Stop Arguing!

       People argue. It''s an obvious fact. Sometimes it is a small disagreement, such as which restaurant we are not going to this evening and sometimes it is a big one, such as if you ever see that bimbo again, you''re a dead man. Okay, that last one is not an argument as much as an ultimatum but it was certainly preceded by an argument.

       If the fiction that we read for enjoyment is to be at all believable, and the more believable the better our chances of enjoying it are, the characters in the story are going to argue. Most authors have the good sense to keep the arguments to items which pertain to the plot line and not make us endure petty squabbles over who did not change the roll in the bathroom and who forgot to take out the garbage. Unless those minor spats are intended to show relationships, they tend to get left out, for which we are all grateful.

       However, there is one form of argument that is all too often not only left in but purposefully put there and that is the argument intended to reveal the reasoning and intelligence behind the hero''s plan. “Why are we going there?” “Well, you see, if we do it this way then …” We get to see what the character is planning and see why.

       I am confident that if you have read much at all and have varied your reading, you have encountered this. And in many occasions it has fit and has helped move the story along with the reader now in on the plans.

       I am even more confident, unfortunately, that you have seen the occasions where the arguing goes on and on and on. The sidekick (or lover or employee or underling or whatever) asks the hero why they are doing something (or when or how). The hero explains it. End of plot device. Time to move on. A useful and entertaining foray into the thought processes of the character.

       Except the author does not stop. The minor character objects. It will never work or will get them all killed or get someone else killed or set off the thermonuclear warhead or some such bad result. The hero sighs and then goes over it again, slower and with more detail. By now most readers have gotten the point and are ready to move on, if they haven''t skipped ahead by then.

       But the author will not let it go. There have been too many books, especially written recently, where the argument will go on to a third or even fourth round, taking up pages and pages and driving the reader to start thumbing like crazy. Or the writer will stop after the second round only to start it up again shortly thereafter. I am sure you have read these. The hero and the sidekick argue at their headquarters, be it an office or a kitchen or a car, and then move on just to have the sidekick, as the hero is preparing to bust open the door, spout again as this is a bad idea and tell him again, please, why they have to do it that way. The hero has my permission to punch the sidekick in the nose. Better yet, we should pop the author a good one.

       Few of us like to be forced to listen to others argue. Our parents argued and we cringed as kids. Our friends argue and we foolishly try to smooth ruffled feathers. Two guys in a bar get into a squabble and I now know enough to move away. The point is, it is uncomfortable or painful or disastrous to those of us who have to listen to it.

       That being the case, making us, the readers, have to deal with arguments that do not end is making the story as painful as the events in the previous paragraph. And we, the readers, paid money to read the book. We paid for this!

       I mentioned that the phenomenon of incessant arguing seems to be happening more and more of late. The why is open to discussion and might be interesting to explore briefly. My personal favorite reason is the need to make the books big. Thick. Full of pages.

       A publisher needs to get the most out of that space on the shelf. Costs are higher for everything than they were two or three decades ago and the days of getting a paperback for less than $8, often $10, are long gone (except for many romance stories but even they are inching up there). The rationale seems to be that no one will pick up a book with 150 pages in it and plop down a Hamilton for it. It doesn''t seem worth it. Maybe a couple of Washingtons and, if the cover is alluring enough, perhaps a Lincoln, though less likely. But not $10.

       So, to make the buyer part with that much money, the book has to seem worth it and nothing says worth it in the publishing world like size. 350 pages are the minimum. 400-500 are better. Get some heft to the book and you give the impression of value for your money. (Cheap paper is another device but we will leave that for another rant.)

       Now, if the author wants to create a tome that is 400+ pages in length and he has a simple tale to relate, how does he fill those pages? You already know the answer. Dialogue. And that too often leads to Argument and that opens the door to the Endless Debate that annoys me so much.

       Find some other way to fill the pages. Do not force me to “listen” to constant rehashing of the same information and do not force me to skip ahead to get away from the annoyance. I paid for those pages!