Too much media, to little res? First post from last night’s writing group

So last night, I took my fantasy story Love That Moves the Sun to my writing critique group. The group complimented my writing (I get that from editors too and it always surprises me, pleasantly) but they unanimously made the same criticism: It felt as if they’d dropped into Chapter Five of a novel (they didn’t all phrase it that way, but that was the substance).
I’m not entirely surprised, as my last group made the same complaint. Of course, I’d thrown in a prologue since then which, as I mentioned previously, I thought would fix things.
As it turns out, not so much. My story still starts a bit too much in media res.
In the first place, it’s set in 14th century Italy, so we have foreign names, places and terms (hippocras and condottieri, for example [wine and mercenaries]). In the second place, while the prologue does explain why Macha O’Connell wants revenge on the sinister Poet in the rest of the story, I realize in hindsight that it doesn’t explain as much as I thought about how she met him. And I didn’t even give a hint how she survives Certain Death in his tower.
Looking back on the sword-and-sorcery fantasy I’ve read, I realize that even when the setting is exotic (Atlantis, Hyborian Age, Melnibone) the story usually gives us at least a hint of what constitutes baseline normal before the strange stuff starts. Or else the fantasy elements are set to be instantly comprehensible: In Robert E. Howard’s People of the Black Circle, we start off with a dying king, then shift to the mage responsible for his wasting away. That’s in media res, but it’s a setting we all understand (death spells and palace intrigue).
Funny, I was actually planning to make a post with that point: That the opening of a story, in addition to everything else it needs to do, has to establish what constitutes “baseline normal.” That way, when things spin out of control, readers are ready for the ride. If psionics or giant spider attacks are a part of normal life, we need to have some sense of that at the start of the story so we’re not surprised later.
Apparently I should have taken my own advice.
The question is, what do I do with all this information? Obviously I need to make the story more accessible (but without slowing it down), but that means making it longer. And while I feel I can get away with a 6,000 word short story that’s clearly the first in a series of some sort, I’m not sure a longer story will work without a bigger payoff (i.e., a showdown between Macha and the Poet). Maybe it will … Or maybe I should shoot for a novel-length tale and tell the story of Macha’s war with the poet from start to finish. Or at least novella?
Love That Moves the Sun certainly could be the start of a novel——there’s much more of the story to tell——but that’s a big job, and I have other novels to finish first. If I could just dash it off, that would be fine, but I don’t dash. My brain can’t even think about plotting until I’m actually writing, which doesn’t lend itself to speedy novel writing.
I could also do both: Tweak the story to slow it down, submit it, then tackle it as a novel (or a sequel short story) later. Or perhaps if I think about it as a series of short stories, like Applied Science, I’ll get at least a rough idea of the plot.
For the moment, I shall set it aside and let my subconscious chew on my options. It’s often smarter than I am, so I’ll see what it comes up with.

4 Comments

Filed under Short Stories, Story Problems, Writing

4 responses to “Too much media, to little res? First post from last night’s writing group

  1. Pingback: How much is enough? Second writing group post « Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: writing guru

  3. Pingback: Careers in Writing

  4. Pingback: Another year older and less deeper in debt « Fraser Sherman's Blog

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