Overriding Plot Lines?

The other day I came across an observation about one of my Recluce books noting that the Saga of Recluce, unlike many popular fantasy series, does not have an “overriding plot line.” While I agree with the observation, what struck me as I read it was why so many fantasy series do in fact have such an overriding plot line. The most obvious reason for “an overriding plot line” is that such series tend to sell more books, but I find such plot lines that span years and even generations to be somewhat artificial.

Perhaps it’s my background in history and experience in politics, but when it’s rare for even a capable and distinguished family to maintain power and influence for more than a few generations, when most rulers are fortunate to last a decade, trans-generational consistency and aims seem rather unlikely, except in the most general way. Even in ancient Egypt, which boasted the longest continuity of any earthly ruling structure and culture, there were dynastic changes, outside invasions and foreign rulers.

My own years in politics taught me that accomplishing even a few goals took an incredible amount of effort, coordination, and resources… and that there are almost always those with power who, for various reasons, oppose what seem to be the most reasonable goals. As for secrets, forget it. Over any length of time, the old adage that three people can keep a secret only if two are dead pretty much holds. It’s also true that a good leader can maneuver matters so that acts and events that supposedly serve one purpose serve another as well – provided he keeps the details in his head and to himself. But that effectively limits the scope of his actions in double-dealing.

Admittedly, there are scores of books about secret societies that have manipulated governments for centuries, and there are some institutions, such as the Catholic Papacy, whose influence has indeed last centuries, but the evidence of long-term success of such societies is virtually non-existent, and it appears that few popes have followed very closely the aims of their predecessors in anything but attempting to keep the Catholic Church strong.

Human beings seem incapable of or unwilling to maintain eternal and unchanging governments, and the stability of human governments seems almost inversely related to the level of technology, in that the higher the level of technology the faster governments change or rise and fall.

For better or worse, I’ve tried to stick fairly closely to that model in what I write. In the Saga of Recluce, over the roughly two thousand years about which I’ve written, empires have risen and fallen. Cities have been destroyed, some never to rise again. The balance of power between nations and continents shifts. There’s no such thing as an “eternal empire,” even though some lands have styled themselves as such.

In the Corean Chronicles, the almost magic feudalism of the Alectors only holds Corus together until the Cadmians and Soarers gain enough power to destroy the basis of that power, while in the Imager Portfolio, governments are continually in flux in one way or another.

So it’s not surprising that I have no “overriding plot line,” except perhaps for the principle that extremism in any form inevitably leads to disaster.

5 thoughts on “Overriding Plot Lines?”

  1. Cal says:

    About the only “secrets” that are actually secret are information that has been lost to time. Some of which can be uncovered. A lot of which is just gone.

  2. Sam says:

    A secret doesn’t neccessarily have to be secret if you can muddy the waters.

    A politician’s infidelity may be common knowledge in some quarters whilst to the general public allegations of said infidelity can be passed off as smear attempts by the opposition.

    The end result being that some people will believe the allegations to be true while others do not and perhaps more still aren’t sure either way.

    Of course hard evidence such as a video tape or phone recording and to a lesser extent emails can nail the politician in question.

    Without these things all there is, is talk which can be passed off as gossip or even in some cases malicious slander by someone with a grudge such as an ex-employee.

  3. Rehcra says:

    I feel like The Saga of Recluse has an over Riding (arching) plot line. It’s not the sagas fault you finished the plot line and then just kept writing and world building.

    As for secrets… Well, if you think not having evidence of secrets means they don’t exist then I am pretty sure you have fallen into some kind of fallacy. And I would also say the level of tech is inmaterial to the change of a society but that the changing or advancing of tech would be the factor to cause the society or government to change. But Full hardedly agree that even besides those factores societies as a whole are still evolving. lol Agree. That statement is so asinine but so am I at times 🙂

    ps- I havent read anthing Corean in so long, But Man that was a good Series. I need to go back and read it again, It and the SpellSong Series.


  4. B. Durbin says:

    “So it’s not surprising that I have no “overriding plot line,” except perhaps for the principle that extremism in any form inevitably leads to disaster.”

    Well, and that any action is going to have consequences that extend far beyond the primary, obvious ones. That’s a lesson that many in politics (and many outside of politics) haven’t ever learned.

  5. Philip R. says:

    I think by overriding plot line, they mean something more along the lines of fourteen book sagas about the same group of people over a relatively short period of time, not so much about continued empires and power structures over extended periods of time.

    As in, why didn’t you write about Lerris for 14,000 pages? (Note: I’m not asking this question; I just think it’s what the questioner meant). I used Lerris because he was the first main character, no other reason.

    There are a great big lot of fantasy epics that do just that kind of thing. Though I lost the heart to read them over time. I have no problem with trilogies, but when it goes on longer, I start to get suspicious about the Author’s deeper honesty.

    I’ve started to notice in such long series, especially with huge casts of characters, that each book seems like the mash-up of several half written books. That the structure of the novel is more lip service to form than it is function. I never understand why much of what is included is there. It is as if filling pages were the goal, and changing PoV characters was considered plot.

    Anyway, I’m grateful I get to read your books instead. I trust your writing to the point that, after all these years, if you decide to write several books about the same people, I know you’ve done so because you have something else worth saying.


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