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Arrive late, leave early

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Gryphos, Jul 29, 2017.

  1. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

    I'm quite fond of the writing maxim: 'arrive late, leave early', mainly because I hate transitions. I don't know what it is, but getting people into scenes is just one of the little things that gives me so much trouble (having them walk into the room, take a seat, get comfortable, etc. it's so much of a hassle).

    I end up much preferring to just cut straight to the characters already being exactly where they need to be when the scene gets going. And when the scene's done its purpose, cut to black like it's The Sopranos and get on with the next scene.

    It's certainly efficient, but I can see there being a risk of giving the reader a kind of whiplash from jumping straight into a scene rather than setting the stage, as it were. At what point does 'arriving late and leaving early' become a detriment? Is it possible to arrive too late and leave too early?
  2. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    When? When it damages the story. And obviously, yes, it's possible to go wrong in either direction. I've found myself falling asleep (too late) or saying wtf (too early) with published works. Now, usually the wtf is just a cliffhanger... which can also be damned annoying when done too often whether it's for the use as a hook or as a place to chop a chapter. Brent Weeks is guilty of this IMO. He uses breaks for pacing, I guess, and ends on notes of tension. But I'd personally rather see longer chapters. But, could just be me.
  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Sure. It's possible to do *anything* wrong. Voice of experience here. But let's do specifics.

    Time. If there's a jump in time--days have elapsed or, in some cases, even hours--then the reader needs to know. Because in the reader's mind, everything is happening right here, right now, with these characters, unless you tell us otherwise.

    So, if there's a change in scene, let us know.
    If the POV changes, let us know.
    If the cast has changed, let us know.

    One way to do this is to walk us to the new location, let us watch the sun set or rise, let us see new characters arrive and walk us all over to the table. But that's not the only way to do it.

    IOW, I don't think it's about arriving late, leaving early as much as it is handling the transition gracefully. This is one of those places that beta readers and especially an editor are very nearly a requirement. The author usually knows too much.
  4. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Inkling

    YES! Thank you! It seems like that's become normative in newer writing. Sometimes it works, but it's so easy for lazy writers to overuse. It's kind of like how I love telenovellas and can't get enough of them for the first 30-60 episodes, but I rarely stick with them to the end because there's no way I'm going to watch 100+ hours of a show to figure out if the FMC is going to leave the cartel & run off with her childhood friend ... or whatever :) Eventually, ending on a cliffhanger gets old after awhile (even if they're shocking ... like the childhood friend wants to run away with FMC ... but only to join a rival cartel run by his long lost mother *gasp* who happens to be FMC's mother too *gasp* making them half-siblings *gasp* except not really because she was switched at birth *gasp*). If followed religiously, the "End with a cliffhanger" advice breeds melodrama which can be fun if that was the intention, otherwise it starts feeling over the top and ridiculous, or possibly worse, formulaic and boring.

    I think TIME is a very good point. If there's a lapse, we need to know.

    Another thing that might be worth pointing out the question of whether you like jump cuts in film or in books ... these are two separate things. If you jump cut to avoid showing the character walking into the next room and sitting down, I would probably assume it was an inconsistency on the writer's part, rather than an intentional choice. If you jump cut from the character feeling off to her in an ambulance, it tells the reader what happened in between was either drastically less important than the fact that emergency services are hauling her away, or that she may have blacked out. There, it feels intentional. Of course, you see this sort of thing very often in Mysteries & Thrillers (especially those with multiple POV's) so there are probably thousands of other examples ... that being said, in order to have a coherent flow between events, and not a sporadic handful of events jumping from one scene to the next, you might need to strike some sort of balance. Maybe a 2:1 Transition to jump cut or an even 1:1 - whatever you think works better.
    Demesnedenoir likes this.
  5. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    I think "in late, out early" is a very good guideline.

    But as with so much of our language, how "late" and "early" are interpreted makes a difference.

    Skip's point about transitioning, especially when there's a significant leap in time, place, or POV, is a fair point. I think, however, this can be achieved very simply in many cases and won't require a lengthy scene-setting. A simple sentence and/or mention of a character's name can clue a reader in immediately; i.e., context cues.

    In general, I don't think late and early need to be interpreted at their extremes and are not meant to be interpreted that way in that bit of advice. A paragraph or two setting up the action that's about to happen is still "late." A paragraph or two of sequel-ish dénouement after the action is still "early." Or three paragraphs, maybe even four. Maybe even more; is the character already thinking of what's coming in 10 paragraphs? Then maybe that's "late" enough.

    The advice seems to be mostly proscriptive in nature: i.e., to prevent extremely long setups and long after-action deflation.
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2017
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  6. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I have a tendency to arrive "very early" - early enough in fact that the story gets bored and wanders off somewhere else before the party even starts. It's what happens if I don't have an outline. There's this need to explore and explain all the things I'm not fully clear on, so there's a whole load of setup and then no action because the action's no longer relevant - or I got distracted, or something.

    When I wrote Emma's Story I fixed this by swapping into a narrator voice in between scenes. This voice explained in very broad strokes what was happening between the various scenes that were from the characters point of view. I enjoyed it, and I felt it worked out well.

    I'll be using a similar method in my current WiP. Not exactly, but similar. I've borrowed the word "montage" from tv/film to describe those sections. I'll be using those to show how time passes and what the characters do for the duration. It'll be a good way to show things that are important to the character/story development, but which aren't particularly interesting to read about \.

    For example: my character Alene has to take a job as a train hostess for a while. The exact nature of the job isn't important, and nothing interesting happens while she works, but it's important that the reader understand she's putting in a lot of hours, and that she's really tired and overworked when next we meet her.
  7. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

    I agree with much of what's been already said. Yes, you can arrive too late or leave too early, and when that happens, reader confusion is the result, rather than reader intrigue. Beta readers are your best friends here.

    Regarding transitions, if you have actions for your characters to take at the beginning of a scene that can be interwoven with dialogue, that's great. It gives you a way to avoid dialogue tags. You don't have to wait to have people saying important stuff until everyone is seated and comfortable.

    @FifthView makes a good point about indicating the passage of time or change of place through context cues. When a reader sees a break in the text indicative of a scene change, she will be on the lookout for statements or clues about how the scene has changed. You don't have to be on-the-nose with these every time.

    Some authors use headers on their chapters that explicitly state the day, time, and/or location where each chapter starts. Makes chapter transitions easier. In-chapter scene changes still have to be dealt with, of course.

    I'll also add here that I like at least some short chapters when I'm reading, and don't care for any really long chapters. When a chapter is closing in on 5K words, I want it to end. I like having those tense chapter endings. They do work to draw me further into the book. If a book has too many long chapters, I often find myself putting the book down in the middle of a chapter and then not going back to it for days or months, if ever. I know not everyone is like that, but I don't want writers thinking everyone prefers lengthy chapters.
  8. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    I've been thinking of this topic lately, using Brandon Sanderson's idea of sense of progress.

    The important thing in "in late, out early" as a piece of advice is not so much an arbitrary measurement of "early" or "late" but rather in how the advice is meant to insure that the reader always feels a sense of progress.

    The story is progressing, the plot is progressing, or some bit of character development is progressing.

    I'd say that one result of failing to use the "in late, out early" approach is ... thumb-twiddling. (Been thinking of Devor's thread on jargon used on this forum; I might add that term, heh.) Basically, thumb-twiddling is failing to deliver a sense of progress for the reader. That's how you know you are in too early or are leaving too late. You're basically twiddling your thumbs, waiting for something to happen later (in too early) or else taking a long pause after events have happened (leaving too late.)

    One thing about that sense of progress: often, the sense will be through a character's perspective. If the character feels she is in the process of progressing—toward something, maybe a goal or else maybe even being forced down a path—then a reader's likely to feel a sense of progress also. Things are moving along. There are other ways of doing it. I mention the character experience as only one viable way to give a reader a sense of progress. The point is that the number of paragraphs involved isn't as important as the sense of progress, or its lack, in those paragraphs.
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2017
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  9. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    This is a matter of style. It's just one of those things where you have to sit back and think about whether "arrive late, leave early" fits the atmosphere and genre and such of your story. For instance, it works very well, in general, for thrillers and suspense and some types of mystery. It wouldn't work as well for literary fiction or many types of romance. For fantasy it can go either way depending on what type of fantasy you're writing. Does your fantasy contain strong elements of mystery and suspense? It will probably work if you have the skill for it. Is your fantasy more of a slow burning examination of character or theme? Then you probably don't want to do this.

    It's also a matter of taste. Personally, I don't like writing that arrives late and leaves early. I feel jerked around and short changed a lot of the time. It's not that there's anything wrong with it, but it simply doesn't work for me. It doesn't satisfy me. But there are tons of people who like this kind of storytelling so if it's something you enjoy then go for it.
  10. Robert hildenbrand

    Robert hildenbrand Acolyte

    There is as many reasons for, as there are against including transition scenes. In truth, if you are reusing the same environment time and again, then you need not include the transition scene, unless it builds upon the world building. Case in point, in chapter 2, you describe a character's home environment as being low, but in chapter 15, there is a new low they are about to experience, you should describe the transitions. The same holds true for an improved situation, where by their environment either is physically improved, or their perception of it is improved.

    for example, in chapter 2, the character could use an elevator to ascend the thirty floors of their low income sky-rise. In chapter 22, the elevator is broken, and after she kicks the elevator door out of frustration, she must now use the stairs, in which she finds a drunk sleeping off their drunken state and she holds a mild fear of being attacked by him if she wakes him. Obviously, if the elevator is always breaking down, she is going to be frustrated with her living conditions, but also more likely to be able to walk those steps, or she would have left the apartment building long ago. Not only does this build the world for the reader to understand the larger world, but it develops the character (We know she is healthy, as to walk the steps that span thirty floors).
  11. This thread is making me think about transitions between scenes. My thought is that transitioning between scenes should be done as quickly as possible.

    I hate scene transitions. Often I use chapter breaks to skip over them. When i'm in the middle of a chapter, I tend to stumble over them. Possibly this is because I have a tendency to arrive too early. Many times I've been writing and suddenly thought, "Oh, I can just skip right to the good part." And i did so, and the story was much better.

    What this thread made me think of, though, was a conversation I had with a friend recently about my bad habit of ending a scene with my MC fainting because I don't want to transition out. (In plausible circumstances, of course. Last time I did this, she'd been lying on the ground after a fight, having lost lots of blood, and tried to scramble up too quickly.) I feel like I use that particular device a bit too much, though...
  12. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    I think much depends on the point in the scene used to define late and early.

    If we define it as some kind of stressful, action-packed, plot-relevant beat, then the advice would more clearly apply mostly to thrillers, suspense, or pure action-adventure.

    But I think it's possible to follow the advice in other types of writing. I've read plenty of scenes that didn't reach that significant point until very near the end—and still been engaged with whatever the MC is doing and thinking up to that point. I think the key is to think of "late" as arriving near the "point" in which the MC is already active, in motion, in a way that's significant and engaging to the reader. That's why I used the notion of thumb-twiddling as a negative comparison. If the MC isn't engaged directly in the plot-relevant action—being motivated by that particular exterior stimulus—still the character is engaged in some activity and isn't simply twiddling thumbs and having inconsequential thoughts. The character might be motivated by some other stimulus than whatever would seem most plot-relevant, or the character might be motivated by some interior stimulus that is significant to that character: as long as there's a sense of progress, even if the main plot seems paused for the reader.

    The problem with trying to define what leads to a sense of progress, in some universal way, is probably beyond the scope of this thread, heh. I've been thinking about it a lot lately, but I think that much will depend on the particular story being told, the setting and the characters.
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2017
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  13. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    Ah, the faint feint.....

    Transitions are a fascinating topic. Maybe they deserve a separate thread? (I think there have already been threads on the topic, but I don't remember the details.)

    I agree that this topic relates intimately with the topic of transitions.

    In general terms, I think the conceptual mistake some might make is to think of transitions as involving three clearly defined, perfectly separated parts: Current Scene, Transition, New Scene.

    If that Transition seems difficult, then the method of cutting it and just going with a hard break, Current Scene-New Scene, is inviting—and sometimes, that works great!

    But there's a kind of fade out-fade in approach, in which really there's no clearly defined "Transition" separate from that Current Scene and that New Scene. It's in the way the Current Scene ends and the New Scene begins. These endings and beginnings don't need to be particularly long, just a signal that one thing has ended and a new thing is about to begin, in the current scene; or, that a new thing has just begun, in the new scene. But describing this in more solid terms, without the wide-open vagueness I've just used—ah!
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2017
  14. Aurora

    Aurora Sage

    Scene ends and transitions don't need to be world shattering. They just need to get the reader to the next level of the story. Intensity/conflict can come from within or from exterior factors depending on where you are in the plot. I typically use *** breaks to transition into the next scene. There's no time to waste, ie I don't write filler scenes.
  15. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    Yeah. Thinking of "Transition" as some separate thing can lead to filler scenes—or filler paragraphs at the beginning or ending of a scene!

    In general, I think it's far better to consider how a scene ends and the next begins—putting in those cues that signal an ending and a new beginning—instead.
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  16. Aurora

    Aurora Sage

    I agree. New beginnings are better than fillers any day. Besides, I hear so many writers complaining that filler scenes are boring. If we think they are can you imagine what the readers feel? Heh.
  17. My rule of thumb has always been "my reader got bored ten minutes before I did."

    I may also overestimate the boringness of my writing. Who knows.
  18. Delacrose

    Delacrose Acolyte

    I agree with comments on transitions. An arrive late and leave early tactic can sometimes lead to jarring transitions but I don't think that's always a bad thing. Less is always more - every words must tell right? So if the lead in, for example your character walking into a building to go to a room to have a conversation, is not pertaining to either plot or character development then it's not crucial and can be seen as 'padding'.
    If the character in question is thinking or feeling important emotions or scheming or anything that would enhance our understanding of them in the conversation to come then the lead in could be needed. However, if you favour dialog and are good with it you can work that in with good description through the meaty part of the scene. I enjoy starting scenes with dialog and then throwing in a quick bone about where and POV - I find it is more engaging especially if the setting is familiar to the reader already.
    As far as leaving early goes I think this is where I'd be more likely to accept more 'padding'. But only as long as it tells with purpose,
    if it isn't going to add to movement it's not needed. I find that really knowing my narrator voice (I write third person, multiple POV) helps with these kinds of issues. I have often started crapping on and after a while my narrator will go 'stop stop stop. Back track - lets skip this and get to the fun part'. Narrator knows best.

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