August 18, 2019, 04:16:39 AM

Author Topic: Say less, tell more, engage me stronger.  (Read 1426 times)

Offline ArhiX

Say less, tell more, engage me stronger.
« on: January 04, 2016, 02:08:36 AM »
You know how it is now? Everything is easily accessible, you don't have to hunt for your food, or walk many kilometers in order to find some fresh water. I'm not saying it's a bad thing. Not having to search too long for the information about that metal band feels great. You can stop being a creep, and instead of stalking the girl you like, just check her FB profile. It is all a blessing... and a curse...
You know how it is in a real life? Don't you? There's so much advertisments, so much things proposed, so much information flooding your mind, that you actually stop to care about any of it... Well... maybe you actually care, at least about some of them. But I don't.

This is also a thing I feel while reading a book or playing a video game.
Many of you propably played TESV Skyrim. Many of you loved it. I don't.  Every NPC will start to talk who they are and what they ate yesterday when you walk nearby. Many of them have like 50 dialogue options. It felt OK for first 5 hours. Then it started to be disturbing, and I was so fed up with all the info dump, that I stopped to care about the story and after few more hours of running after Wisp Mothers I unsinstalled the game and never looked at it again.

It's also a thing for many of the books. Not only the old ones, like Lord of The Rings and it's never-ending descriptions (I threw away LoTR like 5 or more times before being able to finish them), but also some of the titles that are still 'fresh'. Many mysteries from them are either too shallow, or there are enough hints for you to be sure how a book is going to end waaaay before you flip the last page. Many times I end up being more engaged with a sub-plot, than with the main one (i.e in The Age of Five I was more interested in doings of a certain pair of sky-people than about gods themsleves).

And some time before I was able to play Dark Souls. And this is where I sinked. This game only tells you a little of the backstory and leaves you to your own doings. You don't have to speak to anyone. There will be no locked gates opened by tons of dialogue stopping you. Only battles, bosses and epic music. It's a bad thing for many people, because game lefts you on your own and never shows you the way. You can speak to NPCs, and maybe you will get a little bit of information. Everything else you have to deduct yourself - from short notes of item descriptions or even from the very stats or even by the look of the equipment. You are left (almost) alone in a decaying world and plot never chases you. You have to chase the plot. And so I did. I never played a game for so long, and was so emotionally tied to it. I never cried in a game before. Here I did it twice. Not because the game was hard, but because the mix of good plot, great  music and epic characters just broke me down. So many things remains untold, and you are left wondering about it, wanting to know more, but... you never get to.
Some people are saying that it's just because there is no mystery, just a giant plot hole. That might be true.
But sometimes no story(or just very little) is the best story. And those are words of someone, who thinks that Malazan Book of The Fallen was the best series he was able to read...

Let's go back to Lord of Rings - we don't get to know the backstory of Balrog, we don't even know it's name - we only get to know what he is called now. Yet everyony asked about Balrog will answer - "Yes, He is badass". Well that might be because in a movie he was depicted as such, we are never told much in books actually.

What do you think. Can this type of narration be efficiently used for books? When you not only erase everything that is not needed for the plot, but even leave many things undone, almost unfinished?
I guess it can left people feeling cheated, and many of them will just assume that your writing is messy and you can't even wrap up your own story well, especially for a bigger series...
I ask this question because I managed to end my NaNoWriMo project (that's about time) where I tried to use this kind of narration to make the world feel more mysterious and mythical. It worked - to a certain degree. In many places it just made the story confusing and me wanting to eat a manuscript.
I planned to use it for something bigger and wider. Now when I whink about it, it would only work for something that is short, and not particulary long. Leaving bits of information scattered around in many books, never to be put together by a narrator in a clear explanation does not feel like a right thing to do in a world, where people get angry because video is taking 5 seconds to load.
"The world is full of stories, and from time to time, they permit themselves to be told."

Offline Justan Henner

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Re: Say less, tell more, engage me stronger.
« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2016, 04:01:04 AM »
I think you should go for it. There's an audience for every niche. Personally, if you gave me a series like that with the underlying premise that there is some big mystery, I would read it just to try and figure out what it was... I think I'd want some answers at some point though, if only to see whether or not I was right.

Some of my best memories are of reading a series at the same time as other family members, and everyone discussing and speculating on the various mysteries. It's one of the reasons I love Malazan so much, and several other books. I really think this could work.
« Last Edit: January 04, 2016, 04:07:17 AM by Justan Henner »

Offline Doctor_Chill

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Re: Say less, tell more, engage me stronger.
« Reply #2 on: January 04, 2016, 05:25:01 AM »
Kinda reminds me of Three by Jay Posey. (More the execution than anything.) Book told very little when it came to world-building or plot or even character backstory, but the writing made everything come alive. I loved it. Takes a steady hand at the craft, but I think you could pull it off.
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Offline Yora

Re: Say less, tell more, engage me stronger.
« Reply #3 on: January 04, 2016, 11:31:16 AM »
I recommend Robert Howard and Karl Wagner. Both used pretty much no exposition at all when it came to their worldbuilding and very little when it came to characters. It's almost all characters doing things and interacting with their world, with no indulgence in backstory.
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Offline ultamentkiller

Re: Say less, tell more, engage me stronger.
« Reply #4 on: January 04, 2016, 05:10:05 PM »
I like that strategy. More often than not, the backstories, descriptions, world building through dialogue... Ugh. It's like slogging through a deep rain puddle.
I've probably said this a thousand times, but if it's really important that I know something about the world, put the characters in a situation that forces them to discuss it in an engaging way. Or, just let their actions speak for them, with the narrator only giving some slight background to make sure you understand what's going on. Once an author's got me asking why, I'm willing to pay attention to the details.

Offline jefGoelz

Re: Say less, tell more, engage me stronger.
« Reply #5 on: January 05, 2016, 05:49:33 AM »
very ironic title to the OP.

Offline JMack

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Re: Say less, tell more, engage me stronger.
« Reply #6 on: January 05, 2016, 12:22:00 PM »
very ironic title to the OP.

Yes, but I think we'd have been quite mystified if he'd only given us actions about liking action, rather than thoughts about liking action.

Oh, wait. That's the point.  ;D

But, to the OP, I think Abercrombie's The Heroes is a perfect example. I had no idea what exactly was going on with past history and stuff. Yes, Abercrombie gives us some back story, but there's an s-load of unexplained. And it's so much the better for it.

This can be done. Do it.
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Offline CryptofCthulhu

Re: Say less, tell more, engage me stronger.
« Reply #7 on: January 05, 2016, 01:14:27 PM »
So can I make the assumption that the OP would go mad trying to read A song of ice and fire?  :)
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Offline ArhiX

Re: Say less, tell more, engage me stronger.
« Reply #8 on: January 05, 2016, 06:47:13 PM »
very ironic title to the OP.
Why is this ironic? I don't get it. =D

I'm not in any of the ways against complicated story and extensive worldbuilding. I just don't like some of the "tricks" used to show this world to us. I guess that in the end there is no good way to translate the way story is shown in a game or a movie to book's narration as those medias are just too different. You can run through a game, but you can't really run through a book. You can't use "item description" method. Some things are just meant to be told.

This is propably why we have so many books with characters that are i.e learning how to perform magic or how to fight. Mentor will teach not only his student, but also inform a reader about some nuances of magic system. It would be very hard to write long and complicated story in carefully constructed, big world without having some info dumps here and there. The only problem is to find balance - to not confuse, or even worse - bore readers.

In the end there is one method to it the way I want but it feels stupid and a little dirty. Write a story - then write a prequel to it.

I know that my thoughts are propably nothing new to you, but it's something that I had to get to myself to actually understand. And I will give a try to stories about Kane and The Heroes, as they sit on my TBR pile for some time now.
"The world is full of stories, and from time to time, they permit themselves to be told."

Offline JMack

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Re: Say less, tell more, engage me stronger.
« Reply #9 on: January 05, 2016, 07:04:16 PM »
@ArhiX:

I think your comparison to games and movies is really helpful for understanding the issue you're raising (all our kidding about the OP aside). And I especially like you calling out the "training" trope as a means of world building.

I do, in fact, prefer the idea of letting the world "happen" and nobody comments on it. I personally and ad nauseum love Tolkien. But that may be in part due to when I read it first and that there was nothing, zero, zilch, nada like it up to that point. (Worm Ouroborous notwithstanding). For me, the historical diversions in JRRT work because it's sorta that kinda place.  But again, your Balrog example is useful. JRRT spends no time on its history, but we just know its badass. Showing, not Telling.
Change, when it comes, will step lightly before it kicks like thunder. (GRMatthews)
You are being naive if you think that any sweet and light theme cannot be strangled and force fed it's own flesh. (Nora)
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Offline Yora

Re: Say less, tell more, engage me stronger.
« Reply #10 on: January 05, 2016, 11:22:55 PM »
Tolkien still had some bad info dumps. But he seems to have immediately understood that any exposition has to be limited to stuff that is relevant to the plot. 95% of his worldbuilding never gets mentioned at all in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, probably because he was under the impression that nobody would care about all that. Even in the Council of Elrond, everything that is explained is plot relevant.

It's always strangely funny how Tolkien is the cause for so many bad conventions and habits in fantasy fiction, but he wasn't actually guilty of commiting them himself. Many, if not most bad cliches come from people doing what Tolkien did while not having the reason to do so that Tolkien did.

The balrog scene is always a great thing to analyze. Tolkien was able to get so amazingly much out of really so very little that is actually on the page. Probably more by accident than by design on his part, but there's so much to learn about "efficiency" in storytelling and worldbuilding from it.

Offline CryptofCthulhu

Re: Say less, tell more, engage me stronger.
« Reply #11 on: January 06, 2016, 10:51:19 AM »
Video games and movies have the luxury of visual images, so in general the descriptions aren't as big of a priority; however, books have the luxury of how long the story can potentially be, which is why many movies have to remove certain amounts of source content and change things to maintain continuity. People might want to invest a lot of time in a video game because it has the interactive component via gameplay, while fewer people are going to want to invest time in a movie that would take as long as reading the book would be in order to watch it all. The attention span of the average viewer will limit the amount of time they will tolerate when sitting in a theater. Over three hours and you run into problems; hence all the director's cuts.

Of course there are exceptions to the rules like the LOTR movies, which have extended versions around 4hours. But even then you still aren't seeing the entire story and would have to refer back to the source material to know all of it.
“Silence is only frightening to people who are compulsively verbalizing.” ~ William S. Boroughs

Offline CryptofCthulhu

Re: Say less, tell more, engage me stronger.
« Reply #12 on: January 08, 2016, 10:28:23 AM »
very ironic title to the OP.
Why is this ironic? I don't get it. =D


I think what you meant to say is tell more while using fewer words.
“Silence is only frightening to people who are compulsively verbalizing.” ~ William S. Boroughs