“Incipient”?

Back in August, knowing that my life was going to be getting incredibly busy, I solicited questions from the readers of these Wednesday Wanderings.  For several weeks, Louis Robinson’s question gave me plenty to talk about.  (See “The Cost” part One, Two, and Finale.)  However, that doesn’t mean I forgot that “heteromeles” had tossed a few thoughts my way.

Where Might the Stories Go?

Where Might the Stories Go?

Here’s what he said:

“As for what I’d want to see? Well, I always wondered how that incipient conflict between the humans and the wise animals in Firekeeper was going to play out (and what role the Dragon of Despair might play in it), and I was disappointed that the series veered away from that.

It might even be fun to revisit the Changer, hear his views on social media and climate change. He’s been through the latter, after all.”

I’m not completely certain heteromeles understood that I was asking for Wanderings topics, not what he’d have liked to see in one of my books, but his comments have stayed with me, especially his use of the word “incipient” in regard to some of the action in the Firekeeper books.

Let’s start with the dictionary definition of “incipient.”  My Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines “incipient” as “Begin to be or become apparent.”

“Incipient” is commonly used in reference to things that are showing but not quite realized, like a pregnant woman’s barely visible “baby bump” or a bud that is unfurling into a blossom.  However, it is certainly appropriate to use the word “incipient” in the context of the plot of a book or other form of story.

Certainly, military fiction is full of “incipient” action, because most stories are framed around the developing of a conflict, then the actual conflict unfolding, followed by (in some cases) the aftermath thereof.

Where I feel that the use of “incipient” is incorrect is when readers feel that their expectations or anticipations regarding the developing plot are in fact predictions – and that the author must do what was expected or risk disappointing the readership.

As a reader, those books where I can anticipate every turn of the plot are frankly boring.  That’s one reason I’ve never been a reader of romance novels.  The tropes are so set that even a relatively casual reader can usually tell what’s going to happen.

I understand that this element of predictability is part of the appeal of such works.  I’m not immune to the charm of knowing that no matter how twisted the case, Miss Marple will make sure the right person is brought to justice.  However, one reason I delight in Agatha Christie’s stories is that how this is done usually contains some element of surprise.

As a writer, I do not feel that it is my responsibility to do what my readers expect or anticipate.

I don’t go out of my way to avoid fulfilling expectations, if that’s where the story seems to want to go.  However, I do not, will not, provide “fan service.”  I think this is important for me to state because of how frequently I receive requests either to continue a series or to write a sequel to a “stand alone” novel.  Anyone who asks this must accept that the novel they’re asking for and the novel that I will write might not be the same.

Regarding the Firekeeper novels, the conflict heteromeles felt was “incipient” was, in fact, never part of any vision I had for the series.  I’ve never wanted to write a war novel, not even a guerilla war novel.

Certainly, “conflict” can take other forms.  If the human population decides to press over the Iron Mountains into territory currently resided in by the Wise Beasts, there would be some adjustments to human expectations.  Basically, they’d learn that the “empty” lands already have residents.

However, note that Prince Barden not only moved into that territory, but also set up a fortification – and all of this without conflict with the Wise Beasts.  In fact, given that the child who would become Firekeeper was raised by the Wise Wolves, there is ample evidence in the existing text that “conflict” was not an element of the situation at all.  Yes.  Later we meet some wolves who resent Firekeeper and all they feel she represents, but they are hardly “community leaders.”

Authors often face how readers impose their own views of a situation or characters on a story.  In his talk at the National Book Festival, David Weber said: “No one has ever read a single novel I’ve written.”  Then he went on to talk about how each reader brings his or her own biases, preconceptions, and the like to a book, so that each novel as read is really a collaboration between the author and the reader.

However, the novel as written and the process of deciding what will be in that novel belongs solely to the author.

I like collaborative storytelling or I wouldn’t be a gamer – and I certainly wouldn’t be a gamemaster, since the best games involve flexible responses on all sides.  However, when I’m writing, the story is mine and mine alone…  That’s one reason I don’t workshop and why even Jim doesn’t see a story until it is complete.

As for the Changer and his views on social media and climate change…  I find myself giggling as I envision how that laconic Ancient would take to being cross-examined by some well-meaning, honest soul.  Like as not, he’d shift shape into a bird or butterfly, then take wing…  And that would be an answer.

So, any more questions?  By the time you read this, I’ll be done with the final event in my busy travel schedule and heading home from Arizona.  However, that doesn’t mean I’d not welcome the opportunity to chat with you about topics related to my works or to writing in general that interest you.

Let me know!

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3 Responses to ““Incipient”?”

  1. Heteromeles Says:

    Thanks Jane. Guess I’ve seen too many developers in action (and read too much American history) to believe that, when people are moving into an area on one side, and people are seriously riled up on the other, and people on both sides are starting to self-righteously transgress on each other’s turf, that setting up a small, bureaucratic institution (even if it looks like a castle) that will allegedly stop people from moving in will stop future conflict.

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      “People” is an interesting term… I think that in circumstances where humans were willing to compromise with people of other sorts then the situation would be different.

      Of course, I agree with you that compromise is not usually a human trait!

  2. Paul Dellinger Says:

    I like stories where I’m fooled into thinking they’re going one way only to find they go somewhere I hadn’t anticipated.

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