AIBC: Going Postal: Structure

00004-Going Postal

Pratchett puts forty pounds of story in a five pound bag and then tightens the string. How does he do that without descending into chaos (if he does; he kinda likes chaos)?

I think a lot of it is that he always remembers whose story he’s telling. This may story may go all over the place, but it goes all over the place following Moist, who is worthy of being followed. While it does have a classic doppelganger protagonist and antagonist, it also follows the classic doppelganger structure: the protagonist learns and the antagonist doesn’t, so as the protagonist arcs, the antagonist falls behind. In this story character is structure.

If you want a slightly more formal book club start, try these questions:
1. Two prologues. If you skip them, the book is much better. What is it with authors and prologues? (I know, but I’m not telling because it’s rude.)

2. If the story structure is about Moist’s rebirth after death and rise to the heights, it’s also about the post office’s death and rebirth. How does linking character to goal shape this story?

3. There’s a romantic subplot in here, the hero gets the girl, but the girl is not a Girl in the “Be careful, Moist” mode. How does the structure of the love story (and the character of Adorabelle, shown below) not just support but also fuel the main plot?

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NOTE: This Book Club Post will remain open, so if you haven’t read the book yet, decide to later, and then have things you must say, no worries. I’ve added a “Most Recent Comments” widget to the sidebar so people will know when comments go up on old posts.

19 thoughts on “AIBC: Going Postal: Structure

  1. I don’t get prologues either. Usually it seems like the only reason one has a prologue is to (a) start with a bang and then go “Three months earlier….” because they didn’t think their story was interesting enough or the editor made them or whatever. Or (b) introduce information at the start that they don’t plan on getting back to for 3/4 of the book, which makes me go “Why should I care about this? Why was this so great that it’s the selling point and introduction to your story?” Literally the only good prologue I ever saw was in a cheap thriller book when the prologue was followed up on almost immediately by pointing out that this scene was why the heroine was in witness protection/had changed her identity since then.

    Worst prologues ever are by George R. R. Martin though, for managing to NEVER explain why the hell said prologue, this character, whoever are mentioned once in the book and never again. Second worst was one of the Liaden books (Crystal Dragon) for introducing an incredibly weird situation that had nothing to do with anything previously introduced in the world and I had no effing idea what was going on for pages and pages. I don’t really have a better idea for as to how they could have introduced that particular plot point, but I wouldn’t have literally started the book with it. I literally wondered if I’d bought the wrong e-book by mistake.

    Oh, as for this book’s prologues: I don’t even remember them!

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    1. You had the same problem with Crystal Dragon? I was still figuring out what the tree was all about in Crystal Soldier when I started Crystal Dragon. The prologue creeped me out. I didn’t get far into the book.

      I like Pratchett’s prologues. I read the prologue first for the first several Discworld books, then on future books I read the prologue after finishing the book.

      I didn’t know that Jenny Crusie doesn’t like prologues when I suggested one for Nick’s Afterworld. I don’t watch TV or movies, so I’m far less informed than most readers. Perhaps because Jenny is currently publishing bits of a discovery draft, although I’m not getting enough setting and background to make sense of things, both will be fleshed out in a a later version. Or, it’s possible that there’s something about the way I read that I’m just not getting the place and the Afterlife background. (I can misread things, unfortunately.)

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      1. They’re also first drafts, so they’re admittedly lousy. Which is fine, they’re first drafts (g).

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  2. Pratchett always has a prologue and it always has to do with the structure of Discworld. So I figure the first prologue was about that. The second prologue was just grim and I could not see why he did it. Especially since it was irrelevant since the information comes up as part of the story. Did he do two prologues in any other book?

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    1. I can’t remember. I always skip prologues. And this has such a brilliant beginning if you skip the two prologues that it’s just good advice here.

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  3. I think one thing that distinguishes Moist and Teacher is that Teacher is in control of his circumstances more than Moist is dancing as fast as he can in unknown and treacherous territory. This also provides Pratchett with the opportunity for painless info dump about the golems and how the Trunk works.

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    1. Pratchett’s infodump works because he’s writing in omniscient, which is pretty common for fantasy. You can get away with murder in omniscient but only if you have a fantastic voice. Which Pratchett does, of course.

      I think Reacher works on a larger scope than Moist who is pretty much coasting through life, enjoying the hell out of it. Reacher is driven, Moist plays the game, but they both live by deceit and ignore the consequences, both see the world in terms of marks and scores, until Moist falls in love with a victim of one of his games and it’s just not that damn funny anymore.

      I also think the challenge appeals to Moist. Reacher is a better conman than he is, working at much higher level for much higher stakes. So challenging Reacher is spitting into the wind, which Moist was pretty much born to do.

      The next Moist book is called Making Money, and Vetinari blackmails him into taking over the banks and the mint. It’s a weaker book than Going Postal, but it’s still Moist looking at a system involving money and saying, “The possibilities are endless,” and then pissing everybody off as he saves the day. The third one is Raising Steam, Pratchett’s last book, and it’s Moist and the locomotive in Ankh Morpork.

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      1. I really loved Raising Steam, maybe because I knew it was the Last Book. Like you I enjoyed Going Postal better than Making Money. I am enjoying all the discussion \.

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  4. They did publisher “The Shepherd’s Crown” after his death. There’s a foreword by his wife and/or daughter basically saying “he wasn’t finished but we’re publishing it anyway.”

    And it’s apparent that he wasn’t done with it. For the record, it’s a Tiffany Aching novel.

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    1. I’m afraid to read that book, for fear it will tarnish my memory of the other Tiffany Aching books. Haven’t even read the “look inside” at Amazon. I couldn’t get through more than a couple chapters of “Raising Steam.” I was constantly thinking it was his voice, but not quite, and something was off with the storytelling much like something was physically off for his brain/body. It was just too painful to read it, given the circumstances.

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      1. I think what might have happened is that he had a specific kind of Alzheimers so that he couldn’t write, he had to dictate. If I dictated my books, my voice would be gone (I know, that seems wrong, but it’s true).

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      2. I felt like his voice lost a lot of its whimsy. I was in an email writers’ group with G. M. Ford, a mystery writer, for a while, and he used to say any time he made his readers work (like reading exposition) he’d throw ’em a bone (put in something funny). It sounds like a cheap gimmick, but I don’t think it really is, probably mostly because I think Pratchett did that too, and he made it work so well. You know how people say, “I’d be willing to listen to (John Cleese, Robin Williams, name your favorite funny person) read the phone book”? I’d have read the phone book if Sir Terry had the writing of it, back in his heyday. I didn’t see as much of it in his last few books though, and I definitely missed it.

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        1. Again, it goes back to omniscient, I think.

          Pratchett’s voice drives his books because he’s narrating them. He’s not pretending to be any of his characters (third person limited), he’s the god of Discworld, he sees all, knows all, and does commentary as he leaps from head to head (third person omniscient). I don’t think he’d be nearly as effective in third limited because, like you, I read for his marvelous voice (and wonderful characters and wicked satire and . . .)

          I think the disease forcing him to dictate his books probably flattened his voice; you’re much freer when you pour your voice onto the paper than you are when you say something. (But there’s also just getting older and more tired, too, says somebody who knows.) I think the fact that Alzheimer’s messed with his words is one of the most tragic things I’ve even known; Alzheimer’s is always tragic, but to take Pratchett’s words from him . . .

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          1. Well said. Thank you.

            I think Pratchett didn’t hear what was missing from his dictated books; at least, he said (if I remember correctly) that he found dictating easier than writing had been and was pleased with the results. That’s good, in my opinion.

            I think, too, that while many of his characters are instantly recognizable and some are multi-faceted and I love them, Pratchett’s writing (including his omniscient voice and many other things) presents the places and characters at a great distance from me. I’m not say this clearly, but that comic distance is one of the pleasures I have when reading his books.

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  5. Man, I must really be in a minority, because I generally like prologues a lot. Especially from authors I know and like, because I always feel as if I’m given a kind of bookmark to carry with me through the chapters that follow until I can see the connection.

    And with Terry Pratchett, it’s always a kind of scene changer — something to cleanse the palate between the events of the last setting in Discworld you read about, and the events that are going to happen in this setting, because Discworld has all these landscapes and neighborhoods and villages and lairs — and it was always getting richer and more varied, with every book in the series. I felt particularly comforted by knowing what was going on with Great A’Tuin swimming through the galaxies.

    I can certainly see Jenny’s point about starting you right in the middle of something interesting that’s happening RIGHT NOW, and ohmigosh turn the page! But in the hands of somebody who’s writing that kind of wham-bam beginning according to some kind of formula or recipe, I never fail to feel manipulated.

    So I guess there’s something for everybody. 🙂

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    1. I’m in the middle. I like prologues if they’re done well.
      If they’re written all in italics, or have info-dumping, I skip them.

      I’ve never read Terry Pratchett before, so for me, the first prologue was terrific. The 9,000 year prologue? Who writes a prologue that lasts 9,000 years, or from 9,000 years ago? I never thought much about ocean density, comparing it to air density, and having ships floating around. Bang on.

      The second prologue, I skimmed. I wanted to hear about the clanksman’s disease, but it didn’t grab me.

      But I love the idea of two prologues, just like I adored Jenny ripping up romance tropes–Nell sleeps with Riley first, not Gabe; Nell and Suze kiss (both from Fast Women); Tilda has indifferent sex with Davy until she can tell him her secrets (Faking It). [I know I don’t have to explain the references to anyone here, but I went to school for a long time, so I feel like I have to lay out the information for everyone.]

      Thanks for making me read something new! I’d read non-fiction, too, but I like how you deconstruct story. I wish I’d done McDaniels with you. Cheers!

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  6. On story structure: I always marvel at how Pratchett has all these different threads going on in his story, and all these little vignettes with people that have no obvious connection to the story at hand (like the street people and the criminals who help Teatime in “Hogfather” and in one — is it the first Watch book, the one with the dragon? — the cult members who are raising the dragon), and yet I’m not bored or irritated with the seeming digression when it’s not clear how they will all come together in the end. I’m not sure many writers could do that; it essentially means that each and every one of this little (seeming) digressions have to almost work like a first scene in a book, to hook you in, make you want to find out what’s going on, even though you’re also anxious to find out what’s happening to Moist (or Vimes or whoever). Usually, when there are multiple plot lines like that, I’m tempted (and often give in to the temptation to) skip to the plot line I’m actually interested in. But not with Pratchett.

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    1. It helps tremendously that he’s writing in omniscient so you’re not waiting to get back to somebody else’s voice; it’s all Pratchett.
      Then add to that how damn funny those secret meetings are . . .

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