Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Interim - How Not to Organize Your Book

Some authors use chapters as a way to divide a story into "episodes" encapsulating a certain stage of the narrative. Chapters can be centered around a certain event, location, or character, letting the reader focus on one important part of the text before moving on to the next. In other cases the chapters serve as "mini-stories" with a clear beginning and ending that can be easily differentiated from what follows or precedes them.

Other authors, in contrast, eschew chapters entirely, dividing the story by brief breaks that can be thought of as the equivalent of scene changes in a movie. In these cases the story can be so rich that it simply can't be divided into individual chapters, with so many elements in the foreground and background that focusing on one at a time could spoil the mystery of a complex narrative.

And then there's L. Ron Hubbard.

Battlefield Earth is divided both into parts and chapters, at what feels like random. For the most part the chapters are short, only two pages or so - which is good, since I'm going through a chapter per post and can only handle so much Hubbard at a time. But there's no uniformity to how the breaks are inserted.

Sometimes the divisions accompany changes in location or a timeskip, while other longer passages include changes in place and time that don't earn their own chapter. Other times a single event is unnecessarily and jarringly broken up over multiple chapters, thus killing any flow in the story or what interest a reader has managed to muster. Same with the parts - sometimes they're separated from one another by weeks or months, or like in the case of Part 7, it's simply the next morning after Part 6, with the same events still ongoing.

So why even bother with the chapters and parts if they're arbitrary and meaningless? We can only speculate. Apparently the entire Mission Earth series was delivered as one huge stack of text which its unfortunate editor was ordered to chop into ten books based on good "cliffhanger" points, with the idea that the reader would eagerly purchase the next volume to deal with the tension. Perhaps this book was similarly written and hacked into easier-to-swallow chunks by a beleaguered editor? Or maybe the parts of Battlefield Earth are meant to build tension? But no, they don't always end on cliffhangers - and anyway we're already holding the book, so there's no need to entice us to buy stuff.

Maybe you just have to divide your fantasy/sci-fi epic into "Books" or "Parts" to give the text some gravitas. Maybe chapters are just something that's done, even if the original narrative doesn't have them. Maybe they tested well with early reviewers.

Whatever the reason, they've certainly made my journey through Battlefield Earth easier, even if the story itself is alternatively baffling, boring, or mind-crushingly dumb. So I salute you, inexplicable gaps in this stupid story, blessed stretches of oblivion to rest in before the mental onslaught begins anew! You don't make sense, but neither does anything else.

Back to Part Six, Chapter Eleven

No comments:

Post a Comment