1. deltaquid
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    deltaquid Member

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    Story too "cramped"?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by deltaquid, Nov 28, 2009.

    Hello everyone. I'm new at writing stories, but my friends all told me I am good at it, so they encouraged me to start writing in my spare time. So after writing short stories for a while, I decided to start writing a full-blown fantasy story. I wrote a few parts of it, but a friend of mine who reviewed it said that some parts "feel cramped. As if you're trying to tell too much at the same time. But maybe that's just me."
    Indeed, maybe that's just him. That's why I need some constructive criticism outside of the usual "It's good, now let me get back to whatever I was doing" I get.

    I-person is talking with his brother (Dawn) about a new person in town.

    “Sounds like a loveable character.” I commented. The sarcasm must have been clear enough. “Oh, he sure is. He's been here only three days and he has been burning through our ale stockpiles at a ridiculous rate. In fact, I bet we'll be out of beer by next month if he keeps up like this.” I attempted to get an apple once again. I cautiously got up, spread my arm out as far as I could and reached out for a big apple, not far above me. Or so I thought. I completely stretched out, but my fingers just barely touched the fruit. “Hey, watch out! You're going to-” I jumped and my hand completely enclosed around the apple. Then, as I landed, my foot slipped from the branch and slid along. My other foot did as well, but unfortunately at the other side of the branch. It felt like the power of a thousand gods struck me in the groin, and I fell like a ragdoll. Dawn quickly rolled out of the way as I slammed head-first into the ground below. It took a while to recuperate, but I managed to look up after a few seconds. Still, the pain in between my legs distracted me from the blood running down my nose. I rolled to the side, one hand holding my nose, the other one holding my crotch. I slowly opened my eyes. Dawn was sitting in front of me, eating what looked like a particularly juicy apple.

    Your thoughts? I don't quite see what's wrong with it. (apart from some minor grammatical errors, maybe.) In fact, feel free to point out anything else that might be wrong, but I'm trying to focus on the flow here.
     
  2. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    “Sounds like a loveable character,” I commented. The sarcasm must have been clear enough.

    “Oh, he sure is. He's been here only three days and he has been burning through our ale stockpiles at a ridiculous rate. In fact, I bet we'll be out of beer by next month if he keeps up like this.”

    I attempted to get an apple once again. I cautiously got up, spread my arm out as far as I could and reached out for a big apple, not far above me--or so I thought. I completely stretched out, but my fingers just barely touched the fruit.

    “Hey, watch out! You're going to--”

    I jumped and my hand completely enclosed around the apple. Then, as I landed, my foot slipped from the branch and slid along. My other foot did as well, but unfortunately at the other side of the branch. It felt like the power of a thousand gods struck me in the groin, and I fell like a ragdoll.

    Dawn quickly rolled out of the way as I slammed head-first into the ground below. It took a while to recuperate, but I managed to look up after a few seconds. Still, the pain in between my legs distracted me from the blood running down my nose. I rolled to the side, one hand holding my nose, the other one holding my crotch. I slowly opened my eyes. Dawn was sitting in front of me, eating what looked like a particularly juicy apple.


    Hi, Delta.
    To me, it makes the world of difference dividing that dense block of text into paragraphs, as I've just done above. For one thing, it sorts out when a different person is speaking.
    For me, it's also complicated and unattractive not knowing until the end that the second speaker is Dawn.
    You have a lot of very nitty-gritty and tiresome detail about movements as well--do you think it's all necessary?
    Perhaps some of these things made your friend feel it was ‘cramped’?
     
  3. deltaquid
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    deltaquid Member

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    Hi Madhoca, thanks for your reply.

    The part about Dawn being the second speaker is actually mentioned early on in the story, I simply didn't put it anywhere in the beginning of this part, so it wouldn't have been as confusing in context.
    I kind of understand that all the movement detail might be tiresome, but I personally feelslike I make everything go too fast if I omit parts of it.

    Actually, I was reading about tempo when writing that part. The author says that writing things in detail is like slow-motion in movies, but in book form. Again, this amount of detail is only at this particular part of the text.

    Lastly, thanks for mentioning that I should split it up. I'll keep that in mind.
     
  4. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    I did not feel that it moved too fast or was cramped, but if he was referring to this part, I can clearly see what your friend was trying to say: As I read this, I was disoriented because your description of him falling upon his crotch was unclear.
    I personally love step-by-step description, but it is not easy to do without either making the writing long-winded, or being incomprehensible.

    Review this, yourself, and try to think what your reader is seeing, rather than seeing what you intend for him to see.

    Also, you are supposed to start a new paragraph every time you change speakers.

    Both of your speakers were on the same line, and that made the dialogue confusing.
     
  5. Mercurial
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    Mercurial Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with madhoca about the spacing, definitely. Your originally posted paragraph is incredibly dense, and not only is it daunting to read but a little confusing without space. Madhoca did a fabulous job of how to appropriately lengthen your piece there. I feel like that alone is enough to make it a much more enjoyable read, but if you're up for it...

    Another idea would be to take out some of the step-by-step detail (this happened, and then this happened, and then this...) and instead placing it with scenery instead. More simply, I mean, show --and dont tell. We're all familiar the mechanics of a fall. You can omit some of those step-by-steps, and we'd be on the same page still. You do this well when you mention that Dawn is eating an apple. You dont say that the apple fell out of his hand and she picked it up, but we understand that anyway. I absolutely loved that. :)

    What we dont know are things like: How high was he up in the tree? Were the branches particularly tricky, or is he just a klutz? Maybe tell us about the scenery. What did the tree look like? What does Dawn look like. What does your narrator look like? What time is it? What's the weather like? Answering these questions subtly helps take the reader there. And when I say subtly, this is an example of what I mean:

    I jumped and my hand completely enclosed around the barely ripe green/red apple. The branches, gnarled and still wet from the rainfall last night, created perfect circumstances for an easy fall. As my Chuck Taylors collided with the limb, I felt myself slip and slide along.

    I'm by no means telling you how to write your story. :) I provided this example to illustrate how scenic detail can elongate a piece and avoid that cramped feeling, and you can further draw in the reader, as if they were seeing it play like a movie.
     
  6. Phantasmal Reality
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    Phantasmal Reality Contributing Member

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    It feels cramped to me only because you're going into too much detail about actions. In other words, you don't have to describe the motion of tripping; just say that he tripped. Here is my rewrite:

    “Sounds like a loveable character.” I commented. The sarcasm must have been clear enough.

    “Oh, he sure is. He's been here only three days and he has been burning through our ale stockpiles at a ridiculous rate. In fact, I bet we'll be out of beer by next month if he keeps up like this.”

    I attempted to get an apple once again. I cautiously got up, spread my arm out as far as I could and reached for a big apple. Just a little farther....

    “Hey, watch out! You're going to-”

    I jumped and managed to snag the apple, but my foot slipped from the branch on my way down, and before I knew it, I was straddling the branch like a rag doll. I used to think that seeing stars was just an expression, but I saw them then. Lots and lots of them.

    Dawn rolled out of the way as I slid past her and dropped to the ground below. I don't know which was worse, the first landing or the second. They both hurt like hell.

    I don't know how long it took me to regain my senses, but when I did, I wished I could lose them again. I slowly rolled to the side--one hand holding my nose, the other resting on my crotch--and when I finally gathered the strength to look up, my heart sank. There was Dawn, sitting in front of me with a victorious smile and a half-eaten apple in her hand.
     
  7. deltaquid
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    deltaquid Member

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    Thanks for the replies, I understand what you're trying to say. Indeed, if I compare Phantasmal's version to mine, I see what I could have done better.

    On a side note, does Dawn really sound like a girl's name? :p

    EDIT: Wait, Mercurial mentioned "show, don't tell". So, for example, instead of writing:

    "Dad didn't understand what I was trying to say."

    I should write

    "Dad raised an eyebrow when I said that."

    ?
     
  8. Phantasmal Reality
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    Phantasmal Reality Contributing Member

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    The only Dawn I know is a girl, so yes, it sounds like a girl's name to me. (Of course, I reread your first post and see now that Dawn is supposed to be a boy, so my apologies for the mix up in my example. :p)

    As for "Dad didn't understand what I was trying to say" vs. "Dad raised an eyebrow", it really depends on the context. The first is suitable for exposition, whereas the latter is better used as a dialogue tag. For example:

    1) Exposition

    I wanted to go to the rock concert with my friends, but my dad was firmly against it. I tried to reason with him, but he just didn't understand what I was trying to say. In his mind, rock and roll was evil, plain and simple.

    2) Dialogue

    "Why can't I go to the concert?" I glared at my dad. "All the other guys are going."

    "You can't go. Rock and roll is evil."

    "Only in your eyes, dad. Did you ever stop to think that you might be wrong for once?"

    My dad raised an eyebrow when I said that.

    "You're right," he said after a long pause. "I might be wrong... but you still can't go."

    "Weak!"


    In the end, you accomplish the same thing. It's just a matter of choosing which works best for the story you're writing.
     
  9. deltaquid
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    deltaquid Member

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    Okay, I get it now.

    That said, is there any general rule for when I should switch from exposition to dialogue, and vice versa?
     
  10. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I didn't mention this, but Dawn was a VERY popular girl's name during the sixties, in the UK anyway! I've never come across it as a boy's name--but there's always a first.
     
  11. deltaquid
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    deltaquid Member

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    Oh, right. This is what happens if you use a random generator and say "Hey, that sounds okay for my character."

    Let's just hand wave it and say his parents were hoping for a girl.
     
  12. Phantasmal Reality
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    Phantasmal Reality Contributing Member

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    Well, you could change the name from Dawn to Don. Same sound, different gender. :)

    Anyway, I don't think anyone can really give you a firm guideline for when to use exposition over dialogue (at least not a "one size fits all" kind of guideline). They each have their pros and cons. Exposition gets things done quickly, at the cost of reader involvement and intimacy. Dramatization, such as fully fleshing out a conversation using dialogue, takes longer and slows things down, but you immerse your reader and give them a chance to get to know your characters better. You have to weigh the costs and benefits of each and decide which is right for that particular scene in your story.

    For example, using the example from my last post, you could use exposition to quickly blow through the guy's argument with his father, then slow down and show him angrily telling his best friend about what a douche his dad is. That's going to give the story one kind of feel, whereas showing the conversation with the dad and summarizing the resulting rant to his best friend will give it another. Neither is right or wrong; they're just different. You have to choose which one tells the story that you have in your head. :)
     
  13. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    If you apply the MRU or ERTE method, which I talk about in my blog and link to in my sig, you can extend just about any scene. It is an easy way to break up blocks of action and get the character interacting with everything around him.

    You can also add bits of detail as another member recommended. I'm not going to rewrite what you wrote, but I will add information using the ERTE method. My insertions will be in blue.


    “Sounds like a loveable character.” I commented. The sarcasm must have been clear enough.

    “Oh, he sure is. He's been here only three days and he has been burning through our ale stockpiles at a ridiculous rate. In fact, I bet we'll be out of beer by next month if he keeps up like this.”

    Her talk of beer didn't really interest me, but the red apple did. I attempted to get an apple once again. I cautiously got up, spread my arm out as far as I could and reached out for a big apple, not far above me. Or so I thought. which hung from a droopy branch, still wet from the afternoon rain. I completely stretched out, but my fingers just barely touched the fruit. waxy skin, and in doing so, I overstretched my tendons and muscles, sending a burning pain along the underside of my arm and the backside of my leg.

    “Hey, watch out! You're going to-”

    I flenched at his words, then hesitated. He was wrong, though; I was almost there. (This is a reaction to Dawn). I jumped and my hand completely enclosed around the apple that was cool to the touch. Finally, it was mine. I sure showed Dawn. Then, as I landed, my foot slipped from the branch and slid along. slipped out from under me, which sent tingles down my arms and spine. It was that feeling one gets right when they slip and they know they are in for a hard landing. My other foot did as well, but unfortunately at the other side of the branch. slipped the opposite way, and for a second, I saw the branch speeding between my legs. I scrunched my eyes shut as if doing so would make everything okay. Of course it didn't. It felt like the power of a thousand gods struck me in the groin, and and then I fell like a ragdoll.

    Dawn quickly rolled out of the way as I slammed head-first into the ground below. and smashed into the grass, luckly missing the boulder.

    It took a while to recuperate, but I managed to look up after a few seconds. And caught a glimpse of the bright-blue sky before closing my eyes again. Still, the pain in between my legs distracted me from the blood running down my nose. It was sticky and tasted like metal, but before wiping it off, I rolled to the side, one hand holding my nose, and the other one holding my crotch. I slowly opened my eyes, hoping that this time the bright sky didn't strike my eyes with needles.

    Dawn was sitting in front of me, eating what looked like a particularly juicy apple.

    Next, write his reactions to seeing Dawn eating the apple he worked so hard to get.

    I laughed; even though, I was irrated at the fact he was eating my apple. The sweet juices should be bursting in my mouth right now. I shot him a dirty look.
     
  14. Mercurial
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    Mercurial Contributing Member Contributor

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    It all depends on the context; sometimes the former works, sometimes the latter works. I find the latter works better in most situations, so in my opinion, yes. :) Of course, writing is a very subjective process.

    Also, by the way-- I took Dawn as a female's name; I've never heard of a male named Dawn.

    I really enjoy your style; good luck! :)
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    that's it!

    you're doing what i call 'micro-managing' or 'breathe in/breathe out' writing... being obsessive over every tiny, trivial detail of every single physical movement, making the reader fume, wanting you to 'get on with the bleepin' story, for pete's sake!'...

    read good writing by the best writers [doesn't = the most popular] constantly, to absorb what good writing looks/feels/sounds like... compare their description of action with yours and you should see what i mean...
     
  16. deltaquid
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    deltaquid Member

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    I guess this absolute need to control everything is a habit from video games. God help you if you don't give the right order at the right time in CoH. :p

    I'll try to keep everything here in mind. Architectus gave some really good advice, thanks!
     
  17. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    A very wise man (Cogito) once said to avoid the mundane

    Separate into paragraphs each time the speaker switches
     

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