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lukebn

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I've been reading through the stories on this board and a lot of them have similar issues. I figured I'd jot down a couple general suggestions. Apologies to anyone I used as an example, it's not meant to imply anything about your work!

- Many of these stories are too inspired by EU4. In most literature, the primary actors are individuals; in EU4 and most of these stories, the primary actors are nations. This isn't impossible to pull off (the book World War Z is a great example) but it's very hard, especially with such a short word limit. Stories with nations as their primary actors often read more like AARs, with the dramatic arc just focusing on a country getting stronger. Humans do interesting things on a much smaller scale than nations, and we're wired to sympathize with other humans, even fictional ones.

- Show, don't tell. You've probably heard that one before, but it never hurts to remind yourself of it.
Example: "A regal manner surrounded this man, his fine clothing a small part of a greater whole." Readers are lazy beasts, and most won't bother trying to imagine a regal manner or a greater whole if you don't shove the idea down their throats.
Here's another way to get the same point across: "The man in the purple silks stood, and everyone was made shorter by his presence." If a man can affect the body language of an entire room just by standing, then he's regal, purple silks be damned.

- You don't need to walk the reader through exposition.
"The Teutons might be brave warriors, but they were extremely stupid. They had declared their "Sternhafen Crusade" nearly a year ago, taking the time to raise support and manpower before setting off for the New World. What they hadn't grasped was that even with the fall of the German cities, there were still many Hanseatic trading posts in Europe. Some had accepted Teutonic authority, but those in Protestant nations like France, Holland, or Scandinavia had given their allegiance to Sternhafen - and, by extension, to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. So the Hansa had known for months exactly where the Teutons were going to attack."
It's important that the writer has figured all this out, but we don't need to see all of his work.
A quicker option: "Master Jurgen sends you this month's Teutonic shipping manifests with his compliments, and begs you remember in your prayers those back home who keep faith with the League."

- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=av64gOA9nXM
Don't yada-yada through the good parts!
"It was hilarious to watch. The republican infantry ran around in panic. They were completely taken by surprise."
This does sound hilarious, and I wish I got to read about it! What hilarious things happened? Did a soldier get his bayonet stuck in an enemy and then yank it out with such force that he hit himself in the face with his own rifle butt and broke his nose? Or something?

- Story structure is very hard to do well in short stories. It's probably the most important bit but it's also too dense a topic to go into much detail here. The best I can do is suggest you watch Adventure Time, which condenses complete, satisfying stories into ten-minute arcs once a week. Orson Welles learned to make movies by sitting down and watching Stagecoach forty times in a row, and the first movie he made was Citizen Kane.

Most importantly:
- Making writing mistakes doesn't make you a "bad writer." Writing's not like music or math, where you can just be born with incredible talent. Pay close attention to what works and what doesn't, keep seeking criticism, revise furiously.
 

Lalalilo

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While I understand many of your points and agree with them on a general basis, I would just like to point out (this is all done in a friendly manner, somehow whenever I write a contrary opinion I end up sounding like a condescending ass hole so don't take it personally) that this was after all a short story contest based on EU IV.

As such, saying strictly for myself, I wanted to convey the way the game plays to a degree (making decisions, being able to change the history of any nation etc.) and how it might feel for a whole manner of characters. I of course understood the perils of my undertaking, and decided to risk it anyway. Making a character driven story for a game like Crusader Kings would have been easier and would have made mores sense. For a game like EU IV I personally felt like a more grand scale is required. Of course this ended up being my undoing (or at least I think it did), because the story turned out to not really stand out, as a more personal and original approach proved more effective (looking at the short description of the winners and comparing it to the stories in our little losers corner. I of course am not even attempting to claim that I could ever produce a griping tale of a crippled inuit women struggling for survival in the harsh conditions of the French Revolution on par with the better stories. But I am claiming that it would definitely set itself apart).

Another thing that was also influenced by the whole EUIV thing is that I actually really enjoy exposition, especially if it regards nations going at each others throats, state interests and the lot. I can understand why such a thing might seem boring(even more so for the poor editor having to read his 70th entry of the rise to power of some obscure indian tribe), but for me these are always the more interesting things in the novels and the short stories.

I hope you don't take my remarks negatively as I greatly appreciate you taking the time to give out your well written and sound arguments (and everyone elses too), and I also hope to get more advice from you (and others). The one thing I hate about the internet is how hard it is to criticize and debate without it all feeling too personal. Maybe every reply should have some sort of disclaimer:)
 

lukebn

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I don't mind your response at all-- that's probably the most interesting point on the list to discuss, since the others are just standard writing tips and that one's specific to this contest.

You're right that part of the problem was AAR-style stories didn't stand out, since EU4 tends to frequently generate the same story arc (a little country outsmarts its enemies and becomes a big country). But I also think that's an inherently hard arc to capture in 5000 words, since it tends to unfold over decades. I'd usually rather read a story that takes a close look at one place and time rather than a quick look at many. All three of the winners dealt with this the same way: they all take place at least a century after their point of departure, which enables them to show the results of the changed world without describing the process.

I didn't really mean to say that you shouldn't have exposition at all; more that exposition should be implied by the story rather than stuffed in as a parenthetical. I love getting to figure out clever details without having them explained to me, like the way your story implies technological stagnation without literally saying "Also, you should know that technology was held back by the Ryukyan Conquest!" On the other hand, you might want to cut back on parentheticals explaining things like Finnmark Amter and hana-nunus and find a way to describe where they are and what they're wearing within the text.

There are some great books that unfold over long periods of time-- One Hundred Years of Solitude and A Canticle For Leibowitz are two of my favorites-- but they have the advantage of length. If you're going to keep working on your story, I'm sure you'll enjoy having the freedom to make it as long as you want!
 

Tomas H

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Great discussion. Exactly this point was probably the most difficult aspect of picking the winners of the contest. The stories that came out on top are quite diverse, but one thing they have in common is that they manage to do both - they tell a personal story about human beings, but they also depict a rich alternate history that could come right out of an EU4 game - often by letting the reader infer what has happened throught the actions and fates of the protagonists. I'm not saying these three were the only ones who managed to do this - there were plenty more, to be sure - but we had to pick three. :)

A Canticle For Leibowitz
One of my all-time favorite books, I might add! :)
 

Mjarr

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- Many of these stories are too inspired by EU4. In most literature, the primary actors are individuals; in EU4 and most of these stories, the primary actors are nations.

- You don't need to walk the reader through exposition.
I might as well note while in general the advice is sound, there should be no reason to avoid using exposition to establish something necessary for the story. Throwing a bone and laying some foundation does not hurt, since it's extremely easy to go in the opposite direction where the story is extremely subtle and deliberately ambiguous, confusing, and tricky to read because one needs to have encyclopedic knowledge of history and do some meta-detective work to even understand where one even got started. After all, one of the bench marks of the contest was to be readable and comprehensive even for people who do not share one's depth of knowledge and insight.

Of course where it crosses to plain spoonfeeding is up to interpretation and dependent on context of a story, but after all the purpose is to tell a story, and what suits the story best can easily bend common advices on writing for rhetorical purposes as long as one does not go overboard with it.