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A Decade of Storyline
ME Chick
Posted: Wednesday, July 6, 2011 2:19 AM
Joined: 5/8/2011
Posts: 13

A lot of books and manus that I read cover days, weeks, occasionally months, in terms of time span. In them, events move, and occur, relatively fast to move and complete the story in that amount of time.

My problem is I write books to stretch out for years - some cover a decade or more. Realistically, things can't move as fast in these as they can in the shorter timeline story.

My question to the jury is, when writing a series or a long, multi-year spanning book, how much slow time can be tolerated? (Such as time spent capsulating large scale (galactic) events, moving forward several months to the next major event, minor events that set up future conflicts/events, etc.) I've been tagged by my crit group and readers for having slow scenes, but I haven't figured out any other way to set things up. I'd really like to get some opinions and thoughts.

Posted: Wednesday, July 6, 2011 3:20 AM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 157

Okay, I'll give you an answer, but its the one writer hate.

When you go to a play, how much time do you want to spend admiring the scenery?

Now, there are times when it's fantastic scenery and I can spend time admiring it. And if someone is a set designer, they might be able to spend hours studying it in detail. Certainly, putting together a set that satisfies an audience is a skill and the play can't happen without it. But that set doesn't come alive until the actors come onstage and bring the story to life.

For writing -- set up is like that. A fantasy or SF writer might spend time appreciating another writer's world building. A fan might love reading the details. But set up doesn't bring the story to life or move it forward. It really works best if it works in the same sense that the set does for a play. It becomes real to us as the characters interact in it and take part in it during compelling story conflict/action/interaction. Otherwise, you could be asking me to sit in the theater and watch an empty stage.
ME Chick
Posted: Friday, July 8, 2011 12:18 AM
Joined: 5/8/2011
Posts: 13

Very true, and I do like your analogy. But using it, a part of my question would go to the use of a narrator, or a short narrative, to provide the passage of time or space. When does the narrator become a hindrance? Some good points to think about as I go through the manuscript again.

Thanks for the input.
Robert C Roman
Posted: Monday, July 11, 2011 2:09 AM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383

Actually, the metaphor still works, although it works a little better if you think 'movie' rather than 'play', because moviegoers are less tolerant of 'slow'.

If the narrator says a few words like 'Venice, where the Capulets and Montagues are fueding', nobody's going to head for the rest room. If the popcorn bag is empty and he's still talking, you know the audience isn't hearing it, because they've either left or started talking too.
Posted: Tuesday, August 9, 2011 4:13 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 245

Don't laugh, but I'm going to suggest a book series. It's young adult, but if you study it you might get an idea of how to address what you're dealing with.

The author is Tamora Pierce and the series is called "The Song of the Lioness."

The main character is training to be a knight and the books cover about a ten year period total. The first book covers four years, the second covers the next four, and I can't recall off the top of my head the time frame of the last two books. I think she does a really good job of managing the expanse of time.
Jay Greenstein
Posted: Tuesday, August 9, 2011 4:05 PM
You’ve gotten good answers, so far. Let me add one:

The time frame doesn’t matter. It’s the structure that does, a series of scenes, increasing in intensity and leading, inexorably, to the climax and the denouement, where the protagonist(s) learn what the reward is for their perseverance and dedication. Each scene begins with fewer options and higher stakes, and through the scene, tension, danger, and risk steadily grows, until the singularity we call the climax, where it’s all or nothing and the odds of winning suck.

Anything else is a chronicle. And that scene structure works be it a save the world story or getting a date for the prom.

Readers want excitement and uncertainty, but are bored with repetition. A fight scene is exciting, but suppose you put two evenly matched fighters together, and the fight went on, and on, until one of them won through chance? The reader would probably be bored and close the book. So we have the bad guy cheat, and have something to spray in the protogonist’s eyes, or a hidden second weapon. The hero is in trouble, and must use their reliable secret weapon, dumb luck, to even the odds, snatch victory for themselves, or at least find escape and sanctuary so as to continue the story.

But suppose that just brings parity? We have luck also favor the bed guy, or have a henchman appear, or… And that reintroduces excitement and uncertainty, and the feeling that the hero must stretch and grow so as to stay in the game. That’s when, in the old John Wayne movies, the hero finally gets really angry, and decides, “No more Mr. Nice Guy for me!” But that can only be repeated so many times before it’s “Ho-hum, more of same,” and melodrama kills us.

So that’s the world we live and play in, and the needs of that system set the working structure: “the hero’s journey.” Every comic book follows it in bare bones format. Star Wars followed it, Harry Potter did, and so do romance and YA stories.

I once finished a chapter, and then surprised myself, when without thought I found myself typing, “Twenty years later.” But then I realized that it made sense. The protagonist and his angel (literally) had achieved safety after a disastrous battle, and now had nothing to do but marry and work toward raising an army. And that would take twenty years of mundane events that had no reason to be shown.

So the short answer is that, sure, you can stretch the story out, but if it’s no more interesting to read than the things the reader could do in their own life? If it’s chronicle instead of story. Skip that part. More meat, less bun.

Rant over. I feel much better now

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