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post #1 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-15-09, 04:24 PM Thread Starter
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Default The Writer's Circle - Week #2 [Watch your Pace]

Writer's Circle – Week #2 [Watch Your Pace]

Welcome back to week #2 of the Writer's Circle. This week the discussion will be focused around pacing your story. I was once again flipping through the pages of a few back-issue “The Writer” magazines and came upon this intriguing article on pacing your story. Its written by Deborah Chester. She is the author of 38 novels, including “The pearls” and “The Crown” from Ace books, Deborah Chester teaches writing at the University of Oklahoma. Her work includes romance, young adult, science fiction and fantasy. Web: www.deborahchester.com

My face lit up when I saw that DC was the author of this article, she has been a big source of inspiration for me and many others who write in the sci-fi fantasy genre. And working in a library, as I do, her books are in constant circulation. That in itself is a testament to her prowess as an author.

Lets get to the article shall we.

“Watch your pace” By: Deborah Chester from “The Writer” Magazine
Quote:
'Watch your pace' Create a more engaging story by focusing on 5 critical elements

I used to live in horror of boring readers. As a result, I shot my characters through their plot lines like bullets,keeping them in trouble, barely letting them breathe before I plunged them into fresh difficulties.
Eventually, I realized that in my rush to excite readers I was also shortchanging them. The constant zip of my prose often prevented people from savoring what should have been the best parts of my novels.
So, aware that the entire story should not blur from start to finish, I set out to imporve my pacing management. Here's what I learned:

1.Narrative summary races along. Summarizing a story event compresses it into few words. Although a summary reads so quickly that it can become a blur, if it's not overused, it's efficient at sharing information.

“John strode from the library, hurrying down the steps past the marble lions and out onto the sidewalks. He cut across town on foot, making no attempt to flag a taxi, and ducked into a small flower shop on the corner of West and Dixon. Inside, he spoke to the proprietor for a few minutes before picking up a small package wrapped in brown paper. Leaving the shop, he headed back across town, this time catching the northbound bus that took him out to the park.”

pro: Narrative summary is terrific for following events that are required for logical flow, yet aren't important enough to dramatized into a scene.
con: It holds readers at a distance and keeps them from getting involved or caring much about the character.

2.Dramatic action runs almost as fast. If I let two characters interact in direct conflict, then I have a scene of dramatic action that's going to move quickly while holding reader interest. It does take a higher word count to write dramatic action because of the moment-by-moment detail, but if readers are interested, they don't seem to mind the longer length.

“John was about to exit the library when a stocky man in a dark overcoat blocked his path. Cutting his gaze left and right, John saw a trickle of library patrons walking along a side corridor. He turned sharply in that direction and quickened his steps. The man in the overcoat followed. Ahead, John saw an exit door. Just as he started through it, the man behind him gripped his arm and swung him around.”

In the narrative summary example, John traveled all over town in one paragraph. Here, he has yet to leave the library. But what's happening seems more intriguing.
pro: Dramatic action increased reader involvement.
con: It requires a lot of logical cause-and-effect detail.

3.Dialogue reads slower than dramatic action. Want to gain even more reader involvement in the story action? Let the characters talk to each other. It slows down the story's momentum enough to show the characters' intentions and motivations as they maneuver.

“You goin' somewhere, Johnny boy?” the man in the overcoat asked.

“Johm swallowed hard, his mind racing in a dozen directions. “I've got an appointment.”

“So be late for it. We gotta talk.”

pro: Dialogue adds dimension by developing characterization and advancing the plot.
con: When it's too banal and mundane, dialogue can impede the progression of the story.

4.Description ambles. How many times have you been reading when you found yourself skipping over a page of description? Who did you do that? Is it because you wanted to get on with the story and grew impatient while it paused to paint a word picture?

“On his way out the library door, John paused on the steps to inhale crisp autumn air. There was nothing quite like the scent of a damp October day. Tipping hack his head, he gazed at the skyscrapers looming above him, their glass sides mirroring the gray clouds overhead.”

Has John lost his common sense? What about the man following him or the package he's supposed to pick up and deliver across town? In this description sample, John's story concerns simply wait until he's finished examining his environment. In effect, the story is put on hold while nothing happens.
pro: Description done in a few vivid sentences can establish a clear sense of the place and ground a story in its setting.
con: Excessive or wrongly placed description sidetracks the story or stops it, and it can be dull.

5.Factual exposition crawls.
Remember school days when reading a text on, say, Flemish medieval economics seemed to take hours? So why cram dull facts into your story?

“Walking into the flower shop, John was struck y a magnificent pale orchid on the counter. Cattleya orchids, native to Brazil, are epiphytes, meaning they have water-storage organs called pseudobulbs and large, fleshy roots. Also know as the corsage orchid, they're available in a variety of hues. ...”

Whew! We lost the tread of our story in a digression on South American flora. Or did we? Not if we want to build suspense. If terrible danger awaits John outside the flower shop, using facts to deliberately slow the pace means that we're increasing reader anticipation … and enjoyment. Also, certain kinds of plots, such as those found in mysteries, medical thrillers and science fiction, may turn on factual solutions.
pro: Factual exposition in tiny, digestible doses adds authenticity to a story.
con: Once an author does the research, it's tempting to dump it all in, but too much is deadly, deadly dull.

When you understand these various modes of discourse and their effects on pacing, you can use them singly or combine them for improved story flow and varied rhythm.
Before I had read this article, I must admit, I never really paid much attention to how I was pacing my story. Most of my work, it seems, is either narrative summary or dramatic action. Much to my displeasure, its almost entirely overwhelming. I like the ideas that Deborah Chester puts forth here in the above article with blending description, factual exposition, dialogue, dramatic action, and narrative summary. In accompaniment to this article she has a small “before and after” section as well separated by a box below the first page. It reads as such:

Before and After
Quote:
Losing the fizz

DON'T BLAST into action in your story at the expense of reader anticipation.

Problem
Rushing a character through an important, even dangerous, moment flattens is significance. Using narrative summary here is ineffective:

Searching for her father on the now-silent battlefield, Alexeika found him lying dead beneath the broken banner of his army. Heartbroken, she sank to her knees, weeping. But the looters were already coming. There was no time to grieve. If she was going to put the protections on his corpse, she had to do it now.

Solution
In this slower version, dramatic action, description and dialogue have been combined to showcase Alexeika's grief without sacrificing the urgency of her situation.

”Oh, Papa,” she said. Sinking to her knees beside him, she lifted his visor.
He had never known defeat in his long and distinguished career. His valiant name alone was enough to fill the hearts of men with courage. Five times in the past five years he had led the small rebel forces in skirmishes and battles, each time they won. But today, he had faced the king's real army, one supplemented with hard-bitten Gantese mercenaries and Nonkind, and he had lacked
sorcerels to protect his men.
In the distance, the looters now came. She felt the thunder of their approaching hoofbeats shaking the valley floor, but she did not lift her gaze from her father's face.
Although his eyes were shut, he looked stern. Already death had made his face a stranger's. She touched his cheek, but it did not bring him closer or keep him with her. He was gone.
Weeping, she drew back her hand, curling her fingers into a fist. The noise of the galloping horses grew louder.
A hand gripped her shoulder. She jumped, screaming and whirled around to attack, but it was only old Uzfan the priest. Gasping with relief, she sagged to her knees again.
“Swiftly, child,” Uzfan said. “Use the salt you brought. I have no more in my pouch.”


–D.C.
As you can see, just using the narrative summary for that section is not very effective. However, if you combine a few different types of pacing in your story to slow down and extend important moments such as these, it gives the reader a better chance to catch their breath and take in the severity and importance of the situation.

DC also gives us an additional section to benefit from with this article. There has been included a “workout” section. Don't worry everyone, shes not gonna make you do squats and wall-sits just to help you better understand pacing. Although its not a bad analogy...haha.

Here is the section I am referring to:

Workout
Quote:
THESE EXERCISES will help you improve your pace.

1.Select a page or two from a published novel similar in theme or genre to your work-in-progress. Using colored pencils or markers, assign green for narrative summary, red for dramatic action, blue for dialogue, purple for description, and brown for factual exposition. Mark your selected pages, underlining each phrase, sentence or paragraph in the appropriate color. Observe the mix, or balance, of colors to see how the author controlled pacing.
2.Next, select pages from your manuscript and mark them with the same colors. Evaluate whether you have a balance of colors or are depending too heavily on one or two. This should help you determine which parts of your story need expanding and where you should consider cutting or summarizing.

–D.C.
Here is where I would like to open the discussion up to you all.

Finish reviewing the article again if you would like as well as the Before and After and Workout sections.

How do your stories fit in comparison with this article? What type of writing do you focus on the most? Are you centered around Narrative summary? Or perhaps Dramatic action? (i'm sure many of us are, seeing how the entire 40k universe was founded on “dramatic” action) What about dialogue, or description, or factual exposition? Do you have a balanced story?

I'll start things off.

I've taken a look at my stories that i've posted here on Heresy. I've noticed that I tend to focus a lot on narrative summary or some slow description. Of course, if you read Chapter One of my novel “The Ghost of Iron” (link can be found on my userpage) you will notice that dialogue is the center of my story. I'd like to say that this is because I've introduced so many new characters in the first chapter that it was only right I include enough dialogue to say hello and explain my characters better. However, this may just be an overzealous attempt on my part to include every character in the story as best as I can.

With this articles help, I've been able to see different ways to add dimension to my story while still keeping the reader engaged and interested throughout.

How about you? Perhaps you have more suggestions then what you see here. Then bang 'em out and lets hear 'em!

Thanks for tuning into week #2 of the Writer's Circle. Where every week is a new discussion on writing, the written word, and even tips and tricks to help make your writing stand out.

Write on,

Commissar Ploss

The Founding Fields


Last edited by Commissar Ploss; 06-15-09 at 10:29 PM.
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post #2 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-15-09, 04:59 PM
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A very interesting read. The pacing of the story is something that occupies alot of my thoughts and feelings as I write. Generally I don't like reading action, and dislike writing it even more, a bit odd considering my collection of Black Library fiction and current enthusiasm for writing 40k fanfiction!

Looking back over the two pieces I've posted here, 'The Last Testament...' is a short piece entirely retrospective first-person, and as such is almost entirely narrative summary and dramatic action. The pacing shifts here and there but overall I'm comfortable with it.

The Summit, slightly longer, has a greater mix of pacing and seems to repeat in a pattern of dialogue - narrative - drama. Although I am generally pleased with the story's pace, my main criticism of it is that I feel it tries to do too much in a short period of time - even if it is essentially about men going up a mountain and stuff hapening at the top, middle & bottom.

My own instinct is to start slow and get faster, and repeat, with each starting point being slightly quicker than before. I also think it is important to have a decent flow throughout the story and to avoid jarring changes of long-winded exposition to a sudden narrative summary. Think of it as changing gears - you'd usually go 1, 2, 3, 4 - not 2, 4, 1.

I'm going to have a look at soe other bits here on theoriginal works forum and see how they pan out
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post #3 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-15-09, 05:07 PM
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Very insightful article, offering a lot of valuable pointers to amateur writers. Whenever I write prose I find myself drawn into far more emphasis on dialogue. This is mainly due to me being an aspiring screen writer which requires dialogue first and foremost.

I do find that putting in large amount of dialogue helps the reader know the characters far more inimately. After all, there is only so much can learn about someone from how they look and feel. The way a character interacts with others is one of the only definite way of determining what the character is about. Whether that's sociopathic murderer, or lovable rogue.

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post #4 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-15-09, 10:31 PM Thread Starter
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Great comments guys! Thanks for taking the time to read it and post feedback! keep it coming everyone!

write on,
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post #5 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-16-09, 01:08 AM
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When pacing a story, I try to use something similar to the above. However, most of my stories are narrative/action with a little description tossed in as filler. Dialogue is used only to forward my narrative or add spice to the action.

For me, I read what I've written. If it looks like it's slowing in a spot, I try to rework it so the pace moves faster. When I write, I'm looking to plot out the story so the reader never feels the need to look away or skim/skip ahead. I might not achieve this, but it is what I am for. 40k is one of those genres that requires either good action or an involving story plot that makes up for the lack of action. We don't want to read about the mating habits of grox on Merchantile VII irregardless of the detail. We want blood and gore or suspense!

One problem I find is that in some stories the building anticipation goes too far. Here I think the pacing doesn't pan out as while keeping us on our toes, the writer fails to give us the proper action at the proper time. I think I build the anticipation well, depending on the story and the part. For me, I think that there should be some there. I probably don't word it as well as I should but it's there none the less.

Example:

From below came a mounting cry of alarm from amongst the Blood Angels, snapping him back to the present. One of the great, winged daemons that had come from the portals smashed into the Blood Angel line with a furious charge. Its mighty axe swung left and right, carving a bloody path through the loyal astartes who fought to hold the line. Agmemnus knew that it would take a miracle to stop such a powerful foe and he hoped that the Blood Angels could find a way to defeat the beast. As he stood watching the carnage below a great golden bolt with snowy wings fell from the skies heading for the bloodthirster. Awe filled the old chaplain. It was Sanguinius himself, his silvery sword held high above his head; praises to the Emperor on his lips. Thunder reverberated across the battlefield as the Blood Angels primarch slammed into the roaring daemon. Agmemnus knew that what he witnessed now would never be forgotten. The power of Horus' daemonic champions warred with one of the Emperor's greatest sons.

Here I build up the suspense and then drop Sanguinius in right on top of the bloodthirster. For me, it's the right amount. As a plus, I can picture it in my mind. I always get goosebumps when I read it ! For me that's another part of pacing. You want it to build to the proper crescendo, without it waffling too much here or there.

Another one:

The silence was broken by the gravelly sound of Dorn’s voice. “Who amongst you saw my son fall?”

The Blood Angel spoke first. “It was upon the walls, Lord Dorn, as he battled with a great winged daemon.” Dorn nodded, turning to face his son once more. He was surprised when he heard the sound of the White Scar clearing his throat. “I saw him fall before the walls, great Primarch. He fought like a lion! His hammer rose and fell sending many traitors to their doom but even he could not hold the breech!” Dorn rounded on them, his choler darkening. “And you little man… How did my son die?” he snarled in rage as each man told him a different story.

Dorn felt his anger ebb as he looked into the bloodshot, weary eyes of the Imperial soldier. They were the eyes of a man who had seen such terrible things, things no mortal man should see in his lifetime. But, in those dark-ringed eyes, Dorn saw something. Steel and fire. The man did not shirk nor skulk before the primarch. He stood taller, straightening his back, as he returned Dorn’s stern gaze. He coughed up a gob of bloody phlegm and spoke. His voice was a croaked whisper but even Dorn could hear the strength in them even as the wounded man shuffled forward.

“It was glorious…”


The build up again I like but in this one I toss in a little dialogue. Dialogue, for how I pretend to write, better fills the role of filler in between narrative and action. I'm not a fan of long lines of dialogue unless they're giving me information/pushing the story forward. The devil is in the details, and I like details (as long as they are drawn-out and boring etc lol). Narrative/action is what I like. Toss in 'factual' tidbits (for the Warhammer universe that is) here and there (but at a minimum for me) and you have it.

Good luck and good gaming,

Nate

"If you can't stun them with your tactical brilliance, baffle them with your superior grasp of BS."

"I refuse to engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed man."

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Originally Posted by TheAllFather View Post
Well, seeing as how you capitalize your characters, use proper grammar and punctuation, I'd say you qualify.
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post #6 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-16-09, 01:32 AM
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Most of mine are narrative/action as well, and I usually run through action quickly for small fights, say two on two. But for pitched battles they usually last an entire update, perhaps five or more paragraphs. I try to do a blow-by-blow, but sometimes I have to sacrifice that, because it becomes bogged down and plodding. The narrative scenes run longer then the action, and usually include more description, as it fits the character's thinking at the time. Am I thinking of things as I try to deflect a spear? No. But if I see something after a battle, I may think of it, and thus the character's thoughts might include the description.

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post #7 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-16-09, 01:47 AM
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I'm the opposite I write with more description but it is difficult with that style to keep the pace going and you do tend to find your story stagnating a little.
I think you have to make your description as graphic as possible and really try and impress a certain emotion on the reader in order to keep them interested.
Tension is also very useful in keeping the reader interested in your descriptions.

However one thing I have to mention is that changes in pace are as vital as maintaining it
the reason Dirge's writing works so well is that the pace changes
Where as if the writing is at one pace I find myself becoming bored.
Sometimes its vital to slow it down just to keep the reader guessing.
Thats just me tho ;-)

kudos to lillian thorne for the awesome sig

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post #8 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-16-09, 02:06 AM
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A good read, thank you

On the "Don't blast into action...at the expense of reader anticipation" thing, I would offer an alternative view - kicking off with fast-paced action is fine as long as it raises enough questions that you're left wanting to find out the whys and wherefores of the action itself, so it's not just an empty fight scene devoid of rhyme or reason. The opening segment of my ongoing story Incursion is an example of this a brutal piece of arse-kicking that gets the violence across, but poses several questions - who is watching a recording of a fight that obviously involves Traitor Marines, and why...and also who are the protagonists, and why are they fighting? What is this a fragment of? I like to use episodic elements that contrast with each other in pace and format, to give the impression of different pieces of a puzzle clicking into place over time.

Contrasting fast-paced action with dialogue is an obvious way of varying pace, my favourite analogy being that it's rather like having songs of varying tempos (and lengths) across the length of an album; it's also nice to spice up a dialogue-heavy segment with action, and vice versa, so the separation of elements isn't so blatant. It also makes passages of exposition, whether in prose or delivered by a character, seem more natural as the overall structure allows this more readily.

One of my favourite sci-fi writers is Iain M. Banks. His 'Culture' novels are just bloody great stuff, and he is a master of giving narrative at various points throughout the story so you have enough to make sort-of-sense of what's going on at an early stage but only start to see the whole story by the end of the whole tale. I would strongly recommend his The Algebraist (ironically, a non-Culture novel) as a great example of how to spread factual exposition along the course of a book. Excession is also a great example of how to vary POV (Point Of View) between characters and types of characters (humans, aliens, AIs) to a sublime overall effect; it's usually the Culture novel that I recommend people start with, not least for this very reason. Watching hyper-intelligent 50-kilometre-long spaceships bicker about who should be allowed to talk to who is just priceless...

Peter F. Hamilton (if you haven't read his Night's Dawn trilogy, go and buy the whole thing right now. Seriously - it's fucking brilliant stuff) is another writer who is very good at this sort of thing; he and Banks write possibly the best sci-fi dialogue I've read, as well. It all reads like stuff real people might actually say, even when it's being relatively expositional itself. Half-way through Hamilton's Pandora's Star there is a passage of pure narrative exposition that's basically just one big reveal of who the Bad Guy really is, and yet it works so well since it's placed far enough along in proceedings that by then you're dying to find out who the human characters are about to butt heads with. Also, MorningLightMountain is one of the most compellingly scary Bad Guys in sci-fi for a long time, not least because it's such a credible and self-consistent entity and not some empty, one-dimensional moustache-twirling cipher.


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post #9 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-16-09, 10:47 PM Thread Starter
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Brilliant rundown there, Svartmetall! You information and participation is priceless!

CP

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post #10 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-21-09, 06:03 AM Thread Starter
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Week Three of the Writer's Circle will be another step-by-step, keep your eyes peeled on monday!

The Writer's Circle - Week #3 [The Big 'Bang' Approach]

write on,

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