Conservation of Detail & Spatial Contextual Awaren

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Brovo, Jun 11, 2015.

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  1. This is just a guide about two useful tools of writing in general. They're a tad on the heavy side, so I'll be explaining what they are atop of explaining their uses.

    Conservation of Detail

    Good writing entails more than a simple verbosity in detail. We've all read posts that are too long, or too short. Knowing that quantity is hardly a symptom of quality so much as it is simple vocabulary and imagination, one might ask themselves "how much detail should I put into my post?" This is the wrong question. It's not "how much", it's what you describe and why you describe it that matters. Remember that imagination is one of the most powerful tools of the human mind, and that with a mere modicum of detail, any scene can spring to life all by itself in the mind of a reader.

    Consider first the following Latin adage: Omnis sermo sacer est--Every word is sacred. Every sentence one spends as a writer not furthering the story--either through character actions, development of the world, or character development--is generally a waste of a reader's time. The occasional line of fluff is fine, but not immediately useful. Characters should be able to express emotion through dialogue, intonation, expression, and action. If you're attempting to convey emotions with thoughts, the other characters around him or her cannot use this piece of information in any useful manner. To this extent, there's two writer's rules I'll share that will help to get the point across.

    Show, don't tell: Where possible, don't tell people that your character is haunted by scars, show them by the way your character avoids certain subjects. Don't tell people how amazing a fighter your character is, show them in the first fight you come across. Ask yourself first: "Can I have my character show this trait in real time?" If the answer is yes, then do it. If you have to wait a while, all the better: You've got future character developments planned. If you reveal everything your character is--the entirety of their history, personality, beliefs, emotional states, and so on--there's nothing to discover about your character. Your character will be a dead end on release, and it's difficult to carry those characters into the future, because they have nothing to learn, and nowhere to grow.

    Importance demands detail: With the exception of a red herring* or similar device, you should always aim to add more detail progressively the more important a person, place, or thing is. For instance, if the protagonists arrive at a bar, unless a major scene is going to occur within that bar, it services little point to pour on several paragraphs of description just for the protagonists to leave and never return. All that work will have been wasted! Now compare this to the protagonists themselves, who will be omnipresent throughout the storyline and who are the main drivers of the plot: Any details heaped on them will carry on throughout the rest of the story. One of your characters has a scar? That scar can come back as a plot point. That bar you spent several paragraphs detailing? You could have spent that time on the scar, and the manner in which the character reacts towards others noticing it. Trust? Hesitation? Is he or she proud of that scar, or ashamed? Why? Explore this, because this protagonist will continue on throughout the tale, and so will their scar. The bar won't.

    In essence: Spend your time and effort less on the question of length--which is ultimately irrelevant--and on the question of importance. The more important a person, place, or thing is, the more description you should focus on it. You should also avoid the trap of revealing your entire character through back story, or using a character's thoughts to try and develop them, especially exclusively--no other players around you can use these things to their advantage most of the time, so it is a complete waste of their time and yours. Use dialogue, actions, and expressions to push a story forward and develop your character--not endless, internal monologue that serves nobody!

    People have their own imaginations. You can leave some details up to the imagination. You don't have to describe every inch of skin on your character for instance, you can simply describe their overall condition and let the mind reach its own conclusions. It is an incredibly valuable skill to be able to say a lot, with few words.

    Spatial Contextual Awareness

    Between the two subjects, this is the more meaty of them. I'm going to go over them as quickly as I can, but this isn't easy information to grasp. It is, at its fundamental basics, one's perception of the following. Keep in mind that each layer is contained within the previous--IE: That Location is part of Physical, and that Temperature is part of both Location and Physical Surroundings, which is part of Physical, et cetera.
    • Physical: That which is tangible--which can be seen, touched, tasted, heard, and smelt. There are more than the five senses of course, such as the sensory input of pain--but the five senses are the best and simplest place to understand one's physical reality.
      • Location: Where an object or actor is, precisely, in a given place.
      • Physical Surroundings: The condition of the surroundings one is presently within. The difference between this and location is location is where you are--physical surroundings are the environment surrounding them. So you might be hiding behind a tree, whilst your physical surroundings are that of a murky swamp.
      • Orientation: Determining precisely where you are in a given location, relative to objects around you. If you are standing between a bar and a house, this specifies your location within your physical surroundings. Use other objects to describe your position, especially other characters--it helps a great detail in physically perceiving your location!
        • Lighting: The brightness of the local area--how well it is illuminated. A street that is dimly lit up between multiple lamp posts will reveal less sensory information to determine one's location, physical surroundings, and orientation, than a brightly lit street in the midst of the day.
        • Temperature: How warm or cold it is. This is both ascertained of objects in an area, and the general atmosphere of the area itself.
        • Surrounding Landscape: The distant physical surroundings. Perhaps you are sitting in a bar, but is that bar situated along an open road, or a town? How large is this town? What kind of culture occupies it?
        • Weather Conditions: Is it sunny, or raining? Does the weather affect the present temperatures? The lighting? Your physical surroundings? Yourself?
        • Noise Levels: Is the bar you're occupying busy, to such a degree that you have to yell to be heard by those standing next to you? Is it deathly quiet, to such a degree that a pin drop would reveal you? Sound is perhaps the most important indicator for stealth, as it determines how difficult it is to disguise your sounds in the surrounding landscape.
    • Time: This is the procession of events in any given area. Keep in mind that time progresses constantly and simultaneously--that is, that time doesn't simply stop for all other characters when one character is moving. If you see someone dash fifteen feet and cut down someone pointing a gun at them without considering if the person with the gun would fire at them, they've conceptually failed to integrate time, and by extension have failed spatial contextual awareness.
      • Time of Day/Week/Month/Year: The date upon which the event is occurring. This has less to do with immediate events, and is more useful when considering the procession of time. Realistically speaking for example, someone by the age of 22 isn't going to be a medically licensed doctor--that takes eight years of medical school. Consider your character's age, consider the time of day. Nobody will question your character walking into a shop in broad daylight, but take that same action and put it within the context of the dead of night--the very same action's connotations rapidly shift merely based on the time of day.
      • Season: Is it winter? Is it summer? Is it spring, or fall? Is it an alien or fantasy world with an alien variation on the seasons? Is there snow on the ground? Would it be unusual for this time of the year in this location to have snow on the ground? The mere presence of weather in combination with a season can breathe an immense amount of life into a world and a character's perception of it. Not to mention affect certain elements--like how would a character in plate mail feel in the dead of winter? Would the metal freeze up on them?

    As you can see, there's a lot to the topic of Spatial Contextual Awareness. It goes on even longer than this, but I'll leave that up to you to research in your own time if you wish. Now that I've gone over this stuff, let me give you two example posts. One with spatial contextual awareness, and one without it, using the above elements. Both examples will practice Conservation of Detail.

    Missing SCA
    Johnathan pulled out his diamond katana. He screams and charges at the Nazis, taking them by surprise and cutting down all of them with the utmost of reassured graces. He then flicks the blood off his katana spits on their corpses. "Nazi trash, nothing can stand up to the power of Akumasorain!" He says.


    Notice how the above example fails to give any sort of distance or context to Johnathan's attack. The Nazis all stood there and died, there's no hint or clue of the environment he's fighting in, and he ends up resorting to power playing, godmoding, and slaughtering everything in sight because otherwise he can't do anything without spatial contextual awareness giving context to the time and place of his actions. As well, other players attempting to plan around his actions will find themselves struggling to identify when, or even where, these actions occurred. There are minimal details--minimal conception of the space in which he is fighting, meaning it's difficult to make a tactical assessment of the situation.

    With SCA
    Jennifer felt the cold(temperature) against her skin, shuddering as a chill ran through her body. She yawned, remaining at her outpost position in a small, wooden watchtower, just outside of the northern entrance of the base(location, orientation). Around her, the light snow fall(weather, season) across the rolling hills(surrounding landscape) made her smile softly. Then, cresting(location) a nearby hill, to the north(orientation), about two hundred feet from the watchtower. It was evening(time of day), and the glint of the weapons in the setting sun(lighting, physical surroundings) was enough to alert Jennifer to the incoming stealth assault squad. Pulling out her radio, she calls to her allies. "Incoming Krauts death squad, right on our doorstep! Less than five minutes out! Scramble, scramble!" The distant shouts of German voices(Noise Levels) alerted her that she had somehow either been heard or spotted. As they open fire on her position(Time), she drops down low behind the walls of the watchtower, and keeps her firearm aimed at the ladder up inside: She needed help, and soon, or she was toast.


    The second example is only about twice the size (still a single paragraph), and yet it manages to...
    • Tell you where Jennifer is. (Inside the Watchtower.)
    • It tells you where the Watchtower is, relative to other objects. (Base behind her, she's to the north of its entrance.)
    • It tells you what the surrounding environment is like, giving you an idea of what kind of terrain your characters might have to traverse. (Rolling hills.)
    • It informs of you yelling and gunfire: Both loud, surefire ways to indicate that your character has detected the presence of others. If you yell or open fire back, that will likely reveal your position to the enemy.
    • It informs you of the procession of actions: First Jennifer spots the Nazis, and then they open fire on her position, and as they do so, she drops for cover. The time frame of her actions is tied to that of actions around her by others, informing you of when and where her actions are occurring in the greater scene around her.
    • It informs you of the temperature, and how Jennifer is handling it.
    • It informs you a small bit about Jennifer's present physical state. (She yawned--she's fatigued or bored in some way. Subtly, this might imply why the Nazis got so close to her position before she spotted them--a mix of her own fatigue, and the rolling hills.)
    • It informs you about the season, and the present weather--winter, and snow. Important in that if there is a sufficient amount of snow, you might be able to use it to obscure your movements. It will also change what kind of camo you might need to wear to take advantage of it--just as a couple of examples off the top of my head. :ferret:
    As you can see, if you constantly ask yourself the following, the quality of your writing will sharply improve.
    • What is the point of this sentence? What information does it provide to the other players/the reader? Is it usable by characters around my own?
    • How important will this object, concept, or plot point be in the future? How much detail should I levy towards it in order to show its importance to a reader or fellow player?
    • Can I display this with actions, expressions, or dialogue, instead of inner monologue? If I can't, why, and does it matter whatsoever to the players around me?
    • What sensory inputs can I use to physically describe the area around my character? Where are they, and in relative orientation to what?
    • Can my character see clearly in the area? How hot or cold is it?
    • How much time passes in my post, and can I complete all the actions in the time frame given without violating the rights of others to act within that same time frame? IE: If I charge at an enemy, is there any practical way for them to respond within that time frame?
    • When do the actions of others occur in comparison to my own? At the same time? Ahead of mine? Behind mine? Why?
    As you can see, both of these concepts are fairly simple in theory, but difficult to master. Practice constantly and refer back to these questions: Where, and when. Where and when are you? Your actions? The people around you? The objects around you? The environment you're in? Does each sentence serve a purpose? If a sentence doesn't, why is it there?

    Best of luck, and thanks for reading my guide. If you want to know more helpful stuff, try my other guides which you can find in my signature.

    *Red Herrings are story twists that operate on the intentionally deceitful end of detailing something and using that to throw the reader off the real plot twist.
     
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  2. Thank ya for the guide, man I love ya work Brovo.

    The guide makes me think to cut some fluff I always write with, I have the problem of detailing my characters thoughts way too much.
     
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  3. As always, bravo Brovo
     
  4. Nice! Going to bookmark this. ^_^
     
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  5. Funny that just as I was thinking about how to write better details for my posts I find this neat guide.

    Nice work Brovo!
     
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