Pacing using *page_break

I am writing a fight scene. The description of this particular moment is about 241 words total. I could put it on one screen, but I was considering breaking it up into 4 screens instead. Would having to click through several screens like that make this moment in the fight feel more vibrant and quick-paced, or would it just be annoying?

Note: The below is not from my game. I wrote it for this post only as an example.

Your phone clatters to the ground as you race forward. Knives to your hands. Eyes on the beast.

*page_break You leap…

The beast howls as your knives sink into its hide. It writhes, but the spells in your blades hold fast. You climb, stab after stab, up its spine.

The beast slams backward into a nearby building.

*page_break Pain crashes through you.

Before it can slam backward again, you heave yourself up by your knives. The stubs of its cut-off wings provide a place to stand. You tangle one hand in its scraggly hair. With the other you strike.

*page_break The beast screams.

You stab it again. Your knife always lands true. The skin of its neck is weak. You slice between the knob of its spine.

The beast’s body crashes onto the ground. It continues to howl. If something hears it, more beasts will come, but killing it will take time and you don’t know how much longer its victims will cling to life without help.

What do you do?

I’ve played my actual scene through and I can’t decide.

Have you written or played a game that used structure, like *page_break, to affect pacing? Do you think it was successful? Why or why not?

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I’ve done something like this, yes, and it can be effective but four in a row may be a bit much. I think it can get old if there are too many in one go; my tolerance is fairly low, so I’ll usually get tired of it if it’s more than two in a row. I’d almost always like to have a set of options, for action and/or self-expression, even if it just shows slightly different text and doesn’t affect stats (or even if it doesn’t affect text and can just break up the series of descriptions by expressing something about how my character’s feeling).

I’ve sometimes had playtesters have difficulty with not fully taking in the *page_break text when reading, so perhaps missing the “You leap” part and finding the transition jarring.

Mileage will vary of course!

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Thank you! I didn’t even think about people not noticing the *page_break text. I’ll have to make some edits so transitions are smoother.

And thanks also for your insight re: the number of breaks. I might just throw it all on one page then. (This is in response to a *choice option and isn’t something every player reads).

Ah, the old page break connundrum. Here’s the thing, there’s no one fits all solution, its all based on how impactful something is and whether it’ll be tense or not. In your example, in my opinion, having only the beast howling as a page break is decent, it doesn’t impair from the action, it builds suspense as to what it’ll do after the scream, and allows the reader to pause as would the MC upon feeling the howl so close, whereas constantly tapping page break after page break can take the reader out of the action unnecessarily as they read it.

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I use page_break extensively (although I always ‘name’ my page_breaks, using the description to punctuate the action.

I find that they are useful in two ways. The first is to hide the seams. My fight scenes usually have a whole host of options (usually one fight breaks down into 9-10 choices) so I use page_break to create pinch points, where I can push the reader back into a through-line of the scene. They get to do whatever cool action they want, and it has variable effects (that are tracked in the back end), but page_break allows me to group them back to the same narrative line, where I can then offer another set of choices.

Do you need page_break for that? No. I find it is useful for the reader, though, and useful for me, in seeing where consequences go.

The second is almost like directing an action movie. I imagine the scene in my head: when does the camera cut, when does it move, who does it pan to? I use page_break to tell the audience we’re changing shots. It can really add pace and drive to the scene. As you say, it lets you control the pace of the story, which is very useful as the director of the adventure.

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I am of two minds in following this procedure. I go back-and-forth on this with every edit pass I make, sometimes deleting the custom text I write for page-breaks and other times writing new action-descriptors to replace those I deleted in prior passes.

The feedback I have received concerning this has been mixed, with no clear and decisive answer given.

Perhaps, it is like Hannah alludes to above… they are good in small doses, but with me, my need for style consistency drives me to either withdraw them all, or to go all-in with them.

This is something I am still struggling with, however my inner consensus, I believe, is leading me to use these where inner-dialogue would be appropriate, but to have a more detailed before-and-after transition for where inner-dialogue would not be appropriate.

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Sometimes, you need a page break in the middle of a wall of text. IMO, if you need more than one page break in between choices, there’s a problem and you need to examine why you’re doing this - the problem isn’t with a page break, but with a lot of text between choices! Consider adding a fake choice (with a little extra dialogue) about how the PC feels about whatever is going on, or otherwise allowing some degree of interaction to avoid a pure infodump.

In your example, I’d only expect a page break after a page. You can do all of that on one page.

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I’d be fine with fewer page breaks or a couple pages of text since paragraphs will help to keep things straight.

Could you include some choices when you want page breaks?

I know how *page_breaks are typically used and I promise I am using them to divide long text and am keeping from having more than two in a row. I’m not stressed about normal use.

I am more interested in the use of page breaks to mark time or control pacing within scenes, but as people use sentence lengths to do the same.

@Songsmith I did consider adding choices, but it felt like they might slow the pace down instead of speed it up if I focused on feelings. Or, if I focused on techniques/actions would lead to the scene ballooning when all I’d wanted was to make it feel faster. Maybe I could make the choice be an interjection or something, though… [orig.]

It is sounding like this isn’t super common and, while it can be effective, it may also be unfamiliar enough that it throws readers. I might change one break to a fake choice of interjections and then see what readers think.

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