“Baroque” Writing by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

The other day I was reading a fantasy novel that had been recommended to me by someone whose judgment I trust.  I had to force myself to finish it.  It wasn’t that the technical aspect of the writing was bad.  The writer has a good command of mechanics and style.  It wasn’t that the plot was trite; it wasn’t.  The concept of the magic was good, and it seamlessly fused magic and post-Renaissance/early industrial-level technology.

So why did I have so much trouble finishing the book?

The plot reminded me of Baroque music, over-ornamented and excessively twisted and complex.  Now, I know… lots of readers like those kinds of books and their plots.  I’m not one of them, and probably the reason why is because I spent too much time in Washington, D.C., and national politics.

To put it bluntly, involuted and convoluted schemes don’t usually work in real life.  First is the simple problem that not even three people can keep a secret very long, let alone the number required to orchestrate a complex conspiracy.  Second, the more moving parts anything has, especially if those moving parts are people, the greater the chance that something will go wrong, in fact, that many things will go wrong. 

Then there’s the problem that when things get really ornately complex, more gimmicks or gadgets are needed, especially if there’s an evil genius or power that wants to make people act against their self-interest [which there is in this book], and that’s also not the way matters work in real life.  People do shady things out of greed, the lust for power or sex, or because it gives them a twisted kick.  It’s dreadfully straight-forward.  The twists in life come from the interaction of comparatively direct motivations that don’t allow everyone to get what they want.

When an author over-complexifies, so to speak, he or she loses me.  Now, that’s just me.  I don’t dislike complexity, but when I write, I want the complexity to come out of the interaction of human motives and drives.

Maybe that’s why I also generally prefer Classical or Romantic period music, but I say generally, because far from all Baroque music is over-ornamented, unlike Baroque-plot books.

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