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Writing Advice Thread

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

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  1. Archinist

    Archinist Hαn Sαlsæd First

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    Debatably off-topic, but I thought I should mention this.

    If you have no inspiration and no desire to write (but you also want to)

    try this website


    Basically you have 5 minutes to write, and if you haven't written a word for five seconds, all your progress is deleted.

    I swear I've never written this fast in my life.

    I would recommend at least giving it a try.
     
  2. H_A_Greene

    H_A_Greene High Inquisitor –§ Prestigious §– DLP Supporter

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    Thank you but no thank you. I've lost my progress only a few times in the past from regular errors and it has infuriated me to no end. I've also seen what happens when I turn off my brain and just crash out words across the page, and it is a very, very ugly thing. No interest in combining those two disasters into one. But kudos to you for finding the process meaningful.

    EDIT: Okay, gave it a shot. Looks like you can get your words back at the end? Maybe not so bad then. Still, I prefer taking a bit more time to feel out what I'm writing as I go rather than just rush-rush-rush.
     
  3. Story Content: Plot vs Character: The False Dichotomy
    Halt

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros. Moderator

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    Too often, writers might think that their story is plot-centric or character pieces. Too often, they think that a scene is here to advance plot, and that scene is there to deepen character.

    This is, however, a false dichotomy.

    Plot and character is not an either-or choice. Rather, plot (the external events of a story) exists to change character, to test it, to hammer home lessons and put them in situations that stress them. Instead of thinking about stories or scenes as plot or character, think of it as plot in service of character. Plot might get your reader in the door, but ultimately, it is character that will make them stick with your story in the long haul. Investment in characters is a hallmark of successful fiction, and is the very concept that fanfiction banks on to work---we are tapping into that investment in character whenever we write fanfiction, where the heavy lifting has been done for us.

    At the same time, characters are not lifeless chess pieces. They must have agency, must make choices, must have motivations, and all of this comes together in characters driving plot. They push the story forward through their actions, which must impact the story in meaningful ways. They also react to external events which happen to them.

    Breaking this down further to the most basic elements of macro-story telling, what motivates a character through each scene you portray (which is in turn informed by their backgrounds, their wants and ambitions).
     
  4. Selethe

    Selethe normalphobe

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    No different from most DLPers, I've read my fair share of how-to writing books. Naturally, I'm curious-- which writing tip has had the most impact on you? Which piece of advice continues to stick with you beyond the usual 'adverbs are evil'?

    My tip answers (for me) the question of 'what is good writing?' Why can I read a cliche story with uninspired characters and terrible grammar all the way through, but sometimes, when there's this genius of a writer who dishes out the big boy creativity, the complex characters, the brilliant plot, the good pacing, The Prose(tm)... I find myself skimming? The second story is superior to the first in every way, but I didn't finish story two. I finished story one. If I had to rank both, is story one better? What was it that kept me reading?

    It is 'shape'. When someone is a natural storyteller, what they are innately good at is shape.

    Here's a quote from The Book of Skin by Steven Connor, which is not about writing at all, but the metaphor is there.

    Abstract, but something clicked for me. People parrot that it's better to write out a first draft and then re-write it til it's crispy, but this excerpt is what actually stopped me from stressing over prose (if you want to dive into that all-consuming abyss, look up 'assonance'). Words on their own are devoid of life. A writer gives them life. Movement, purpose, shape. With a lot of on-paper great stories, I've found that, for whatever reason, the blood's not flowing and heart-flesh is peeking out the ears. Keeping the reader tabbed in is more valuable than including that gratuitous description of an Elizabethan chair, or that paper-thin "characterization" subplot (you know what I'm talking about), or that action scene whose only purpose is to show-off that you can write one. Fluff should emphasize the shape, not distort it.

    Anyway. This is rather subjective and I'm sure someone will come in with a wildly different, but equally valid opinion. This helped me though.

    So what about you guys? What piece of advice resonated with you?
     
  5. Halt

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros. Moderator

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    I'm not exactly sure where I got it from, but whoever it was that defined good writing as "Whatever makes it easier to read".

    My entire philosophy for how I approach writing has been the extension of this concept. It's deceptively simple, but flexible in its application. It's also probably why I have a dim view on most "experimental" styles of writing that go for style over substance.
     
  6. Ched

    Ched Da Trek Moderator DLP Supporter

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    Just gotta say @Selethe that this is so incredibly true. I've read some stories that were quite poorly written in terms of prose that stick with me to this day because they were engaging/interesting. I've read some where the prose is top notch but I am honestly bored and don't care that much. I've always considered it in part a pacing issue - if things are happening and aren't bogged down it's easier to keep reading - but it may be 'shape' that I'm picking up and the pace is only one part of it. Thanks for that.

    As for me, this bit of writing advice blew my mind open the first time I read it, as it was something I had been really struggling with. This is a short excerpt from "Word Painting" by Rebecca McClanahan.
    That's from somewhere in the middle of the book and it really stuck with me in a way that many other bits of advice haven't. It's a book entirely about description and how to do it right (I still do it completely wrong, but it was so helpful in getting started on making it better). Here's the first few paragraphs of Chapter 1 to go with the excerpt above, in case anyone is curious to read the start of the text.
    If I were fully conscious of my surroundings at this moment, I would describe the light through the miniblinds, the way it searches out the apples in the glass bowl, buffing them to an unnatural sheen. I bought them for their fragrance, not their freshness, so even if you were to close your eyes, you'd know you were in the presence of apples. You would smell the heavy softening, the sweet rotting where apple ends and cider begins.

    Or I would tell you how the sofa cushion feels beneath my bare neck—rough and scratchy, a bit lumpy. A few minutes ago, before I lay down, I pounded the cushion with my fist to loosen the foam stuffing, and now it's fighting back. If I were noticing such things right now, I might even describe the pinprick tingling in my toes (a result of my feet being slung over the sofa back) and the stupefying sensation of willing the toes to move, as if they belonged to a stranger.

    If you were sitting in the chair beside me, you'd probably notice the sounds filling the open window—the pneumatic wheeze as a bus rounds the corner, a jay's raspy squawk, the rhythmic clackclackclack of a roller skater counting each sidewalk seam. You might look in my direction, start to speak, then, noticing the open book in my hands, think better of it. Think better of stirring a reader from the world of her book. I might bolt, like anyone shaken too suddenly from a dream.

    The place I've entered is what John Gardner, in his classic book The Art of Fiction, calls the fictional dream. Because the writer has done her job, the world of the book I am reading has become, for the moment at least, more real than the world at my elbow.
     
  7. Blorcyn

    Blorcyn Minister of Magic DLP Supporter DLP Silver Supporter

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    This is a tricky question, there are many things that resonated with me on my first reading them, titbits that felt like light through crystalised amber, perfectly clear on reading it but that then slip away or that I can't always apply well.

    The quote above, and Neil Gaiman's 'it's like driving through fog with one headlight' regarding creating a story really stick with me. When I try and do anything more than a <20k short story I always flounder. Still that said, there are a few things that have stuck in my head, which feel fundamental and which I do carry with me when I try and write, even if perhaps it's not reflected in the end product.

    The first is from Amy Weldon, and it's essentially what Ched describes regarding linking or active description, except it calls it editorial language vs sensory language, so I won't rephrase that.

    The second is from Rob McKee's 'Story' which I read after 'The Anatomy of Story', and I feel was when 'it' finally clicked for me, and writing to a template like Harmon's Story Circle, or the Monomyth, or Snyders 'Save the Cat' stopped being an explicit method of writing. It felt like I grasped the underpinning logic that they were trying to create and it was macroscopic and microscopic. The macroscopic was that internal character arc is the 'real' story, and the external events are just the structure you create to make sure your character begins one way and ends another. The internal creates the external (the plot events that you actually write with those story templates).

    There was a part I can't find now, that spoke about blind 'pattern repetition', this is pretty similar:

    This was the sort of thing that helped me feel my above paragraph was a revelation. That I had previously written 'Harry fights Voldemort and uses his new magic to cause rocks to fall and every one dies' in my plans, that it had all been 'plot' focused, where it should in fact be about what the specific pattern of story I wanted to tell was. Consciously.

    The other part, the smaller part, was how to figure out how to make scenes that have a point. And that was all about value change and the gap between reality, and expectation, and the subsequent attempts to course correct by your character creating bigger and bigger risks for them, and thereby showing us, the reader, what they value at their core. Pressure equals deeper more 'true' character choice. The more you push your characters to extremes in order to show us their values the more successful it feels, to my understanding.

    You have to overcome your own conservative nature, to have your character act sensibly and live easily. You need to look at what they're in and how you can push the left and right side of their life further from each other, to make that charge, that differential, wider. For the pressure. Does that make sense?

    From the same book, it's described this way:

    Bold emphasis is mine.

    It's a bit pompously written but the truth is there, and here's 500 days of summer.


    The other thing that helped me were the central chapters of the otherwise tedious and not re-readable John Yorke's 'Into the Woods: A Five-Act Journey into Structure' or something like that.

    He talked about Syd Field's three act structure: beginning, middle, end. He talked about the saggy middle and what an 'Act' is, and I felt like it clicked for me then. I'd always wondered why people broke it up in certain ways, and why the midpoint wasn't an act turn etc. etc. He argues that five acts made more sense, and that acts were goal mutation as the journey and the character changes through discrete points, points where their journey is now not 'go-backable' to the last act's status quo, and that act number wasn't really fixed and that act number was just an organic macroscopic growth out of the basic scene that you get more of as your story gets longer. That a one act short story is one thing and that a five act Shakespeare play essentially the same thing. That the same pattern is replicated in a scene and builds and builds until you have a massive story with distinct turning points, that resonates because you've repeated the same pattern over and over again in bigger and bigger waves. But it's all the same thing.

    The important take away was that it made me think of my story as a big story, and then each little part of it as a little story. Just repeat the same steps, over and over again, for each little section, and then tighten it up to make it one long straight line, once you're done.

    Oh, lastly, (because I'm not transcribing any more quotes), the last most important thing is the scene purpose. Something has to change. As simple as that. Someone starts off with a certain Value: they're happy, they're sad, they're free, they're rich. The value that relates to their goal or that is compromised by their obstacle is then inverted by scene end. Positive to negative, or negative to positive. That's how I write my bullet point scene plans.

    [Wednesday 11th November 2010 (negative to positive, proactivity) Taylor is at school and taking the abuse of bullies and a bully calls her pathetic, she decides that night that she will complete her costume and go out.]

    That was the bullet point for my recent story opening scene at the first stage of making it.

    So yeah, bit of a ramble, but that's my answer.
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2020
  8. Download

    Download Groundskeeper ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    Has anyone got any examples of writing a character with depersonalisation? I unintentionally wrote a scene like that while trying to write confusion in battle, and then when I realised what I had done tweaked it a bit and ran with it. I was hoping to see other's examples though as I'm worried the dulled reality might be a bit difficult for readers to grasp.
     
  9. Story Content: [Masterclass] [Swimdraconian] Present Tense
    Halt

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros. Moderator

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    What is the Masterclass Series?

    @Lungs and I got to talking on discord, and he realized how much advice he's gotten over the years, in WBA, on IRC, on Discord, in PMs, in Private Groups from authors he looked up to. Your Swimdraconians, your Enembees, your Newcombs, your Nuhuhs.

    So consider this a call to action. You, yes YOU. If you've ever received writing advice that resonated with you on a deep level, if you've ever read advice for someone else that you thought as profound, send it to me. We want it, and we want to compile it here so that the collective writing knowledge of DLP does not just disappear into the ether.

    Don't worry if you think it's not good enough. Send it to me anyway, what's the worse that can happen?

    Advice From: Swimdraconian
    Advice To: Lungs
    Advice About: Present Tense
    For What Story:
    Based on a True Story (Carmilla)
    Via: PMs

    Okay, let's play around with this.

    Present tense lends itself best to active storytelling. It's a phenomenal tool for composing fight scenes for that reason.

    The keys to present tense are brevity and always show action. Present tense is 'in the moment.' Do not tell. Do not meander. Get in, show the thing, get out. Smack yourself if you do otherwise.

    Also you really need to make it clearer who's POV this is. The way you've laid it out, even just this tiny passage feels like it flip-flops between Carmilla and Laura. Be exacting. Present tense demands a singular POV, not an omniscient one. Remember, it's all happening in the moment - to be omniscient is to be removed from the situation.

    If this passage is from Carmilla's POV, then this phrase:

    ....is pretty damn extraneous. How the hell would Carmilla know that? I could buy her knowing Laura long enough to learn the motivations and thought processes behind her quirks, but this seems like you've switched POVs entirely.

    If you've divided your story up into scenes, then of course, in a different scene you can comfortably switch POVs. But not in the same one. Not with present tense. It'll rapidly become too confusing. Take note: smack yourself.

    Instead of words like 'dashes' and 'extricates', what about dashing or extricating? The other versions are somewhat passive, which drags down present tense narration.

    Here's what I'd do and hopefully, it keeps with your personal style:

    "Just a pen pal." Carmilla sips her drink, ignoring the fact that Laura is all but straddling her.

    Clip off the unnecessary excess. You can always add description afterwards. Like where does Laura place her hand as she extricates herself? Little details sharpen your audience's perception of the story and enhances your storytelling as a whole without bogging the story down with excessive description.

    Also, use your most descriptive verbs. I like straddling, it's very descriptive.

    Repetition, repetition, repetition, c'mon you can do better than this. How table can you table? And if you're really attached to In a moment of inspiration, how about you talk about her expression?

    Laura's face brightens with inspiration.

    BOOM! Action.

    Don't be afraid to start a sentence with a verb. Present tense lets you get away with all sorts of crazy shit - it's why I write all my dream sequences that way.

    Laura's face brightens with inspiration. Extricating herself, she dashes over to snatch the envelope off the table.

    And then we have:

    Avoid there is and there are if at all possible. It's passive-aggressive like the ex who keeps cold calling you. Ix-nay on the passive-ay. Aside from that, I love this bit of description. Nice, neat, and vivid.

    How about:

    Three letters are written on its face in a tidy narrow script.

    CVK.


    A paragraph break gives her initials the proper amount of gravitas her... prestige seems to demand. Stylistically, present tense narration is all about the how you say it, not just what is being said.

    Putting it all together:

    "Just a pen pal." Carmilla sips her drink, ignoring the fact that Laura is all but straddling her.

    Laura's face brightens with inspiration. Extricating herself, she dashes over to snatch the envelope off the table. Three letters are written on its face in a tidy narrow script.

    CVK.


    Works, yes?

    Challenge yourself. Present tense is tricky, but from what I've seen you're more than capable of rising to the occasion. Overcoming these little hurdles do incredible things for your writing skills. You might not think it now, but go back later on and read over something you wrote previously. I think you'll find yourself noticing better and easier ways of expressing yourself.

    Hopefully, this was helpful. A tutorial, a critique, and a pep-talk walk into a bar. Actually the pep-talk walks underneath the bar because you were already feeling so low it doesn't even matter.

    Right, I'll just see myself out.
     
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2021 at 3:24 PM
  10. Lungs

    Lungs KT Loser ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    Sometimes we enjoy waxing poetic to you about how great some of the authors on DLP are. You might be thinking that the advice we received could not possibly merit that kind of sanctification of the people who gave it to us.

    But you - you reading this - you simply don't understand. Some of the heroes we describe aren't actually as good as we say.

    They're much, much better. If you knew how much better you would be terrified.

    That post above is my contribution: advice I received from swim about the present tense. There's more good stuff in the thread from a bunch of people. (we miss newcomb we miss newcomb we miss newcomb) I'm pretty happy Halt's going to start compiling this sort of thing because I think this is probably what makes DLP unique.
     
  11. ScottPress

    ScottPress The Horny Sovereign ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    My advice is to first clear up the format of Halt's post. I mean this:

    Original Author
    Original Recipient
    Submitted by

    I wasn't clear on who submitted what in who's thread until Lungs' follow-up post. I propose something like this:

    Advice giver:
    Advice recipient:
    Advice given where: WBA/FFN/PM/Discord/etc

    I like the idea though. I'll trawl my WBA threads and some others I posted in over the years and see what comes up.
     
  12. AlbusPHolmes

    AlbusPHolmes The Alchemist

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    Glad to see this book mentioned here. 6-7 years ago I happened on this book when I was really looking for a guide on how to do effective descriptions. Some really good lessons in there - I'll second it as a good resource.
     
  13. Story Content: [Masterclass] [Newcomb] What You Leave Behind (AKA Trimming Your Prose)
    Halt

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros. Moderator

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    Advice From: Newcomb
    Advice To: Various
    Advice About: Trimming your prose and removing superfluous words
    For What Story: Various
    Via: Various

    This one is a bit all over the place and draws from multiple stories, but hopefully conveys some of the ideas behind knowing where you can reduce your word usage (but also when it works!) which many people find difficult starting out.

    You also have a tendency to over-write dialogue attribution, which is super-common. Example:

    In that one sentence, you've got no less FOUR items stressing how emphatic Remus is being. The statement itself ("I refuse to sell out" is already pretty bold on its own), "insisted," "crossing his arms," and then you tack on a "defiantly." At MOST, you want two of those. Personally, I'd go with,

    The words convey the tone already, you don't need the "insisted," and you definitely don't need to tell us that he said them defiantly. Trust your readers to paint the picture and pick up things :) It's not easy - every single writer does it; trusting readers is HARD. Readers are stupid most of the time. But there's a point where if you do it too much, it becomes very obvious and annoying.

    The road to hell is paved with adverbs.

    Easy on the descriptive language, there.

    There's poetic phrasing, and then there's nonsense. It's a continuum, to be sure, but this is edging close to the latter.

    Right away you're raising my hackles with some purple prose. Describing Harry's eyes as "emerald chips of ice" is putting me on the back foot immediately.

    Back to Halt:

    So what can we learn from above?

    1) The key to trimming is to take it line by line. If you're conveying a specific idea with more than two indicators in any given paragraph, you may need to cut back.

    2) Lines do not exist in a vaccuum, but within the context of the scene. Look at sets of dialogue or paragraphs, and see if you are repeating adverbs / adjectives / phrases unintentionally.

    3) How to know what to cut? Your first choice should usually be your adverbs / adjectives. Check to see if the phrasing of the dialogue or the action of the characters or their expressions can do the job for you. Adverbs / adjectives are your weapons of last resort, to be used sparingly but with great effect.

    4) Descriptive language and poetic phrasing follow the same rule of less is more. Having one good line stand by itself makes it good. Having five good lines stuffed together dilutes them, especially if they're all trying to say the same thing.

    5) Pick and choose when you're going to be descriptive or poetic. The more mundane the scene, the less necessary. The more important / emotional / impactful, the more allowable (but not necessary! There is power in simplicity.)
     
  14. Lungs

    Lungs KT Loser ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    I felt attacked when I saw the second to last example, which indicates what I should be working on.

    My poor, neutrally haughty heart :(
     
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