping is to be expected in this genre, but it generally comes at the beginning and once the story gets going, it keeps rolling.
I know the story lines of the book match up, but they feel so disparate that I had trouble linking them together.
The kicker was hitting page 318 and the author decided to rip me out of the story to spend five pages introducing all fifteen members of the high council … what they looked like, where they were from, how they related to everyone else on the council, and how they tended to vote. I honestly felt like I was reading one of those voter guides you get in the mail around election time.
That was the point where I gave up. This wasn’t slow burn, it was giving the reader bits of story surrounded by long winded world building narrative.
It felt like the history teacher in high school, when a couple of the students have realized they can ask the right questions to get that teacher to go down the rabbit hole and never actually get to the point of the lesson.
I understand that there are varieties in the pacing of a story. Some books are so fast paced, you don’t have time to absorb before the book is complete. Movies can be the same way.
But, authors and script-writers need to understand that once the story gets going, ripping the reader out of the story with long winded diatribes on how the world works, just makes readers lose interest in the characters.
There are amazing high fantasy series that manage to do this: Wheel of Time, Shanarra, Game of Thrones (in the first books), Dresden Files, and the Nightwatch series come to mind.
On this note, I would recommend Io if you are looking for a cerebral slow burn. I know people love The Exiles, but seriously, it reads like an encyclopedia half the time.
Oh well, back to working on my second draft.
Keep on reading, keep on grilling, and keep on flying the Black.
One thought on “Loving the Slow Burn”
I’ve never read The Exiles, but it’s looking like you made the right choice, checking that goodreads entry says its a trilogy and book one came out in 1994, two in 1997 and three…oh, not released yet? Not a good sign.
The biggest slow burn I’ve read would be the Malazan series by Stephen Erikson, which is 10 books long and thousands of pages. Generally you’re just dropped into the story with little to no background, following characters throughout the land, piecing together the history and events of the land as you go. You will need all 10 books to understand, when the big picture starts snapping into focus it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever read, but it’s work to get there, and certainly not for everyone. You will spend a lot of time disoriented and confused, and it will make sense eventually, but sometimes that eventually is 3 books and 3,000 pages away. I don’t think it could be written any other way though.
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