Which Story To Critique

I’ve had a rule with myself for a while: don’t complain about the story someone DIDN’T tell.

Often, when people don’t like the plot of a tv show or book, they will put forward an alternative. Sometimes this is because they developed a theory which didn’t pan out, and they still think their theory was cooler than what actually happened. Sometimes its because they feel one of their favorite characters or arcs would have been better served by something else happening. “It would have been so easy to…” “They could have…”

I’ve fallen into this trap as often as anyone, and sometimes I don’t even recognize it. I figured out halfway through “An Acceptable Time” that I was falling into it again. A main part of that novel is people coming to pre-Columbian America from Britain and intermarrying. It’s tied to a plot from “A Swiftly Tilting Planet,” when which European-Indian descendant married which was essential to the future of humanity.

I chafed at this plot. Why did it have to be about what happened to two Welsh brothers and their descendants? Why did Native American mythology have to be swept aside for Druids? Why couldn’t the story be told without white people?

But that’s me critiquing a story that WASN’T told. I’m making something up in my head and demanding to know why the author didn’t do what I wish she had done. That isn’t fair–that’s not how stories work. I get to write my stories, and other people get to write theirs. Instead of coming up with some imaginary alternative story, it’s important to pay attention to the story that was actually told.

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