(I'm a a church event so I don't have time to write a whole new piece. Yesterday, I read a review by James Reasoner discussing Quest of the Golden Ape, an old SF story from Amazing Magazine. Twice in the piece, Reasoner referred to the story as a 'yarn.' That led me to my idea for which older piece I'd be re-running today. It's from May 2012. At the end, I've added a couple of quotes from the comments of the original article to keep the conversation going. Enjoy and I'll be back live next week.
BTW, I'm reading yarn right now: Doc Savage: Resurrection Day. Anybody read that one? If there are any Doc Savage fans out there, which are your favorites?)
Through a chance post on the internet while reading about Erle Stanley
learned about this book: Secrets of the World's Best-Selling Author:
The Storytelling Techniques of Erle Stanley Gardner by Francis and
The title pretty much tells you all you need to know about the subject
of this book. It turns out that Gardner's papers are housed at the
Ransom Center at my alma mater, The University of Texas at Austin.
The Fugates waded into the 36 million documents to extract just how it
that Gardner did what he did: write 80 Perry Mason books, 29 Cool and
novels, and millions of words of pulp fiction.
Among all of the notebooks on plotting were the correspondence between
Gardner and his editors. Over and over again, Gardner would refer to his
stories as "yarns." It got me to thinking: why did that term first get
applied to pulp fiction and why, in the years since its heyday, the term
is rarely, if ever, used.
I looked up the definition of "yarn" and got a couple:
"an elaborate narrative of real or fictional events."
"a story told by a colorful character"
So, if these definitions are basically true, what does that tell us
about Gardner thought about the types of stories he wrote? He's not necessarily a
colorful character. The Mason stories are told in third person. The Cool
and Lam tales are told by Donald Lam and I'd characterize them as
yarns, to be sure. I wonder if Gardner kept thinking of his novels as
longer versions of all those pulp stories he wrote back in the 1920s. Maybe
so. I know that lots of the writers back then used the same term.
So why do we now think of out modern short stories and novels as yarns?
One possibility is realism. As the decades have progressed and the
readers and writers have both become more sophisticated, new realism has
creeped into our stories. Where once writers were restricted in how
they described violence, now, no restrictions exist. Readers know a
whole lot more then they used to, and the call for more real details--be
it Tom Clancy or Patricia Cornwell--continues and we writers comply.
A corollary idea is this: with the drive to be more real, have we lost
the yearning for a yarn? Have we lost the desire for an over-the-top
story? Do our automatic triggers ("that can't really happen,") preclude
us from a joyful abandonment?
In short, have we grown too sophisticated for yarns? Do we readers just know too much?
I still say yarn. I'm not always out for realism, especially when it
has come to mean "tragedy," as if nothing ever works in the world. I
read the paper every day, plenty of news stories would make great novels
word for word, others would be nonsensical, others would seem too good
to be true.
A good yarn has to be fake enough to seem real.
"A good yarn has to be fake enough to seem real."
think of many of Donald Westlake's comic stories as yarns. There's an
implied bit of whimsy in a good yarn, a story neither the teller nor the
audience is taking too seriously.