|Sep. 26th, 2014 @ 07:11 pm Early plot should matter to late plot, at least a little|
|There's something I often find unsatisfying and I find it hard to put my finger on what.|
It's often the case that early plot in a book doesn't matter _much_ to later plot. The protagonist's problems with his job matter less after aliens invade, etc. However, my theory is that it's surprisingly easy to make plot that doesn't matter AT ALL to later plot (or for its own sake), and this often comes across as a bit dissatisfying without clearly knowing why, even if it makes logical sense that it would be engaging at the time.
For instance, in Dave Duncan's Past Tense trilogy, the protagonist is thrown into a parallel world where people from our world have magical powers powered by belief and end up joining, or resisting, the resident pantheon. But before that, in the process of discovering the corresponding bad guys in our world have magic, he's framed for the
murder of a friend, and has a lot of moral anguish about whether he should stay to fight in WWI or go to the parallel world. But none of that ends up mattering because he's tricked into the parallel world, and the murder plot is dropped by the next book.
For instance, in Paul Cornell's enjoyable tv-ish urban fantasy london policemen book, the first several chapters deal with the distrust of the officer in charge for one of the undercover officers who seems to have gone native with a crime boss, but a lot of these suspicions turn out to be obviated by the discovery of the satanic rituals. That's fine the first time you read it, but is completely forgettable afterwards, as it ends up not mattering at all.
There are LOTS of stories where the protagonist spends most of a book, or multiple books, befriending someone, who turns out to have been a spy all along. If the spy genuinely liked them but sacrificed that for higher (possibly misguided) principles, that can work, but often it
turns out to be "oh yes, 2/3 of everything they told you was a lie, depending what was necessary for the plot at the time". My problem with that is the reader's put a lot of emotional engagement into the relationship, which is then thrown away. If it's portrayed as a deliberate reversal the character has to recover from -- oh no, you
are betrayed, how foolish you were, it can work. But often it's just ignored, that a true friend impulsively betraying you, and a dedicated spy who nurtured a completely false relationship with you, are treated
exactly the same.
My theory is that these can work if the early part of the plot turns out to matter even a little. If it matters completely by coincidence (the small macguffin from scene one is important in the last scene) or
because of the character's growth, or if it matters for it's own sake (the character achieves something not taken away by the larger plot), then it's still tied in. But if it's thrown away entirely, then those
scenes retroactively lose their impact.
This matters more for rereading, so it matters a lot less for the first reading. But it's still a squandered opportunity. And especially annoying if everything in one book is thrown away in a later book,
such as all the relationships growth in Ender's Game being retconned to be, not more complicated, but usually elaborate lies, in the prequels :(
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