Writing Wednesday: Need to Know Basis
This is another entry inspired by a book review. When reviewing The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith, I noted in my review:
It’s too bad the story doesn’t provide an answer to that or my other questions. (My first question, why is it called Marbury? That sounds like the name for a brand of marmalade.) Like I said, maybe Smith is hoping to answer the questions in a future sequel. But also as I said, I wouldn’t have much interest in reading it. Unlike Narnia or Middle Earth or other fantasy worlds, I don’t see Marbury as one worth revisiting.
And this brings up a critical issue for me: how much should readers know and when should they know it? For the most part this is important in series or prospective series more than in stand-alone novels, though it still might matter in those as well.
On one side of the coin you have what I described in my review with really no questions being answered. There are some glasses this kid Jack uses as a portal to a dystopian world known as Marbury that’s mostly populated by cannibals who are becoming more and more of monsters thanks maybe to a disease. You could find out most of that from the book jacket, but the problem is the book doesn’t really get any deeper than that. I kept waiting like watching an M. Night movie for the big twist that he was dreaming (“Inception”) or insane (“Shutter Island”) or something, but there were no explanations provided. What are the glasses? Dunno. Who made them? Dunno. Where/when is this Marbury place? Dunno. What happened to all the people there? Dunno. Why are people becoming monster cannibals? Dunno.
My speculation was that this might be answered in future books. I don’t really know that for sure. If it’s not then that stinks. But I don’t really want to read more books anyway, so I’m a little conflicted about all that.
Though I think the main problem was in the book the characters didn’t really seem to give a shit about finding any answers. In Marbury it was mostly about staying alive and in the “real” world Jack was such a sullen brat he kept pushing away anyone who might be able to help him find out. Don’t you want to know what the hell is going on? I would. Though actually if I found a portal to a world where I was running from cannibals I’d probably smash it into a million pieces and then go back to playing Grand Slam Tennis on my Wii. I wouldn’t be drawn into going back there to risk my neck time and again. But that’s why I’m not an action hero!
The opposite side of the coin is that if you answer everything in one book, there’s really nothing left for another book. I wrote about sequels in one of the very early blog posts here and said how important it was not to paint yourself into a corner. So if you say everything about everything, what are you going to do in the next book? That’s where it becomes tricky.
It’s always about balance, though sometimes that balance can be hard to find.
Friday, another inconclusive entry about perhaps the biggest advantage of movies over books…