Friday, September 7, 2012
Do you have a Tom Bombadil hiding in your book?
For those of you who don’t know who the title character of this blog is, ya ain’t reading enough fantasy ;). So right now, go pick up the Lord of the Rings, and read it. Go on, I’ll wait. Back now? Great. Ok, Tom was a character in the LOTR books who didn’t make it to Peter Jackson’s movies. (For those of you who kept reading here instead of racing out to buy and read the aforementioned book(s).)
Tom was very cute and charming, sort of a nature man married to a water spirit (she got the ax in the movies as well.). When the cutting of him, his wife, and the entire scene came out, there was much hewing and crying at the deletion of this beloved character.
But I agree with the Peter’s choice. And more so, I think if the books had been written today instead of fifty years ago- ol’ Tom may never had made it through editing. The pace of the LOTR books is rather slow. I’ve been a fan of the books since I was a teenager, but I usually skip whole sections after that very first read. Tom was one of those sections that I’d re-read sometimes, but not often. To me it didn’t add much to the book. The characters were changed very little by their meeting Tom (the barrow wrights did more, but still they weren’t part of the “main big bad”). I felt like he and his lovely wife were there as window dressing, just to add more world building to an already very crowded world. He didn’t move things forward- therefore he wasn’t needed.
Now before the pro-Tom Bombadil crowd comes to lynch me, lemme say he fit the original book. Those books were written in a different time, when writers took little side trips in their literary journeys and readers followed along.
But those aren’t the times we’re writing in now. The pace of the world is far faster. Entertain me fast is the mantra of today’s readers. And if you don’t keep up the pace, they’ll wander off, distracted by something bright and shiny on the internet.
My point for this long rambling post (and I do have one ;)) is that most all of us have some Tom Bombadils in our books. It may be a person, or a place, or just a really wonderfully written scene. But if it doesn’t advance the story then it needs to go away. How can you tell if you have one? Since we as the creators might miss it, you might ask a trusted reader if you suspect a “Bombadil” lurking in your mss. Also, during editing, ask yourself if this section advances the story of EVERY SCENE. Have you ever watched a TV show where the status quo is pretty close to the same at the end of an episode as it was at the beginning? Annoying isn’t it? We read to follow a story, yes we want fleshed out characters, engaging world building, and amazing dialogue. But if the reader doesn’t keep moving forward through your writing craft, they may just walk away from your book.
So go forth and hunt your Bombadils down and rip them out of your book. Keep them in a special folder for your eyes only. Or for a great ‘added scene’ to post on your website when your book is out and published. But be merciless- you really do have to kill some of your darlings ;).
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This is definitely something I need to work on more in my scifi romance. I do have purpose for each character, but maintaining their forward movement is something I should keep my eyes on.ReplyDelete
Funny how you can see the fat cut easiest in a movie version. They don't have the luxury of side trips, but you're right that authors don't really either these days.
Great post as always, Marie!
Thanks Angela! Yeah, I had this idea strike me while re- watching LOTR recently. Now I think I might try to "movie-ize" all of my books in my head. We really don't have the option of extra fat!Delete
Thanks for coming by and commenting!
Marie (at work no can go on Blogger :( )
I just finished going through an older manuscript and--wow--there was so much to cut. I guess I've gotten a lot better at not putting those Tom Bombadils in my manuscripts though the years. Great post, Marie.ReplyDelete
Maybe that's a sign- we chase out the Bombadil's better as we get more advanced ;). I agree, my older mss's need more Bombadil removal than the newer works ;).
Thanks for coming by and commenting.
Marie (at work no can go on Blogger :( )
Phillipa Boyens, the script-writer, told me that they'd had to make amendments to the book because the structural requirements of film differ from a novel. The Bombadil sequence didn't particularly work in that context. In point of fact, the way it was handled in the movie was ambiguous; there was a jump cut to the arrival at Bree, which effectively meant the journey from the Shire to Bree had simply not been fully narrated; the story itself hadn't been altered particularly.ReplyDelete
Tolkien, of course, had his own motives for the Bombadil sequence, not least of them the way he was building the tension and danger for his characters. And I think that sequence had a good deal to do with the way LOTR was picked up by the counter-culture in the late 1960s.
I should add that I live in Wellington NZ, in the middle of where Jackson et al filmed this - there was a gigantic outdoor set about 5 km from my house, back in 2000. Back then a lot of it was reasonably public. But there's been no sign of "The Hobbit" sets locally, they're all tucked away & well out of public view. The local council were asked to consent to land use this week for one of them, so he's definitely going ahead with that third "Hobbit" movie.
Thanks for coming by and your insights Matthew!Delete
I remember a reader telling me I had everything in my story but the kitchen sink. Ouch. That comment still smarts, but he was right. All that world building and backstory was burying the narrative in unimportant detail. Now I sometimes feel I err on the side of too little detail. However, I believe that readers are more savy now than they used to be. Teenagers of today have seen a lot more than we saw as teenagers and are not limited to a few TV or radio stations for entertainment. As writers we should always be aware that words on the page are competing in a world filled with distractions. We must write tight and fast.ReplyDelete
LOL- I think we all have the kitchen sink moments- especially any of us writing anything that's not of the "normal" world.Delete
I think you're right about readers being more savvy as well- readers of today (me included) often want to fill in the gaps more than before.
Thanks for coming by and the comments Sharon!
I am so happy to hear I am not the only one who skips Tom Bombadil. As to the movie, if anyone misses it, they can always read the book! Great post Marie!ReplyDelete
LOL!! Thanks Casey. It's good to know there are others with my skipping habits ;). Now for each one of us, I'm sure there are those who look forward to Tom with each read of the book. And more power to them! If we all liked the same thing the world would be pretty dull ;).Delete
Thanks for coming by and commenting Casey!
Marie, I do see your point, and it is a good one!ReplyDelete
But I will say, I love when there's a Tom B, and while we enjoy him, we don't know why the author digressed UNTIL he shows up again at a crucial moment in the story, and we gasp and say, 'Of course, couldn't have done that without Tom and his unique skill set!'
But, that has to happen to make him useful, yes?
Thanks for coming by Cathryn :).Delete
Oh I totally love it when a bit of "nothing" turns into something major later in the story! That's the cream of story telling in my book. It's the ones that don't do that, that gun we paid two pages of attention to, that never was seen again, that we need to watch out for ;)
Thanks for your comments!