May You Write Interesting Books — 6

Round Round, You Get Around

One of the common syndromes of the middle of the book is the loop-de-loop syndrome, or the “why are we going around in circles, again?”

One common reason for this is that the author ran out of plot and decided he needed more wordage and tried to add “something happens here” in a way it wouldn’t affect the plot before or since, which is fine, as far as the writer is concerned.  So the author added three or four incidents that are solved and add nothing to character development.

These might be entertaining enough, but people are not stupid and they do realize that they’re being led in a merry go round.

Look, even when I was a kid and was taken on those little airplanes attached to the center of the ride, after a while I realized I couldn’t fly out into the wild blue yonder.

So… if you have loop-de-loop syndrome, what can you do?

First, you can take it out, and you can figure out how to make it honest plotting complications, and revise the rest of your book, backward and forward to make it integral to the plotting.

But… but… you’re not willing to do that – well, tough.  Seriously, kids, the readers are definitely not stupid, an you need to give them honest plot for honest money.

The second thing you an do is take it out and make the story shorter.

But Sarah – you whine – what if I didn’t do that to pad the story?  It is part of what I wrote, and I just realized in revision that it has loop-de-loop syndrome?  Doesn’t the character have to go through trials and tribulations?  What do I do?

Well, then.  If you weren’t padding the story and you still ended up with loop-de-loop, here are some things to consider

1 – Do you have rising action or is it all at the same level?
Loop-de-loop is caused by same-level, same old same old syndrome.  To correct it make sure that something bigger is at stake or something more is needed each try-fail sequence.  So, the first time your character had to bend to go through the passage and the fate of her family was at stake. Next time make her crawl on her knees and the fate of her city is at stake.  Next time, you have her crawl on her belly and the fate of the country is at stake.  You get what I mean?  Raise stakes AND effort required and you won’t get the feeling of going around and seeing the same landscape again.

2 – Are the confrontations happening between the same two people in the same old place?
Sometimes you get the feeling that it’s all going in circles because of staging.  So, if your characters keep arguing in a diner, have one of the scenes happen in the bedroom and/or in the car.  Think of the complications this can add, too, like a character demanding to be let out of the car.  Same thing with stage business.  I think I’ve told you before one of my books RIGHT after I discovered stage business my characters drank so much coffee they’d have spent their life in the bathroom in real life.  One of the good ways to break this, have a character do something that’s his job or hobby, while the argument takes place.

3- You’re overmatching the opposition.  If your character is stronger/smarter/better than all opposition and you let the him/her win everything easily, you can get the – yawn – feeling you’ve seen it all before, and what’s the point reading more.
A) consider solution for problem one.  Have rising stakes.
B) consider that even a weak or stupid opponent can get one in by accident and make life difficult even for a superhuman.  So make it so.  Make your character work for it, more and more.

Next up “It’s sooo boring.”

15 thoughts on “May You Write Interesting Books — 6

  1. Or, you could, y’know, try character development (ref: Paragraph 3.)

    Mind, if what you are attempting to depict is a dysfunctional relationship between two characters (e.g., husband/wife, parent/child, Cain/Abel) the loop-de-loopiness serves a vital function, in which case it is useful for the readership to know the author frickin’ knows what they’re doing and is not just vamping until after the 45-minute commercial break!!!!!!!! (N.B., this is one reason readers develop loyalty to an author: we’ve learned that patience with Immelman turns and barrel-rolls will be rewarded and that the author hasn’t simply forgotten the plot and is typing until they remember … unlike some authors who shall not be named.) (Whew.) So by all means, include some stage-business and escalations and scene changes but please please please remember that the point is to tell a story and not just slice life into thin scenes.

    BTW – it is remarkable (see – I am remarking on it now!) how many of these writing tips devolve from the need to sell publishers packets of words of certain length rather than simply telling the story and getting on with things. I expect the move to indie publishing and e-reading will greatly shift story-telling paradigms, allowing some stories to be told for three nickles and others for a quarter — all according to the requirements of the story instead of the publisher.

  2. Julian May did something interesting in her Exiles series. She interwove humorous situations with more serious situations. It was (IMO) intended to give the reader a break from the more intense serious situations but did allow us different views of the characters.

  3. Did I miss installment 5 somehow? Or am I just the first to point out that you jumped from 4 to 6?

    Not trying to be a pain. I just finally got time to catch up on these, and I was looking forward to 6 installments when I saw the number on this one.

      1. Well, actually it was part 4 and part 4.2, but hardly anyone noticed the versioning… which goes to show something, I’m sure. Now, perhaps Sarah should do a post about writing out of sequence — number it A24?

  4. Or for certain works and certain tones, you can have the characters remark upon the loop in a sorta meta, sardonic way. This can be abused, but I liked in it Die Hard 2 when John McClane commented on how here he was spending another Christmas crawling through the ventilation ducts and fighting terrorists. It was my biggest laugh in the film.

    But if they had repeated it in the third film, no one would’ve believed it. This usually only works if used incredibly sparingly. I suppose it could also work in something satirical and maybe fourth-wall-breaking.

    1. And then there’s the Belgariad and the Mallorean… (But I wasn’t reading that for the plot anyway. I was reading it for the snark and the snake in the bodice.)

    2. “Ted — somehow I have the strangest feeling we’ve been through this exact same thing before….”
      “Yeah — except *this* time I know what I’m doing.”
      [ship promptly goes out of control]
      [Elaine, and Ted, _Airplane! 2: The Sequel_]

  5. Another alternative: add a puzzle. Each round of the loop collects another puzzle piece, and at the end the characters have the plot token(s) necessary to go on to the ending. A variant of that can be that the protag already has the token, but the spear-carriers (and the reader) only find out about it a little at a time. (This is the plot of every Nero Wolfe mystery.)

    If you’re trying to make something that already exists work, this can require you to revise the ending so that the plot tokens laboriously collected during the loop-the-loop are necessary. If you’re doing it on purpose, you can set it up that way from the beginning.

    Also, remember that there are people who enjoy that sort of thing anyway. If there weren’t, series-episode television would never have existed. That doesn’t mean you can copy the same chapter three or ten times, then change the adjectives in each one — it has to vary a bit: different settings, different spear-carriers, perhaps a different point. But there will always be a market for yet another instance where Miles bumfuzzles his opponents or Thena sashays naked through a space station. Loop the loop isn’t always deadly. It’s like all the other Rules of Writing: violate at will if you can make it work.


  6. Of course, the classic story that illustrates loop-de-loops is the movie Groundhog Day–where you get character development in slowly widening frames of the same scene. Might want to call it the spiral, instead.

    1. OH! And an anime I recently watched, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, has… all kinds of weird stuff going on, which eventually includes an episode with multiple, multiple, multiple timeloops, and how the characters involved change each time. And then it gets really surreal. (One description of it is “deconstructing magical girls as a theme” and… Um. Spoilers if I say more, but it’s kind of awesome. And rather dark; this is not a show for little kids. And one of the characters, by trial and error, essentially works out the Ruthless Hero version of the Evil Overlord Rules. Including some OMG Big Guns.) Ahem. I will try to stop flailing now. But that episode is very much a good illustration of loop-the-loops that aren’t. Quite.

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