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Writing Advice and Resource Thread

Discussion in 'Fanfic Discussion' started by Halt, Jan 18, 2018.

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  1. Story Content: Showing vs Telling
    Halt

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros.

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    I'm hoping to do a few things with this thread:
    1. Guide Writers - Compile a guide for writers. This is going to become my central repository for writing advice so I can just quote myself every time I have to explain something on WBA for the umpteenth time. Feel free to contribute to this. Eventually, I will be making a Google Doc with what I consider the "best" or most polished advice and group them according to subtopics.
    2. Resource Repository - Collate the useful writing resources and tidbits of information across DLP's many, many threads on the topic in one place.
    3. A Place to Ask Questions- Be a place where people can ask general writing questions. Sometimes you want clarification or advice on a particular story or scene that you're not quite read to share with WBA.
    Table of Contents [WIP]

    Resources [WIP]

    Showing vs Telling
    You've probably heard the phrase "Show, Don't Tell" by now. This advice is everywhere - but most new writers don't understand why this rule is a rule, and as a result, don't know when they can or should break this rule. It's common for people to know it on a theoretical level, but struggle to apply it in their actual writing, or go too far and show everything at the expense of murdering a story's pace.

    Something is "bad" when it makes the story harder to read.

    Walls of Text are bad because they engage an automatic skim in the reader and it takes that much more effort to read. Sluggish Pacing is bad because readers get bored slogging through thousands of words with nothing happening. Hyper Pacing is bad because readers don't have enough time to digest the chain of events, nor are there enough words to create emotional weight.

    Telling too much is bad because it makes it difficult for readers to immerse themselves in a story, but telling by itself is not bad. All stories are a mix of showing and telling.

    A story that shows every minute detail will bog down the reader. A story that tells everything doesn't allow the reader to form an emotional connection with anything and is an inferior device for reader immersion.

    Showing is when you let the reader experience a story through dialogue, action, thoughts, senses, or feelings. Telling is when the story is summarized, described, or told via exposition.

    For example:

    Showing - "How dare you," Harry said, eyes narrowing into slits.
    Telling - Harry was angry.

    The trick with showing is to leave the reader enough hints that they "get" what you're going for. You can use word choice in dialogue, actions and reactions, a character's stream of thought, the sensations experienced, and context (everything you've written before in the story forms this). If you are too heavy-handed with showing (i.e. giving them too many clues), it's not good either.

    A heavy handed example of above would look like this:

    "How dare you," Harry shouted. His eyes narrowed into slits and his fists clenched. Something blinding hot seized his chest.

    This necessitates a sort of respect for the reader to be able to fill in the gaps, so to speak.

    "But readers are stupid!" is not an excuse to tell or be heavy-handed with your showing. Most of this occurs at a subconscious level. A reader may not be able to tell you the exact reasoning why they knew Harry was angry, but they'll know and that suits our purposes jut fine.

    Chuck Palahniuk's article advocates for a total ban on "thought verbs" (Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, etc.) in favor of sensory specific detail - action, taste, sight, smell, sound, and feeling - as an exercise to practice showing and learning to "unpack" a scene.

    Telling, of course, has its uses.

    Do we really need to know what Harry ate for breakfast on his third day at Hogwarts or the exact type of wood every piece of furniture in 12 Grimmauld Place is made of? Probably not. This is where telling becomes useful, because it allows you to paint the scene without dumping a ton of useless information on the reader.

    When in doubt of whether to show or tell, it can be helpful to ask questions.

    Is what I'm showing important to the plot or development of a character? Is the scene or place I'm describing important and recurring as a setting? If yes, show. If not, tell.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 20, 2018
  2. basium1

    basium1 Second Year DLP Supporter

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    On the subject of showing - it can be a bit overwhelming if you use too many descriptors in an important scene.

    This is an AR scene based on an old fic idea.

    This scene had too little in terms of details and it seems a bit random in some sections.

    I will not do another piece since I figured it would be best to show what you should not do, while everyone else can show how it should properly be done.

    It's something that I am still trying to master myself. :)

    Edit: I forgot to mention that neither piece is ideal in my eyes. The second scene has too many little details that don't do anything for the story. The first meanwhile has too little and it ruins the immersion from the start.
     
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2018
  3. Ched

    Ched Da Trek Moderator DLP Supporter

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  4. Joe

    Joe The Reminiscent Exile Prestige DLP Supporter

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    That's the best trick in the book, yeah, if you'll pardon the pun.


    On the example above:

    "How dare you," Harry said, his eyes narrowing into slits.

    I'd argue even that could be a touch redundant. The inflection on the dare is enough to express the emotion, given context surrounding the dialogue.
     
  5. Story Content: General Grammar Tips (1): Pronouns
    Seyllian

    Seyllian Unspeakable DLP Supporter

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    General Grammar Tips (1): Pronouns​

    Grammatical mistakes are jarring and immersion breaking. For the reader, they can ruin an entire story. This post will focus on pronouns.

    What is a pronoun?
    To be brief, pronouns are nouns you can substitute for another noun.
    For example:
    • "Halt is a big meanie."
      • Halt is the noun."
    • "He is a big meanie."
      • He is a pronoun being substituted for Halt.
    Now, I’m sure most of you already know this. Pronouns are a very basic aspect of English; nearly every paragraph uses them. Yet, first, we must recognize why we use pronouns. Let's use an example:
    • "Halt is a big meanie. Halt likes to bash other people's stories, and Halt loves to revel in other people's pain. Halt's main goal in life is to put people down. Despite this, Halt rarely posts because Halt is lazy."
    What a mouthful, right? It is quite clear why we use pronouns: to make our writing smoother and clearer. Using them, we don’t have to repeat a character's name over and over again. Let's try the same paragraph with pronouns:
    • "Halt is a big meanie. He likes to bash other people's stories, and he loves to revel in their pain. His main goal in life is to put people down. Despite this, he rarely posts because he is lazy."
    See? We accomplished the same message in fewer words while also making it read better. Now that we know what pronouns are, it is time to get into two common mistakes made with them.

    Who and That:
    While at times a character may act "subhuman" you should always, when referencing people, refer to them as "who" not "that." For things you should use "that." To all my animal lovers out there, I am sorry to say, but animals, are a that.
    Incorrect:
    • Students that work hard do well in school.
    Correct:
    • Students who work hard do well in school.
    Incorrect:
    • Dogs who listen received treats
    Correct:
    • Dogs that listen received treats.
    Who versus Whom (Subject versus Object):
    Ah, I am sure many of you knew this was coming. The eternal question which haunts many English speakers: What's the difference between who and whom? Let's get into it.

    Who is the subject pronoun. It is the subject of the sentence. In simple terms, the subject does the action.
    Example:
    • Who did Harry ask to the Yule ball?
      • The subject of the sentence is the person Harry asked.
    Whom is the object pronoun. It is the object of a verb or preposition. In simple terms, the object receives the action.
    Example:
    • Harry asked whom to the Yule ball?
      • Harry is the subject.
        • Whom is the word that receives the action
    The general trick for who versus whom is to substitute he or him. If the sentence fits with he/she, use who. If it fits with him/her, use whom.
    Example
    • Who was Harry's date to the Yule ball?
      • She was Harry's date to the Yule ball?
        • It fits with she, so who is the word that receives the action.
    • Harry asked whom to the Yule ball?
      • Harry asked her to the ball?
        • It fits with her, so whom is the word that receives the action.
    If you are ever unsure of which to use, the best advice is to reword the sentence completely to avoid the problem. While these two sins are not criminal, they are enough to break the immersion of many readers.
     
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2018
  6. Story Content: Purple Prose or Lyrical Writing?
    Halt

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros.

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    Purple Prose or Lyrical Writing?

    “Purple prose!” the reader cries, pointing a finger at your ten dollar word.

    But purple prose isn’t about using thesaurus words, nor is using thesaurus words bad, per se. Purple prose is when your words become so over-embellished with adjectives, adverbs, and metaphors that it becomes difficult to understand and hurts your story. When the reader has to stop and take a minute or five to process what the fuck you just wrote, that’s purple prose.

    Using thesaurus words can be a characteristic of purple prose, but it is not, by definition, purple prose in itself. Only when you use too many that it takes away from the story does it become one.

    Example 1:

    “I’m heading to the abattoir for some venison,” Hermione said.

    Harry rolled his eyes. “Literally no one talks like this.”

    “Silence plebian!”

    Example 2:

    Harry stared into her verdant orbs, his soul as weak as a summer’s breeze. Her smile was decadent, filled with promises of carnal vices from her sweet-red lips. Her allure drew him in, visions of his hand running through her golden locks, her enchanting laugh escaping her lips at one of his jokes. He could already see it: Them together, living on a rocky, French precipice. They'd sleep late into the mornings, only ambling out of bed when the golden sun reached its crest at midday. They'd live; they'd laugh, and they'd spend their afternoons stretched out, lounging on the soft snowy sands of a French beach. He and Fleur, a communion of unfaltering love.

    The first is character defining and relatively unobtrusive, the second is pointless and overbearing.

    On the other side of the spectrum, we have people who say that purple prose is just “a matter of opinion”. That lyrical writing and purple prose are merely two sides of the same coin.

    These people are just as wrong as the first.

    While lyrical writing can appear similar to purple prose, there are several key distinctions between the two.

    1) Immersion

    Remember our first and foremost rule: Something is "bad" when it makes the story harder to read.

    Lyrical writing has to immerse the reader. The moment it goes from being immersive to making them confused is the moment it turns purple.

    2) Quality and rhythm

    Purple prose is, in general, sloppily put together with little thought spared for the rhythm of your prose. Quantity of thesaurus words is used as a proxy for a well-chosen one. When trying to write lyrically, you have to consider and control even when the reader is allowed to pause and breathe — and you have to get it right.

    3) A light touch

    Some of the best lyrical prose I’ve encountered don’t just go all out poetry on the paragraph, but actually blend their poetic words with simple ones. The reason this works is because simple lines help highlight the poetic ones, while serving to clarify the meaning of the passage.

    4) Authorial Intent, Authorial Voice, & Character Voice

    An interesting test is to ask yourself why you’re writing poetically. If it’s to impress your friends or in the hopes of getting your dick sucked, this is probably purple prose.

    When a line also starts to sound more like the author and not something that character would ever say or think, it becomes purple. A normal twelve year old child should not be using big words like “unfathomable” to describe normal, everyday things.

    5) Emotional Climax, Meaning, and Character Moments vs Superficial Description

    Being lyrical has to be earned and they have to mean something.

    Usually, you want these things to be aligned with the emotional climax of a story or character arc, or to be used in a way that helps the reader understand what kind of person the character is.

    Waxing lyrical about pointless things that bear little significance to the plot or to the characters is superficial, boring, and wasteful.

    None of the rules I’ve mentioned above are hard rules — in writing there is no such thing, it’s just a matter of knowing when you can get away with breaking rules — but if you find your prose is taking on two or more symptoms, it’s time to take a good, hard look at it.

    And maybe apply a chainsaw to it liberally.

    Not everything in your story can be lyrical for reasons beyond being disruptive to the reading experience. Lyrical writing draws attention to itself because it is a technique of emphasis.

    When you emphasize everything, you emphasize nothing.
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2018
  7. BTT

    BTT Headmaster

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    This post is so Halt's won't automerge.
     
  8. Story Content: Emphasis Techniques and Fatigue
    Halt

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros.

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    Emphasis Techniques and Fatigue

    A writer has many tools at his disposal for emphasis. Common techniques include:

    1) Adverbs and Adjectives
    2) Said-Synonyms
    3) Metaphor and other figures of speech
    4) Italics and other forms of editing text
    5) Spacing
    6) Action beats
    7) Punctuation

    Unfortunately, what most writers don’t get is that When you emphasize everything, you emphasize nothing. It’s common for writers to try and eliminate the word said when characters are speaking — everything has to be shouted, exclaimed, rumbled, thundered, whispered — no one ever just says things anymore. Or everyone has to say things a certain way — quietly, quickly, loudly, angrily, surprised, frustrated.

    Adding lots of metaphors is less common, but still a trap a significant amount of people fall into.

    The first three techniques, when overused (and they often are) results in purple prose and reader fatigue. When you add emphasis, the reader has to expend more brain power to process this change from the status quo. Emphasis by itself isn’t bad obviously. Without it, reading would be dull!

    But if you end up using a said-synonym more than 90% of the time, when you have an adverb modifying said every other line, when you have metaphors in every paragraph...it gets exhausting to read.

    Not only is this bad practice because it violates our golden rule (Something is "bad" when it makes the story harder to read), this is also problematic because it’s breaks show, don’t tell and is purple prose. Techniques for emphasis are what spices are to cooking. Less is more. If you add too much, it not only ruins your story, it also reduces the impact of every subsequent emphasis you try to make. But if you use too little (beige prose), the story is bland.

    Like many things in writing, it’s about striking the right balance.

    The other four techniques are less common. Italics and other forms of editing text include, but are not limited to: Bold, Underline, Different Colors of Text, using different formats to signify different things (a common example is ~Parseltongue~) and even using different fonts and sizes of text.

    In the vast majority of cases, italics, bold and underline are the only ones you should ever be using.

    Different colors of text are hard to read and strain the eye. Relying on this to convey emotion (as is common in Lantern SI fics) is lazy. Different formats are never good as well. One can rarely keep it straight in their heads, creates additional work for the author, and adds nothing of value to a story. Fonts and sizes should, almost always, be kept standardized as well for ease of reading. There is an argument to be made that fonts can convey different feelings, but unless you have an eye for this sort of thing, it’s rarely worth the effort for the potential marginal improvement to your story (nevermind that there are better tools in our repertoire to address this).

    Italics, Bold, and Underline

    Italics are my favorite form of emphasis in this class. It’s versatile as a means of adding stress to a sentence and, when paired with context, can eliminate the need for said-synonyms, adverbs, and adjectives.

    For example: "How dare you," Harry said.

    Even with nothing but the choice of words and an italics, you still understand intuitively that Harry is angry/outraged here. Imagine how much more you can get away with when you have a couple hundred words before that building up the scene and context.

    Bold and underline are less versatile in that they tend to come off as a strong, in your face, statement. There’s a lot less room to play around with these, but can still be useful in some cases when an italics’ versatility works against itself by becoming vague in its subtext.

    It goes without saying that these can be overused as well and are bad when such is the case. Again, less is more.

    Spacing

    This, I find, is an overlooked and much ignored tool in our arsenal. Often, people think of spacing as just a means of breaking up Walls of Text, not realizing the power proper spacing can have as a means of emphasis. Words or short sentences that form their own paragraph naturally draw attention to themselves.

    Like this.

    See?

    Action Beats

    Action is good tool for emphasis as well. It tells us a lot about a character’s emotional state. Posture, gestures, facial expressions, among other things are powerful clues — just make sure that everyone isn’t smiling or scowling for ten lines straight. Communications is 80% non-verbal as they say.

    Punctuation

    Specifically, colons, exclamation points, parenthesis, em dashes and en dashes. Without bogging us down in the specific rules that dictate their use, all of these break up text and, therefore, draw attention to themselves. Colons are useful for making powerful declarations and to signify importance.

    Exclamation points are for volume and emotion! (Parenthesis act as kind of little notes or addendums. Use these sparingly, if at all). Em dashes — and en dashes — can be used to draw attention to things within a long sentence.

    But be warned. Punctuation can be overused and are just as annoying when it happens. I'm looking at you, dashes, semicolons and exclamation points.
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2018
  9. Story Content: The Improvement Attitude
    Halt

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros.

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    The Improvement Attitude

    Writing good is hard.

    Any monkey can mash keys on a piano, but it takes weeks, months, lifetimes to master the instrument. Writing is exactly the same.

    In my experience, the single biggest factor for improvement in writing is your attitude towards it.

    Some people genuinely want to be better writers, and this is aimed at those people. If you’re content at the skill level you’re at, ignore this.

    Honesty

    I hear a lot of people say how much they’d appreciate honest feedback on their writing. A lot of people are liars. Many writers lack the ability to distance themselves emotionally from their work.

    I get it, I really do.

    You’ve just spend weeks working on your story and it feels terrible when someone just shits all over your baby.

    Unfortunately for you, if all you want is someone to suck your dick, you’re never going to get better. To fix a problem, you have to know the problem exists. Sugar coating doesn’t work because it skews perception on the actual magnitude of the problem. You might think something is a minor issue when it’s actually story-killing.

    Similarly, editors and beta readers shouldn’t overhype a minor problem. If an author panics and overcompensates to fix it, it will end up making more problems.

    There’s no magic bullet for this, no quick fix. All you can do is either accept you will never get better (and that’s fine, if you’re doing this simply for fun) or sit down, shut up, and smile while assholes like me rip apart your writing.

    It’ll hurt. A lot.

    Humility

    “Pfft, well that’s just other people. I know I’m honest and would never turn away criticism,” you say.

    Here’s a test: the next time someone gives you feedback that isn’t praising you to the high heavens, how do you react? Is your instinct to dismiss it because it’s “just a minor thing”, “haters/flamers”, “they just don’t get it”, or “they haven’t told me how to fix it”?

    Trick question. The moment you dismiss criticism, you probably don’t want honesty.

    I’m not saying all criticism is valid, or that you should listen to everything beta readers say. What I am saying is that you can never, ever dismiss what they’re saying without thinking about it for a while. (My personal standard is to let a chapter rest at least two to three weeks before going back to see if the criticisms against it make sense).

    Humility is setting aside your pride. If someone bothers to give you criticism, it doesn’t matter if they’re cussing you out every other sentence. That doesn’t negate the valid point they might be making. And above all, you should never, ever tell people that they just aren’t “reading your story right”. That kind of pretentious bullshit will ensure you will never get constructive criticism ever again from those people.

    As for not telling you how to fix the mistakes, there are a couple of reasons why they can’t or won’t bother. They simply might not know how to fix it themselves, that doesn’t mean the problem isn’t there. Or, they can’t be fucked to spend more time on the story than you and that’s understandable. This is your story, it’s your job to fix it if you want to get better. Demanding that people offer you a solution or not comment at all is not only lazy and bratty, it’s also asking people to provide a professional editor’s level of work for free.

    When in doubt, your reaction should be to smile and say “thank you, sir, can I have more pretty please?”

    Beta readers are people too. If they feel like you aren’t bothering to listen to them, they aren’t going to work with you, and in the fanfiction author - reader dynamic, you need them more than they need you.

    Hard Work

    Finally, there’s nothing left to it but to practice, practice, practice. Even if it hurts, even if its frustrating, even if it feels like pulling your nails out inch by bloody inch.

    Writing when you don’t feel like it sucks. I know, I’m a lazy piece of shit myself. The thing is:

    Inspiration is fleeting, Perseverance is not.

    If you wait for your muse to strike before you start writing, you’ll probably have a hundred different stories and never finish a single one. Second, when you finally stumble on a good idea to write, you’ll find that you just don’t have the skill to pull it off well.

    Get into the habit of writing consistently, and stick to it especially when you don’t want to.
     
  10. Dicra

    Dicra Groundskeeper

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    Just wanted to pop by and tell you that this thread is a thing of beauty.
     
  11. Story Content: Engaging Characters: Sanderson’s Three Slider Theory
    Halt

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros.

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    Engaging Characters: Sanderson’s Three Slider Model
    Readers are simultaneously the most forgiving and least forgiving people on earth, and the only difference is if you can get them to invest in your story emotionally.

    The easiest way is through your characters. Engaging characters are the heart of any story. It is, quite probably, the single most important writing skill to develop, because it’s who your readers are going to root for.

    Having engaging characters creates reader buy in.

    You can have the most beautiful prose in the world, the most fascinating world building, the greatest plot, but if you don’t give your readers someone they can get behind, they will never love your story. On the other hand, if you have engaging characters, but nothing else, you’ll find they’ll turn a blind eye to your faults a lot more often (this margin of mercy shouldn’t be taken as a bottomless pit — bad writing can and will frustrate them, so obviously just having good characters isn’t everything).

    Brandon Sanderson first introduced his idea of the Three Slider Model in Writing Excuses 9.13.

    The Three Slider Model views how likable or engaging a character is through three variables that you can slide up and down, mix and match. These are: Sympathy, Competence, Proactivity.

    Sympathy

    This is how sympathetic the reader is towards your character. This includes how relatable they are (do they act like real people? Do the events that happen to them resonate with your readers?), how nice they are, how “moral” they are (are they the “good guys”), and how funny they are (having a character that can make readers laugh consistently is an amazing tool in creating buy in).

    A sympathetic character is someone that’s likable, but it doesn’t necessarily mean a character that you want to emulate yourself.

    Competence

    This is all about their efficiency and success. Are they intelligent or street smart or adaptable? Do they get shit done?

    Proactivity

    Proactivity is simply how well your character “protags” (While there is quite a lot of overlap, the Protagonist — the one who “protags” — is not necessarily the same as the hero or the viewpoint character). Proactivity is all about character agency and initiative. Does your character make choices that matter and affect the plotline (i.e. if the character were to disappear, would the story be radically different?). Second, does your character cause the change (proactive) or do they only react to change (passive)?

    Mixing and Matching

    Have a character that’s highly competent and proactive, but not sympathetic? That’s a classic villain archetype. Or perhaps you have a villain that’s not quite as competent but a bit more sympathetic.

    Make a character that’s highly proactive and sympathetic, but maybe not as competent and you have the Indiana Jones formula. If you have only someone who’s really high on sympathy, but maybe just so-so in the other two, you get someone like Samwise Gamgee or Harry Potter.

    Character Development


    Characters can grow as people as the circumstances they find themselves in challenge them. Using this framework, it becomes easy to see in what areas you should have your character grow. Someone highly likable and proactive would need to become competent (growth of ability). A character that’s competent and proactive would need to become likable (growth of character). A character that’s likable and competent, but not proactive needs to be more involved (growth of agency). The examples I’ve given here are but a few of the many ways you can mix and match a character.

    If you have a character that’s high on all three sliders, does that mean you have a bad character? Not necessarily. While it’s possible for you to end up with a Mary Sue, it’s also possible to have characters that are competent, likable, and sympathetic that fail due to circumstances beyond their control.

    Similarly, characters high on all three sliders generally need to be challenged by external forces or moral dilemmas (such as with Superman) or have their power level reduced — because people like rooting for underdogs.

    You don’t necessarily have to think about creating characters this way, nor is it the be all end all to it (characters are far too complex for any one model to fully encompass). In my opinion, this is best used to troubleshoot a character and analyze how to fix them when they feel lacking in terms of progression.
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2018
  12. Zeelthor

    Zeelthor Scissor Me Timbers

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    Excellent work, Halt.
     
  13. Anarchy

    Anarchy Fourth Champion DLP Supporter

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    I've found that I've been getting put off more and more with examples like this. The eyes narrowing into slits is too much imo. It's a bit cartoonish. Simplifying it into eyes narrowing would be a bit better, but the whole comma after "he said" can get a bit tedious at times. I've seen upwards of three or four adders onto sentences like that, with that amount being the average. There's a point where enough is enough. I'd probably use a full stop and then maybe add an action description afterwards, if the scene needed it, and not every scene needs it. Just putting an emphasis on the dare is probably enough, as sometimes less really is more. Sometimes the flow of the action is more important than the words themselves.

    I don't want to call them crutches, but that's what they kind of are. Like, having Harry bellowing, roaring, hissing, or whatever when casting magic. There's better ways to use descriptors, and better ways to describe what Harry is doing. I'm a huge fan of word economy, so some words should be used very carefully.
     
  14. Halt

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros.

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    I can definitely agree with this. Fatigue Emphasis is a thing. In my experience, context is the single strongest hint you can give a reader. By constructing scenes which flow naturally from A to B to C (due to characterization + how a chain of events usually play out), sometimes you don't even need to do anything (not even show) the next link in the chain. I've seen some people manage to convey action with nothing but the careful use of dialogue and punctuation.

    Ditto on them being crutches.
     
  15. contra

    contra First Year

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  16. Halt

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros.

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  17. Story Content: Dialogue: Approximations of Reality
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    Dialogue: Approximations of Reality

    Good dialogue sits somewhere between entirely unnatural conversation and an exact mimicry of it. Really, it’s an approximation of reality.

    Why on earth would making dialogue “closer” to how real people talk be a bad thing, you might wonder. It has to do with the magical thing that our brains. When people talk, we usually have a lot of filler words and sounds to fill in the silence while we’re thinking — ah, um, er, I think, well, yeah and many, many more. Your brain automatically filters these sounds out when you hear them (and even then, any public speaker of note will tell you to cut these out when talking).

    The thing is, your brain only does that when you hear them, not when you read them. Those, er filler words, uh when you put them into writing, are, well, I think really annoying.

    No one wants to read that shit.

    Alfred Hitchcock described good stories as “life, with the dull parts taken out.” Dialogue is the same.

    In that vein, unessential dialogue should also be kept to a minimum. There are two questions essential to answer when deciding what to keep and what to cut.

    What does this do for my plot? What does this show about my character?

    Remember, what a character says (or doesn’t say) in any scene reflect the why — they always have some motivation coming in and what they say should drive towards achieving that goal (Plot!). How they say something, on the other hand, reflects their upbringing, social status, education and intelligence, personality, nationality, and a host of other things about them (Character!).

    Dialogue is, in my opinion, the best tool for plot progression and characterization you have. You’ll be amazed how many emphasis techniques you can bypass when the dialogue is on point simply because the subtext says so much by remaining unsaid.

    On the other end of the spectrum, we have writers that struggle with making dialogue sound authentic enough, what people refer to as wooden dialogue.

    Usually, wooden dialogue is a result of having your characters speak too stiffly and formally. This is more often than not an overcompensation for having a weaker grasp on English. The thing is, real people don’t speak with perfect grammar! They like contracting words, fragmenting sentences or running them on to death, using slang (or jargon), and using shortcuts that have entered the everyday lexicon. These might not be grammatically correct, but that shouldn’t matter.

    Dialogue, more than anywhere else, is where you can break the rules of grammar.

    Not all people have extensive vocabularies either. A University Professor using “exquisite” is fine. A four year old doing the same is jarring.

    This doesn’t mean you should just throw away all the grammar rules. If the sentences you construct are incomprehensible gibberish, you’ve still broken the the golden: Something is "bad" when it makes the story harder to read.

    There’s really no quick fix for this, nor is there a definitive guide showing which rules you should break and which rules you shouldn’t when it comes to grammar in dialogue. It’s something that you have to learn through immersion in the languages nuance — listen to how people talk, eavesdrop on daily conversations, consume media.

    When in doubt, read your dialogue out loud. If you ever find yourself stumbling over something, it means something’s wrong.

    Obvious exposition is also another thing to avoid in dialogue. Real conversations have so much left unspoken and implied that people just naturally pick up on. When your characters start stating the obvious every single time, it starts to feel like everyone in the story is retarded.

    Having walls of text is also weird. Natural conversations don’t usually have one-sided lectures, but a sort of back-and-forth dance between people. Nor do conversations follow a strict question answer question answer format (something many writers use in place of walls of text to infodump on readers). Instead, dialogue often has multiple threads running through at the same time — you can be discussing the meaning of life while at the same time talking about what to get for lunch.

    People don’t just talk at each other like set pieces either. They act and interact with their environment and use body language. They get sidetracked, mishear, misunderstand, interrupt themselves, interrupt each other, get stuck in awkward silences, and aren’t always sure of what they know.

    In short, your characters are people.
     
  18. Story Content: Start Strong
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    Start Strong​

    There are 782,000+ Harry Potter fanfiction stories on fanfiction.net alone as I write this. That means the probability of a reader randomly picking out your story from the teeming hordes is lower than you being killed by fireworks.

    Fortunately for you, readers don’t tend to pick stories at random, but rather develop their own strategies for finding “good stories”.

    Here’s the thing: We live in an age of instant gratification. Your prose could be Shakespearean but if your Title, Summary, Opening Lines, and Chapter One suck, you’ve already lost them.

    The beginning is paramount to ensure that readers keep reading.

    Of course, if the rest of your story sucks readers will eventually wise up and leave, but that’s a problem for another day.

    Titles are two-fold in this regard. First, they must act as a catchphrase that encompasses your story. They are your branding so to speak — when people hear that title you want them to think of you. That’s pretty hard to do when there are a couple thousand other stories that have similar names to yours. Here, and here alone, do I actively encourage people to break open their thesauruses to find a word that hasn’t been used before (or at least, not as overused).

    This was a strategy I used for The Magnate so it’s definitely not impossible to have a unique title (and your odds increase exponentially with phrases). A quick google search reveals it’s the only Harry Potter fanfic with the name. There are two other stories with similar-ish names: an Elder Scrolls story and some K-Drama thing.

    In this regard, Google is a useful tool for gauging how popular a title is, and conversely, how bad it is as a means of differentiation.

    There are quite a few techniques that can help you with naming your story. I’ve already mentioned the thesaurus trick. One can also use simple translations if they feel thematically appropriate. Important and uniquely named plot devices in a story are also good choices (The Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings, Skitterleap, Dreamcatcher). Titular characters are also something to consider (but not for fanfiction because that shit is overdone).

    When in doubt, always ask yourself what the story you want to tell is about and extrapolate from there.

    Having a bad title isn’t the end of the world, but having a bad summary is. This, more than your title, determines whether or not someone reads your story. You have to get this one right.

    Luckily for you, most people are shit at writing summaries, so avoiding common pitfalls is enough to get yours above average.

    First and foremost, never ask your reader questions explicitly. It’s annoying in the extreme and kills their curiosity in a story to be forced to ask questions. Instead, your words should be strong enough to make them ask the questions.

    Never give away your whole story, and never give the readers nothing. A summary is actually a misnomer in the sense that it isn’t meant to summarize the story so much as give you just enough to want to read, but not enough to kill any reason to read. If your story gives your readers all the answers, they won’t read. If your story is too pretentious trying to be poetic, they won’t read.

    I write primarily massive AU fics, so that is my story’s unique selling point. Thus, my summaries tend to highlight this fact and give readers a sense of the changes I’ve made. When unsure of what to write, always ask yourself what makes your story weird or different and try to emphasize those things. Your story might just be playing on an age-old trope but with (hopefully) better quality writing, but we expect you to at least have some small twist in there to change up the dynamic.

    One technique I’ve grown fond of is quoting my own story in the summary, when I can find a passage that can encompass what to expect. Quoting real life people is, for the most part, ill advised.

    Another thing to pay attention to is Efficiency of Words. If you can something with less words, do so. Fanfiction.net allows you around three to four sentences given the character limit, so you need to be able to condense your point. This often means having to cut down on overly flowery language and using shortcuts (AU, HP/Initials of Arbitrary Romantic Interest of Choice) to condense some ideas. Ideally, one should never use Slytherin!Harry (and similar tags) because if it’s important enough a point to make, readers should get an idea that that’s the case from your actual summary.

    And that’s all you really need to not be completely shit at summaries. To recap: don’t be too flowery, don’t ask explicit questions, and focus on differentiating your story.
     
  19. Seyllian

    Seyllian Unspeakable DLP Supporter

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    Is there a way to thumbs up this multiple times?
     
  20. Story Content: Constructing Your Alternative Universe
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    Constructing Your Alternative Universe
    With the potential to change so much when writing fanfiction, it astounds me that people insist on sticking to the stations of canon. It seems some think that the troll must always attack, Hermione must always be saved, Riddle must always use Ginny, and Voldemort must always rise via the Triwizard Tournament. You might see a story alter the details of a few of these things (such as letting Hermione die), but those tend to represent minor deviations in their story that do not significantly impact the canon storyline when all is said and done.

    Which is ridiculous.

    With such major changes to the storyline, how can one expect things to remain the same? It’s a criminal failure of imagination.

    If you’re going to write a story, write your story. Don’t just regurgitate canon at us with some minor tweaks.

    Change is not using Daphne Greengrass as a stand in for Hermione’s role. Change is not drastically altering one event but keeping everything after it more or less the same. Change is not letting Harry solve his problems in a different way.

    Change is about meaningful character choice. It’s letting their actions have weight and consequence. It’s about exploring how those consequences affect their character growth, and how those lead to exponentially larger changes to the plot like falling dominoes.

    Change is writing a different story.

    On the other hand, some make arbitrary changes for the sake of change itself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as big a fan of massive AUs as they come, but changes to the universe must be given thought and purpose. You don’t make changes for the sake of change, you make them because it helps you tell the story you want.

    In other words, your changes must have an end goal in mind, which can (though not always should) be used to guide many aspects of your writing process — everything from how to start your story, who to use as a viewpoint character for what scene, and when to reveal what.

    The changes you make must also be clear (to you, at the very least) from the beginning, and you can then move the story forward in a way that feels organic.

    You must not ever make arbitrary changes in the middle of your story. Not only are these jarring, they severely limit the agency of your characters (Proactivity) and makes them far less likable (Remember Sanderson’s Three Slider Model?).

    My own technique for constructing my AUs is a three step process. Am I changing a key moment in canon, am I changing a character’s personality, and am I changing (or expanding) the canon setting?

    To take The Magnate as my example. My change in a key moment is letting Voldemort win the First War. My change to personality is making him a saner, smarter villain. My change to setting is tweaking with the population numbers and introducing shortages magic cannot solve - namely wand material, which in turn resulted in an Eurocentric universe.

    You don’t necessarily have to have changes for all three aspects, but it helps one break down the different ways you can tweak things for your premise.

    Taure’s Lords of Magic, for example, is arguably just a change to setting.

    An example of a bad change is ageing Harry up three years for no reason. A good example is ageing him up is so he can interact with a different set of personalities for a new group dynamic beyond what we usually see (where people just replace Ron and Hermione with Draco and Daphne), and changes the adventures he has as a result of this. (Or it would be if Newcomb ever wrote more RIP)

    The world of fanfiction is your sandbox. Mold it as you see fit, but temper your changes with a goal.

    Understand why you change what you change.
     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2018
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