Thursday, August 27, 2009

Patience in Prose

I've switched from a Janet Evanovich 3-book stretch to reading (listening to) Todd McCaffrey's novels. McCaffrey began cowriting new novels of Pern with his mother, Anne McCaffrey in 2003 with Dragon's Kin and has since written a few on his own and cowritten several others.

I've been avoiding these new Pern novels, partially because I thought I'd outgrown them and partially because they've not had the dragon-centric focus I loved of the earlier novels. Anne McCaffrey was one of the first female fantasy writers I ever read, possibly the first. I discovered her the same day I stumbled across the thirty-odd YA fantasy novels my small library held, and I instantly fell in love with Anne's human characters, but much more so with her dragons and fire lizards. Like every other child that read her works, I longed to be a dragonrider and impress my own dragon. I raced through all the Pern novels I could find, immensely disappointed with the few that didn't focus on the dragonriders (like Dragon's Kin, which is a tale about a watch-wyer and handler, and in a larger sense, about mining).

It was fitting that I should find new Pern novels during my recent library trip. For the first time in six years since seeing the books on the shelves of my local Borders, I didn't turn away. Instead, I found myself grabbing the only two audio Todd McCaffrey books I could find. I've been addicted to them this week, just as I was Anne's novels when I first found them. (And I still would love to be a dragonrider!) I've been listening to the books while I work, and I've been frustrated that I can't just pick up the book and continue it from the comfort of my front room chair or my bed. Had I purchased these novels six years ago, though, I can guarantee you that I wouldn't have read them until now. Even knowing I was going to listen to both Dragon's Kin and Dragonsblood, I had to convince myself it made more sense to read the novel about the watch-wyer first when I much preferred diving into the novel that had more dragons in it.

Which is all beside the point that I originally sat down to write. What I meant for this post to focus on is this: having switched directly from fast-paced, short-timeline Evanovich stories to world-building, life-spanning McCaffrey novels, I've been acutely aware of patience in writing.

Evanovich is all about speed: her characters make snap decisions, events fall on top of each other, danger is constantly escalating, and everything happens within a week's time, maybe two tops. It makes the pace of her novels faster, and it means there's not much explanatory text. McCaffrey is the opposite. The Pern novels build layers of characters and their lives, show them learning how to do things, even explain how such things are done in a step-by-step elucidation that explores how people solve life problems and even how people would go about changing a planet's lifeforms and landscape in an in-depth terraforming explanation.

I love both novels, but it is McCaffrey's slower, patient pacing that appeals to me right now. There's a depth to it that likens to real life without losing the fantasy/science fiction elements, a smoother, less frantic gait that soothes when the rest of my life has been a little hectic of late.

Evanovich's pacing is more what I strived for with Madison, but it's novels like McCaffrey's that remind me why I wrote a 1,300+ page epic fantasy novel as my first. There's something indescribably fulfilling about world-building on that level.

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