Medievia Mudslinger

February 3rd, 2002

Mudslinger Writer's Guide - Part IX - By Excrucior

In the beginning, there was the end...

Every piece of fiction, and nearly every section within the fiction, must be introduced adequately. Nearly all of the submissions I receive are introduced, but the vast majority fail to do it properly.

What makes a good introduction? Firstly, we'll examine a bad one, one that I have received all too often.

"One day I was..."

This is a very common introduction and should be avoided at all costs. What makes it so bad? There's no sense of place or time there, and the whole scene is dangling well away from any sense of the genre that the reader may have. There's just some vague information which is immediately annoying. It's all too easy to tell people what day, or what time of day it is.

You have to grab the reader's attention with the first paragraph or even the first line. It doesn't have to be a fight scene, although that works well if done correctly. It could introduce a concept to intrigue the reader, or a problem for the protagonist to overcome.

"My brother swung his sword again. I parried and nicked his arm with a swift riposte..."

"The merchant glanced at me with a look of pity before thrusting a coin into my outstretched hand."

"I've always liked being in a clan."

The three above are just examples I churned out, but each have something to interest the reader. Why are the brothers fighting? What makes the merchant take pity? Why does the person like being in a clan? You have to add little details to explain the initial concept to the reader, to keep their attention. Add extra details straight away in dribs and drabs. Try this...

My brother swung his sword again. I parried and nicked his arm with a swift riposte. He'd always fallen for that when we'd practiced so many years ago.

My shield took his next blow and I waited for his fury to subside as he vented his rage on the metal. He'd never been a fighter with great stamina, and he was only effective when he was good and angry. I flicked out my sword and sent his skittering across the cobblestones. I could read him like a book and dropped my own guard. As his face crumpled I took him in an embrace.

"Come on," I told him as he sobbed onto my shoulder. "She played us both for fools..."

You've got more detail here - not told outright, but introduced piece by piece. At this point, the reader should be wondering who "she" is and what she did - probably something romantic and two-timing. The reader starts to think about what has happened and what will happen.

Along with interesting the reader you need to set the scene, fixing the time and/or the place in the reader's mind. Again, it's best not to do this by stating it outright, and this can be quite easy to do.

The sun sank below the walls that protected the City of Medievia, plunging the streets into darkness...


The streets of the City of Medievia were thick with crowds which suited me perfectly. I didn't want to be observed...

One gives the time by a natural occurrence and the other ignores it completely (the streets of the City of Medievia are always busy...). If you just left it hanging as "one day", the reader either asks "Which day? What part of the day?" or simply begins to dislike the story. You could add in a time reference somewhere later in the narrative for the second example. Don't just state the exact time, but intimate it - tower bells ringing noon, the last hint of ice thawed from the spring air, etc etc etc. This is a very potent concept and I'll be dealing with it later in more detail.

What you may notice is that both examples fix the location in the reader's mind. They don't just state "I was in the City of Medievia..." but they put the concept into the reader's mind in a narrative style. I don't think I've ever seen anyone managing to do a good scene without making sure the reader knew where they were. You don't have to explain every little detail of the place as the reader's imagination will fill in a lot of the rest - mentioning a roadside inn will bring to mind the standard holosection inn for example, and you can flesh it out with a few comments.

Think about the introductions to various shows and films on the television. Dallas had aerial shots of various ranches along with inset pictures of the characters associated with the location. Dynasty had shots of towering skyscrapers with the associated characters. Yes, Excrucior is old enough to remember that soap opera... The standard space opera begins with a shot of space - remember the scene that opens Star Wars Episode 4? A Corvette being chased by an Imperial Star Destroyer? This set the scene for the whole film - you knew it was in space and that it had futuristic technology (although Mr Lucas pulled a trick in saying it was a long time ago of course...). The scene was set and people accepted this. Then they could start to show the real detail of the plot. Mimic this in text.

You don't have to fix everything in the first line or two. It's quite possible to start a story with a fight where the proponent ducks, dodges, parries, and ripostes to kill his foe. After a paragraph or two of this you could have a break in the fight where you start the introduction proper...

Derek stepped back to avoid the bandit's clumsy swing. He stepped forward once more to parry the return swing, sliding the bandit's blade along his own until he caught it on his own hilt. Locking the blades he kicked violently at the man's groin and forced him to dodge back. Wasting no time he made his own thrust and caught the bandit with his sword out of position.

As the bandit collapsed, his heart pierced, Derek danced back to prepare for another foe. He looked around wildly knowing that an instant of hesitation could cost him a few inches of steel in his guts. The rest of the robbers were dead, however, his companions having finished them or forced them to flee. He looked at his friends, the bright afternoon sun reflecting off their sweaty but happy faces as they reveled in their success. He glanced back down the road to check that the wagons were safe and allowed himself to smile.

What can you tell from this? It's the middle of the afternoon and it's sunny, they're on a road because of the wagons, he's not alone and he's pretty competent with a sword. The above took me two minutes to write - it's not great, but it will serve well enough. From this example you could start to introduce the other members of his party - he can inquire after their welfare or congratulate them. Whatever he does he can introduce their names and attributes, but steadily and by inference.

The alternative is to start with...

Derek was a level 28 warrior. One day he was fighting bandits on a road. He killed his bandit, but the rest of the mob faction had been finished off by his form members, so he didn't have to do anything else.

It says the same things, but which would you prefer to read? Work at your style and make it a proper narrative - blend the information in. I'll be dealing with this in more detail further down.

You need to be able to introduce extra scenes within the work, as well as the beginning. The main introduction deals with establishing the main character(s) as well as the the area it is set in. Perhaps you come up with a nice method of introducing the City of Medievia as your primary starting point. Fine, but if you wanted the characters to trade to Riverton (I know it's a bad plot - it's an example...) then you'd have to change scenes and introduce the new place.

There are a few methods of doing this. Try the following example of text.

Derek smiled to himself. He had enough funds for the wagon and goods - barely. He had a number of helpers who could ensure he survived the trek - again, barely. He should be able to pay his bar tab within a few days he reckoned, something that may save his reputation amongst the innkeepers.

What do you do now? Perhaps...

Derek told his newfound friends to follow him and traveled out of the city's east gate. Following the road he nodded familiarly at Alfred and took the road to the south. Urging his warhorse into a canter he led his fellow adventurers along the short trail to the trading post against the southern wall of the City of Medievia.

Or maybe...

Derek sniffed at the air in the trading post. He suspected that it had just received a consignment of rare spices from a far distant place and it made him want to sneeze. Snorting loudly, he ordered a wagon from the attendants and motioned for them to serve his friends as well. Picking out a random assortment of goods from the sacks and barrels available, he mounted his horse once more and set off down the track.

Or even...

Derek stepped back to avoid the bandit's clumsy swing. He stepped forward once more to parry the return swing, sliding the bandit's blade along his own until he caught it on his own hilt...

Recognize that from earlier? The first potential follow-on is not a good style for a short tale - it's too descriptive of events and as such has too much irrelevant detail. We don't need a step-by-step guide to how he brushed his teeth in the morning. It gives continuity but you can easily bore the reader by telling them everything that a character does.

The second loses a few minutes of Derek's time and, as such, is a very useful way to deal with things. Blur the joins between scenes and you will imitate a person's memory - you can remember your last but one birthday but can you remember what happened two days either side of it? It's a blur, right?

The third loses a lot of time and should be treated carefully. It's very useful to do this when you need to move the story on quickly, but you should put something after it to explain it. In this instance, you could have someone tying it in with the trade run itself by saying that Riverton was within sight so there shouldn't be any more trouble - this enables you to join it in with arriving at the post.

Use the methods above to help merge the seams between scenes.

The sun set as they rode into the trading post, scattering a few tired porters as they rode...

Try and mention the time and location - not both and not every time you do a scene change but often - and fix them in the reader's mind. You can manage with "later the same day" or "that night" here or there if you have established the time effectively earlier.

Of course, the counterpart to the introduction is the ending. You need to be able to round off sections with something that closes them or even finishes the tale. There are several endings that don't work...

He woke up and it was all a dream...

And that is a tale for another time...

It's not the end - it's a beginning!

Tomorrow is another day...

These, and many other phrases, are heavily overused and should be avoided. The dream one is enough reason for me to reject the article without hesitating (it's happened before now). What makes a good ending? You don't necessarily have to state that everything is finished (never put "The End" at the finale to your tale - it will just be removed as it shouldn't be necessary), you can always intimate that there is some form of continuance.

As the sun set beyond the hills the dragons took flight once more. I don't know about you," muttered Excrucior, "But I could do with a hearty drink of nectar after that.

He looked into her eyes and saw that which he had yearned for. She accepted his love unconditionally and returned it. Their eyes locked and the stare seemed to last forever.

A burst of power, that's all it took from the archmage, and I was free. Evil was defeated once more and I could return to my farm in peace. Wearily, I gathered my belongings and left the battlefield for good.

Try writing a few ending lines and seeing what tales can bring you there. Keep the end in mind and it will write half the tale for you.

Next - how to tell people what you want them to read.


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