Bridge over troubled waters

18 Aug

So I finally, finally finished the latest Dresden Files novel, Ghost Story. I think I am the last one on my flist to do so. Some folks gave it enthusiastic reviews, others were less than impressed. I have to admit to slogging through some tedium at times, which is part of the reason I took so long to finish it. The other part is, I only read non-interweb stuff for a short while before bed each night.

But see, there is a reason this book wasn’t the Best!DresdenFilesNovel!Ever! It was a bridge story. And bridge stories are traditionally kind of mediocre. A bridge story is a chapter in a book, a book/film in a series, or an episode in a TV series that transitions between two plot heavyweights. Writers use bridge stories for a lot of reasons: because the second heavyweight needs more set-up that would slow down the pace of the second heavyweight were the set-up placed within it, or to give viewers/readers (and themselves!) an emotional break before plunging them into more rising action. The second of those reasons is why bridge stories are often a little silly.

Examples of bridge stories? I’ll borrow from the Buffyverse: Bad Eggs. Go Fish. The Girl in Question. Among other things, Bad Eggs sets up Surprise/Innocence by dealing in a light, silly way with the topic of the consequences of sexual activity, and pours on the Buffy/Angel UST so you are not in the least surprised when they end up crossing the line one episode later. Go Fish allows the writers to feature a Snyder-Buffy showdown that makes it more believable when he expels her from school in Becoming. And The Girl in Question is how the writers deal with the one piece of baggage both Spike and Angel need to resolve before heading into the alley in Not Fade Away: their lingering belief that each of them will somehow end up with Buffy some day.

I became aware of the value of bridge stories when I was writing my virtual series, The Destroyer. You’re thinking, “Okay, I have 22 episodes here and I want to get to point B in the character journey, but not in next episode, that’s too soon. How do I stretch it out a little without the readers forgetting the basic conflict and themes I’m building?”

Ghost Story is the bridge story between Harry accepting the offer to becoming the Winter Knight and Harry actually becoming the Winter Knight. Among the things it sets up for us is the reassurance that his willingness to make a deal like that with Mab was not what it seemed: Harry never intended to go through with it, and his plan for avoiding it was to commit suicide-by-assassin.

But of course we know after how many odd novels in the series that Butcher isn’t going spare Harry that fate. And it seems pretty likely to plunge Harry into Darkness, given how much he was willing to compromise his principles to save his daughter in Changes, a darkness that would be unpalatable to his avid fans (us)*.

So Ghost!Harry is a story bridge plot device to rinse the gray out Harry before he winds up literally in Mab’s clutches**. Which may seem like a bit of a cop-out to those of us weened on the Buffyverse. We’ve gotten used to sitting on the edge of our seats, wondering if our hero really has gone too far to the Dark Side, and then being kind of skeptical when in the end, they emerge all shiny and pure (think of white-washed Angel or Willow, especially).

And maybe it is a bit of a dodge on Butcher’s part. I’ll reserve judgement on whether Butcher’s bridge story did Harry’s journey more harm than good after I read the next book. I’m not entirely convinced the resolution of Ghost Story was all it appears to be, either.

* There is, of course, a viewpoint that argues the ends justify the means, and those with good ends do not corrupt themselves by merely stooping to any means necessary to achieve those ends. Reminds me of an old ATPOer named Max who used to use the OS Star Trek episode “The Savage Curtain” as an argument why Season 2 Angel was justified in his choice of making “Total War” against Wolfram and Hart. Jim Butcher doesn’t seem to hold this view.

** One that reminds me a bit of AtS’ Awakening, a classic exemplar of an effective bridge story.

21 Responses to “Bridge over troubled waters”

  1. lakrids404 August 18, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

    Good points, it was also for me a rather mediocre. I think we have heard a lot about Harry getting darker. And I don’t see it really. He has been stressed out and made some desperate and stupid mistake. But there is very little arrogance or cruelty in his actions, and his motive seems often to protect others than control them.
    He even sort of turned the virtual fallen angel Lash, so she gave up trying to take control over him and instead saved his life. Is that something even saints, in the Catholic faith can’t do?
    He even seemed to me to be more grounded, in the last couple of books. By his many friends and even family, than he was in the first books, where he was much more of an outsider
    My favorite fantasy serie is the Vlad Taltos books by Steven Brust. Here the main character start out as mid level mob boss and part time assassin (a nicer word than murder for hire), part of a oppressed minority and a racist in many ways himself, and with very little connection to his own people. This can perhaps sound a little heavy?, but the first books are rather straight action, with Vlad as a sort of roguish James Bond. So the series start with him on the top, and then later he will lose most of it, and his journey begins to become a of a decent man (in his own way, thou still somewhat arrogant).

  2. shadowkat67 August 18, 2011 at 10:38 pm #

    I agree – it was definitely a bridge story and suffered from all the pitfalls that often befall such tales. Also slow in places – took me a long time to finish as well. Nice to see I wasn’t alone, half my flist appeared to inhale it. Of course I didn’t read it constantly, either. Read it much the same way you did…
    I’m also not sure how DARK Butcher will really take Harry. I think this book in a way was a means of telling us that Harry may not go that dark. He’s planning 20 books apparently, so there are eight left. If you go too dark, you lose your readership. Most people don’t want to read “Breaking Bad meets Harry Potter”. So Butcher is wisely staying very close to the line, but not quite crossing it – as he did in Changes. We’re not going to see the Butcher version of Angelus any time soon…
    That said – I did like the fact that Butcher made a point of stating that if Harry does go really dark – it’s his choice. He’s not possessed, he can’t blame someone else, MAB didn’t make him do it. It’s him. Which is more interesting to me, and less of a cheat. The whole archangel bit was pretty much there to underline that point.

  3. neshaffer August 19, 2011 at 1:21 am #

    He even seemed to me to be more grounded, in the last couple of books. By his many friends and even family, than he was in the first books, where he was much more of an outsider.
    Gradually, as the novels have gone on, he’s become more and more connected than he was in the beginning. Which I personally like. But it does make him more vulnerable to bad guys in a way he was not before.

  4. mamculuna August 19, 2011 at 1:25 am #

    Not last on flist to finish, because I’ve just put it on my list of books to read. So I’ll probably post about this one in a couple of years…And not reading any posts related to the series until I start reading.3

  5. neshaffer August 19, 2011 at 1:30 am #

    Yeah, Harry made that quite clear, that he was going into the deal with Mab with both eyes open and his wits in tact, and was not prepared to become her toady in any sense. So what we will see should (hopefully be) all Harry.
    And frankly, I would be bored of Evil!Harry “because something took him over”. Jeesh. How many times did Joss pull that one?

  6. neshaffer August 19, 2011 at 1:31 am #

    Have you read the other ones?

  7. shadowkat67 August 19, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

    And frankly, I would be bored of Evil!Harry “because something took him over”. Jeesh. How many times did Joss pull that one?
    Agreed. Was frankly relieved by the ending to Ghost Story. Since two things worried me – one, he’d be Ghost Harry or two, he’d be Mab’s toady and not responsible for his own actions.
    The whole “I’m not Evil/I Was Possessed!” bit got really old with Whedon. Every single character – I don’t think there was one he missed. Let’s think. Maybe Connor, Wes and Tara? It’s admittedly been a while since I watched the shows..He’s still doing it – apparently he likes that plot device for some reason?
    I see it as a cheat or easy way out. No character evolution. You can make the character really evil, irredeemable, then bounce, they are all okay again. That and the evil twin gag.
    Much prefer what the writers did with Dexter or what Butcher appears to be doing (I hope)…which is exploring why people do these things, and not providing them with an easy out.

  8. neshaffer August 19, 2011 at 5:16 pm #

    I think with Whedon the “I was possessed! That made me Ev0l!!” was less about the character who went through the experience than the character being tormented by their friend/lover/family member being evol&possessed.
    It’s about Buffy having to deal with Angelus or DarkWillow, and *Buffy’s* growth or not from that experience, it’s about the L.A. gang having to deal with the torment of Ange/lus or CorJasmendelia, it’s about Angel et al being tormented by Illyria. It’s not about Angel/us, Willow, Cordelia, or Fred themselves. What they went through was completely incidental.

  9. shadowkat67 August 19, 2011 at 11:11 pm #

    It’s about Buffy having to deal with Angelus or DarkWillow, and *Buffy’s* growth or not from that experience, it’s about the L.A. gang having to deal with the torment of Ange/lus or CorJasmendelia, it’s about Angel et al being tormented by Illyria. It’s not about Angel/us, Willow, Cordelia, or Fred themselves. What they went through was completely incidental.
    True. But it is a deep flaw in the writing. In the comics it was the same way – Jean becoming possessed by Evil Phoenix, was less about Jean, and more about Scott and those around her. It’s poor writing – you are examining only one character and using the other merely to explore that character’s psyche, as opposed to doing both. A good writer can do both -and well. Being Human is an example of how you can do it well – Mitchell goes insane, and it is as much about Mitchell as it is about his friends.
    I get what Whedon was trying to do, and you can and I have argued that Angel and Angelus were the same, it was only Buffy who could not see that, she had to believe that Angel became evil because he lost his soul. She had to believe that Spike was not responsible for the people he killed – it was the First’s fault, or that Xander would never try to rape her, that was PackXander, or that Willow was possessed by magic…
    But. It can be argued the other way as well. Which is why I loved the show the fact that I could argue so many different points and be more or less right. Yet, now that I’ve read the comics, and seen Dollhouse, I’ve since come to the conclusion that maybe it really is just the first point. (shrugs)
    Sigh. Reading the comics unfortunately made me somewhat negative/cynical on Whedon and the Buffyverse. (Biggest mistake I made, should never have read the things, should have just stuck with Brian Lynch.)

  10. neshaffer August 19, 2011 at 11:49 pm #


    Sigh. Reading the comics unfortunately made me somewhat negative/cynical on Whedon and the Buffyverse. (Biggest mistake I made, should never have read the things, should have just stuck with Brian Lynch.)

    I waited to see what other people’s reactions were, and was avoiding the comics while I finished my Angel continuation fan fics, and in the end I was glad I did because so few people on my flist liked the Buffy comic.

  11. shadowkat67 August 20, 2011 at 12:20 am #

    Suffice it to say…Reading the comics made me lose all respect whatsoever for Joss Whedon as a writer, and see things in the tv series, well, that I can’t unsee.

  12. neshaffer August 20, 2011 at 1:46 am #

    I am still in that state of grace where despite some things that *really* pissed me off towards the end of the show(s), I am not going to throw the baby out with the bath water and reject everything in both shows. I can go back and revisit them again in the future when I’m not burned out on them.
    Still glad I never read those comics! Everything people described sounded like a wasted opportunity to me.

  13. shadowkat67 August 20, 2011 at 1:09 pm #

    They didn’t effect everyone the same way. I just made the mistake of analyzing the silly things and reading Whedon’s interviews regarding both the comics and the series, once I did…I realized that I’m not a fan of Joss Whedon any longer.
    Moral: some things really should not be analyzed to death. Especially comic books and tv shows. And, ahem, comic book/television writers. 😉

  14. neshaffer August 20, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    Well, I can still honestly say that what I was hearing of the story just sounded lame with a side of lame.
    I thought, “Jeesh, you don’t have budget or actor availability constraints, you could raise the bar on the plot possibilities far and above the TV show!”
    But apparently not.

  15. shadowkat67 August 20, 2011 at 8:31 pm #

    No, that would require some actual creativity.

  16. neshaffer August 20, 2011 at 8:40 pm #

    He had it, once upon a time. But we all burn out, I suppose.

  17. shadowkat67 August 21, 2011 at 1:10 am #

    Particularly if we work in Hollywood. I honestly think it has a lot to do with the industry…one too many writers have stated that the process of constantly coming up with the next hit, did them in.

  18. neshaffer August 21, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

    I can believe that.

  19. cornerofmadness September 1, 2011 at 2:13 am #

    ha, not the last to finish it. I just did. I guess I didn’t see it in terms of a bridge story but seeing this argument, I can’t disagree. I was more put out by a) the lack of Karrin doing much of anything b) the lame excuse for why Thomas was all but forgotten but mostly c) him going on and on and ON about what he did to the Red Court and what happened afterwards. I think we got it on the first three whines

  20. neshaffer September 1, 2011 at 3:27 am #

    It was rather long and protracted for the kind of story it was. One of the dangers of not editing a successful writer’s novels enough. Anne Rice and JK Rowling got too wordy in their later novels as well.
    Not that I’m one to talk. ; )

  21. cornerofmadness September 1, 2011 at 3:36 am #

    i’m not arguing this either. the novels do get longer and longer and you could have probably cut 50 pages out of just him whining over the Red Court issue

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: