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Writing Advice and Resource Thread

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

  1. Story Content: [Advice] [Halt] Start Strong: Opening Lines and Chapter Ones

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros.

    May 27, 2010
    The beginning is paramount to ensure that readers keep reading.

    Opening Lines are an important tool in this regard. It is a powerful tool in your arsenal to captivate the reader's imagination.

    In writing opening lines, it may be tempting to fit in a ton of different elements, the reader's attention span is a precious commodity and can only be directed at so many things before being overwhelmed. This central element you choose to focus on does not have be the most important element of your story, but it should be an interesting one.

    With that in mind, below are some elements you should keep in mind.
    1. Character is all about the Who and exploring your protagonist. Giving your readers a sense of what the character is like can do wonders for reader buy-in.

    2. Promise is the What. This is the expectation you leave the reader with regards to the type of conflict, the tone of the story, the themes and the genre. All beginnings make a promise, whether you as the author are conscious of it or not.

    3. Setting is the When and Where of your world and how it might be different from the reality we inhabit.

    4. Hook is the Why. It is the first moment a reader becomes curious and wants to fund out more.

    5. Tone is the How. It is less about what you say and more how you say it. An opening scene set during a storm could be the tone for a turbulent or difficult adventure, whereas focusing on a rose blooming despite the storm around it emphasizes the theme of hope in your story.

    "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort." -The Hobbit

    In The Hobbit, Tolkien subverts our expectations of what a hole is like in our world to a hobbit-hole (Setting), while giving us a sense of what story we're in for by how it phrases things (Promise and Tone).

    "The building was on fire, and it wasn't my fault." -Blood Rites

    Butcher starts us off by making us ask Why the building is on fire (Hook), while at the same time establishing Dresden's voice (Character).

    "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

    One of the most memorable opening lines in perhaps all of literary history, Neuromancer does an excellent job of simultaneously setting us up for a dystopian cyberpunk story (Tone, Promise, Setting) with its eerie description of the sky and using technological similes.

    "I've seen Steelheart bleed."

    Sanderson immediately makes us ask questions (Hook). Who is Steelheart? Why is it important that he bleeds? Furthermore, it's probably not going to be a kid's bedtime story if bleeding is involved (Tone).

    A good opening line, much like any good scene, achieves more than one thing simultaneously. You don't have to hit all the things I've listed above, but it does help the strength of your story if you can incorporate two or more of these.

    A Word of Warning: Sex, sex, sex, sex, sex. Now that I have your attention, that was an example of how not to start your story (caveat: unless it really is about sex.)

    It is tempting to start your story with a bizarre opening line to get the reader in the door, but this can backfire on you. Simply put, this is the literary equivalent of a clickbait title on buzzfeed.

    This is problematic as it sets up a central point of tension that doesn't get unfulfilled and creates an unsatisfactory experience for the reader, whether by false building tension or presenting a misleading basis for your story.

    The Opening Line and Chapter One make a Promise that your audience expects will be fulfilled, in tone and theme and genre and story.

    Chapter Ones can be thought of as merely the extension of your Opening Lines. Their job is to follow up and really sell the story to your reader. It uses the same elements above and expounds on them, filling in the gaps in your Opening Line.

    The Mini Three Act Structure (which is to say a smaller Three Act Structure within the overarching Three Act Structure of your story) is a useful way to organize your first chapter as it allows you to hit all the elements above without feeling like an infodump. It presents your character a problem and how they deal with that problem.

    In Percy Jackson, the book starts off with an introduction to Greek Mythology with their visit to a museum right before the main character has to fight these myths come to life. It makes sense because the story is about exploring what if these myths weren't myths, and not Percy's love life (which, while a subplot in later books, is never the main plot).

    Also fundamental to your Chapter One is presenting a good Hook. This should not be confused with your Inciting Incident. While the two may be the same thing, this is not always necessarily the case and an Inciting Incident can be set up much later while a Hook should be present in your first chapter.

    A Hook, as previously mentioned, is the first moment that intrigues your reader, while an inciting incident is what sets your protagonist on his quest. In Avatar: The Last Airbender, the Hook is presented at the Prologue when Katara narrates that "When the world needed him [Avatar] the most, he vanished.", where as the Inciting Incident is when they find Aang in the Iceberg.
  2. Tsar

    Tsar Third Year DLP Supporter

    Mar 27, 2012
  3. Story Content: [Advice] [Halt] Writing Smart Characters

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros.

    May 27, 2010
    Source: Writing Excuses 13.43

    I've been writing a Code Geass Fic in WBA recently, and it's occurred to me this might be a useful topic so here we go.

    Writing smart characters isn't easy, whether it's your character:
    • being an expert in a certain topic
    • coming up with a clever plan
    • having a witty retort on the spot
    • or in general being smarter than you
    You are, however, in luck. Unlike funny characters (and humor in general), we writers have tricks to get around this.

    We can create the illusion of intelligence in our characters to readers through a few ways:

    1. Show the Whole Process - A leads to B leads to C.

      By showing how your character reaches the conclusions they do, the readers will get a grasp of the character's intelligence. Using this once or twice in a story will be enough to cement the idea in your reader's head that in the future you can skip steps on the logical process without the reader questioning the character's thought process. They will infer the character has thought things through.

      This method is the most rigorous though, and you have to be careful not to mess up. If the logical chain does not make sense, or is otherwise not impressive enough, you will get called out on it.

      And if you can't think of it as A leads to B leads to C, you can always reverse engineer. Start with the end conclusion and work your way backwards - C is caused by B is caused by A. (This also works for coming up with daring plans or heists).

    2. Logical Jumps - A leads to C

      Here, we skips steps in thought process of how a character reaches a conclusion. This is best done after you've Shown the Whole Process, but is not strictly necessary. As long as the reader buys in to the idea that your character is smart, you can get away with this.

      Of course, if they don't buy in to that premise in the first place, this won't work and it'll just get called a plot hole or author oversight.

    3. Comparative Intelligence - X is smart, because A, B, and C say so

      If all the scientists in your story say Character X is a physics genius, we assume that must be the case because scientists are presumably experts in the field.

      Similarly, if all the characters (or at the very least characters we hold to be authorities in a subject) say someone is intelligent in a certain way, we readers will generally believe them.

      As a writer, you can get away with a lot of things if the reader trusts you’re as a storyteller (which is why it's imperative you live up to that trust).

      This is, however, a very "tell" approach and has its own drawbacks. First, it's less believable than the "show" methods above. Second, you cannot rely solely on this and it does create a sort of hype for when you finally "show" the character's intelligence. Furthermore, it creates a sense of expectation and hypes up your readers - which means you have to nail the "show".

      For example, if everyone says Jack is a math genius and no one does mental calculations like he can and all you end up showing us is "oh he can do high school algebra in his head". It's a huge let down. This hurts your credibility as a storyteller and constricts your options in the future and ends up making the reader doubt not only Jack's intelligence, but everyone in your world's intelligence. In those cases, the climax is crucial and it's better to not show one than to show a disappointing one (although this is a case of bad and worse).

      A more show approach to this style might be to show Jack impressing a physical professor or beating someone in a debate, but similar to Show the Whole Process, you have to be aware that this subjects your character to reader scrutiny.

      If you dumb down everyone else to make Jack look smart, readers notice!

      Part of the reason why DLP never accepted Methods of Rationality!Harry as an "intelligent" character was that the topics he was tackling were introductory courses in college.

    4. Speed of Thought

      Part of the thing about smart people isn't that they reach conclusions we never could, but that they can do it in a fraction of the time.

      You have, however, a pretty significant advantage in this regard. In case you haven't noticed it, there's a reason they call it Deus ex Machina, not Scriptor ex Machina. You, the writer, are the Capital G, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent God of your world! Time and Space and Reality are but your playthings.

      It might take you weeks to come up with the character's brilliant plan to save his dog from the mafia, but the reader doesn’t know that. All they see is that Jack came up with this plan on the spot (or in a matter of hours). They don't know you had many sleepless nights thinking of a snappy, instant, and witty comeback for Main McCharacter.

      You don't have to think of it on the spot, only make it appear that the character did. Use it and abuse it.

    5. Difficulty

      Instead of showing us what the character's plans are, show us the insurmountable difficulties he has to overcome, so that when he does overcome them, it makes him seem smart.

      This is used in every heist movie ever (Mission Impossible, Oceans Eleven, Fast and Furious 4+). It also works for reverse situations such as prison breaks (like I used in The Magnate when Dumbledore escapes Nurmengard)

      Fair warning, this can fall into the same traps we talked about in Comparative Intelligence. Showing us difficulties builds up reader expectations - the harder the challenge, the more foolproof this plan must be.

    6. Confidence and Nuance

      Something basic, said confidently, can sometimes do the trick. Of course, getting it wrong will basically kill any chance the reader ever believes your character isn't a dumbass.

      A character that understands the nuances of a particular field will come across as smart. This might not necessarily be true for every field, and unless your reader is particularly well read in the relevant topic, you can get away with this.

      Of course, it's always better to get it right which gives us…

    7. Research and Consultation

      Fact Check!

      Research is as simple as a Google Search and reading through Wikipedia (or whatever credible academic source you wish). Beware that failing to get a holistic view and relying on simply one source can lead to people knowledgeable in the field calling you out on it. This isn't to say that we expect you to become a subject expert, but you do have to do your due diligence.

      If all else fails, don't show the reader everything.

      Again, they'll assume your character is smart because you said so until you show them something contrary to the fact and it all comes down on your head like a house of cards. So keep it simple, but like we said above, make sure to get it right.

      Consultation just means asking people in the know to sense check the relevant portions of your work.

      Don't know any astronauts or military generals or physicists? Not an excuse.

      The internet has democratized information, and this goes both ways. Readers will be able to sense check things you write (if they wanted to, they might not bother of course). So ask around on reddit or quora or whatever forums you wish. Hell, DLP alone has a highly educated user base with nuclear physicists or some shit like that.

      Ask around. People will generally help out as long as you aren't a douchebag about it.

      This also applies when writing about ideologies or beliefs even. I once had to write a Neo Nazi Recruitment Speech conducted by a character meant to be shrewd which lead to me devouring the whole Wikpedia page on Neonazi Ideology and various reddit pages to pick out the better arguments for it.

    8. Writing vs Visual Medias

      Now, it's probably important to talk about how portraying intelligence in writing vs visual medias (TV, Movies) can differ. Visual medias (think Sherlock Holmes and the like) have opted for a fast-paced, audience-can-barely-follow-if-at-all approach to this and it works because the actors can make it work and the nature of visual media makes it relatively difficult for you to go back and sense check what they said.

      In essence, sensory overload. It's the same reason why shows attempt to substitute well choreographed action scenes with quick shots that break away before anything can register to confuse the reader.

      With writing it's different. If the reader doesn't understand a segment, they reread what you just wrote (bad) or put down the book (worse). Thus, presenting information and intelligence in a clear, concise, and followable format is important. You can't sensory overload someone into believing a character is smart because they can take their sweet time processing it and poking holes in your work.

    9. Intelligence as a Shared Experience

      Usually facet of the Mystery Genre, but generally applicable. The reason why the Sherlock Holmes books are so popular is because there's never a sense that Arthur Conan Doyle Deus-Ex-Machinas us.

      We, the readers, are presented with all the clues Sherlock has to solve the mystery and creating this "democracy" is pretty key.

      If you pull out a piece of crucial information that allows your character to solve a problem late in the game, it can leave the reader feeling bitter or thinking "Well, of course I couldn't solve it - the author cheated!" Instead, by showing all of the information from the start (but of course, obscuring it behind red herrings to confuse the reader), they will think "Wow, Sherlock sure is smart!"

      In the same vein, when a character has a plan of some sort in a sort of established world, and the author hides it, it gives readers immense satisfaction trying to puzzle it out or when we're shown applications that we should have arrived at logically, but didn't.

      On the flip side, if it doesn't make sense, we will call you out on it. Just look at Ryuugi in the A Practical Guide to Evil discussion thread if you want proof.
    The Writing Excuses podcast linked above ends with an anecdote I quite liked but couldn't fit in above as an example, so I'll paraphrase it here.

    Programmers being interviewed for jobs are often asked to do the Fizz Buzz Test. They have to write a program where, if it's a multiple of 3, it must show the word Fizz, and if it's a multiple of 5, it must show the word Buzz, and if it fulfills both conditions, show the words Fizz Buzz.

    Elegant is good. Quick is good. Tight coding is good.

    The first thing our interviewer (Dave, a real life friend of one of the podcasters) is write a program "Call Fizz Buzz.Live" from some programmer's hub because someone has already solved it.

    And then Dave provided his solution.

    Then that night, Dave went home, went to this programmer's hub and wrote out a solution to this problem so that when the hirer went to look it up, they would see it and see who wrote it.

    This leads me to:

    10. Don't Reinvent the Wheel, if you don't have to. But if you do, take credit for it!

    It's a mark of intelligence knowing where to find answers as well. Your character doesn't have to know figure out everything, he could be standing on the shoulder of giants and that's okay (especially if he's meant to be smart in more academic fields). This is how it works in real life as well believe it or not.
  4. Palindrome

    Palindrome A bigger, darker mark Moderator DLP Supporter

    Apr 9, 2009
    That was a good one! I liked the examples about the attempts at grand intelligence that didn't work so well, like Methods.

    If you've read it, do you have any thoughts about how intelligence is handled in the Artemis Fowl series? The first book takes lots of care to show the process of Fowl discovering the magical world and deciphering the fairy book - you made me realise that was a pretty good example of Colfer exercising point 1 to establish the character's intelligence and allow the reader to suspend disbelief for the rest of the book.

    You lost me here. Dave is the interviewer? And he found the solution online, then wrote the solution himself for the interviewer, then went home and wrote the solution again to put it online?

    Hah, I'd like to see that. Got a link with context?
  5. Blorcyn

    Blorcyn Auror DLP Supporter DLP Silver Supporter

    Oct 16, 2010
    @Palindrome In the practical guide to evil thread Ryuugi dissects each chapter with a very belligerent and very through style. I haven't read the most recent book but I still find his recent posts entertaining.

    That said, without any context of the story, your mileage may vary. That that said, it's worth reading.
  6. Halt

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros.

    May 27, 2010
    Whoops. Dave is the interviewee. He didn't find a solution online so much as joked his first step to solve it would be seeing if anyone else has solved it (and then went and actually posted a solution online for the hirer to find in their Google search)

    I swear it was funny when I heard it (this is also a great example of why humour can't be taught - unlike most everything else in writing, copying jokes does not necessarily make them funny in the new context.)

    RE Artrmis Fowl haven't read it. But I have seen the opening scene with the Faerie (explained to me at least in a video essay on good openings) which is a great example of doing multiple things with the same scene. It establishes the MCs intelligence / deviousness, establishes some of the rules of the magic, and sets the narrative tone of the story.

    Man I should really read this series at some point. I'm hyping myself up analysing the only thing I know about it.
  7. Hansar

    Hansar Squib

    Oct 13, 2013
    Does anyone have any advice for thinking up names for characters and places? I'm currently planning a fic with an OC cast and while I've managed to name the protagonists, I'm finding it nearly impossible to also think of ones for all the supporting characters and villains.
  8. ScottPress

    ScottPress The Horny Sovereign Prestige

    Apr 22, 2013
    The Holy Moose Empire
    High Score:
    There are name generators all over google. Depends on your setting, but for fantasy you can look up and twist obscure words, or go for symbolism, borrow from other languages.
  9. Halt

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros.

    May 27, 2010
    I tend to stick with real world names borrowed from other languages for people. Name generators, like Scott said, are also an option.

    For villains I'd go for something symbolic. For supporting cast, random names is probably fine unless you have fleshed out character backstories for them that you want to reference to (such as Remus Lupin being a werewolf).

    For places, check out this video which has one of the best discussions I've seen on Naming to date.
  10. Paradise

    Paradise Seventh Year DLP Supporter

    Jun 21, 2015
    So this is something I discovered the other day and have found pretty useful since, basically when you drop a block of text into it, it checks for adverbs, passive voice, simpler phrases, and run on or just weird sentences.

    Doesn't replace a beta but its something to help you out and them out before you send it off.
  11. MrBucket

    MrBucket Fourth Year

    Jan 22, 2018
    https://www.slickwrite.com/#!home is much better in my opinion. In addition to all that, it also gives you explanations and can tell you how your work flows in terms of sentence lengths, sentence types (structural flow), your vocab variety, counts what words/phrases you repeat often, and more.
  12. Story Content: [Advice] [Halt] Foreshadowing

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros.

    May 27, 2010
    In its simplest form, foreshadowing is using scenes earlier on in the story to building anticipation or understanding of events later in the story. It is a warning or indication of a future event.

    As hellofuturme on youtube(I recommend you watch this if you want to know more, this article is heavily based off of that video) puts it, foreshadowing "shows the reader the shape of what is to come, but not precisely what happens." That balance is the key to good foreshadowing - because for some strange reason readers straddle this line of wanting to be surprised, but not too surprised.

    Foreshadowing allows you to emphasize certain dramatic threads in the story, which creates expectations about what will be important in the story. It also acts as a connective tissue for your story and makes the story as a whole more cohesive when the reader can anticipate what could happen beforehand. This does not mean they know what will happen, just that they know what elements will cause tension. In essence, foreshadowing guides the reader's experience.

    Another use of foreshadowing is when a story has a tonal shift which requires a foundation. The best example of this is in Goblet of Fire, which is a huge turn in the Harry Potter series. The first three books had a lighter, adventurous feel to them, whereas the last three were more serious and grim in tone. In GoF, J. K. Rowling begins with a murder, which hints at the Death Eater attack during the World Cup, and ultimately at Voldemort's resurrection at the climax.

    Without this foreshadowing, it might have been jarring for the reader to experience this dramatic shift in tone. It would have come out of nowhere.

    Again, this does not mean that it should be obvious to the reader - often foreshadowing is picked up on subconsciously by most readers and being too obvious with it can be detrimental to your story. But if tonal shifts are foreshadowed, it can feel disconnected from the story and throw your reader out of the story head first.

    Foreshadowing tonal shifts also creates a sense of intrigue as the reader anticipates the important coming event. This can add suspense to parts of the book that feel less intense

    Foreshadowing is not just giving information to the reader. Whether foreshadowing is used for tone or narrative structure, foreshadowing is needed to make unexpected events believable. A satisfying payoff means the reader feels the resolution to the problem was set up in a way that made sense.

    The more important the event, the more it needs to be foreshadowed.

    Foreshadowing involves either planning for events known to happen in advance, or reverse engineering / retconning events in the past to foreshadow future events.

    Types of Foreshadowing:

    The types I listed below are classified between overt and covert types, but this is a bit misleading. Foreshadowing techniques exist along a spectrum, and I've listed the following types based on -in my own opinion- what are the most obvious to the least obvious ways to foreshadow.
    1. Overt - good tool for building suspense, although should be used sparingly. It openly hints at an impending trail or problem, casting a clear shadow before the event and baits the reader with just enough information to keep them reading
      1. Prophecy - The most obvious of the lot.
      2. Narrator Statement - "Little did Harry know, he was about to get fucked."
      3. Naming an Approaching Event - "The Purge would be starting soon."
      4. Character Opinion, Feeling, Jokes, Dreams, Contemplation, Quirky Character Traits, etc.
      5. Flashback / Flash-forward - when you need the reader to know something doesn't fit the current timeline
      6. Red Herring - a wild goose chase to keep the readers guessing and diverting them from the real twist
    2. Covert - Possibility of an event is hinted at enough that the result doesn't feel like a sudden shift in the story.
      1. Irregularity
        1. Irrational Concern - This conveys suspense and surprise
        2. Apprehension - Similar to above, but this conveys suspense and mystery
        3. Irregular Description - This technique is usually used when one is solving a mystery, as it brings attention to an object by describing it in a way one does not normally describe it.
      2. Chekhov's Gun - If a gun is shown in the first act, it must be fire by the third act.
      3. Symbolism - Game of Thrones uses this a lot. When the first book opens, we're treated to a scene where a stag and a direwolf have killed each other, leaving only the cubs of the direwolf behind. This acts as a pre scene of the impending war between the Starks and the Baratheons that eventually kills off the Baratheons and leaves the Stark children to their own devices.
    The title itself "A Song of Ice and Fire" is likely symbolism for the Starks and Targaryens themselves.

    3. Event - Event foreshadowing unifies the story, connecting important events with a thread of familiarity while also displaying various faces or repercussions of a theme/ situation
    1. Pre-Scene - Tonal Shifts, a smaller version of a larger version to come
  13. Joe's Nemesis

    Joe's Nemesis High Score: 2,058 Prestige

    Jan 29, 2012
    High Score:
    On a practical level, the question becomes "how do you foreshadow based on your method of writing."

    If you prepare everything beforehand and map out, or at least. trace out your characters and plot, then you know what to insert when. The real issue comes when you are the type of writer who is more spontaneous and writes what comes to mind. There are two options here. I've used both, and there's good and bad in both.

    1. Delay making it public.
    I get it. A chapter is written, It's good. It's damn good. It might even ascend to a level of greatness. We need to get it out there and begin the revolution! Yeah, but what about the next chapter? Remember, there's an entire story to be written, not 15 or 25 individual stories called chapters. So, don't publish them yet. Write several chapters, and then read them all at once. Make sure you have links or connections in the chapters (a different issue), but also make sure nothing comes out of left field. If it does, find small places to insert foreshadowing.

    So, if in chapter six you have Harry suddenly being attacked by Hedwig, go back into chapter two where you have Harry sending a letter, and change it so Hedwig refuses to go and he has to use another owl. It's a simply two or three line change. Hedwig refuses. Harry wonders why, then figures she's probably too tired. He then gets too caught up in the next scene and forgets about it. Now, when it happens in chapter 6, it makes sense.

    You can't do that if you don't delay making things public (well, you can, but you lose people that way).
    2. Write and publish chapter by chapter, but use small flourishes easily ignored or built upon.
    Some times we just write better going chapter by chapter, and it's long enough between chapters that we might as well publish them as we go. It happens. So, in this case, think hard about what who your character is, and then give a few flourishes here and there. So, instead of writing a boring scene of Ron stuffing his face, write a scene of Ron still very hungry, but Harry realizes he's a tad selective as well.

    You can play it out in another scene and have it mean almost nothing except for a little nuancing and character building. Or, you can later use the flourish as a foreshadowing for Ron being able to restrain himself in a scene that changes the entire direction of the book. Did you know he'd do that later? Nope. But because you have a minimal flourish, you get to play off it.

    Word of warning here. Don't use too many. Perhaps, one or two a chapter IF the chapter is 10k words or so. Otherwise, you turn an intended 80k fic into a 300k+ fic, which is exactly what happened to me. ​