August 17th, 2001
Mudslinger Writer's Guide - Part IV - By Excrucior
Size is Important
The Medievia Mudslinger is read by a rather specific audience and isn't
really for the mainstream fantasy audience. The average player wants
something they can dip into and read in one sitting. (Feel free to
correct me if I'm wrong, but I have few worries of overloading my inbox.)
There have been a few long tales that have caught the readers'
attentions and forced them to keep going to the end. Unless your writing and
subject is fascinating and well told, however, you really do run the
risk of your readers not finishing.
So how long is good? The best guide is to develop your plot, start
writing and keep going until it's finished. Then check it over to see
what you have missed. Fill in any gaps and if you find you struggle to
put any more aspects in then you're at the right length, because every
story has it's own natural length. If you finish and then start to put
extra scenes in then it's unlikely to work - you need to justify those
scenes to the readers. If you start adding extra scenes to just
lengthen the piece then it will stand out badly as padding. It takes real
skill to add extra scenes in needlessly - you have to blend them into the
rest of the text seamlessly.
For example, dealing with a tale set in the Mage's area of the City of
Medievia, you may have someone starting at Marious' mansion in the
north-west of the area. If part of the story involves them going to the
Alchemist's house in the north-east part of the same area (all east from
the mansion) then you shouldn't have them going south and into the
carpenter's shop on the way for whatever trumped-up reason - only do this if it's
imperative to the tale.
The main reason for this is that we want short stories for the
most part. If you have a novel, or a series of novels, then you can
(and must) start adding in extra elements like this to make it seem more
realistic. In a short story, you have to deal with things in a short
manner - in the above example you could have them briefly stopping off at
the fountain on the direct route, maybe a couple of sentences or so.
Maybe something like...
As they passed the market Bob frowned and told Jim to stop. "I need
something from here," he said. "Wait a moment." Jim watched as Bob
disappeared into the crowds of shoppers, but only had to wait a few moments
before he emerged once more. "Have a couple of these," Bob told Jim
handing him a pair of slender wands. "They may just come in useful."
Now if you'd used that as a way to extend the story a little then that
would be fine, but if you described it in exacting detail, with exact
costs of wands, whatever else they had on sale for maybe five
paragraphs, and maybe even inviting Lunkira out for a meal, then that's padding
and should be avoided. (In comedy this is quite permissible as long as
it's genuinely funny and has enough of a justification to make the
reader accept it).
Don't overstretch scenes - as with stories, they each have their own
natural length. As to the comment above about blending in, it would be a
good idea to use those as a plot element at a later date - not as the
main reason for Jim and Bob's success, though, because that's a touch
The obverse is also true - too short is at just as bad as too long.
Have you described events with enough detail? Have you just skimmed
through the important sections of your work?
Take the example of buying wands above. The following is the too short
Jim and Bob walked from Marious' Mansion towards the Alchemist's house,
buying wands on the way.
There's no life to that - it just states what they did and leaves the
reader begging you to tell more, or just giving up on the piece. You
need the little details - pushing through crowds of shoppers, a little
dialogue, a little description of what he bought - to make it read well.
For a short tale, you need to avoid too much irrelevant detail, just a
pinch here or there will do.
Even worse than too short is missing information which is a related
problem. An author may just forget to mention something earlier and then
bring the concept in too late.
Jim defiantly stared at the Demon as it sprang to attack. With a swift
movement he brought out a mystical wand and pointed it at his foe.
"What's that?" demanded the Demon with an evil laugh.
"It's the wand of demon instant killing that I picked up in the ruins a
few pages back," replied Jim, sneering.
The Demon pursed his lips, impressed. "Hang on a second," it said, a frown crossing its scaly brow. "I read that bit a few times and it didn't say anything about it then."
"Well, that's where I got it from," insisted Jim, taking careful aim.
"Just because the writer saved space instead of saying that I picked it
up is no reason to say that I don't have it."
"Yeah, right," sneered the Demon. "If you aren't described in the tale
as picking it - or even anything - up then you don't have it."
"Oh dear," said Jim as his wand disappeared in a cloud of logic, thanks
to the power of absent mindedness. "Aaargh, eek, ooh! Ouch, hey!
Aaaaaargh," he added as the Demon...
So - you need all the relevant information for the reader. You need
some descriptive text as well as a few actions to pad it out a little,
adding character and depth instead of extra lines. You avoid putting
longwinded passages in and avoid making errors like the one above.
The best guide to follow is that important scenes should have more
detail and length to them and less relevant aspects should be 'blurred
out'. The journey along the roads of the continent with a bunch of wagons
would take an odd paragraph here or there, beating off the Bandits or
Rogues would take many more lines of text.
How long should a full piece be then? I work in TXT files (please
remember not to send DOCs or anything else), and I usually see the longest
pieces being about twenty to twenty-five Kb in size, although that's not an absolute
figure. Sometimes you just cannot make a piece last that long - if it
turns out to be ten Kb or so, but is still good, then it it is still
printable. Sometimes a piece is much longer, at which point I start to
check heavily for extraneous padding. I usually adjudicate on
acceptability of pieces based on quality and novelty of ideas rather
As to serials - we prefer short stories that can be read at one sitting,
but if you want to do a serial then feel free. The length of each
piece should be whatever you wish, but if we have several pieces of a
series that are fairly short then we may publish two or more together. We do
have the rules on serials that I shall re-iterate here. You can have
as many parts as you wish, but we want all parts to be submitted at
once. There will only be one donation award for the entire story as a
whole - a maximum of a fifty dollar donation item award and it can still be
awarded something from the twenty five dollar donation item range -
this is because we aren't looking for novels. We seek short tales that
are entertaining, not enough to serialize in a major publication.
Perhaps the best idea, should you want to write a serial, would be to write
the first section and also details of what you expect to happen in the
rest of the tale, section by section. Send this to me, Excrucior, for
my opinion on feasibility - I would prefer to check something over at
this stage so that I can save you time if something just isn't working.
As always, any questions on this or other matters - firstname.lastname@example.org
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