1. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Too much - the opening

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by peachalulu, Jan 20, 2015.

    As someone who introduces a lot of ideas to the reader at the beginning a story without batting an eye, I never really understand my boundaries of how much is too much. My mother likes to read historical romances and she keeps a sheet of paper nearby to write down all the names and their relationships to each other in order to keep things straight. Although one would think that would be too much she clearly doesn't mind or she wouldn't read the story.
    Do you have any opinions on the issue? Can a story ever have too much as long as it's clear? Would too many characters cause you to back away in horror? Too many storylines? have you ever given up on a story because there was too much to keep in mind at the beginning of the story? Is it all about presentation?

    I actually liked the challenge of The Stand. I read both versions ( edited and unedited ) and found it was pretty easy to follow despite the character load but I wonder if part of the ease was that everyone was a lone gunman so to speak, no relatives and family trees to bog things down.
     
  2. TheOneKnownAsMe
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    TheOneKnownAsMe New Member

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    I personally have no issues with authors introducing a lot of characters at the beginning of a story, as long as there is not the expectation that I have (almost immediately) memorized them or their backstory or other details. If the author assumes too much and very quickly jumps into deep issues that the characters have without sufficient explanation or exposition or whathaveyou, I usually start to tune out and care less and less, to the point where I drop the book and have little desire to continue.

    I quickly begin to wonder, "Who are they again? Why do I care? Why are they even having these issues?" Those are usually questions that you don't want your reader to struggle with continually throughout your story.
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2015
  3. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think with this, that's mostly just personal preference and whether you're either famous enough to get away with it, or else writing in a genre where such details are suitable, maybe expected, even desired. Just think Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones lol.

    For me, personally, I get very tired of constant character switches. I like to heavily invest in one or two characters, three at most, and I like to follow their story closely. I don't like flitting around and waiting several chapters before I get back to the character I've invested in, nor do I enjoy breaking off from the new character I've basically just got to investing in. So a large cast isn't something that appeals to me. You'd have to get deep with every character for me to care enough, and even then I might still get impatient. I stopped reading my friend's book at about 70% because a new character came in right at the end of the novel (it's a series) and I was just like, "WTF you've got to be kidding? Another one? And right at the end?!"

    And that was it. I closed the book and never went back. 70% - so I knew all the characters, have invested in them and was invested in the story too, and still it was annoying enough to make me close the book. Because by that point I felt like there've been far too many new people (these new characters weren't just characters you see in a chapter - these were POV characters, all of them).

    Too much history, too much detail, also cause me to back away in horror. I find details generally boring and it doesn't help me build a sense of the world, no. I understand it makes things realistic but I can't visualise it. I've never been able to visualise very concrete details so for me, pages of detail is wasted on me. I also find such things generally pointless - I don't care about the history of this business; I just want to get back to the character and his story, and if the history of said business is relevant to his story, then present it in a way that tells me it's relevant (such as some story event or if the details of the business affects my character's decisions or whether he would achieve his goal) and not just a splurge of infodump. Such things are just meandering and boring and downright irritating for me.

    It's one reason I can't stand Stephen King - I've tried twice with 2 different books and didn't make it past the first 20-30 pages. It's just meandering, utterly aimless writing filled with dull detail that I don't know the relevance of. And I've still never read Lord of the Rings either for the same reason. I couldn't even make it past the first page of The Hobbit because after half a page of reading about Hobbit Hole, I just wanted the story to start already and instead it starts talking about Bilbo's mother!!!
     
  4. TheOneKnownAsMe
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    TheOneKnownAsMe New Member

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    Game of Thrones is probably the biggest offender, IMO.

    I read through the entire series purely because I was on a 2 week long camping trip where we spent lots of time driving to various different National Parks. It was the only series that I had on my kindle, and I just bludgeoned my way through the thing. I hated how often it switched characters, killed them off or just seemed to abandon them all together.

    Not my cup o' tea at all. Not one bit. Everyone goes on and on about how much they love the TV series, but I can't even stomach it because of how much I disliked the books.
     
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  5. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have to agree, there's a slew of characters in the TV series (never read it) which makes it very hard. Especially as so many of them are beardy, angsty, young men!
     
  6. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    Gonna have to come out in support of ASOIAF, I think.

    Personally, I love detail. I have intermittent memory problems, poor concentration and yet Martin didn't lose me once. In fact, his forays into the various families heraldry ensured I was able to keep track of all the major players and even their banner men. Words simply aren't enough for me to remember. I need visual clues and prods to keep it all fresh in my mind.

    Earlier on there was never any confusion for me, that was right up to the point where his monster ran away with him, and he had to seek outside help to rein it all back in again. The way he ended up splitting Feast for Crows and Dances with Dragons wasn't great, I'd be the first to admit, but it was making the best of the bad situation he'd created.

    I'm not a fan of extraneous detail for the sake of it, but when it means something in the grand scheme of things, I'm happy for it to be troweled on thickly.
     
  7. HelloImRex
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    HelloImRex Contributing Member

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    Game of Thrones isn't bad, its possible to follow without getting lost and it sets up some cool scenes. I do think its overrated. The plot isn't great, the only takeaway message is that the most prepared side always wins. I like how there isn't a fear of killing off likable characters (well I guess you can also argue no one is likable), but I do feel like the whole thing works off of shock value which is the easiest of ways to get attention. Its the type of story that motivates people to take aspects of it and do it better. I'm looking forward to see what other books come out that are influenced by it.
     
  8. TheOneKnownAsMe
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    TheOneKnownAsMe New Member

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    My biggest gripe with ASOIAF is the fact that George RR Martin clearly has done little to no planning for the plot. The series started out with this dark, foreboding message of "Winter is coming", but now he's gotten all bogged down in the midst of endless in-fighting and political scrambling and intrigue, with sex and incest thrown because "Why not?"

    Maybe he does have a plan, but the plot has gone nowhere for so long that I have since lost interest in the entire series. It feels utterly stagnant. I have no interest in a series that feels stagnant. It's the same reason I gave up Wheel of Time at around book 7. It just wasn't going anywhere.
     
  9. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I think the most important thing to remember about having a lot of characters is that all should be there for a reason. Allan Drury spent the first chapter of Advise and Consent introducing all 100 members of his fictional US Senate, plus various family members. A good many of these had no further purpose in the story, and others had only very minor roles. As a result, he's slowed down the rollout of his story with no gain to the reader (full disclosure: he won the Pulitzer Prize, although he wouldn't likely do so today).

    I think my biggest concern about introducing a slew of characters at the very beginning would be the risk of the reader not running into a character introduced on page 3 until page 209 and then asking, "Who the hell is that?" So, I tend to introduce mu characters as needed. A secondary concern would be the risk of slowing down the process of drawing the reader into the story.
     
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  10. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    It really depends on the reader--too many characters and too much information.

    As was said, just enough information, provided when needed to the reader, and only as many characters as needed to tell the story, and sufficient information and character backstory to get the reader up to speed. Plus, reminders along the way, of characters and plot. The reminders go a long way for the reader, especially if there are gaps between the times when they're able to sit down and read.
     
  11. Gawler
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    Gawler Contributing Member

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    For me too many characters only becomes a problem when characters have no redeeming features that set them apart from each other. If a character has an eye missing and wears an eye patch while another has dreadlocks then it is easier to remember them than by name alone.
     
  12. Megalith
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    Megalith Contributing Member Contributor

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    I was having this problem with a fantasy story I'm working on. I have come up with a really complex magic system which has been very difficult for me to explain. It seems that there is too many parts of the system for people to keep in mind, and that makes it hard for the reader to track the reasoning. Instead of being clever and logical it seems confused and random. it is definitely something you have to be very careful with. And it sometimes requires some heavy re-writing if you need a lot of information to accomplish what you want, especially for the start of a story. Sometimes it is easier to go with a different angle and try trickling the info. It might make the story longer but a little misdirection can go a long way and strengthen the overall peice.
     
  13. Jenurik Name
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    In terms of the opening of Game of Throne specifically, I think this is one of the main reasons it took off the way it did. He doesn't give any exposition. Just the three men of the Night's Watch.

    Does Martin write exposition on what the Night's Watch, or unload the clip on multipage backstories of these characters?

    No.

    Does he write exposition on where on the map they are?

    No.

    Do the characters expound on their goal?

    No.

    But you can infer these things. He is opening his arms wide and inviting the reader to engage with the story. That, in addition to the mood and atmosphere he established, is the beauty of that George R. R. Martin prologue. He's reassuring the reader that, "Yes, I am a master of the craft. No, you don't have to worry about running into insultingly transparent info dumps every 10 pages. You can just enjoy reading."

    I'm only on the third book and know that his writing took a turn for the worse with Feast for Crows, but for my money, Game of Throne has probably the single best prologue/opening chapter I've ever read.
     
  14. Void
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    Void Contributing Member

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    I'm basically in the same boat here, slowly reading through the series in my spare time. But I would have to disagree with the idea that there are no info dumps, as that's one of the things I'm finding slightly fatiguing at this point. The world is really well developed with an insane amount of detail into the genealogy, but I do sometimes feel that entirely too much of it is thrown in our face with varying degrees of relevance to the overall plot.
    A lot of the time the conversations can feel rather unnatural and clumsy when characters are forced to regurgitate lore. They seem to speak in ways that fail to disguise the fact that it's a blatant info dump.

    That's not to say I dislike the series. I'm enjoying it a lot, especially considering the fact that I have already watched the TV series to death, and thus know most of the plot already. But it can sometimes be hard to ignore the fact that these books are reasonably hefty, and do seem to get a bit too bogged down with inconsequential details.

    Also, while I'm busy critizising something I love, has anyone else noticed that the books are surprisingly badly edited? I seemed to be constantly running into typos. On one page there were two sections of dialogue lacking a line break; it seemed this missing line break had migrated to another chapter and multiplied, because I found a chapter that had two sentences severed in the middle as if someone had hit enter instead of space. I hope the reason G. R. R. Martin hasn't yet finished his latest books is because he is actually proofreading it this time, because it seems strange for such a popular series to be filled with mistakes.
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2015
  15. EllBeEss
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    EllBeEss Contributing Member

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    I found a fair few mistakes in Game of Thrones.

    I only finished the first book yesterday but personally I didn't have a problem with the number of characters being introduced (but then I have watched the TV series). I think it had something to do with the fact that while the main characters were all introduced early on they kind of trickled in. It also helped that there were reminders about who some of the minor characters were when they were spoken about. I like the fact that the likeable/central characters die. It is a pretty dangerous setting and I'm not a fan of plot armor.

    Personally I don't mind a lot of characters being introduced early, within reason, as long as the author doesn't make all of them important right away. Let them trickle in slowly and when it comes time for them to be important. If all the characters have to be there at the start consider having a few mentioned only by name or avoid mentioning their presence until it becomes relevant, even if this is long after the event.

    I don't mind having lots of POVs as long as they don't throw to many people at me to start with. If the POVs overlap a little to begin with (they're linear, about the same people and places) then I rarely have a problem with it.
     
  16. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think it might be helpful to look at the LOTR books (not the movie.) Yes, there are zillions of characters in this story, BUT ...Tolkien starts the story slowly, in a semi-familiar setting. Remember Bilbo Baggins's 111th birthday party? There we meet Bilbo, Frodo, Gandalf, Merry and Pippen, and learn a bit about how hobbits do things. It's the kind of slow start that draws you right in. It's not till much later that more of the world gets talked about.

    Tolkien also keeps his main characters in groups, for most of the story. Starts out with the 4 hobbits on their journey. They meet up with Strider/Aragorn, who gets them to Rivendell. At Rivendell we meet the other 3 new characters who will accompany them on the journey to Mordor, along with Gandalf who has reappeared. Then when the Fellowship splits off, we follow Sam and Frodo separately. We also follow Aragon, Gimli and Legolas, who are pursuing the orcs who have captured Merry and Pippen. Once they are reunited, then Merry, Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn split off to follow the Riders of Rohan, while Gandalf takes Pippen with him to Minas Tirith. And etc.

    So, while the story contains a large cast, they are always presented in chewable chunks, and given enough story time to settle into the reader's head before the story moves on. I don't think I was ever confused while reading that story.

    The trouble is ...this is a three-volume story. You're not going to be able to handle this big a story with that many characters within the 120,000 word 'limit' imposed these days on first novels. It could be why so many writers, especially writers of Fantasy, are planning a 'series.'

    The thing is, storytelling takes time and space. Today's publishers aren't happy allowing this space. They want fast and furious, The End. So either you're limiting the kinds of stories you can tell well, or you're going to need an infodump.
     
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  17. Ivana
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    Ivana Contributing Member

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    I believe that in certain genres (especially fantasy), you simply can't avoid introducing a lot of stuff in the openning chapters. The first page of my manuscript contains a lot of info about the setting, and I'm still not sure whether it is too much to handle. For example, the opening chapters in "The name of the wind" are pretty complicated, and you simply must enter the Rothfuss's world open-heartedly in order to understand it. After 2 books of the "Kingkiller Chronicle", I still struggle with his currencies. :) But it is still beautifully written, and I don't mind putting some effort into it.
     
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