Furry Writers' Guild Forum

Pacing and structure: Ship's Boy vs. Song of the Summer King

So, as some of you already know, I’m reading through as much stuff as I can from the people here (whenever I have some spare time). I like you guys, and I want to know what your voice sounds like when you write.

Hold on, that synaesthesia was awful. Let me try again.

I came here to learn, and I want to see some examples, so I started to look for them. There’s some AMAZING food for thought here. Seriously, you guys are sitting on a gold mine without realising it. I’m gonna post what I find interesting, if you guys don’t mind.

Now, I’ve just finished Song of the Summer King (CopperGryfon), which I decided to read after completing Ship’s Boy (Rabbit). It’s been a really interesting read: I’ve been itching to talk about them for a while, and while I’ve already discussed my opinion directly with the authors, I haven’t had the opportunity to compare them back to back.

Please note: I’m not comparing the quality of the two books. They’re both really good, but the way they achieve their intended effect is in direct contrast with one another, and I think that’s worth discussing. I’ll also try my best to avoid spoilers, since I’d sincerely recommend both of them, but some are going to be inevitable.

So, let’s talk about Ship’s Boy first. Sci-fi, about an anthro rabbit abandoning his role as a semi-slave and taking his place as a ship’s boy, with the book set as the starting point of his journey to become a captain (I suppose). It’s a tale of someone struggling against the role a fictional society imposed upon him, where the legacy his father left him (in terms of abilities and, occasionally, fame) plays an important role.

Now, Song of the Summer King. Fantasy, about a gryfon abandoning his role as a warrior and taking his place as a pride leader, with the book set as the starting point of his journey to become the Summer King (I suppose). It’s a tale of someone struggling against the role a fictional society imposed upon him, where the legacy his father left him (in terms of abilities and, occasionally, fame) plays an important role.


Now, they’re not as similar as I’m making it sound (this is a simplification for the sake of comparison), but they share the same plot structure at their core. What I found really interesting was how differently they decided to execute it.

In terms of space, SB is colossal. Being about spaceships, it’s pretty obvious that it wouldn’t work without giving a sense of scale adequate to its theme. We jump from one location to another at a fast pace, among images of orbiting planets and massive space battles, with lots of characters involved in the various scenes. It helps to make the universe feel BIG, and achieves the objective of making the protagonist feel like he’s an irrelevant part of something way bigger than himself.

On the opposite side, SotSK trades size for focus. The story’s set on a fairly small archipelago, where the struggle between two factions (and their infighting) merges with the story and the peculiar geography of the islands. It allows a more in-depth exploration of the characters and their motivations, and can use its limited scope to shape better its world and create parallelisms (the book becomes twice as enjoyable with a certain knowledge of Norse mythology).

But the most interesting difference is in how they decide to tell each story. The respective pace, and the structure that comes with it, is also on completely opposite sides of the spectrum. SB has a really fast pace, going from explosion to pursuit to space travel to battle almost without any downtime. SotSK instead is deliberately slow, often devoting entire chapters just to show the characters interacting and dialogues that establish the structure of their world.

I think the most interesting aspect is how they treat each Inciting Incident/Call to Adventure. For those who might not be familiar with the term, it’s used to refer to a particular event that shatters the world the protagonist was living in, setting in motion a chain of events forcing him to embark on his journey. Darth Vader kidnapping Leia, Gandalf showing up at Bilbo’s door, or the three beasts that stop Dante in the forest forcing him to follow Virgil through hell. It signals the end of the status quo and the start of the action.

SB basically opens with the Inciting Incident. We’re not in ‘in medias res’ territory, but after a really short first chapter the protagonist’s already inside a ship taking off, crossing his fingers in the hope of leaving the planet alive. It’s extremely fast paced, and conveys an intentional sense of confusion to the reader, while showing the mechanics of hierarchy and bunny-slavery by confronting them with a desperate situation, forcing them to a breaking point.

Instead, SotSK chooses to delay it until basically the end of the book. Roughly the first 85% of it is devoted to setting up the scene, showing the precarious balance between the various forces at play, and the struggle of the protagonist in trying his best to not make any of them his enemy and keep the islands at peace. There’s action, and there’s tension, but it’s only when the events precipitate that he’s forced to leave his nest (both literally and metaphorically) and face the outside world, and that event leads directly into book 2.

We have two books with a similar plot structure on the basic level, but each author decided to execute it in the completely opposite way from the other. And which one works better?

This question has no meaning, and is ultimately up to personal taste. I myself prefer SotSK, because I have a thing for slow-boiling stuff (and partly because I’m a pretentious artsy wanker at heart <3), but someone who enjoys more action-oriented stuff might be bored by the characters being forced into one place for the entire book, with such a prolonged status quo. On the other side, SB wastes no time in exposition, focusing on the actual sailing and battles, but someone who’s interested in learning a bit more about the world might have to read the other books to get a clearer idea.

I hope you enjoyed this little reflection, I had fun writing it. I also hope I haven’t misrepresented anything here - just let me know about it and I’ll edit it out, or take everything down if you prefer.

Thanks, Rabbit and CG! Your books were really interesting!

Thanks for posting this! I look forward to more of your thoughts as you read more in the genre.