Thursday, December 23, 2010

Escalation or Twists. What Carries A Story Better?

Most people reading my blog know that I'm involved in a blog chain through the Absolute Write Watercooler.

FWIW, this was my submission.  Note, that my story has a slight twist and so do some of the other blog chain submissions.  It reminded me of a discussion I'd had with friends about story format/styles.  When it comes to action-oriented stories, particularly science fiction and fantasy, I've noticed most of the stories fall into two major categories.  Escalation and twist.

Escalation based stories seem to start action fast and early.  As the story progresses, the action drives it.  While this is interesting to me early, I tend to get a little bored with them about half-way through. I've read a number of sci-fi/fantasy books that seem to fall into a generic mold.  Have you read stories that do this?

Open with an unusual finding - Mysterious temple, space ship, planet, portal, hidden lab, secret government facility...  Main characters enter/investigate (even though they shouldn't - like going upstairs to hide in a horror flick rather than running out the door or calling 911 on a cell phone) and are attacked by small creatures, or lightly armed guards.  Small arms takes care of the immediate threat, but then the threat gets bigger - new traps requiring something different:  new technology or bigger guns.  Some stories give multiple concurrent scenes from different POVs - ground troops, aerial attacks, orbital combat.  All going on at once and while they're tied in together, it's still a variation on the same theme.  The nice thing about those is that they do give different angles on the storyline, but still follow the same formula - action intensity.

Unfortunately for me, it's like watching a comedy.  I actually don't find most comedies funny.  Why?  Because I spend all my time looking for the joke.  What makes a joke funny? Timing/execution, and surprise.  There's usually no surprise in comedies.  Some are amusing, but in general, I get bigger laughs from dramas where the joke comes out of left field.  If I want to watch a "comedy" on TV, I'll watch pro wrestling.  That's basically an action sitcom to me.

Action stories are much the same.  I like anticipation.  When I've read books using escalation, I've been tempted to skip whole chapters if they seem to just continue the action or increase it (more soldiers, bigger weapons, or other "bigger action").  At the very least, I sometimes read topic sentences and skip the rest of the paragraph. In the worst case scenarios, I just put the book aside.

Why don't I give specific examples of these story?  Simply put, they're published and I'm not, so who am I to judge?  I'm willing to bet those who read this post will have one or two of their own examples.

As for the twists, those are my favorites.  These stories may not always keep up the pace of action, but tend to keep my interest better even in the slower partsYou don't know what's going to happen and can't skip whole chapters.  I want to look for the surprise, the plot twist and complexity.  That's what carries a story for me.

I know that I'm oversimplifying, but it seems to be the trend that I've seen.

Anyway, let me just end saying Merry Christmas and

Write On.


  1. This is real interesting! Action escalation seems to suit visual media better than written I think, as far as battles and stuff goes. Though I think the technique of the rising action (not necessarily with action) with new tricks is actually effective.

    You're right, though, adding good twists does help immensely with the readability. Combining both would be an interesting thing to see...a force to be reckoned with!

  2. B.E.T.
    You're probably right that rising action with new tricks can be effective, but that could be looked at as a twist. The question I would have is that if you skip an entire chapter, pick up the next chapter and can still follow along, then the plot is really being driven by action.

    I prefer a story where you need to (and want to) follow all of the story.

    As for rising action in a visual media. Just watch The Expendables! Lots of fun, not much detail in the plot but who cares.