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The Workshop - Tips, Tricks, and Theory

ZsetrekZsetrek Registered User regular
edited April 2011 in The Writer's Block
The Workshop - Tips, Tricks, and Theory

One of the things I've noticed about the WB is that many crits are very common, and can be addressed easily. However, other crits are a bit more complex and difficult to explain, or may come off as a bit harsh and callous if used in reference to a specific story.

In light of that, I thought it might be nice to have a workshop thread where we can share writing tips, tricks and theory, and discuss the craft of writing in general terms.

So, please contribute your ideas. Format isn't really important, so long as you express your ideas well, and have something to share. Feel free to start discussion on contentious points, go over complex ideas in more detail, or expand on what other people have to say.

Make points about grammar, spelling, the craft of storytelling, clichés, or whatever you want.

If you're ever stuck for ideas, or you're stumbling over a particular element of your story, hopefully this will be a good place to peruse for that little kick you've been needing.

Zsetrek on
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Posts

  • ZsetrekZsetrek Registered User regular
    edited December 2006
    Writing versus Story: The importance of plot in novels and longer stories.

    One of the most difficult things about writing, I believe, is the plot. Anyone, with some practice and a little work, can string together nice sentences, create imaginative metaphors, and write evocative descriptions. However, the real heart and soul of a story lies in the characters, and what happens to them. A mistake I see made a lot, and one that I've been guilty of many times, is writing without a plot.

    Human beings think in ideas. Sometimes, an idea will come to you in a flash of inspiration, and start you writing. I'll use the example of a story I started writing a few years ago and later abandoned: What if there were creatures who could only survive by keeping secrets? What if one of them decided to starve itself? After I had that idea, I immediately jumped into the writing. After a few thousand words, I hit a wall. I had no motivation, no character, and no story. That file is still sitting, abandoned somewhere on my hard-drive.

    Gene Wolfe, a great fantasy/sci-fi writer, once wrote that an idea for a story is an idea for an ending. Maybe that's a bit extreme, but he has a point: The plot of a story is, in the end, all that matters. Think about one of history's most highly regarded novels. Anna Karenina isn't high-concept, or about any groundbreaking new idea; it's about love triangles and infidelity. It doesn't have any fancy writing, or narrative tricks. There are no flashbacks (that I can remember), and it doesn't have a twist ending. What it does have, is plot. The most famous image - Anna throwing herself under a train - is one of the final images, and everything else is leading up to that point. How then, does such a simple idea for a story work? It works because characters and plot drive it.

    I'll give you a quick example. Going back to my story about beings that survive off secrets, my original summary (if you'd asked me to write one) would have been along these lines:

    "There are beings that need secrets to survive. One of the beings decides to be honest, and gives up secrets. She joins a group of pilgrims."

    That's nothing. There's no plot there, only an idea - an image. If I were a good enough writer, if my metaphors were nice enough, and if my descriptions were particularly inspiring, I could conceivably make it work as a shot story. As the beginning of a novel, however, it really stinks.

    If I were to start writing this story again, maybe I'd write a summary like this:

    "Alice is a gargoyle - a creature that needs secrets to survive, and guards secret places for sustenance. She falls in love with a young pilgrim call Joshua, who teaches her that honesty is the only way to be happy. Because she's so in love with him, Alice vows to starve herself, and joins the pilgrims on their journey. As they travel, Alice finds that they keep so many secrets and lies that she cannot starve herself. She attempts to reveal all of the group's secrets, so that they can all live honestly. She does this, and causes strife and discord, but eventually all their secrets are laid bare, for good and ill. However, Alice discovers that humans create new secrets as quickly as they free themselves of old ones, and comes to realise how complicated her race's relationship is with humankind. Disillusioned, she leaves Joshua."

    That's still not perfect (the ending is very weak), and there are plenty of B-plots I could expand it with (Murder? Infidelity? Highway robbery? War?), but it's a lot better. I have an ending, I have at least two characters and ideas for more, and I have basic structure. Further ideas can be hung from that, and I can change it as my idea evolves and as I write.

    A plot-focused story requires you to do a couple of very important things, however. First of all, you need to really get to know your characters. That doesn't necessarily mean superficial stuff, like where they went to school, what they look like, etc. You need to know how they think, what their motivations are, and where you want their arcs to go. Take Joshua from my example: Is he deeply religious or is he a hypocrite? Is he the type of guy who tries to convert anyone he loves, or is Alice's conversion driven by her? Are the two main characters really in love? Is he timid, and if he is, how did he meet and fall in love with a creature of another species? I might decide that I'm tired of the weakly, ineffectual boy-priest cliché in fantasy stories, and turn Joshua into a buffed, aggressive man who became a priest because he can't control his anger. I might decide that I want Joshua to loose faith at the same time Alice gains it. As I think about these things, I can edit my original synopsis and expand my idea.

    The key thing to keep in mind when writing a plot-based story is that less is more. Don't explain things to your readers: You have an awful lot of space to work in if you're writing a novel - let your themes evolve, and let your readers work out things for themselves. For example, as opposed to having Joshua break into a speech about how he's never quite been sure if there really is a god, gradually pepper clues throughout the text - maybe he won't eat the communion wafer, or maybe he'll never pray before he sleeps or exclaim "My god!" Big, dramatic scenes have to be earned. Look to real-life: A break-up between lovers isn't about dramatic gestures, smashing crockery and tearful farewells - it's about fights over stupid things, losing interest, and gradual falling apart. Make sure your characters drive your plot, make sure they're true-to-life, sympathetic and relatable.

    Finally, pacing can be a problem in plot-driven stories. In the example of a break-up above, a drawn-out, true-to-life break-up takes time, and can that cause pacing issues. If that's the case, don't be afraid to bring in B-plots to strengthen your main plot. Very few stories suffer from having too many compelling plots - but a word of warning; be careful to allow time for scenes to develop - sharp shifts in narrative can be disjointing and confusing. B-plots can also intertwine with your main storyline, strengthen, influence and enhance it. Going back to the example: Maybe a side-plot about infidelity in the group of pilgrims could provide me with the dramatic ending I need?

    So, hopefully, the next time you get a great idea for a novel, hopefully you’ll remember to take a step back, and turn that idea into a plot.

    WordLust
  • Munkus BeaverMunkus Beaver Registered User, ClubPA regular
    edited December 2006
    Copying this from AFK
    Parallelism - using similiar structure in phrases, words, or clauses that are paired or in a series.


    Asyndeton - piling up words and phrases without intervening conjuctions


    Anaphora - repeating the same word at the beginning of a sequence of sentences or clauses


    Epistrophe - repeating the same wrod or group of words at the end of a sequence of sentences or clauses. (Epistrophe is anaphora in reverse.)


    Antimetabole - repetition of words in reverse grammatical order in successive clauses


    Alliteration - repeating initial or middle consonants in two or more successive words



    Simile - explicit comparison between two unalike things. (inlike metaphor, simile uses "like" or "as")

    Like a boxer rising groggily from a stunning roundhouse, a weakened administration got back into the fight against inflaiton last week. (Time, June 19, 1979)


    Antanaclasis - repetition of a word in two different sense.

    If we don't hang together, we'll hang separately. (Benjamin Franklin)

    Hyperbole - using exaggerated, even grotesque, terms to add emphasis or heighten effect.

    It reminds me of a string of wet sponges, it reminds me of college yells, of stale bean soup, of tattered washing on the line, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights, it is so bad a certain grandeur creeps into it.


    Litotes - understating a point as a means of drawing attention to its significance. Often used in a negative statement to create effect.

    You know, Einstein is not a bad methematician.

    Meiosis - understatement (opposite of exaggeration)

    I was somewhat worried when the psychopath ran toward me with a chainsaw.

    Oxymoron - connecting two contradictory terms

    Terribly nice
    Little giant

    Erotema - asking a rhetorical question of the reader

    What should an honest citizen do?

    Anthimeria - using a different part of speech to act as another, such as a verb for a noun, or a noun for a verb, or an adjective asa verb, etc

    "Gift him with Sports Illustrated magazine for Christmas"
    "he sang he didn't, he danced he did" (cummings)
    "I am going in search of the great perhaps." (Rabelais)


    Catachresis - A completely impossible figure of speech. Or, as Milton so elegantly phrased it, catachresis is all about "blind mouths."

    "Joe will have kittens when he hears this!"
    "I will sing victories for you."


    Synæsthesia - Mixing one type of sensory input with another in an impossible way, such as speaking of how a color sounds, or how a smell looks

    "The scent of the rose rang like a bell through the garden"
    "I caressed the darkness with cool fingers"


    anadiplosis/reduplicatio - the word or phrase that concludes one line or clause is repeated at the beginning of the next

    furniture requires dusting, dusters require servants, servants require insurance stamps... (E.M. Forster)

    WiiU: munkusbeaver and Nintendo ID (3DS thinger): 0619-4510-9772
    Steam name: munkus_beaver
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    Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but it dies in the process.
  • Dark SamwiseDark Samwise Registered User
    edited December 2006
    Best advice I have:

    Read your work aloud, to yourself. Any sentences that don't work will quickly show themselves. It should (in theory) also help improve your dialogue. If you can't imagine a real person saying whatever is between the quotation marks, don't write it.

    Seasons don't fear the reaper.
  • MunacraMunacra Registered User
    edited December 2006
    What am I trying to say?
    What words will express it?
    What image or idiom will make it clearer?
    Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

    and he will probably (the writer) ask himself two more:

    Could I put it more shortly?
    Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

    George Orwell

    Politics and the English Language

  • spcmnspffspcmnspff Registered User regular
    edited December 2006
  • WyrmkinWyrmkin Registered User regular
    edited December 2006
    Alcohol

    And anyway, enough of that. Writing tips, tricks and theories. Hmm, well.

    I think the real, honest to god key to writing is discipline. It takes patience, it takes endurance, it takes stamina that can often make you go nuts. Fact of the matter is, no matter how much you like writing, if you do it right, you ain't going to enjoy it 100% of the time.

    I don't know it is for everyone else, but the best way to go about it for some, and I include myself in the some, is to shut yourself off from all your distractions. Video games, internet forums, TV; I can't recall the writer right off, but I remember reading a piece of advice in which she said she shut herself off from the world while working on a novel. She read the newspaper, and that was about it.

    The real issue for me, and I think I can assume for many, comes from time management and focus. Most writers seem to have a common thread of putting things off. Not slackers, necessarily, but certainly there is that whimsy and free-spirited nature, because if you're anything like me, your mind can wonder in a thousand directions from just seeing the simplest, most casual event while walking around the neighborhood. I think the same thing that fuels a lot of us can work againsts us; again, the key is fighting distractions to get yourself in a regime of work.

    Treat writing like a job you do every day. Devote enough time for yourself to make progress, be that two hours or more.

    And despite my (now annoying) suggestion of alcohol, such a vice is not generally a good habit. At least certainly not during the revising stages. For some people though, a little drink helps loosen up their dialogue; if there's anything that makes you more flexible in your writing, I'd explore that. Though I'm not trying to come off here as a contrary bastard.

    Anyway, that's all I got for now.

    MightyMatt
  • ZsetrekZsetrek Registered User regular
    edited December 2006
    Descriptive Writing in Longer Narratives

    Every writer worth his salt knows to avoid purple prose. Purple prose is over-description taken to its extreme. For example:

    "Joshua stood on the high, black-rock bluff, feeling the wind whip his long golden hair, and looked out over the valley. He cast his gaze across the cottages, with their diminutive gardens filled with bright sunflowers; the babbling streams that caught the light as they tumbled over smooth brown stones; the swaying poplars that shed leaves like bakers dusting golden flour over the countryside, and said 'I think we've taken a wrong turn.'"

    This is bad, rubbish, even. It's laden with too much description, unnecessary detail, and clichéd turns of phrase. It felt good to write, though!

    In a longer piece, description, and writing in general, can be pared right back. As I said in my first bit above, in plot-driven stories, the characters and what happens to them are key. Try this one on for size, instead:

    "Joshua looked out over the valley. 'I think,' he said, biting his lip, 'we've taken a wrong turn.'"

    It's concise, quick, and efficient. The reader gets what he or she needs to know without having to wade through writerly masturbation, and the characters and what is happening to them are highlighted.

    Over-writing is a sign of a lack of confidence on the part of the writer. It may be that he isn't confident that he has enough to write about, so simple descriptions are padded out. It may be a sign that she isn't confident about the mental image, and feels compelled to guide the reader through it by the hand. Both of these problems are solvable. If you have a well thought-out plot, there should be no need to pad a story with adjectives. Most of the time, we're not writing to a word limit. If a piece is short, it's short.

    As for the second point, it's key that you understand that writing is a two-way street. You, as a writer, are providing your reader with ideas. Your reader, however, is interpreting those ideas through the lens of their own experiences and thought processes. Take this as an example:

    "Joshua collapsed, slumping against a tree. 'If we don't get back on the main road by sundown, we'll be in breach of royal edict and hunted men!'"

    In my mind, Joshua's tree (heh) is a poplar - big, white-barked, and majestic. However, in the reader's mind, it may be a pine tree, a palm, or a gum tree. Does that matter? Not really. You need to be confident enough as a writer to allow your readers to interpret the basic framework of your images however they see fit. You need to pick your battles, in other words.

    Wordy descriptions are necessary. When you want to describe something outside of the reader's experience (like a magical monster), or when details are important (a particularly story-important location), or when you want to build a mood (an old an crumbling temple) you'll need to get into the fun and imaginative side of the craft of writing.

    However, even then, there are ways to do that that are more elegant, and interesting, than purple prose. To take the example of my magical monster:

    "Alice staggered back in shock. The beast stood at four twelve meters high. Its scales shimmered beneath a fine coating of grey, translucent slime. Its limbs were jagged and sharp, its eyes shone with a pale fire, and its wide mouth split open to reveal row and row of gleaming teeth. Its great black tongue rolled out, and twitched, sniffing the air for her scent."

    Description there is very much justified, but something like this might be better.

    "Alice staggered back in shock. The beast was at least twice her height, and covered in a grey, translucent slime. It opened its mouth, and a great black tongue rolled out, twitching in the cold air."

    Remember, when writing a long narrative, less is more. Sprinkle in more details if you feel you need them, but remember that - in terms of the plot - the beast itself is less important than how Alice fights it, and what she feels when she does. When at all possible, describe things interestingly rather than thoroughly. Get the most value for your words.

    Learn to rely on the reader to fill in some of the blanks. Let them get involved in the story through their own imagination. To return to the example of the monster: Tolkien, a chronic over-writer, had the good sense to describe creatures such as the Balrog with little or no detail. In the mind of the reader, the Balrog becomes that much more terrifying and memorable for its mystery and imagined details. Tolkien nerds are still involved in a bitter dispute over whether or not the Balrog has wings. But while no-one knows for sure just what a Balrog looks like, everyone who's read the Lord of the Rings can remember what happened on the Bridge of Barad-Dur.

    Descriptive writing is a balancing act. Sometimes long, exciting and/or beautiful descriptions are justified, and sometimes they're not. Learning when is a good way to becoming a better writer.

    Samurai StouWordLust
  • MunacraMunacra Registered User
    edited December 2006
    this is a really good thread Zsetrek. really good.

    Like it was written somewhere in here, I too always make a plot outline, to keep things in focus, and stick to it. It's not set in concrete, but additions are put under severe scrutiny. I spend a lot of time on the plot outline and revisions and editing after writing, than the actual writing.

    but i'm sure we all do thing differently, so how do you do things? how do you write everyone?

  • DrezDrez Registered User regular
    edited December 2006
    Munacra wrote:
    this is a really good thread Zsetrek. really good.

    Like it was written somewhere in here, I too always make a plot outline, to keep things in focus, and stick to it. It's not set in concrete, but additions are put under severe scrutiny. I spend a lot of time on the plot outline and revisions and editing after writing, than the actual writing.

    but i'm sure we all do thing differently, so how do you do things? how do you write everyone?

    What I find amazing and fascinating is that someone like George R. R. Martin does NOT use an outline. I can't imagine writing something as...twisty as that, with so many characters, without some kind of outline.

    ddgamer3_zpsrbyqurmc.jpg
  • WyrmkinWyrmkin Registered User regular
    edited December 2006
    I've tried outlines. Honestly, they never work out for me. So I can totally relate to this George R. R. Martin.

    Though I'd probably have a drawer full of character notes and bios, and notable events; things like that. Well, if it were convoluted enough. Short stories, on the other hand, are easy to keep in the head and mew over. Or is that just me?

    Personally I tend to write in stages. Sometimes I'll write a whole story in one sitting, then revise the hell out of it a week or two later -- sometimes, though, I won't revise the hell out of them, and regret showing them to people afterward. Sometimes I'll write a bit here and there over the course of many days or weeks, just whenever it strikes me how to advance the plot. Does anyone else ever have to figure out what happens next? Well I do.

    There are times that I start out knowing how a story ends. I just don't tend to plan out how I get there. It sort of comes out as I go along.

    So I never follow my outlines. Probably because they become too rigid a tool.

  • DrezDrez Registered User regular
    edited December 2006
    I cannot use one either. I am very bad with pre-planned writing.

    ddgamer3_zpsrbyqurmc.jpg
  • D4v3D4v3 Registered User
    edited December 2006
    I couldn't imagine following a plot outline. When I write, it seems like it just flows. I like to keep a relative sense of direction in the story, but I don't like the rigidity that an outline provides.

    When I hear writers speak in workshops and at book readings, I always hear them talk about how they had no idea where the story was going when they first sat down to write it. Some of them have an idea about where they want it to end, how it should end, or a few key elements of the plot, but so often they just end up blowing them off because they've seen that their characters have developed in a way or their story took a turn that they hadn't anticipated.

    waffles shut the fuck up you god damn moron, jesus fucking christ you're a fucking retard.
  • EdcrabEdcrab Registered User regular
    edited December 2006
    Well, I write thousands and thousands of words of outlines/backstories and never use them because something more interesting crops up "naturally" :?

    That's not to say that they can't work for better-organised people, of course! Mostly I find them a neat way to get into the spirit of a character.

    I'm told Anne McCaffrey is a great believer in backstories, but that's because she uses them to decide how a character would react to or resolve a situation, rather than just sauntering ahead and dictating it herself.

    cBY55.gifbmJsl.png
  • DeI2anGeDDeI2anGeD Registered User
    edited December 2006
    Edcrab wrote:
    Well, I write thousands and thousands of words of outlines/backstories and never use them because something more interesting crops up "naturally" :?

    That's not to say that they can't work for better-organised people, of course! Mostly I find them a neat way to get into the spirit of a character.

    I agree with both parts entirely. Specifically how you say naturally.

    This is how I write:

    Initial idea, I plan it all out in my head, Character x will do this and it ends this way.

    I sit down, and I write. But as I write, I find out it's not even about X, more about Y, and it's most definitely not going to end THIS way.

    scratch that, that probably doesn't make any sense to anyone. What I mean to say, is that when I write, it's more like I'm the first reader of the story. The story dictates where it goes, not myself. I might be able to force it down one path or another better, but it unravels on its own for me for the most part.

    When working towards a second draft, that's when I pop open notepad, reread the story, and say "Now that I know what's going to happen, All of these paragraphs are entirely irrelevant to the story/characters and can be taken out", then I try to improve story elements. After which, I move on to a new story.

    321429-1.png

    -PSN&360&steam: dei2anged
  • MunacraMunacra Registered User
    edited December 2006
    haha. seems like i'm the odd man out.

    seriously though, I guess a lesson that got drilled into my head is to keep the story focused. So to keep focused and to keep from rambling too much, I keep those plot outlines,

    at the very least, I always know the ending before I start writing something to know where it's going to all end up in the end.

  • robotbeboprobotbebop Registered User regular
    edited December 2006
    I'd say that a plot outline is more effective when writing longer pieces. It doesn't have to be a rigid path as some people believe it to be and that may be where their reluctance comes from.

    A simple plot outline complimented by a backstory is more than enough. To those who are against plot outlines: If you find that your plot is going off in a tangent to your actual outline then you probably haven't thought about your outline enough or you quickly whipped it up and went straight to writing.

    The way I think about a plot outline is just to lay out a series of signifigant events, without any narrative. Sort of like a skeleton. Then when you actually write the thing with your prose and your narrative you're adding the muscle and the skin - Just like Leeloo in Fifth Element!

    .

    Do not feel trapped by the need to achieve anything, this way you achieve everything.

    Oh, hey I'm making a game! Check it out: Dr. Weirdo!
  • EdcrabEdcrab Registered User regular
    edited December 2006
    robotbebop wrote:
    I'd say that a plot outline is more effective when writing longer pieces. It doesn't have to be a rigid path as some people believe it to be and that may be where their reluctance comes from.

    To those who are against plot outlines: If you find that your plot is going off in a tangent to your actual outline then you probably haven't thought about your outline enough or you quickly whipped it up and went straight to writing.

    Agreed with the first statement, but although I'm definitely not "against" plot outlines, I frequently find mine are left on the roadside- even if I've laboured over it for weeks- as the story takes a turn that just feels fresher and more original than what I planned in the first place.

    If a "twist" I had planned out now seems drab and uninteresting- usually because I've grown to understand a character better and I've decided that killing them off/exposing them as a traitor is just lazy rather than clever- or a momentous event comes along too soon or too late, I shuffle, delete, copy/paste and even completely rewrite segments.

    Iron-hard restrictions choke the tiny part of me that manages to be creative when I'm swearing at my monitor in the small hours...

    cBY55.gifbmJsl.png
  • Casual EddyCasual Eddy The Frozen Tundra NYCRegistered User regular
    edited December 2006
    I think it was... Roald Dahl who gave a nice piece of advice: something along the lines of

    "If you come up with a good idea, jot it down."

    He writes many, many stories, so he sort of takes it to an extreme. I remember he wrote about coming up with a 'kids trapped in elevator' story while driving. So, he stoppped the car and wrote 'kids elevator' in the dust on his car.

    If you come up with a nifty idea, make sure to jot it down. I forget crap all the time.


    I'd have to agree with reading it out loud, especially if you leave it alone for a week and then do it. I often suprise myself with 'what was I thinking?'

    Spoiler:
  • MunacraMunacra Registered User
    edited December 2006
    I'd have to agree with reading it out loud, especially if you leave it alone for a week and then do it. I often suprise myself with 'what was I thinking?'

    i'm gonna go yoda on all of you, and tell you to do this over and over again.

    read outloud what you write.

    [spoiler:aebbaa95e1]write what you outloud read.[/spoiler:aebbaa95e1]

    as to jot things down: http://www.moleskinenotebook.com/plainpocket.html

    I really want one of theeeeeese. anyone care to Secret Santa meee? :winky:

  • BrinkBrink Registered User regular
    edited December 2006
    I say all my characters dialogue as I write it. Often I use accents, too, and mannerisms.

    I make sure no one is around when I write.

    ;)
  • EdcrabEdcrab Registered User regular
    edited December 2006
    I've even been known to record myself- via a mic- speaking lines of dialogue so I can listen to them later and get a better feel for them :rotate:

    In this case, that emoticon is used to say "my god I am a sad and lonely man". That's interpretation!

    cBY55.gifbmJsl.png
  • MunacraMunacra Registered User
    edited December 2006
    Here's a query: What is it that makes a book "something I can't put down"? What they call a "page-turner" and all that.

  • EdcrabEdcrab Registered User regular
    edited December 2006
    Tension, pacing, believable and absorbing characters, random sex.


    That last one is just Munacra's personal taste, but the others are essential for most people :lol:

    cBY55.gifbmJsl.png
  • MunacraMunacra Registered User
    edited December 2006
    What? No one likes random sex anymore?

  • DraugDraug Registered User
    edited December 2006
    *Turns pages hoping for random sex*

    Anyway, usually try to establish some kind of outline, often with quite detailed events too. I always diverge from it, though. It's just that something better comes up, or the idea doesn't suit the flow of the text, or I just want to move on to more important parts.

  • robotbeboprobotbebop Registered User regular
    edited December 2006
    Right now, for me, the problem is simply trying to think of anything to write. Most of the time I think of stories as disparate fragments that are totally unrelated to each other. Sometimes they're basic ideas, other times they're actual scenes; albeit the latter is probably formed by numerous memories of media manifesting themselves as such.

    Are there any tips or advice for gaining inspiration, ideas, concepts, etc?

    Do not feel trapped by the need to achieve anything, this way you achieve everything.

    Oh, hey I'm making a game! Check it out: Dr. Weirdo!
  • DraugDraug Registered User
    edited December 2006
    Read the news. Especially about places you don't really know a lot about, and that aren't covered to any real extent in conventional media (BBC, CNN, Fox, Times, Guardian, etc).

    Works for me, at least.

  • RazielRaziel Registered User
    edited December 2006
    Don't start writing when a kickass scene pops into your head. Instead, write it down, then sit back and think about what the scene means - what you're trying to say with this story.

    Then, figure out what needs to happen for the characters to come to that realization.

    It's been said before, but outlines and treatments are set in stone - they can, will, and should evolve as you write. But it's crucial to have at least some idea where you're going.

    As for coming up with ideas, just sit and think about what you've seen that week, and what's been on your mind. Then explore it in fiction.

    Read the mad blog-rantings of a manic hack writer here.

    Thank you, Rubacava!
  • ALifeCalledKarmaALifeCalledKarma Registered User regular
    edited December 2006
    I find that I absolutely must keep some sort of little notebook or pad with me at all times. Sometimes random bits will just pop into my head, or I'll overhear them in conversations, or mishear a music lyric and get a really interesting line/idea (I find that this last one happens a lot, because my hearing is horrible. The things I imagine people say tend to be more interesting than what they actually say).

    "I will be like that tree--
    I shall die at the top."
    -Jonathan Swift
  • MuncieMuncie Registered User regular
    edited December 2006
    I used to try writing about Chicago, and London, and Paris: places I've experienced only through media, and the setting always felt flat, or at worst, like caricatures.

    Faulkner wrote his stories in the south, Hemingway wrote his in Paris, Cuba, south Florida, Spain, Africa, and Italy, all places he experienced. Gatsby takes place where Fitzgerald lived. Douglas Adams wrote about the UK, even when he was writing about space. Marquez writes in a Columbia lost to him. Stephen King made up a town in Maine.

    So my Writer's Tip? Write where you know. You won't need to convince the reader about your setting because you will be more comfortable with it. That way your setting won't get in the way of your story. Since I started writing my stories in Tampa, Miami, Washington D.C., and parts of the Caribbean, I've started feeling a lot better about my writing.

    Plus, if you do manage to get published (unless you live in New York, Paris, London, or other centers of the universe) you might get some free press just for being a local.

    I know I went and saw The Punisher in theatres because the beach scene at the beginning was filmed at the island three miles from where I grew up and where I first had some girl's tongue in my mouth. The rest of the movie was filmed at several locations all within 10 minutes of my home. It was neat seeing John Travolta and that other guy blowing shit up at places I go to.

  • MunacraMunacra Registered User
    edited December 2006
    It's always a good idea to know how your story will end. That way, all you have to do is come up with the events leading up to it. It does wonders for your consistency

  • Bliss 101Bliss 101 Registered User regular
    edited December 2006
    My problem used to be that I somehow wanted to start with an abstract concept, go "omg I'm gonna explore this theme and this is what I'll say about the human condition", then try to figure out a story to fit that concept, and what I'd end up with was either nothing at all or an embarrassing piece of pretentious tripe. Eventually I learned to keep it simple and just go "I'm gonna write about a man who kills his dog". Everything else just kind of grows from there.

    A favorite trick of mine is to come up with something like an imaginary news headline or short report - "homecoming queen freezes to death" or "scandal at charity gala: mayor's wife goes berserk" - and use that as a starting point. Real news work too.

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  • EdcrabEdcrab Registered User regular
    edited December 2006
    I do something similar to Raziel... kind of jigsaw style thing where I end up with a bunch of disparate elements and written passages until click, I figure out how to put them together.


    I just wrote a couple of hundred words, glossary-style, about one of my fictional species. But god knows what use that'll be.

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  • robotbeboprobotbebop Registered User regular
    edited December 2006
    Bliss 101 wrote:
    My problem used to be that I somehow wanted to start with an abstract concept, go "omg I'm gonna explore this theme and this is what I'll say about the human condition", then try to figure out a story to fit that concept, and what I'd end up with was either nothing at all or an embarrassing piece of pretentious tripe. Eventually I learned to keep it simple and just go "I'm gonna write about a man who kills his dog". Everything else just kind of grows from there.

    A favorite trick of mine is to come up with something like an imaginary news headline or short report - "homecoming queen freezes to death" or "scandal at charity gala: mayor's wife goes berserk" - and use that as a starting point. Real news work too.

    Nobody explicitly sets out to make a statement about the human condition, from what I can tell. It usually comes out on it's own as part of the story and it's presence is implicit.

    EDIT: hehe, as I read that I thought of an interesting quote from the Duncan Idaho ghola, Hayt
    Hayt wrote:
    Do not be trapped by the need to achieve anything. This way, you achieve everything.

    Do not feel trapped by the need to achieve anything, this way you achieve everything.

    Oh, hey I'm making a game! Check it out: Dr. Weirdo!
  • RazielRaziel Registered User
    edited December 2006
    Concentrate on telling a good story. Put the reader in the scene, and don't sell your characters short.

    Simply, take your time, and write how you write - don't "purple" up your prose because you think it makes you sound smarter.

    And, since it can never be said enough: Make sure the copy is tight.

    Read the mad blog-rantings of a manic hack writer here.

    Thank you, Rubacava!
  • Zetetic ElenchZetetic Elench Registered User regular
    edited December 2006
    I've heard it said a few times, and it always hits home for me personally: love all your characters, even the ones with questionable morals, even the ones that are evil. If you have a genuine affection for them and care about them as you would a person, if you want the best for them and forgive them for everything they do, unconditionally, then you're far more likely to produce convincing - and interesting - character development. Even if that development is a tragedy.

    They're also way, way less likely to become cookie-cutter, and if you have to say goodbye to one, you'll feel more of an urge to give them whatever space and time they need for a proper send-off.

    Chances are, if you don't grieve for the loss of a character, neither will the reader.

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  • EdcrabEdcrab Registered User regular
    edited December 2006
    Yep, that's a core issue and well worth bringing up. If you think your characters are loathable cardboard cutouts, there's little chance that your readers will give a flying f**k about them.

    I remember the character of Dirk Gently in Douglas Adam's Detective series: I just couldn't empathise with him in the slightest. It was like he'd combined the worst traits of Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent, and the end result was just... dull, for me. Of course, it didn't help that the books simply weren't as good as HHGTTG, either....

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  • joshgotrojoshgotro Bloat much? Cincinnati, OhioRegistered User regular
    edited December 2006
    Edcrab wrote:
    Yep, that's a core issue and well worth bringing up. If you think your characters are loathable cardboard cutouts, there's little chance that your readers will give a flying f**k about them.

    I remember the character of Dirk Gently in Douglas Adam's Detective series: I just couldn't empathise with him in the slightest. It was like he'd combined the worst traits of Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent, and the end result was just... dull, for me. Of course, it didn't help that the books simply weren't as good as HHGTTG, either....
    Take those off my list of things to read in 07'.

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  • Zetetic ElenchZetetic Elench Registered User regular
    edited December 2006
    Edcrab wrote:
    Yep, that's a core issue and well worth bringing up. If you think your characters are loathable cardboard cutouts, there's little chance that your readers will give a flying f**k about them.
    Thing is, it's a piece of advice that sounds obvious, but when you're really writing, it's easy to think of something that excuses that character's cardboard stand-up feeling. Like that he's not the main character, or he won't be in the piece long anyway, or that you don't want to draw attention away from another character, or that you're sure that he's a strong enough archetype for noone to notice...

    DON'T GIVE IN TO PEER PRESSURE. Even if it's just in your head. The reader might not even notice, consciously, but it'll add to part of the 'background noise' of a piece, which can be utterly crucial.

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  • Jon 118Jon 118 Registered User regular
    edited December 2006
    When you write something, look back at it and say 'would that ever really happen?' If the answer is no, then chances are that it's no good; if your story isn't believable, or any part of it isn't, it just won't be fun to read. Obviously, the 'would that ever happen' is subject to the setting of the story.

    Also, make sure you write stuff that is actually correct. You can't just switch reality around to fit what you want at a specific time, then change it later.

    When you have characters, in addition to making them more that two dimensional you have to keep them consistent; you can't have a character reacting one way to a situation, and then completely differently to a similar situation later, without them having undergone some radical personality shift or they just won't be believable.

    Final thing: when you come up with an idea or see somthing interesting, no matter how stupid or insignificant it may seem to be, write it down, and explore where it could take you. With me, a single random squiggle on a peice of paper inspired me to begin writing a story that is currently in excess of 40,000 words.

    Tarranon wrote:
    When I was little my sister once convinced me that I was the Antichrist. I spent the rest of the week worrying about it and basically trying to figure out how to escape destiny.
    Jenniferwills
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