Packages and Their Wrapping

Some people wrap gifts elaborately. Others place them in a decorated bag, perhaps surrounded with colored tissue. And others don’t bother with wrapping at all. Likewise, some gift-receivers admire well and tastefully wrapped packages and make over the wrapping. Some gift receivers even carefully remove the wrapping, trying to preserve it [believe me, some people do]. Other receivers make a comment, such as “lovely wrapping,” and then get on with unwrapping the gift or package. Still others, especially younger children, rip away the wrapping and discard it, just to get to what’s inside.

Many readers see novels as having two separate components – the core story, i.e., the package, and the wrapping, which consists of the background and the way in which the story is told. For the most part, these readers either want as little “wrapping” as possible, or at least, minimal “wrapping.” They tend to want an action- or event-driven story with obvious motivation, and when it’s done, the “present” of a clear resolution.

And, because, just as there is a range of readers, there exists a range of writers. Among those authors are those who write in the “wrapped-present” style, and in fact, I’ve been accused of that by some readers, largely because, I suspect, my protagonists are either competent or learn to be competent and because they learn from experience. Many of their antagonists don’t learn. But I really don’t write in that style because the events and environment in which the protagonists find themselves shape them and influence how they reshape or influence their world.

A “basic” wrapped-present story would be one where the author could change every background detail and those changes wouldn’t affect the characters, the plot, or the resolution.

Then there are authors where everything is so tied together that almost any change in the setting, background or culture would affect everything. In that respect, Gene Wolfe comes to my mind, as do Ursula K. LeGuin, and Sheri Tepper, and there are certainly others as well.

Most writers fall somewhere in between, and more than a few have books that differ greatly in the degree of integration of story, setting, and presentation. And often, what is one reader’s unnecessary wrapping is integral to another reader’s appreciation and understanding… as well as to the full range of what the author has set forth.

3 thoughts on “Packages and Their Wrapping”

  1. Kath says:

    I believe that you, Mr. Modesitt, have achieved the perfect balance.

    1. Thank you. I don’t know that it’s perfect, but I’ve tried.

  2. Michael Creek says:

    Lots of people have taken Shakespearean plots and have “updated” them to more modern settings. Romeo and Juliet seems easily adapted, e.g. West Side Story, but A Midsummer Nights Dream much less so. Many SF & F writers establish a Universe in which they write many stories, e.g. The Imager Series. When I start a new Imager novel, I know a lot about this world. As the series continues, one learns more and more about this Universe. The small details add immeasurably to the story. Personally, I enjoy most those stories where setting, personalities, and plot are so intertwined that it forms a cohesive whole. These stories are the ones that I can read and reread and discover new delights. Many of these stories have been written by you and I thank you for all the pleasure you have given me over the years.

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