Storm Front by Jim Butcher

There’s a strange medium that some stories are able to occupy. The quality is very strongly in the middle. But they are good enough. In fact they are so good enough that they inspire huge fan bases and generate prodigious amounts of income for their creators.

What is it that makes these works of mediocrity so successful?

My argument is that there must be some aspect of the story that is exceptional. Some aspect resonates with people and their daily struggles, their surroundings or situations. It’s probably something different in every story but most often it is the characters. The plot can be predictable and the writing only serviceable but the characters need to be immediately real and with real problems. So much of popular media is like this.

Storm Front is the first of an ongoing series of paranormal mysteries set in modern day Chicago about a wizard named Harry Dresden. Harry is the only wizard in the phone book and he specializes in finding people and things.

This book feels like an obvious first novel. The prose is rudimentary – not painful but somewhat clumsy. The plot is puerile to the point of lunacy so that the only people who don’t immediately know what is going on are the characters in the story. Many of the ‘comic’ situations can be seen coming as soon as the setup starts.

It’s clumsy, and gawky and stumbles about but it doesn’t fumble. The reason it doesn’t fumble is because of Harry Dresden and the supporting cast of characters that seem to bubble up around him like swamp phantoms. In fact every character that Harry meets seems to resonate in some way. Even people that get killed in the next scene are so vivid that they come right off the page and read along with you.

I find it interesting that so much can be overlooked when a cast of such strength fills in the holes.

I can only assume, at this point, that Jim Butcher gets better. What puzzles me, though, are the examples of this same kind of device. It seems that much of our most popular fiction, in any medium, seems to rely on this same kind of crutch. Mediocre elements, unoriginal story and ideas, are thrown together with some brilliantly interesting and fun characters and we love it.

How much better could something be if a writer took the time to craft each of those elements into something masterful and smooth?

Unfortunately those stories are not the ones that get movie options. Why do we love mediocrity in our stories?

Perhaps it is the same reason we love restaurant chains and huge departments stores. It’s good enough and, more importantly, it’s familiar and easy. Familiarity – lack of originality – makes it easier to understand. I like easy.

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