Books – Getting There or Being There

There are so many different ways to categorize or analyze books that anything I write is likely to have been said or written many times before, but the other day something struck me, in an analytical sense, that I’ve known so intuitively that I never really ever verbalized it. It was simply that there are some books that one reads merely to get to the end in order to find out what happens, or who did what in what fashion, and there are others where each page is a delight, and one is disappointed when the book ends. The first kind of book is about “getting there,” and the second is more about “being there.”

Just as there are both kinds of books, and a great many that fall in the middle, readers also tend to fall along that spectrum as well.

Personally, I tend to like books that incorporate both aspects, and, obviously, I try my best to create both feelings, but my books, I suspect, tend to have a strong component of “being there,” and I’m reminded of that when I see reviews or comments by readers who complain about too little action or not enough battles or too many meal scenes.

But there’s more to “being there” than just language or description of mundane events. As a former Navy search and rescue pilot, I can’t help but recall the description of Naval Aviation that instructors brought up more than a few times – “ninety-nine percent routine boredom and one percent pure terror.” I also held a variety of fairly senior staff positions in national politics over nearly twenty years, from the Nixon Watergate years through Reagan years and some of the first Bush presidency. There were some tense moments there, about which the less said in this or any other public forum, the better, but the bottom line was the same. Pulse-pounding, heart-stopping action is rare and infrequent, as is political tension and true drama… and both are usually caused because someone’s screwed up the “being there” and routine parts of life [as we’re now seeing in the U.S. political arena at present].

That’s another reason why I write the way I do, because I like showing just how that can happen, and how disaster so often comes as a result of carelessness, thoughtlessness, lack of understanding, or incompetence in dealing with the routine. Seeing the protagonist fix the disaster, of course, is what most readers enjoy, but I’ve found in many novels that there’s little detail or creation involved in what causes the disaster, and that often there is problem after problem that, when considered for more than a moment, come off as improbable.

That’s why it helps to have at least at bit of “being there” because it makes the “getting there” more enjoyable and a deeper read… at least in my view.

9 thoughts on “Books – Getting There or Being There”

  1. John Prigent says:

    Your stories always leave me wanting more. Which is why I prefer your longer series to the stand-alone parts of the Recluce saga. Though I don’t discount those as stories to read for enjoyment, and you do provide them with clear endings that don’t leave me wondering what happened next. But two books are always better than one, for character and story development, and I eagerly await the next developments in Hamor and your other longer series.

  2. Coincidentally, I very recently realized that the “being there” books divide into two further categories for me. Among the books that I find a delight to read, there are those that I don’t think about between reading sessions and there are others that keep drawing me back to them.

    I thought about this while reading one of this year’s Nebula nominees (“Borderline” by Mishell Baker) which I found very entertaining as I read it, despite the fact that it is from a subgenre that I usually don’t care for, but which had little hold on me whenever I set it aside. I was alternating between “Borderline” and “Natural Ordermage” (the 14th book in the Saga of Recluce), and “Natural Ordermage” kept calling me back to it.

    Now I’m having a very similar experience reading another of the Nebula nominees (Charlie Jane Anders’s “All the Birds in the Sky”) in parallel with “Mage-Guard of Hamor.”

    Thank you for writing stories and characters that call me back to them 🙂

    1. I’m grateful to you and to all the others who read my books and enjoy them because, without all of you, I couldn’t keep publishing the stories and sharing them.

  3. AO says:

    I’m very much a fan of “being there”. Those rare times when I’m just trying to get to the end of the book then that means the author has failed to engage my interest in the characters and world. Which is fine for those readers who seem to want brevity, perhaps an extended plot outline as a book? Or maybe abundant action?

    I don’t know, and want to refrain from doing too much assuming. But when I’m enjoying a novel then I want it to continue. I see quite a lot of that in The Imager Portfolio. I would have definitely enjoyed seeing more of Rhennthyl, but it practically broke my heart not to continue with Quaeryt. Sooooo many opportunities for politics in the small and large scale, allocation of resources, infrastructure rebuilding, creating a curriculum and teaching students, seeing their school begun. All of those myriad challenges and opportunities and supply manifests that might have been.

    I’m 100% supportive of ditching the action and battles for a completely bureaucratic/political Imager novel (or twenty). 🙂

  4. Jim says:

    Hey, I enjoy all those meals…I’ve even tried replicating some of them 🙂

    And I go back to your books more than any others I have for re-reads….and enjoy them just as much!

  5. JM says:

    Your recent post may have just helped me understand why the Inheritance cycle only had one movie. Budget issues aside, the second book “Eldest” is very much a being there style of writing. Not the best material for a blockbuster film given the relitivly small target audience (I’m making an assumption here).

  6. Bob Walters says:

    Having just finished re reading the Recluse Saga I again marvel at the way you enable readers to feel what it is like to be a cooper, a woodworker, or even a smith. This is one thing that is truly remarkable about your writing, I think that is the epitome of “being there.”

  7. Alain Ventura says:

    Every time I read your blog entries every time I learn more about something every time.

    So I’d guess I’m a “being there” personality.

    Many thanks.

  8. Wayne Kernochan says:

    Agree wholeheartedly and one of the many things I appreciate about your writing, fwiw. I just wanted add about “problem after problem that, when considered for more than a moment, come off as improbable.” that I also find that some extreme action books come across as aiming to just plain put the protagonist in more and more agony rather than to attain a resolution (hence the increasing improbability) — what I tend to think of as “torture porn.”

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