A 60-word Paragraph...

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#1
Hey everyone; I'd like to post a short (60 word) explanatory paragraph that is placed very early in my first chapter. Please feel free to chew on it however you see fit, however, I'm hoping this one paragraph explains a 'date/year system' that will be used throughout a series and I'm most curious if it does that in a way that won't detract from the telling of the opening scene.

In brief, after some discussion and help from some forum members, I decided to ditch firm dating my series. Initially, this novel was set in 2028, yet I decided for many reasons that I should leave the dates flexible and vague. That said, I still want it known that it takes place in the 21st century. Unfortunately, in that dates are mentioned quite often throughout, phrases such as "eight years ago" or "it was three years after blah-blah" and so on, start to become a bit clumsy. That's why I'm placing this early on and that will be that. In any case...

“Please God, don’t let it be like 20-- d*** it, like G6,” Rokka-Kae whispered, still having trouble with the system of dating. The day ‘the Gathering’ began, the Mad Clown decided that the date should be reset to zero. Now eight years later, G+8 or G8, America had devolved into a nightmare by design, and naturally, he was long gone.

Thanks for your input and help!

K2
 
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#2
I had to read it a couple of times for it to make sense though I think it was made more confusing by the missing letters and numbers in "20--" and "d***". I'm guessing the "20--" is a year you've yet to decide but I couldn't for the life of me work out the missing bits of "d***". I presume it's an expletive and maybe I've led a very sheltered life but I can't make anything fill the gap and make sense.
 
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#3
Actually I've just reread it again and I think I get it. The character is cursing themself for getting the date format wrong/the new date format. If this is the case then I would think a full stop is needed after "20--" to make this clearer.
 

Brian G Turner

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#4
“Please God, don’t let it be like 20-- d*** it, like G6,” Rokka-Kae whispered, still having trouble with the system of dating.

^ I like the idea of a new dating system, but the way you do it here seems a little too self-conscious. Trying to insert Georgian dating seems like sneaky infodumping, when actually just using the Gx system could be really effective. In other words, by placing us squarely in this world and making it normative it could grip us more easily, rather than trying to juxtapose it from ours directly - which a reader will do anyway.

The day ‘the Gathering’ began, the Mad Clown decided that the date should be reset to zero.

^ I actually thought it was literally a "Mad Clown" rather than a figurative "Mad Clown"!

Now eight years later, G+8 or G8, America had devolved into a nightmare by design, and naturally, he was long gone.

^ I found this sentence clumsy - my first reading saw "he" meaning "America".


Overall, though, I think this is all just infodumping - trying to explain the context of the story, rather than telling the story itself (the purpose of a story!). It's a difficult lesson to learn, but IMO readers are very comfortable with mystery and unknowns from the beginning, so long as there's the promise of slowly revealing them all. We are problem-solving apes after all and like to be challenged. But explaining the story at the beginning negates the need for questions or tension, and potentially the reason to read on.

Have confidence that your readers can follow your story without explaining anything from the start. :)
 

TheEndIsNigh

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#5
See comments in the quote

Hey everyone; I'd like to post a short (60 word) explanatory paragraph that is placed very early in my first chapter. Please feel free to chew on it however you see fit, however, I'm hoping this one paragraph explains a 'date/year system' that will be used throughout a series and I'm most curious if it does that in a way that won't detract from the telling of the opening scene.

In brief, after some discussion and help from some forum members, I decided to ditch firm dating my series. Initially, this novel was set in 2028, yet I decided for many reasons that I should leave the dates flexible and vague. That said, I still want it known that it takes place in the 21st century. Unfortunately, in that dates are mentioned quite often throughout, phrases such as "eight years ago" or "it was three years after blah-blah" and so on, start to become a bit clumsy. That's why I'm placing this early on and that will be that. In any case...

“Please God, don’t let it be like 20-- (surely if someone has decreed that the date change and has the power to enforce it, then reference to previous dates would be punishable by death and not bandied about - else why bother with the change) d*** it, like G6,” Rokka-Kae whispered, still having trouble with the system of dating. The day ‘the (The) Gathering’ began (Is it still going on>?), the (The) Mad Clown decided (decreed he can decide the moon is made of cheese but if he is making it a law then it's not just him fancying a bit of a change in his life) that the date should be reset to zero (Or should it be one?). Now eight years later, G+8 or G8, America had devolved (devolved doesn't sound right decended maybe) into a nightmare by design, and naturally, he was long gone. (Then why would they continue with the nonesense after only 8 years - 400+ years they'll have got into the habit. Don't forget even now in the UK people are using pounds and ounces after 30 years. And no doubt after Brexit the Kg will fade to nothing)

Thanks for your input and help!

K2
I've been very picky - Sorry if I've gone OTT.

Basically I don't think you need this "Explanation" You shouldn't need to get the reader to step out of the story to get this information across. A simple speech info dump would easily do the job. If done well the reader wouldn't even notice the dump. I hate proplogues and this IMO is even worse. A kind of Midlogue.

Hope I helped

Tein
 

ctg

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#6
“Please God, don’t let it be like 20-- d*** it, like G6,” Rokka-Kae whispered, still having trouble with the system of dating. The day ‘the Gathering’ began, the Mad Clown decided that the date should be reset to zero. Now eight years later, G+8 or G8, America had devolved into a nightmare by design, and naturally, he was long gone.
Why don't you spell out the numbers in the dialogue? Everyone says them differently and if do decide to spell them out, it also establishes character identity. At the moment all I'm getting back is punkish vibes. The narrative explanation is fine, but note that even that should be different between characters as people do spell out dates and times very differently from each other. There just isn't one norm that everyone follows.
 

tinkerdan

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#7
I think you can use the same thoughts and make it a bit more exciting while leaving it for the reader to figure out some of the maths::

“Please God, don’t let it be like before,” Rokka-Kae whispered, remembering how ‘the Gathering’ began, how the Mad Clown decided the date would be reset to zero, how six years later America devolved into nightmare by design, the Mad Clown long gone.
G8 was threatening to repeat that nightmare year.
 
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#8
@harry35 ; your confusion at what I wrote is a valuable answer in itself. If it confuses one, then how many others might it. Just to explain what I intended (which I think you got), "20--" was the character stopping their line of thought before finishing the year (placing it in the 21st century) and yes, "d*** it" is an expletive (fitting the character's personality).

@Brian G Turner ; without touching on every point which are all valid, that's exactly what it was, sneaky info-dumping nothing more (and something to consider when considering the balance of the text).

Your point regarding mention of the 'Mad Clown,' is also worth noting. As @TheEndIsNigh , noted for something else, that moniker was 'decreed' by the government, his name to never be noted again. That makes the point that the first time I mention that name, it needs to be done in such a way it is recognized as such. The America/he confusion also noted (a point that I tend to have a lot of trouble with. I've read the 'terminology' and lessons regarding not mixing or confusing subjects, and have a long way to go getting a handle on it).

@TheEndIsNigh ; all of your points are noted. The first regarding the date change I'm not so sure is as dramatic as risking death, just as we all berate ourselves for not applying something we know we should.

Thanks for the edits on 'the/The,' proper usage of such things helps me (in that I went back and changed them all to lowercase after reading a number of web-pages to the contrary). I'll look into it again, possibly having misread what was advised.

Your decided/decreed point is an excellent reminder for me to think in more firm, absolute terms. 'Devolved vs. descended,' another excellent rewording.

The 'zero vs. one' question you pose is actually more complex (and absurd) than that... In my 'personal' timeline, the entire year of 2021 (now not revealed) is referred to as G-1, G, G-0, G+0 and G+1. It is supposed to be stupid and nonsensical. THE 'Mad Clown,' the president at the time, determined the moment he made a singular sentence announcement regarding The Gathering, that, that 'second' dates reverted to 'zero.' So, 2021 is broken up into what looks like 3-years, G-1, G and G+1... Dumb? You betcha! ;)

Your final point regarding 'why stick with the system' is considerably too complex to waste everyone in this thread's time with. In a nutshell, the new government wants to erase all memories of life before now, even possibly, yesterday. So, the system suits their goals to that end.

@ctg ; If you would, might you clarify "punkish vibes?" It might actually be something I would want to portray.

In any case, there are a LOT of numbers used in the text and dialogue. In some cases I spell them out, like; 'Kae choked up at the thought of three hundred twenty-four weeds for salvage,' but, past becoming extremely space consuming and wordy due to the volume, formal numbers applied to dates, locations (like coordinates, grid 14-R-5), call-signs (like Reaper-379, SS-098, Sector 4-Command), etc., things that come off as almost militarized, I think lends itself to the calculated callousness of the moment. I get your point about personality differences, though I'm not sure how I would actually apply it. I'll think on it!

@tinkerdan ; your point also noted (as I was about to post my responses).

In any case, I think I'll just delete the paragraph, and any (if) explanation will come later...

Thanks everyone for your input and help!

K2


Just for the record; after poling and seeking feedback from a few readers of my previous work on this project, albeit, none of them professional like yourselves, I'm still a bit at odds about dreaded 'info dumping chapters.' I get what everyone stated here, yet like above noted how adding info into the story in tiny bits applicable to the action, was dragging that action out in a bad way.

That inspired me to question previous readers about the background/info chapters in the old work.

Every response was the same. Besides enjoying the chapters as an entertaining read, further, contrary to what was suggested in the past, using a more formal 'voice,' the readers both appreciated and preferred the format and information, considerably. They actually liked having the information condensed, the chapters placed at key points to give the reader a breather from the action... the list of positives went on. When pressed, they were adamant to not change it.

So, I need to take a hard look at all of the advice, to find some balance.
 

ctg

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#9
If you would, might you clarify "punkish vibes?" It might actually be something I would want to portray.
I get the sense from this paragraph alone that the MC is a bit rebellious and the story is either time-travel or a futuristic dystopia, maybe even a cyberpunkish noir. Hence I said punkish vibes.
 
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#10
I get the sense from this paragraph alone that the MC is a bit rebellious and the story is either time-travel or a futuristic dystopia, maybe even a cyberpunkish noir. Hence I said punkish vibes.
Yes, on many counts. The protagonist has lived a terrible life, yet in a terrible way, it has prepared her for a very near, brutal, dystopian future, that because of that earlier suffering, now thrives in. In contrast, most other people suffer to the point of giving up, much like others in her early life that she witnessed brought into that lifestyle from normal lives. The contrast for most simply too much. For her however, it is as though the world turned 'normal,' yet, that doesn't make it good.

She has always been rebellious, in fact, why she returned to America. Now, just as she had in her early years, she desires to extinguish the oppression, but, is not suited to long term wry thinking. So, she is a tip of the spear that can be nudged. The opponent in all this, the now oppressive government and the world itself.

Anarchy baby ;)

Hush....an alias
 

ctg

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#11
In contrast, most other people suffer to the point of giving up, much like others in her early life that she witnessed brought into that lifestyle from normal lives. The contrast for most simply too much. For her however, it is as though the world turned 'normal,' yet, that doesn't make it good.
Cool. Do you think this is going to translate into the way your MC speaks? For example, if she had a terrible life, then maybe she didn't go through the whole education system but picked up the language from the streets. For example some words just doesn't fit in her vocabulary, because you would had be in those 'circles' instead of the ones she used to frequently attend.

I know this is difficult, but not so difficult that you wouldn't be able to do it with a little practice.
 
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#12
Cool. Do you think this is going to translate into the way your MC speaks? For example, if she had a terrible life, then maybe she didn't go through the whole education system but picked up the language from the streets. For example some words just doesn't fit in her vocabulary, because you would had be in those 'circles' instead of the ones she used to frequently attend. I know this is difficult, but not so difficult that you wouldn't be able to do it with a little practice.
:sneaky: Coincidentally, let's just say that a real someone is used as the model up to a certain age, and until that age had a life exactly like the protagonist. At that age, they diverged following different paths. Your assumption as to education is correct, no formal education, entirely self-taught, although, practicality dictates that the character must make that shift roughly ten years younger.

As to language skills, you're also correct. However, I cannot have the main character in these first two novels speaking pidgin. That pidgin is applied to the balance of the characters who live in pastoral zones, since their knowledge and speaking skills devolve, and they must find ways to speak with others from various backgrounds/languages. The character however finds their pidgin obviously easy to understand and learn.

Now here is a tip for you to complete your thinking... When a person learns something from scratch, they'll often learn it detached. So, our character's model, in real life, although she can now read and write well, cannot break that lifelong experience of speaking in pidgin. To read what she writes, then listen to her speak, you'd think it was two separate people. That connection between reading and writing vs. speech, too difficult to make. ;)

K2
 

The Big Peat

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#13
Just for the record; after poling and seeking feedback from a few readers of my previous work on this project, albeit, none of them professional like yourselves, I'm still a bit at odds about dreaded 'info dumping chapters.' I get what everyone stated here, yet like above noted how adding info into the story in tiny bits applicable to the action, was dragging that action out in a bad way.

That inspired me to question previous readers about the background/info chapters in the old work.

Every response was the same. Besides enjoying the chapters as an entertaining read, further, contrary to what was suggested in the past, using a more formal 'voice,' the readers both appreciated and preferred the format and information, considerably. They actually liked having the information condensed, the chapters placed at key points to give the reader a breather from the action... the list of positives went on. When pressed, they were adamant to not change it.

So, I need to take a hard look at all of the advice, to find some balance.
I've had similar experiences and there's a reason I've got a few non-writers in my beta pool these days. Writers, particularly when looking to be critical, often get hung up on the technicalities in a way readers don't seem to care about. Of course, if you're trying to get your work past people who also hung up on technicalities (agents, editors) its best not to get so lax, but even so... in any case, I sometimes think there's a good Writing Forum thread on this someday.

But for now, I think you're right to dump the paragraph.
 

Toby Frost

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#14
Following from Peat's comment, I agree that there are issues that bother writers and aren't as visible to readers. Further, I think they go in fashions: the current fixation with POV may fade in the next few years, and POV will become as important as if was, say, 50 years ago.

However, I would still want to get it pretty much right. Chapters of backstory will put off some people (like me) and don't have to do so. You might not lose as many readers as you feared if there are chunks of backstory, but you will lose some that you could otherwise have kept. Also, I think that some readers will pick up on there being something wrong without consciously knowing what it is. Their enjoyment will be decreased, although they might not know why. I've had this several times, when a book doesn't "ring true", and I've only realised why when looking at it later.
 

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