The SolAARium: Discuss the craft of writing - Alphabetical Index in the 1st Post

Amric

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Valdemar- To be honest, I'm never entirely sure what and where my characters are going to do or go....Take Eric the Bloody in my Cyprus tale...he went in an entirely different direction than I started him in, but I hadn't planned anything really far in advance for him. When I created his 'fiance/lover', she was MEANT as a throw away character, but then I got creative and had her die gruesomely and that led Eric to do the things he did. Pretty much on a whim, as it were.

To be honest I don't really plan all that far ahead with characters or plot. I try to keep to what is happening in the game to a point, but sometimes I get an idea and start running with it, fitting it into the story so that it all goes together.

I know, sounds terrible of me...but I really don't plot much...I just kind of wing it and go with the flow. Sometimes I take something from what one of my readers might say and work it into the story. Sometimes I have taken readers and put them into the story, like I did in my Sweden story.

I loved Eric, and even earlier Paris in my Cyprus tale...but I didn't let it stop me from the plotline I had developed in the end. I do grow attached to my characters, but I can't let it stop the flow of the story. UNLESS, for some reason, there is a good reason to prolong the life of the character, plot wise...
 
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While I must say I feel a little out of my league surrounded by such heavyweights in AAR land as SM, V and Amric I must further explain my conundrum.

To be truthful my passion for Greven's Story makes writing his AAR easier than normal knowing his eventual fate does bring a touch of sadness to it all. Trying to tie 500 years of a man's history together has been and will continue to be a chore. As each book is going to be a different game I cannot jump around too much and have to constantly take notes to make sure anything I "show" in 2004 that was in 1419 doesn't vanish in say 1866 for example.

Having said all that and realizing I am straying from my original idea while shamelessly plugging my AAR I must return to my point about emotion over units or characters.

I prefer the narrative aar's as it allows more "feel" for the situation. To garner the emotions of your readers is such a joy that I truly believe that words cannot describe it. As such characters are invented and given hopes, dreams and fears.

It was a simple "Hey I could do this" that prompted the initial Para drop into Paris but watching the German forces surround the units and now bearing down on them it struck me that perhaps I had chosen poorly. That thought led to the happiness that no real people were going to die because of my stupidity. Which of course led to realizing that I am writing an AAR and that fantasy people were going to die and their story should be told.

After watching We Were Soldiers and Black Hawk Down I cannot look at war even abstract without feeling sorrow for those involved.

My plots are shortsighted I admit and are based loosely on the previous update and any future ones and that ofc leads to unexpected character growths. Even in my own personal stories I have written I have had to go back and flush out a character that has been given more status that was intended.

I do agree that when I write an AAR if I give someone a name they are usually important, then I remembered an old DM concept that also applies to AAR.

"If you only show the character's that are important then they come to expect that anyone with a name must be vital to their quest. Sometimes you have to mix it up and give dead ends. Makes the world feel more alive and populated I think. It also seems more books I read will show a character, even give him/her some background and thoughts/dreams/fears and then give them a brief part and then they were gone from the story.

OfC I've been reading $1 books we sell at work so maybe that trend isn't a good one. Sorry for rambling. ;)
 

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Sorry for interferring.

As you know, I have been writing some AARs for some time now, and I am finding myself having some serious problems.

Apart from 'The second tale of the cucumber-land', the latest really good AAR I have written was my input into 'Vikings on twelwe o' clock'.

I am worried about this, since I have two non-funny AARs going at the moment. I am feeling that I am lacking something if you get what I mean.
I know that I have four people who have been really helpful and followers of my AARs. But what use is it having four people liking your AARs when you find them crap yourself?

I have had the pleasure of reading many good AARs lately, including 'Tales of the gluttonic knights', which probably was the main inspiration for 'France and the legend of the nuff'.

I have the feeling that I am drifting away from the subject here...

Anyway, I want some suggestions on how to improve my two serious AARs to make them better. I am not saying that you should force your way through 'Return of the king' or something, I personally know the horror of forcing my way through a bad book (the idiot). But perhaps read here and there and see what I am lacking.

Thanks for your help.

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Amric

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Criticism is a very subjective thing. One some people like, others do not. I think it might prove more helpful if we ask certain questions of you and see how you respond to them. I am willing to look at the stories, but again, it is a subjective thing.

1. What is it that MOST dissafisfies you about your two serious aars?
1a. Is it your characters? If so, how?
1b. Is it your storyline? How so? Do you feel it is too weak? Perhaps you feel it should be better in some way?
1c. Is it your descriptions of places or events?



Or it could be the writer's blahs. You write well enough, but perhaps you are getting somewhat burned out. Quality may suffer somewhat, but somewhere deep inside you are dissatisfied with what you are churning out.

Again, these are just something to get your teeth sunk into while I take a look and see if there is a glaring issue. I have a feeling that there isn't one, and that is just a hunch on my part...
 

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Zucker:

I have an easy suggestion that might not solve your immediate problem, but it might provide more of a long lasting satisfaction to your writing, though it will be a bit more work.


Rewrites.

But not just any rewrite. Specifically, you could leave your post alone for a few days, then come back to it and edit/rewrite it with a firmer grip on how you want it to be.


Your posts seem to indicate that everything appears fine, until it is actually posted, then it looks like crap. The causes for this are legion (everything from being too critical of your own work to not being able to see all of the possibilities of the story until its actually written down), but just because it looks bad now doesn't mean it has to stay that way. My suggestion to wait a few days and then do a rewrite serves multiple purposes. First, you will have a new set of eyes when looking at your work. Some distance always helps. Second, it gives you time to mull over the changes in your head before making them. And third, sometimes you decide that a post really isn't that bad, and you let it be. After all, a post might look like garbage until it is sandwiched between two other posts. Then suddenly, it looks just right.

There's no shame in rewrites. Heck, I don't know of a writer, no matter how good, who never does them. There are old partial manuscripts of Paradise Lost running around the show Milton rewriting various things and there are multiple versions of Shakespeare's scipts, indicating that he may have changed his plays even as they were being put on at the Globe.

Do you think this would help?
 
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I agree on the rewrite concept. In my Eu2 AAR I have more than once written what apears to be a solid scene. Realized it was too long, broken it into two. Posted the 1st and later looked at the second half and said "ugh I sooo missed the mood of the 1st part" So I have taken a different look and written a better 2nd half.

Sometimes it's better to give your update a day to sit and look at it. I think when people write an update and they feel it is too thin it's because it lacks, visual desriptions. You ahve to paint a picture of the scene if you want to flush it out best.

Guy 1 talking to guy 2 for a whole post leaves it rather dry. Showing where they are, what they are wearing, perhaps something they think during the update, that can add "fluff" to a post and flesh it out better.

On the otherchand taking a whole paragraph to describe what one person is wearing is perhaps a bit much for an AAR. I already I have the fear that my Eu2 AAR will rival War and Peace or Shogun in it's length if I keep up my current pace.

And Zucker, Most of my upadtes make me feel like It's the writing of a 3 yr old so perhaps your not alone in that thought.
 

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Comments and a Question

First, a few comments on the last few posts-

I agree with Greven. Just because a character has a name doesn't make them important by definition ... you could do that, I suppose, and certainly get away with it but I also learned from DMing that it steals a bit from the scene you're trying to build. If your players (or readers in an AAR) see "tavern wench" then they know they can pretty much ignore her - at least unless you keep throwing the wench back in the scene and making them go "Hmm."

So I name unimportant characters too ... and sometimes they might take on a life of their own and become important.

As for your paratroopers, Greven - I agree, there's nothing amiss with breaking from the plot long enough to tell their story. Then again, if there's someone you want to survive for some reason, there's no reason they can't sneak through enemy lines, bloodied but not beaten.

Hopping over to Zucker's question - I agree, rewrites help. I haven't done it much with my current AAR, I suppose because I'm so eager to get an update up and maintain interest, but I know several times I've re-read my work, thought "I wrote WHAT?" and hit 'edit post.' That may help beat out whatever you think is wrong. Or, like Amric asked, if you can describe your immediate concerns we may be able to offer more.

Now I have a question. As a writer (AAR or serial) what do you do when you've misplayed a character? For example, let's say you had someone meant to be grim and cynical, but somehow (writing style, a chance word tossed in, what have you) he's come out looking like an optimist or relaxed or something else you never intended. In serial writing you obviously can't go back and repair the 'damage.' Do you write the character as the readers now perceive them? Try to swing the readers in a future post by emphasizing the traits you were aiming for? Ignore the feedback entirely and keep going?
 

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CatKnight,

I don't know that it is necessarily bad for a character to be a little inconsistent. A soldier who kills for his living may be fond of his wife and children; he may even laugh at a joke or appreciate a beautiful work of art. Only the most extreme of fanatics are locked into a single emotion. Seeming contradictions can give depth and warmth to a character; conflicts in his emotions can also help drive your plot.

If the problem is a single unfortunate word or phrase, my advice is to edit it out. Should the problem be larger than a few words, I would look on it as a challenge.

You don't have to fully develop every character who populates your story. In fact, for space and pacing, you cannot and you should not try. A throwaway character like the tavern wench mentioned above needs little time or space. You may find it effective, however, to give minor characters - people who are not of major importance but who have a minor role above the 'throwaway' level - some distinguishing traits. These traits will make the character a little more memorable and, with economical use of words, make your scene seem more fully detailed.

For example:

Bren lowered his tankard. The tavern wench seemed to appear from nowhere, jug of beer in hand. She smiled - she really did have a pretty smile, Klaus thought - then seemed a bit put-out when Bren gave her not even a glance. She turned away in a swirl of full skirts, and Bren did look up at that. "Nice cloth for a tavern girl to wear," he said. "Someone spent some coins there." Klaus sighed. He needed Bren, but they had so little in common.


Not that I'm holding this up as an example of good writing, just as a suggested way to use throwaway details to give minor characters some color. You may decide that description should be reserved for major charaters as a way of emphasiszing their special nature. I do think that the tavern wench serves a purpose in that the characters' responses to her tell us something about them.


One of my favorite 'running jokes' is the Name of the Case in Conan Doyle's 'Sherlock Holmes' stories. You know... they all go something like,

It was in the summer of 18--. Holmes had been employed upon some difficult business in Norway, which I have filed as the Case of the Left-handed Lepidopterist. It was a shocking business, and had left my friend unusually fatigued. This had been followed in close order by the Matter of the Muttering Mentalist and the Affair of the Affluent Archivist, and Holmes was as worn as I had ever seen him.


These 'throwaways' serve to fill in some background (Holmes has been busy and is tired) without putting the author to the trouble of actually saying anything that can be inconvenient later.
 
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I agree that some inconstancy in a character can be a good thing. For one throw a level of unpredicabity into the story and keeps your readers on their toes. And I agree that most characters have different moods depending on the people they are around or the situation they are in. The Mafia is a big example. Hardened Killers that have so much love for their families and their close friends.

If your talking more as "miss-casting" a character then that's a different animal to deal with. One of the best joys of writing can be when a character that is supposed to come across and dark and brooding initially comes across as carefree. It opens up a whole realm of option to show his fall into sadness. In the end the character is more "real" because the readers can see firsthand his journey.

I also agree that throwaway characters can help flesh out your main characters better. In the example given I got the impression that Klaus is more of a Flirt than Bren is. It could be simply that Bren is a Noble and wouldn't consider having an interest in common folk. It shows that he is more concerned with what she was wearing and it's quality of material than he was on whether she was cute or not. Some would even go a step further and suggest that Bren is more effeminate than Klaus.

Just my thoughts.
 

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This was spooky, for I had about the same thought myself. When looking at my Cucumber AAR, there are several evolvements:

1) GV has gone from a person who wanted the world and always runs in the wrong direction to a guy with little or no connectio to the world.

2) BTA has gone from beeing a glutton and a figure with few appearances to the guy who presents most of the facts, thereby overshadowing CAE.

3) Rasputin was to be a one-time appearance , but is now a reoccuring phenomenon.


What to do? Hope that no one notice and continue writing.
 
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Question on writing AAR's

Hi all,


Lately I've been browsing through the SolAARium and the AARland Gazette and I guess I haven't found a solution to what I'm experiencing.
I love fleshing out my games as I play them. I love writing down major wars that happened, and big events and so on. I like having these as reference to how my game went and so i can call this the "Third Hungarian Succession War" and know how the other two ended up. basically, I do really well in my mind fleshing out an AAR, but when I want to put it down on paper (to have and to hold!), it sucks! It could be the way that I try to write it or whatever.

I have found out that there are 3 major ways to write an AAR, game play, historic, and narrative. Now since I love history and history books(I would have rather read my high school history book than a novel) I like to try and write it that way. But not going out of my way to make sure it matches with actual history, nor really touching on the actual history of the time. Anyways, I would love to share some of my games, if even so i can come back and read it and go "I remember that!" But how do I get my great ideas in my head onto paper?

I hated writing essays as well, so maybe its just my leaning...

Any ideas to help me out would be appreciated greatly!
 

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I think the translation of ideas to words is one of the writer's most difficult challenges. For myself, I like to think my ideas through and generate a couple of imagined sequences while out walking. That way I can eventually sort out issues such as what aspects of the game are relevant for the update (obviously an AAR would be tedious if you had to create a discussion on something like "I sent a merchant to Ile de France and he didn't make it"), how to introduce them into the storyline, and what details to add by ways of fleshing things out. I also find it helpful to experiment with different techniques, if you plan to write histroy-book format there are several ways of fleshing out a history outline with details: you could discuss battles and campaigns in detail, discuss how various social groups (peasants, clergy, merchants, etc.) react to game events, I find I get best results by focusing on political intrigues when writing my AARs.

If your ideas aren't translating onto paper well, write a draft with the aid of a thesaurus to facilitate good word choices and read it back to yourself a few times to work out ideal phrasing (my updates usually go through 2-3 rounds of revisions before posting). Another good way to improve your writing is to get a second opinion, if you're fortuanate enough to known other people either into EU or kind enough to give your work the once-over. I hope these suggestions give you some help and I look forward to reading your work.
 

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Hey Suetonius:

Well, a few minor suggestions:

First...START! (if you haven't already) Sometimes it helps just to be in the thick of the battle. Zachary's right, putting thoughts down in a coherent and enjoyable manner is hard, but if you sit there staring at it .. well, it can be paralyzing. Also, if you were to start an AAR for example, now you have just a little bit of moral pressure to keep going so as not to disappoint your readers. That pressure can help you overcome any hesitation.

I'd start with something small, were I you. I see you're involved with Vicky. Vicky's GC is small compared to the other games, but it can still be daunting. Perhaps focus on one aspect of your game, such as the "Third Hungarian..." war you mentioned. The smaller scope can also help you focus for the next step.

You'll find all sorts of ideas from reading other AARs, and Zachary's idea of focusing on political intrigue is perfectly valid. Some also concentrate on the military aspects, hopping from war to war. I like the idea of focusing on a few key people, especially if you're limiting yourself to one war or one time period. This works even in a 'history book' format, just add a sentence or three describing the character and people will naturally feel an attachment (or dislike, equally useful) for him. For example:

"General Worcester was approaching fifty, a veteran of the Second Hungarian Succession War. He walked with a slight limp from a musket shot and seemed dispirited in the months leading up to the war."

So we know Worcester knows his business - he's a veteran. He's been wounded though, and if he's dispirited...perhaps he doesn't think this third war is a good idea. Will he rally when the fighting starts? Or will whatever's bringing him down overthrow him when the time comes? Readers will want to know. That's far superior to a handful of stats in EU 2, or two descriptors in Vicky.

As for general flow...focus on the important stuff. Since you're not writing game-play style, people don't give a rat's tail if you've mastered Origami Tech and improved your relations with Japan. If we're talking about a war, then they are interested in military techs, in troop compositions and movements, and of course the final peace. You could also talk about the internal political situation up to and through the war, and maybe some commentary on what it's doing to the economy.

It sounds like you know what you want to write though, and not sure how to go about it. Again...my suggestion is..START. Just close this window, and start. It doesn't have to be pretty. Just start writing sentences. "The Third War broke out in 1840. Hungary was upset because the Austrians didn't invite them to a party. The revolt was started by General Worcester. He had 20,000 men in Budapest and seized the city." You'll find the words come easier once you start putting your thoughts down on paper. You can always go back later and smooth the sentences over.

"In 1840 several respected leaders met in Budapest to discuss the fact Austria wouldn't invite them to the good parties. The ensuing arguments were particularly heated as two distinct viewpoints emerged. The first, led notably by Baron Ima Wimp, believed reconciliation was still possible, but in a fiery speech the Lord Mayor of Budapest, Killem All declared that it was time for Hungary to seize its destiny, and anyway the Austrians had that whole German-wannabe complex. Eventually Mayor All won out.

Therefore, they commissioned General Worcester, a seasoned veteran..."


--------

Also, I think once you start you'll find yourself with plenty of readers willing to offer advice. With some exceptions this is a very friendly forum with people willing to help. They'll tend to tell you what they hope to see and you can take or leave their ideas as you choose.

Another idea I personally use is to find an author you like. You seem to have read some of the AARs .... find one in your style (history book) that you really enjoy. I can offer a suggestion if you can't find one. Then study it. Figure out how that author structures his sentences, what he puts in the AAR and what he doesn't bother mentioning, how much detail he uses. Personally my AAR tends towards the story/fiction end of the spectrum, and I borrow liberally from two of my favorite fiction authors.

Good luck! And remember, it's only the starting that's hard. Once you're actually in your rhythm things becomes much easier.
 

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Tackle something small in scale first, such as the 'Guess the Author' project. There are a couple of threads that deal with favorite battle scenes (Eochaid started one and I can't remember the other - sorry!); write a short piece for that.

Second, consider wiriting up a battle, campaign, war or whatnot and let it stand alone. You don't really have to write an epic 400-year saga, you know. I had a lot of fun writing a series of essays ('Building a Better Bremen') that are not told in chronological order at all.

Third, write your story anyway. Nothing will inspire you like comments and nothing will improve you like practice.

Fourth, it is unlikely that your writing is as unsatisfactory as you think it is. Put it out here and let us comment, help and encourage. That's the best way.
 

stnylan

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Personally whenever I sit down to write something I find making a few spider diagrams helps organise my thoughts. For me that is the key, not thinking up the ideas, but translating them into some coherent form. Just writing notes on paper often gets that ball rolling. Often I then do a loose plan, which I may or may not stick to as I am writing, but it gives me a structure to work with and to direct my thoughts.

But as Director says, ultimately the best way to find out what works for you is to give it a go.

Edit: Following up on something else Director said, perhaps starting small. Instead of trying to cover an entire game just cover several aspects of it, or one Great War. By all means refer to events in the game that happened in the past, or in the future, but use that one relatively short period of time as your focus and "hang" everything else around that.
 

coz1

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I've been meaning to get in on this discussion for a few days but have yet to find the time to draw out my thoughts effectively. To take the two topics on separately:

On characters, specifically minor ones:

I have no problems with reading of a character and then never seeing them again. Some would suggest this is as bad as the "gun on the wall" theory but not me. Sometimes, they are useful to help set up the action, exposition, etc. And, as has been covered, they can become an integral part of the story through no fault of the writer. It just happens.

I find that many, if not most, characters tend to begin breathing a life of their own once you have moved far enough into the narrative. If it seems appropriate to do something unplanned with them, go for it. That only means that they are living, breathing characters which is what we all strive for, I should think.

Caring about them is obvious. Some we relish the thought of killing - in fact, that may be their only purpose for being in the story - and some we fall in love with and keep around for longer than expected. But what they add is the key. Once established as just a minor, and then moving towards major - well, it's all part of the symphany isn't it? They not only stretch the story out, which can be good or bad (but mostly good), but they add a rich texture as well.

Now, fleshing them out fully? I have a hard enough time fleshing out those main characters that inhabit my story. I assume that over time, they will become fleshed out if I stick to it. For those minor characters, if they are deemed worthy of such by the writer, then they will receive ample time on the creative block, so to speak.

As for improving writing -

Yes, re-writes are good. Though, I admit, it is not one of my strong suits. I tend to write, maybe leave it for some time, and then edit. But not much editing is involved. I'm sure my work could be far better if I spent that kind of time on it, but I just don't.

I would surely suggest pouring through the previous conversations in this thread for assistance. It contains an immense amount of material to think about and try and incorporate into your writing. As well, practice - practice makes perfect, "they" say. The more you work at it, and the more you listen to the response you get, the better you will surely become.

Further, I might suggest working on only one project at a time in order to focus your energy there. It is hard, as we all have ideas that keep popping into our heads. Rather impolite of them, if you ask me, but they will always be there. But if you maintain focus on one story at a time, you are able to put that much more into it, rather than spreading it about.
 

CatKnight

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The others have given you good advice, anonymous, so I will only touch on it here. Updating only once..maybe twice a day...is about the maximum - if you care about the readers. (If you're just doing this to show it can be done, then fair enough.) Not many people will wade through that much material. I know personally my first thought is "Wow, this must have been going on a long time and I missed it." Which means poring through the whole thing..well, I have to really like it and/or the author to even consider it. When I was just lurking in this forum and deciding if it was for me I could do that, but now that I try to keep up with several threads a day... advance mine every 1-3 days... eh. I might read the last page or so to get the gist of where you're at, and comment from there, but I certainly won't go through the whole thing unless that last page really impressed me.

I want to get back to what Allenby mentioned though. He expressed concern that at a 6/day writing rate the quality would diminish, and you asked why if you spent an hour/post. The answer is simple. Burnout.

You need to give ideas time to form in your mind, maybe think about the phrasing of a word or two, or frankly it's not going to be very good. You'll instinctively use the same ideas over and over again because they're what most readily comes to mind. Worse, you may find yourself running out of ideas as time passes...you're setting a very serious rate of speed for yourself. You may find yourself getting tired, and not really caring as much as you do right this moment.

So...while your proposal is admirable, I'm not sure it's the best for you or your AAR.
 

unmerged(29591)

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Okay I'm going to give this a shot, but be nice please.

Suetonius I found myself with the same problem a while back. About three days ago I decided to just bitethe bullet per say and post something I had roughed out. I really did not like it much, but I seem to have a reader. I must say that I have taking Stroph1's advice tried to re-write my latest chapter several times. Taking only what I like from each draft and then eventually titting it all together. I like it and I think that would work well for you as well. You like history book format to eh? Well I try to relate the random events into a plot lines as something worth notice. Example a exceptional year happened recently my reason for this on paper was an increase in trade. It is quite fun to try and relate all that happens in the game to something that acctually would have happened in history.

What did I just say? A summary re-write your post as many times as it takes and only use what you like, enjoy writing, and post it ask for advice. The people around here don't tend to bite.

Matthew.
 

TreizeV

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Hello fellow writers ;) i have a problem per say, and i don't think it has been addressed yet.

As you know, I have begun an AAR last november, called Vive L'empereur!, based on my old game as France in the Napoleonic Scenario.

My problem is not mainly about dialogue (i need to work on that though ;)), planning (been structuring the story as ive gone along) or characterization, but mainly my issue is about length.

Right now my story is at the proverbial Austerlitz of the Napoleonic wars, and i am beginning to worry if my AAR might be too long. I have already planned out the rest of it, and from my best estimate, i have another three chapters to add (which makes it 7 in total :S). I have written since last November to get to the fourth chapter, and i am starting to worry.

Do you think there is a problem where an AAR fiction could get too long? If the readers lose interest? Do readers keep track of AARs that long?
:wacko: help me oh wise ones. :) i wish to hear your advice.
 

coz1

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The only drawback (not so much a problem) is that longer AARs, particularly narrative ones, will not be read by newcomers as much. They can be daunted by the length and decide not to begin at page one. However, those that have been reading it, will most certainly do so as long as they are able to come by the forum.

In fact, I also think there is something to be said for those AARs that have a certain longevity. After some time, they tend to get a certain "word of mouth" and so that, in and of itself, may make someone begin at page one just to find out why.

But, if you look at some other long ones out there - Judge's Jerusalem and Cum Deo, both Amric's and Bismark's Cyprus tales, Secret Master's Noble Lives (and MrT's L'eminence grise while it was active) all took a while to complete and never really dropped too much in readership. What will make a reader drop is a long period of time with updating (though the true fans still around will come back). But if you keep working steadily on completing it (and even if you need to take a break at some point), then your readers will not grow tired of the story.

It's interesting. MrT made the argument a while back that the 400 year AARs were simply too much time to cover. He advocated writing for a shorter period of time. You are only writing on the Napoleonic years, but find yourself with a narrative just about as long. I am seeing the same thing in Into the West, though it really only covers 30 some-odd years. By the time I reach the end, I suspect I will have a rather large AAR on my hands. :rolleyes: