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Author Topic: Essential Advice for Writing  (Read 955 times)
midnight
Swab

United States United States


« on: July 27, 2016, 11:53:43 am »

The most helpful advice I received came from a professor in college. I was working as a reporter for the school newspaper, and he said that I should use verbs that require an object. Active verbs make the story better to read.

In addition, he said my writing style should be economical since a story can only take up so much space. Prioritizing information is key. Essentially, active verbs and prioritizing information are essential for a journalist. What helpful advice have you received as a writer?
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Inflatable Friend
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« Reply #1 on: July 27, 2016, 02:14:08 pm »

Random advice picked up over the years (sorry, can't remember sources for most of it!):

Character Names: Unless you're Charles Dickens or writing something related to his work then it's probably best to avoid nominative determinism. Look at Harry Potter for an annoying example; all the goodies have reliable solid names, all the baddies have ridiculous ones. It just comes across as pantomime.

Place Names: Place names tend to be old and in almost all cases have evolved during the life of the location and with the ever changing use of language. Use those histories to give places names that have character and a sense of self.

Gender Swaps: Once you've got a good sense of your story and characters try re-reading it all with all of the character genders swapped. If it reads as bold, daring and innovative like this then chances are the unswapped version is cliched and stale.

Gender in general: Avoid assigning gender to your characters when you're fleshing out their personality, saves it getting in the way (personally I'll try and sort out all the characters then roll a dice to determine gender. I used to flip a coin, but that's too binary.)

Then there's this lot via the James Gurney's ever wonderful GurneyJourney:

If you're interested in telling stories, you'll love these lists of tips:

The first list comes from storyteller Joel Ben Izzy, a contributor to the podcast Snap Judgment. Like Moth Radio, This American Life, and StoryCorps, Snap Judgment is one of the best sources for stories told out loud.

  • 1) Have a clear conflict
    In its most basic form, a story is about someone who wants something, and either gets it or does not. That character's desire brings out the conflict that moves a story forward. The appearance of the conflict is the beginning, the resolution is its ending.
  • 2) Keep it simple
    You can always elaborate by adding details and nuance to a simple story. It is much harder - and less satisfying - to simplify a complicated story. To make a long story short is to ruin it. Find the simplest version of your tale and build on that.
  • 3) Take your time when you tell the story
    Beginning storytellers often worry about their audiences getting bored and sometimes try to avoid this by speeding up their telling. Unfortunately, this has just the opposite of the desired effect. Take your time in telling the story, let it breathe, and your audience will appreciate it.
  • 4) Remember the sensory details in your story…
    Your words are making a world real, and to do so you need to bring in all elements of that world - sounds, sights, smells, tastes and feelings. These are what root your listener in the world of the story you are telling.
  • 5) …but don't get lost in extraneous details
    …because extraneous details can make a story boring. The problematic details tend to be expository, giving information that is unnecessary at the time. Give your listeners information on a “need to know” basis, providing just enough to understand what happens next.
  • 6) Every story is a mystery
    A well told story is one where you can stop at any point and have the reader wonder “….and then what happened?” Each time a piece of the mystery is solved, another one appears, and that's what keeps us listening until we reach the ending. If you find yourself lecturing, step back and find the mystery.
  • 7) Know the ending of your story
    Know your ending line. And after you say it, stop.

-----
More about storyteller Joel Ben Izzy at his website.
The second group is from Pixar's story artist Emma Coates. I made a few slight edits for clarity.
-----

PIXAR STORY RULES

  • #1: You admire a character more for trying than for succeeding.
  • #2: You gotta keep in mind what's interesting to you as an audience, not what's fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
  • #3: Trying for theme is important, but you won't see what the story is actually about until you're at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  • #4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___. OR: Establish norm. Upset norm. Complicate & Escalate. Climax. Resolution.
  • #5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  • #6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  • #7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  • #8: Finish your story, let go even if it's not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  • #9: When you're stuck, make a list of what WOULDN'T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  • #10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you've got to recognize it before you can use it.
  • #11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you'll never share it with anyone.
  • #12: Discount the first thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  • #13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it's poison to the audience.
  • #14: Why must you tell THIS story? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.
  • #15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  • #16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don't succeed? Stack the odds against.
  • #17: No work is ever wasted. If it's not working, let go and move on - it'll come back around to be useful later.
  • #18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  • #19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  • #20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How do you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  • #21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can't just write ‘cool'. What would make YOU act that way?
  • #22: What's the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
-----
Via Pixar Touch. Also, check out the book: The Pixar Touch
Joel Ben Izzy's recordings: The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness: A True Story

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Lazaras
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« Reply #2 on: July 27, 2016, 02:31:33 pm »

The only advice I have? Never stop, because it's bloody difficult to start back up again.
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gaslampfantasy
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« Reply #3 on: July 27, 2016, 02:39:09 pm »

Avoid too many adverbs. Excessive use of adverbs is, apparently, anathema to publishers and the like.
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Cora Courcelle
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« Reply #4 on: July 27, 2016, 08:25:23 pm »

Show, don't tell.
Use dialogue.
Your reader can't see inside your head - if you want them to know something you've got to find a way to show them.

I find short stories easier to write and like the discipline of limited wordage. 
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Inflatable Friend
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« Reply #5 on: July 27, 2016, 11:33:11 pm »

Forgot one..

Don't work in a vacuum.
The hoary old trope of the writer/artist shutting themselves away from the world while they singlehandedly work away at a masterpiece is a terrible romantic cliche.

The truth is that creativity thives with contact, collaboration and getting the hell out of the studio. Bouncing ideas off of others, discussing plot points and dealing with specialists will help your writing immensely.

Lose the special.
Write/art every day, even if you don't feel in the mood. There's nothing exceptionally magical about creating. Like so much in our lives it's all about developing a relevant skills and continuously developing it. We're amazing creatures but prone to procrastinating, getting past that is what makes the difference between being good at something and not. Think of yourself as a writing athlete and ensuring you put in the hard work and training that it deserves.

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walking stick
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« Reply #6 on: July 28, 2016, 02:27:52 pm »

Read The Tough Guide To Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones it shows you a lot about writing as well as giving you a good laugh about Fantasy tropes.
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Kensington Locke
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« Reply #7 on: July 28, 2016, 06:37:54 pm »

Here's stuff I've heard/learned over the years.

Follow the rules/guidelines/tips/best practices until you have enough successes that you know why those things worked made sense.  Too many people new to a trade get told "don't do this" and the first thing they do is think they know better and break the rule and turn out crap.

Don't save your best idea for later.  Later never comes and you may not get another chance to use it.

Kill  your babies.  Don't spare trouble for your favorite characters, make their lives hard.

Show, don't tell.  Don't tell us your dino ninja pirate is the best, demonstrate it in Act 1 by having him ninja pirate something well.

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midnight
Swab

United States United States


« Reply #8 on: August 12, 2016, 02:05:45 am »

Avoid too many adverbs. Excessive use of adverbs is, apparently, anathema to publishers and the like.

I like your use of an adverb! Adverbs can be tricky. I like them. I particularly like them when used as a phrase. For example, "He gained entry into the building by bribing the guard." How could a publisher not like the use of our adverbials?  That's simply effective writing.
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pakled
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« Reply #9 on: August 12, 2016, 04:44:24 am »

If you see an adverb, kill it! - Mark Twain

One thing I've noticed is that almost every author has done at least one 'how to write' book, pamphlet, from the (I think) 8 rules of Kurt Vonnegut, to Steven Kings' 75-page (or so) work,  to all sorts of books going back centuries...

After years of reading them, I am more aware than ever of what I'm doing wrong...now all i have to do is figure out what to do right...Wink

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midnight
Swab

United States United States


« Reply #10 on: August 13, 2016, 11:32:20 pm »

I like the following quote by W. Somerset Maugham: “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” One author thinks that he knows the rules. I read a book titled Three Rules for Writing a Novel: A Guide to Story Development. It's worth reading. There is a lot of good advice. Smiley
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NoirMagus
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« Reply #11 on: September 24, 2016, 08:25:49 am »

I was at a writers conference last weekend. One of the workshops I attended was on world building. The speaker said  'If it was the Oscars the world should get the best supporting actor.' She went on to explain that the world shouldn't be pushing its way to the front of the story saying look at me. I think this is particularly relevant for the steampunk genre, where the business of the steampunk often seems to get in the way of the flow of the story rather than supporting it.
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Dr Fidelius
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« Reply #12 on: September 26, 2016, 02:54:39 pm »

That is true.

Too many writers seem to think that Steampunk is a plot when it is really a setting.
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annevpreussen
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« Reply #13 on: October 01, 2016, 12:19:00 am »

Everyone has such wonderful tips for writing! I'm rather a novice myself, so all of this is really helpful!
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Shiverpass
Swab

United States United States


« Reply #14 on: October 01, 2016, 10:34:31 pm »

In my past experience with writing in high school, I've received two completely different advice when it comes to dialogue and this has always confused me greatly.

#1 - "After a line of dialogue, never just say 'said'."
#2 - "Don't be afraid to just use 'said'."

(This is referring to i.e. ["No, that's not it," she said.] as opposed to, ["No, that's not it," she said in a soft voice.]

After figuring out my style of writing, I always go with the latter. It sometimes can feel repetitive, especially in a scene with a lot of dialogue in it. What about you guys?
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RJBowman
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« Reply #15 on: October 01, 2016, 10:56:02 pm »

In my past experience with writing in high school, I've received two completely different advice when it comes to dialogue and this has always confused me greatly.

#1 - "After a line of dialogue, never just say 'said'."
#2 - "Don't be afraid to just use 'said'."

(This is referring to i.e. ["No, that's not it," she said.] as opposed to, ["No, that's not it," she said in a soft voice.]

After figuring out my style of writing, I always go with the latter. It sometimes can feel repetitive, especially in a scene with a lot of dialogue in it. What about you guys?

I recently found an article about this somewhere. It seems that about 100 years ago, someone published a pamphlet listing every word that could be used in place of "said" in written dialog; the booklet offered over 500 words, and suggested that the writer attempt to not repeat the same word from the list in a single written work. Young writers bought the booklet and made use of it. Publishers came to be able to recognize when a novice writer was using this list, and the extensive usage of words other than "said" came to be associated with poor and amateurish writing.

Elmore Leonard, an author much revered for his dialog, advises that "said" is the only word necessary, and it can sometimes be skipped.

I particularly dislike the use of the word "laughed" as a substitute for "said". I've actually seen this substitution used in interview articles, and it just struck me as being amateurish and possibly indicative of someone that has only read children's literature.
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NoirMagus
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« Reply #16 on: October 02, 2016, 01:40:24 am »

In my past experience with writing in high school, I've received two completely different advice when it comes to dialogue and this has always confused me greatly.

#1 - "After a line of dialogue, never just say 'said'."
#2 - "Don't be afraid to just use 'said'."


Schools often teach that you should use words other than said because they are trying to get children to be more imaginative and widen their vocabulary. However, if you're writing to be published you should stick with said. An exception to this is if you need to denote the volume of what's being said. e.g. "Keep still," whispered Veronica. Even then these speech attributes should be used sparingly.

Once you have established who is talking in a conversation you don't need to keep using the 'said' attribute. The rule of thumb is to then only use it if it becomes unclear who is talking.

With dialogue you can also break it up with actions to show the reader who is talking.

"Is it fixed?" asked Pip.
Marcus tapped a grease stained finger against the fractionating recipricator. "Works like a charm."

You can also get away with 'asked' as an attribute but again use sparingly.
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Mechanic Williams
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« Reply #17 on: October 17, 2016, 09:06:08 am »

I was at a writers conference last weekend. One of the workshops I attended was on world building. The speaker said  'If it was the Oscars the world should get the best supporting actor.' She went on to explain that the world shouldn't be pushing its way to the front of the story saying look at me. I think this is particularly relevant for the steampunk genre, where the business of the steampunk often seems to get in the way of the flow of the story rather than supporting it.

Very true.

I always believe that a writer's main point of focus should be on the characters first and the universe second.Ultimately, if the characters and universe work, the plot will take care of itself, which is something I always emphasise to new/inexperienced writers.
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Kensington Locke
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« Reply #18 on: October 17, 2016, 10:50:47 pm »

..snip..
Once you have established who is talking in a conversation you don't need to keep using the 'said' attribute. The rule of thumb is to then only use it if it becomes unclear who is talking.
..snip..

Yep.

Had this article sent to me by a writing compadre on this very topic:
http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/keep-it-simple-keys-to-realistic-dialogue-part-ii

In my current project, I had tried hard to use different adjectives besides "said" because that's what they taught back in school (a good many years ago).  So now I have to rework all that.

I think now and then, it can fit, but at the moment, my current practice is to establish who's speaking first and making sure the response is obvious and then let the conversation alternate without any pre-amble.  Then, every now and then, have a character move in the scene, breaking it up and re-confirming the speaking order.

Kennsington looked up from his apparatus, and asked the Magus, "What's the meaning of this?"

"I don't like the cut of your jib."

"Really?  That's the best jab you can muster?"

"Indubitably."

The Magus jumped when Kennnsington slammed his Aethometer down on the table.  "You want to trade lackluster barbs, go someplace else.  Otherwise, let's take this outside and I'll show you a real jab."
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gaslampfantasy
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« Reply #19 on: October 27, 2016, 09:55:13 am »

Advice on "said" can be conflicting. I think that it depends on trends. I had advice to use "said" when necessary but to avoid its synonyms.
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