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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: Sorrows - The Art of Paragraphing
    Sorrows

    Sorrows Auror Prestige DLP Gold Supporter

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    For some more technical advice there is something that I see that at its worst renders otherwise reasonably written fanfiction stories unreadable, and that is tat new writers often do not consider how they use paragraphs.

    The Art or Paragraphs - Fred D. White

    Skillful paragraphing aids readability.

    In fiction writing, you should consider starting a new paragraph when any of the following occurs:
    • There is a change in perspective.
    • There is a shift in location.
    • A different character speaks (you should create a new paragraph anytime someone different says something).
    • There is a change in focus or thought

    However it also sets the pace of the narrative, generates mood and helps make characters three-dimensional. So ignore the school textbook rules about the so-called well-made paragraph. Keep these three principles in mind instead:

    1. PARAGRAPHS MANAGE CONTENT: A scene can be constructed in any number of ways—it’s up to you to break it down to the most dramatic effect.
    2. PARAGRAPHS AMPLIFY VOICE: How your narrator sounds and thinks affects the rhythm and even the design of the paragraph.
    3. PARAGRAPHS HELP GENERATE MOOD: Is it introspective and thoughtful, or hurried and staccato? Note how the length and type of the paragraphs can maintain or change the mood in a scene.

    Remember that paragraphing is more an element of individual style than of grammar: You are in charge of what a paragraph should do or what shape it should take.

    The Single Sentence Paragraph

    When looking to add emphasis and build suspense, it’s hard to beat this device. Take a look at an example from the thriller The Blood Gospel by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell:

    Once the scene is set, the character’s revelations are broken into short lines of their own so that each one makes an impact on the reader. This can work well to heighten tension and interest in the middle of a scene, and can also make for a page-turning end to a chapter.
     
  2. Story Content: Outlining vs. Discovery Writing
    Halt

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros.

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    There are two general ways to approach writing.

    Outlining and Discovery Writing (AKA Free Writing).

    Outlining is putting the moments of awesome in some structure (usually but not necessarily chronological), while Discovery Writing is chasing the moments of awesome - writing what you want with little to no plan and seeing where the muse takes you. Stories aren't one or the other, but rather a mix of somewhere in between. All stories are discovery written to a degree - even when you outline, you are discovery writing between the points within your outline.

    Both options have their pro and cons.

    Outlining tends to be more structured, but less flexible and there's a very real risk of "over outlining" something. Spending too much time planning that you never get to the actual writing (which is rather the point) and changes can throw this into total disarray.

    Discovery writing, on the other hand, is a lot more fun to do. Most fanfiction are probably written this way, or start off this way. If you've ever had a cool idea or snarky line of dialogue or epic scene and just went with it, that's discovery writing. These tend to be flexible and more "Wow!". At the same time, it's very easy to forget that stories are not just "a bunch of cool things happening" under this method. Character arcs, development, and plot progression are more difficult with stories that are discovery written and require more editing (usually reverse outlining) to fix these issues.
     
  3. Story Content: Combat
    Halt

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros.

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    They key to good combat scenes is context. Having combat scenes for the sake of "action" and to keep a story "interesting" kills it more likely than not if you don't ground that action in context.

    There are three that are generally applicable:
    1. Plot and Objectives - Fighting is an exhausting task, so if people are to fight, you must answer why they are fighting. What does each side or person want to achieve? What do they gain or lose from each outcome? How important is the fight to them?

      These are all questions that tie your combat into your narrative, and once you understand what each side wants, then you have to make sure they act it. A character trying to escape and a character tying to conquer a city will have very different approaches to a fight and how quickly they'll be willing to run away.

      Few people or armies will fight to the death when the battle seems lost to them. People will rout, morale breaks, armies scatter. You have to know what your character's breakpoint is.

      In general, morale can be thought of as existing on two axes - strength of personality and importance of objective. The more important the outcome of the fight is to that individual (and they must feel strongly about it, don't just have this be some greater good nonsense) and the stronger their personality (courage, bravery, stubbornness), the longer and harder they'll fight.

      And vice versa.

      Objectives can also change in a fight as things develop. Always consider how a character might react to new conditions.

    2. Location - Where are they fighting? What physical features are nearby? Are they in a cramped room, a wide field, a forest or in the middle of the city? Is there anything around that might give one side an advantage? Fights are rarely static events, but dynamic ones where movement should matter as combatants reposition to take advantage of their surroundings. Take the high ground, force your enemy into the open, run into the forest to escape - these things matter.

    3. Personality - Who is fighting and how does that affect them? Do they prefer to be sneaky or daring? Are they quick to flee or undaunted by overwhelming opposition? Are they blunt and brash or do they choose creative, indirect solutions to achieving objectives?
    The OOTP Fight in Harry Potter is iconic because it incorporates these principles.

    Objectives - Harry is trying to save Sirius, which drives him to the Department of Mysteries. When he finds out it’s a trap, his objective shifts from rescue, to escaping with the Prophecy. The Death Eaters, on the other hand, shift their objectives from capturing the Prophecy to escaping when the Ministry employees floo in.

    Location - The scene makes plentiful use of its surroundings, from having characters run through the Ministry (also an excellent tool of worldbuilding by showing us brief glimpses of things and their effects), from collapsing shelves on the death eaters to using the floating brains.

    Personality - Harry is headstrong, but not suicidal. If he was a coward, he would've given up the Prophecy to save his skin. If he was suicidal, he would've fought to the death instead of engaging in a fighting retreat. It was his personality that dictated why he fought the way he did. Personality can also dictate the preferred fighting style of individuals. Voldemort naturally prefers the Dark Arts, whereas Dumbledore uses Transfiguration. Harry's go to are Shield Charms, Stunning Spells, and Disarming Spells. There's a reason for that, and it's not because he doesn't know how to use any other magic.
     
  4. Story Content: Engaging Characters: Motivations
    Halt

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros.

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    Why does your character do what they do?

    Whatever the reason, it's probably not in service of some overarching plot. "Because plot" is why you gave the character that motivation (Doylist commentary), but not the "in-universe" explanation (Watsonian commentary).

    Motivation is an essential part of creating engaging characters, easily just as important as asking who your characters are (their characterization).

    1. Motivations should not be superficial.​

    Take Darkseid from DC for example. His goal is to conquer the universe, but we're never told why he wants to do so. MCU-Thanos, on the other hand, wants to kill half the population, and he does it because there isn't enough resources to support everyone. There's a reason.

    In Thanos' mind, he's the good guy. And that's key. Remember: no one ever thinks they're the bad guy.

    2. Objectives and Superobjectives.​

    In theatre, objectives are what characters want in that moment (short term goals) while superobjectives are what characters want over the long term.

    These may not always be consistent with each other and that's okay. People aren't rational beings.

    A person's long term goal may be to lose weight, but right now they just really want to eat that chocolate cake.

    3. People lie.​

    To ourselves most often. Characters will often engage in self-deception over what their true motivations are. Eespecially when these turn out to be ugly truths, but not always the case. People may have such a low opinion of themselves that they interpret everything they do in as negative a light as possible - an argument here can be made for Ciaphas Cain.

    4. People are rarely direct.​

    We obfuscate or imply intentions so much in real life without even realizing it. You might see an ad for a Starbucks pumpkin spice latte and suddenly have a craving for it.

    e.g. Traffic was always so fucking bad at this time of night. The billboard to our right had a Starbucks pumpkin spice latte plastered all over it and I licked my lips.

    "I'm thirsty," I said to my friend who was driving.

    "Mhm," he said. "We'll be home soon."

    I pouted. [FIN]

    People aren't direct, and you can use that to create misunderstanding (and thus, conflict) between characters. This is often what romance stories bank on.

    It is also important to understand that goals are not stakes. Goals (what you want to do) are the result of motivations (why you do what you do). Stakes are what failure looks like for your character.

    So to take our Thanos example, the goal is to kill half the population of the universe (because the universe is overpopulated and does not have the resources to support it). The stake is that everyone dies and the universe devolves into utter chaos.

    Diagnostics:

    Now, sometimes readers won't get your character's motivations despite it being shown on page and there are a host of technical reasons why this may be the case.

    1. Paragraphing - It might simply be that you've dumped the reason in a wall of text and people skimmed over it. Space it out. Remember: Paragraphing can be used to show importance.

    2. Show, don’t tell - You don't want to be too direct about showing character motivations. Writing "I'm mad at Gerry because he fucked my mom." is (in most cases) dry and boring and it doesn't stick in the reader's head as well.

    e.g. Gerry's Cadillac was parked outside my house again. My fists clenched. Probably here to "see" mom again.

    3. When writing it third person, Free Indirect Speech (emulating first person with third person style) can be a useful tool in this regard.​

    Quoted / Direct Speech: Harry laid down besides Fleur and thought of his luck. "What did I do to deserve her?" he thought.

    Reported / Indirect Speech: Harry laid down besides Fleur and thought of his luck He asked himself what he did to deserve her.

    Free Indirect Speech: Harry laid down besides Fleur. What did I do to deserve her?
     
  5. Story Content: Resources I
    Halt

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros.

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    As some of you may have noticed, more than a few of my posts are just cannibalized or rephrased advice from other people. So, here are some some resources I usually refer to.

    1) Terrible Writing Advice on Youtube. The title says it all. It's a great way of seeing what not to do in general. It doesn't dig deep into specific examples or dissecting actual passages, but focuses on the big picture stuff.

    2) Writing Excuses Podcast. Short, episodic discussions (15 minutes long, because you're in a hurry and we're not that smart). It has a panel of 4 writers (the most famous being Brandon Sanderson) and I lift a lot of the material in this thread from their different episodes. A lot of the advice you hear on this podcast will end up repeating itself inevitably (probably doesn't help that people end up asking the same questions, and that a lot of writing tips tend to have intersections), although their latest seasons have been trying to diversify more (including bringing in other writers).

    Occasionally, you'll find some gems of insight in their discussions (one of their episodes on horror completely changed how I understood the genre for example).

    3) Obligatory posts by Lungs and Newcomb in the Harry/Fleur Thread which I reread every so often that highlight why romance (and relationships in general) are difficult to write about, and the importance of developing interesting characters.

    4) The original How to Write Dialogue Thread from 2008 which, in my opinion, does a better job at explaining tags vs beats than I do in this thread.

    5) On Writing by Stephen King. A crossover between his memoirs and writing advice as he frequently points to his own life as an example. Very good read in my opinion and something I go back to every so often.

    6) How to Write Summaries workshop. Never really took off, but I learned a lot from this thread personally.

    Other stuff on DLP about Writing I found
    1) Writing Believable Mistakes here on DLP is also a good thing to read when you need a character to fuck up somehow and not have people call you on your bullshit.

    2)On Cliffhangers

    3) Tons of good stuff (Compilation of Writing Advice, not unlike this thread).

    4) Even more stuff (Another compilation).

    5) Jim Butcher's writing bloc

    Tangentially Related to Writing

    1) Writing and Motivation by Joe. The hardest part about writing is really motivation (or rather, Discipline), to grit your teeth and just do it. Some people turn to alcohol. Others turn to more alcohol.

    2) Not my own cup of tea, personally, but a discussion on Fonts and how they convey certain impressions on readers that fit the theme of your story. Personally, I'm of the opinion that the vast majority of writers are better off shoring up fundamentals (and just writing more in general) than getting too caught up on what font to use. Nonetheless, it may be of interest to some of you.

    3) Similarly, music for writing. I myself basically can't write a fight scene without blasting some Sabaton nowadays.

    4) DLP discusses how writers plan
     
  6. Zombie

    Zombie John Waynes Teeth Prestige DLP Supporter

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    I tend to like to listen to either Synth or some decent hip-hop. Something that's got decent rhythm and vocals. If its got too many words its kinda hard to focus, and if its got too few I can't really listen to it. And the non-vocal stuff I listen to, I really like it to fade into the background so when I come out of my writing state I can pick up where I left off and not have to think about it. Its just ambient noise, something that isn't Television, that isn't someone talking, that isn't just white noise.

    I think music also helps me engage the more creative aspects of my own mind. I (used to)draw, design, and paint, etc. I went to art school when I was younger, and it helps me stay focused having that going. I don't like having other people there to entertain discussion about what I'm doing, because that's an immediate way to kill any momentum I have.

    Another thing, it applies more to real life than to writing, but having a theme song, or a tune to go about your day with makes things easier. I used to listen to all kinds of music in the back at the restaurant. I had the doors sound proofed just so I could blast it as loud as I wanted without polluting the floors.

    Your actions become automatic then. You don't need verbal cues to direct, if you're in the moment, you just get it. My whole team was like that. Learning how to communicate with gestures and action versus spoken word.


    From the quoted thread. I tend to go this way. I don't have a creative process. I get an idea in my head and I just sit down and write about six variations of it until I'm happy with one. Usually, I start with something, and then I go back and edit it drastically. Its also more the idea than a scene that really sticks with me. Something that I want to work towards.
     
  7. Sorrows

    Sorrows Auror Prestige DLP Gold Supporter

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    I would add the YouTube channel Overly Sarcastic Productions as a great source of writing advice. They go into things like tropes and why they are used as well as breaking down a lot of myths and classic stories.
     
  8. contra

    contra First Year

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    Ted Talk by the guy who wrote
    John Carter.
    And Toy Story and Finding Nemo and WALL-E.

    Fun hook, watch the rest if you like it.

    Most of it is likely not new, but the presentation is great. General notes of what he says are here regardless.

    Notes:
    • Make me (the audience) care. Then they'll listen.
    • Storytelling~joketelling. Your story leads up to the end goal of the punchline~theme~climax.
    • Make a promise in the beginning for what's to come (hook). But stories aren't exact or predictable. Drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty.
    • The audience wants to work for their meal. Show 2+2, don't tell 4.
    • Well drawn characters have a dominant unconscious goal—an itch they can't scratch, a singular goal. They are motivated. Characters with "bad" traits to be "fixed" can be made relatable by being comfortable with the status quo, then have their baseline motivations or needs violated to bring out their bad side.
    • Change must happen, and the themes are more powerful if they are truths that deepen understanding of who we are.
    • The rules for stories are guidelines. In the end, it works best if you merely invoke a sense of wonder in the reader.
     
  9. Story Content: Resources II
    Halt

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros.

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    Shout out to @BTT . Great discussion going on right now about how to get better at Critical Reading: Here

    And from last year, here

    Critical Reading is an important facet for writers and it can be an invaluable skill on the road to improvement. Being able to break down the nuances of why a scene works or doesn't work allows you to apply the same diagnostic skills to your own writing (provided you can distance yourself emotionally).

    Indexing stuff below so it never gets lost.

     
  10. Story Content: Character Arcs - DREAM Model
    Halt

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros.

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    Source: Writing Excuses 13.22

    Character Arcs is the transformation or inner journey of a character over the course of a story. In other words, it begins when a character is dissatisfied / unhappy / desires a thing / is in trouble and ends when it is resolved.

    Originally used by Elizabeth Boyle to describe romance arcs and expanded on by Marie Robinette Kowal (in Writing Excuses 13.22) too all character arcs, the DREAM model is one such way of analyzing at what stage a character is in their transformation
    1. Denial - Problem? What problem?
      "Harry Potter?" Fleur sneered. "'e is a leetle boi. Not worth my time."
    2. Resist - I know I have a problem, but it's not a big deal. I got this.
      "Well, some girls seem to like him for whatever reason."
    3. Explore - Maybe this is worth thinking about.
      "I guess one date couldn't hurt."
    4. Accept - Fuck me. I'm an alcoholic.
      "He's actually pretty fun once you get to know him."
    5. Manifestation - The steps taking after something is accepted. e.g. I'm not drinking anymore.
      Fleur becomes Harry's girlfriend.
    (If this strikes one as similar to the 5 Stages of Grief, it's because it was inspired by it.)

    Changes in a character roughly follow this step-by-step. The length of time spent on each step may vary, but each step is critical to a natural progression of change. Thus, the DREAM model can be a useful tool in diagnosing why a character arc may feel off. Problems with a character arc may simply be the result of skipped steps.

    Not all character arcs must begin with a negative state and end with a positive state. It's entirely possible to have an arc begin and end with a negative state.

    In DREAM model terms, instead of the Manifestation being "Fleur becomes Harry's girlfriend", it's "I love him, but I can't be with him because he isn't a Male Veela."

    Other characters change from one state to another without being necessarily better or worse off (sideways character arcs) or from positive states and end in negative ones - these we typically call downward spirals or tragedies. For example, that would be:
    1. Grindelwald was wrong.
    2. He was too extreme in his views.
    3. His philosophy isn't all bad.
    4. Grindelwald did nothing wrong.
    5. Dark Lord Potter.
    To people who are less inclined to figure out each step, there's a shortcut to this for downward spirals.

    Figuring out a character's tragic flaw (Pride, Obsessions, a Savior Complex, etc.) helps here. A character may want something for most of the story, but realizes at the end that it makes things worse (someone dies, it didn't actually solve anything, the cure is worse than the cancer). Then, during the turning point where a character is presented what they want, they have a choice.

    In heroic character arcs, they would choose to reject this thing.
    In downward spirals, they take it anyway and let the world burn.

    Previously, we've discussed Try-Fail Cycles (Yes, But; No, And) and this can also be used to analyzed downward spirals.
    1. Yes, but! As a character arc, this is where a character succeeds but his successes are superficial in a sense. They don't actually solve anything, or end up making things worse somehow. Essentially, their victory is a house of cards; unsteady and upturned at any moment. When overused, this can leave readers incredibly dissatisfied.
    2. No, and! They fail, and things get even worse for them. Overuse of this can leave readers with a feeling that there's no forward progression in the character arc.
     
  11. Story Content: Microwave - Writing Numbers
    Microwave

    Microwave Second Year

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    Alright, I'm going to start the dumbest post in this entire thread.

    Writing Numbers

    Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? Small numbers are spelled out using words, and large numbers are spelled out using digits.

    sort of.


    Spelling out numbers

    So, what types of numbers are we supposed to spell out? Because English doesn't have a single regulating body for this, different sources will give you different answers, so a lot of this generally comes from personal preference. There's no consistency in this, but most of it boils down to a few methods of doing this.
    1. Only single digit numbers should be spelled out using digits.
      This one is basically a blanket rule. Using this technically isn't grammatically incorrect, but it does create a lot of awkward sentences.
    2. Spell out numbers from zero to a hundred and everything except for whole numbers.
      Example: A hundred and thirty would be "130", but two hundred would be spelled out.
    3. Spell out everything under a million.
      This is also a crappy blanket rule that creates awkward sentences.
    4. Generalise numbers above a million with a combination of words and digits.
      Example: There are 7.6 billion people on earth.
      This rule only works with generalisations.
    All of this also applies to rank.
    Example: First, Eightieth, 222nd, etc.

    None of these rules actually work in all cases. Ideally, they should be blended together to insure the most natural-looking sentences. The most important part is not to contradict yourself while writing. Don't write "two million" in one sentence and "7 million" in another.

    There are a few definite rules for spelling out numbers, however.
    1. Numbers at the beginning of a sentence are always spelled out, no matter how long and awkward it can be.
    2. Approximations are always spelled out.
      Example:
      During the eleventh century, William the Conqueror invaded England with a force of about ten thousand.
      I owe around ten billion dollars.
    3. Years are never spelled out, but specific dates can be.
      Example:
      In 2018, Arthellion was banned.
      I am busy on the first of January.
    4. Use digits while writing out decimals, but spell out fractions.
    Punctuation

    Punctuation in numbers actually make sense. The SI hates people that use commas and periods in their numbers, but they're twats, and using commas and periods prevent the numbers from looking unnatural.
    1. Commas to separate numbers by each thousand, and periods to indicate decimals.
      This doesn't need much explaining, but might as well.
      Example: One thousand and one-half = 1,000.5
    2. Hyphens are relatively straightforward. Just put them between two-digit numbers and fractions.
      Example: Thirty-five thousand twenty-nine and one-third. *this does not apply when using "a" or "an" as an article for fractions.
    3. Don't use multiple apostrophes.
      Either use "Smash Mouth was the pinnacle of music in the '90s." or "Smash Mouth was the pinnacle of music in the 90's." never use '90's.
    4. Percentages should be written out unless you're writing some sort of statistic.
    You probably now have even more questions after reading this than you did before. Numbers are confusing, don't worry. As long as it doesn't look too awkward ninety-five percent of the time you'll be fine.

    Was I supposed to spell that out?
    See, even I don't know.
     
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