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Stuporstar
May 5, 2008

Where do fists come from?


Since the old writing discussion thread was almost 4500 posts, I've compressed the most common advice given to new writers in the OP. I may make some long posts in this thread covering pov, tension, and whatever, but don't let me drive the discussion. Jump in with your questions, answers, general advice, or writer's resources you've found particularly helpful. The old thread can be found here.

Speaking of helpful resources, I have plenty here in the Creative Resources Thread.

Since the discussion is open to just about anything writing related, I'll outline what we don't want to see here.

Don't post your fiction here, aside from ~100 word snippets, given for context only. That's what the Daily Writing Thread is for.

We'd rather not have you come and ask questions like "yo what's a better word for 'intertwined'"? Because we have thesauruses and precious time.

Don't continually blather on about your ideas. Shut up and write. No-one can tell you whether your idea is good or bad. No-one cares before you turn it into a story. It's all in the execution.

--

Critique Guidelines
Also, here's a link to Mike Works' Workshopping Guidelines found later in this thread.

I’ve sensed quite a few new people are reluctant to critique, which is a great way to develop a better eye for your own writing. It's also a good way to build good will with the people giving you critiques. It could be you’re not comfortable offering an opinion on someone else’s work when you’re unsure of your own skill. I’m here to tell you anyone can critique. Do you read enough to have an intuitive sense of story? Whether or not you know writer’s terminology, I’m sure you can tell if something’s boring you.

First, try to read the story or sample the whole way through before giving a critique. If the writing is so bad you can’t get through it, then the writer has more serious problems obscuring the story itself. In this case, it’s ok to say, “This is unreadable.” If the writer asks for help, line-editing the first paragraph can help give the writer an idea why no-one can bear to slog through their crap.

I’ve split critiquing into three different levels. So people who don’t know their stuff have some kind of baseline to go on, I’ve divided the macro level, or story problems, into looking at it with a reader’s eye or an editor’s.

Reader’s Critique:

This is generally the kind of feedback you’d expect when you pass your story along to readers before it reaches an editor. They can be the most helpful because anyone, regardless of writing skill, can look for plot holes, mischaracterization, bad pacing, confusing bits, and so on. You don’t need to know your writing terminology inside-out to give a crit like this, but you do need to make an effort to explain why something doesn’t work for you.

If anything’s confusing, ask the writer questions. These are helpful, because they can indicate something the writer missed. Maybe they’re phrasing something badly, or aren’t filling in enough blanks to give the reader a clear mental picture. Does everything make sense within the context given? Maybe they’re stringing you along, hoping the mystery will compel you to read on, but are being too coy about holding back facts you need to know to get into the story.

Did you stop reading at any point? Tell the writer when and why. Is the verbiage thick and convoluted? Is the writer using big words when it’s obvious they don’t even know what they mean, spewing word-salad all over the place in an effort to become the next James Joyce, yet too lazy to look up poo poo in the dictionary? Alternately, the pacing could be off and the characters could be bland. They could be slogging the story down with info-dump. Are you thinking, “Get on with it,” “Slow the gently caress down,” or worse, “I don’t give a drat about these people?”

Did you enjoy the story? What did you like about it? Was there any bits that stood out? Did any characters stand out, whether you liked or loathed them? If it’s a sample, do you want to keep reading?

Also, avoid the urge to say, “It would be cool if you did this …” I’m guilty of doing this once in a while, and regret it every time. The urge can be hard to resist when the writer is copying some formula and not taking risks. Sometimes you chime in with, “Hey, change the setting/characters to something less hackneyed and you’ll have a more original story.” You might have some ideas. Others might chime in saying, “Hey, yeah, that would be cool.” When this happens, the writer is at liberty to say, “Go to hell, this is my story,” because you’ve crossed the line. To avoid this, point out why you think the story doesn’t work, or what potential they’re wasting, and leave it at that. When it comes to ideas, let the author find them.

Macro Edit:

This is similar to the reader’s critique, but more technical. Point of view problems are a big one that your average reader might not pick up on, tone and voice are others. They may sense something’s not quite right, but can’t articulate why.

POV - The biggest problem with pov is consistency. Jumping from one character’s head to another, or zooming out to look at the pov character, is omniscient. Having the narrator tell the reader info the pov character doesn’t know is omniscient. If you’re in first person or a deep third, accidental shifts like this are jarring. Even in a steady omniscient pov, you don’t want to head-jump mid-paragraph.

The other spectrum is objective vs. subjective. First person is subjective by default. If you’re treating their eyes like a movie camera, refusing to get into the narrator’s head, people will think your character is a robot. If your character is a robot, go for it, but people have opinions. It colors the way they see everything. In first person, you describe everything in the narrator’s voice. A deep third pov is similar. You have to put your character’s outlook and motivations into a close pov to make us give a drat.

Motivation - On a macro level, is the writer showing why a character is doing stuff, or are they dangling a plot puppet on a string? Worse yet, is the character doing stuff for no drat reason at all? On the micro level, motivation/response is what drives the story forward. It has to make some kind of logical sense. You don’t show someone reacting to a tiger attack before the tiger attacks, unless he knows the tiger is in the bush. It’s up to the writer to make this clear.

Tension - for the most part it should rise up to the climax. This has a lot to do with overall pacing. It’s easier to diagnose in a full story than a sample. Writers use the term scene and sequel to describe yanking the reader up like a fish on a line, then letting it slack to let them breathe a moment before pulling harder. If you find the plot-line going flat (especially mid-story), you need to up the stakes. Even a non-linear story follows a plot in terms of tension.

Tone - colors the whole story, much like film post-processing, where they color a film give it a specific mood. This is often tied to genre, but doesn’t have to be. It’s an artistic decision, one you maintain throughout the story. Is your story horrific, gritty, black humor, satirical, romantic, light humor …? A tonal shift can be used to great effect, but it has to look intentional. An unintentional tonal shift will bounce the reader right out of the story.

Voice - this one’s harder to pin down than tone. It hides in the phrasing, and comes to the writer with practice. They say, “Write how you talk,” but if you’re writing as a character, you have to write how they talk. This means getting into their head, knowing them inside-out. People can tell when you’re writing outside your own voice, as in trying to emulate someone else and failing. It often ends up sounding unsure or pompous. Wanna be James Joyce or Douglas Adams? Ugh—we can tell. An great author's voice is unique, like Hemingway or Mark Twain. Emulating another writer is great practice, but be up front about it. A great voice can overcome stylistic quibbles—if someone’s a great bullshitter, they might purple up their prose or "tell" away and no-one will give a drat because they’re entertaining.

So, how do you learn to recognize voice? Read. Read a lot.

Line Edit:

It’s not so helpful to dive straight into copy-editing when someone posts an early draft, since they’ll likely revise those words into oblivion anyway. You want to tackle bigger story problems first. However, if someone’s spewing out adverbs every other word, or making your eye scrape across every sentence with the passive voice, giving them some idea will help them write clearer prose in the next revision.

You don’t need to know your terminology to pick out awkward phrasing, but it helps when you’re trying to explain. Here’s some red flags I look for, and why:

“had,” “have” - used in the past-perfect tense to indicate past events. A past tense story reads as happening now, so you need a flag to reference events that happened earlier. Using it for action happening on-screen is jarring. “He had untied himself”—don’t do this if we’re watching. Tense shifts are also jarring. Some writers weave between past and present like a drunk. Watch out for this.

“-ly” - these pop up a lot when someone’s abusing adverbs. However, tons of non-ly adverbs can be abused like “ever,” “just,” “even,” and “very.” The latter three are adjectives as well. “Very,” the most abused of the bunch, can almost always go. “Suddenly” needs to die in a fire, because it doesn’t make the action sudden, it slows it down. If you’re not up on your basic grammar, remember, an adverb modifies a verb. If someone’s leaning on them like a crutch, they need to look for stronger verbs.

“was,” “were,” and “by” - the biggest passive voice indicators you’ll find, and the worst offenders among “is,” “are,” “am,” “be,” “being,” and “been.” In passive voice, something’s having poo poo done to it rather than doing poo poo. “She was hit by the ball”—double lame. “The ball hit her hard in the face”—active, but oh boy, there’s one of those sneaky non-ly adverbs creeping in to lame up the place. “The ball smashed her in the face”—there we go.

“-ing” - either a participle or a gerund. A gerund is a noun, like “writing.” Any other time, it’s a present-participle, usually used as an adjective. Often found in passive phrases and dangling modifiers, “-ing” words are a red flag. You’ll find the worst offenders scanning for the verbs mentioned above: “He was running,” vs. “He ran.” Though “-ing” words can indicate weak writing, that doesn’t mean excise them from your vocabulary.

“that” - a word commonly shotgunned into prose. If you can remove “that” from a sentence and it still makes sense, it can go.

“of” - a few people have an “of” problem, using it in nearly every damned sentence, sometimes multiple times. Consider the writer’s voice though. “Of” constructions often sound formal. Is the piece meant to sound stuffy? Is it working? Fine then, keep it.

“began to,” “started to,” ect. - think about this one. Is the character beginning to do something, or just doing it? “She began to run”—really? She didn't just run?

“felt,” “saw,” “heard,” etc. - experiential verbs distance the reader. If it’s a close pov, they’re implied, therefore unnecessary. “Turned” is another one I watch for, added here because it can distance the reader from the action in the same way. “She turned and leapt out the window.” Why not just, “She leapt out the window?” We don’t need to see her turning. It’s padding. It’s worse in conjunction with an experiential verb: “He turned to see the”—get on with the damned story.

“few,” “about,” “little,” etc. - if you drown your prose in non-specifics, you muddy the mental picture. Chances are the phrasing could be stronger. “Her phone was just out of reach.” vs. “She stretched until she brushed the phone, budging it half-an-inch beyond her fingertips.” The first one is telling us, the second is showing us.

Most of these I've gotten from Ken Rand's book The 10% Solution. It has plenty more helpful advice on editing, so I highly recommend it.

I don’t go on a witch hunt for these words and syllables in every critique. Voice and context override. Use common sense. Is the sentence slow, muddy, or awkward? Is the writer beating every sentence to death with them? If not, don’t be a prescriptive rear end. For example, would changing the last example to “She stretched until she brushed the phone, and budged it …” do anything to further clarify the sentence? Not really. It’s a matter of style. Tell the writer to read it out loud. Which has better rhythm? Within the context of a whole paragraph, it might change. Let the writer decide.

Consider the author's style. If someone's writing in a Victorian manner because they're writing from a character's pov in that period, and pulling it off, don't tell them to cut every adverb just because that's what your teachers told you. If the writing's not getting in the way of the story, if it's purposeful and not clumsy, don't try to cram the writer into this decade's style guide. To the writer attempting an outdated style: try hybridizing it into something that has the period's flavor, but is as clean as concise as it can be, and show instead of tell when you need to.

Advice to writers we give over and over again:

Effort goes a long away around here, as well as basic reading comprehension when it comes to the forum's rules.

If you're going to post an OP for your writing, make sure it's enough to warrant its own thread. A completed short story or chapter will get a better crit than, "Hey, I'm just going to throw this half-baked drivel up here. Tell me if I can do anything with it." That's what the Daily Writing Thread is for. If your half-baked drivel is over 1000 words, either post a segment, or polish it into something vaguely complete before drawing attention to yourself. I'm not trying to discourage new writers, but you'll appreciate the results better if you start by doing the best you can. If you're posting a chapter from your novel, the first chapter is usually the best, since it's the one where you need to hook the reader. We can usually tell if your story has problems right off the bat.

Proofread before you post a writing OP. Also, wait a day and look at it with a fresh eye. Don’t drop your fresh brain spew on CC the moment it gushes forth from your head. We don’t want to see your mess before you’ve made some attempt to clean it up. Print it out, switch up the font, or stick it on an e-reader and wander over to the couch, whatever suits you. A visual or tactile difference can help make your mistakes stand out because your eye gets accustomed to seeing the same text over and over again. Don’t rely on your word processor to catch mistakes like mixed up homophones (their, they’re, there).

Many great authors have not only given out great writing advice, but said it better than we could. I'm going to link some of the best here:
George Orwell - His whole essay Politics and the English Language is a great read. His tips are near the end of the essay.
Mark Twain - Listen to what the master has to say.
Kurt Vonnegut - On how to write a great story.

Show, don’t tell. You’ll get this advice if your characters are emoting all over the place without describing their reactions. Don’t just tell us your character is angry. Does he glare in the corner? Does he stomp around like a dinosaur? If you show us, you don’t need to tell us. You’ll also get told this if you do a massive info-dump. Do we really need a paragraph about some ancient war, or how your character grew up a sad little orphan, before you get into the story? Why should we care? If it’s relevant to the story, make its effects ripple across the story. Keep your backstory to yourself, and reveal it through what the characters are doing right now. This advice has its pitfalls, which we discuss here on the first page.

Read it out loud. On your final editing pass, read the whole story out loud. If the dialogue sounds unnatural, if you stumble over your own words, it needs a rewrite. If you’re feeling ambitious, examine the rhythm of your prose. Think about how, for centuries, people passed stories down through oral tradition, and how rhythm helped those stories stick in their heads. People respond, even if only subconsciously, to the rhythm of words.

Read. Read more. Read inside your favorite genre, and broaden your tastes outside your genre. Read character driven fiction. Read novels and short stories instead of devouring nothing but comics, games, and movies. You’ll develop a better eye for writing stories as you read them.

Trying to write a story when you don't read is the equivalent of being a tonedeaf musician: why writers must be readers.

Back up your work. You will be a sad panda if you lose it. Also, copying former drafts before I make massive changes tricks my brain into obliterating my shoddy old prose because I tell myself I can always go back to the original if things don't work out.

If you think something should be in the OP, please mention it in your post. Now, I give the floor over to you guys.

Stuporstar fucked around with this message at 21:54 on Sep 12, 2012

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budgieinspector
Mar 24, 2006

According to my research,
these would appear to be
Budgerigars.



Stuporstar posted:

Read. Read more. Read inside your favorite genre, and broaden your tastes outside your genre. Read character driven fiction. Read novels and short stories instead of devouring nothing but comics, games, and movies. You’ll develop a better eye for writing stories as you read them.

By that same token, I'd suggest that any writer can learn from reading different forms.

Screenplays:
Have a recurring issue with "show, don't tell"? Read the screenplay of a film you admire. Screenplays generally run between 90-120 pages, so a good screenwriter has to choose their moments carefully. Especially helpful if the film is based on a book that you also dig. Compare and contrast. Figure out why that long, gorgeous internal monologue was condensed to three lines of voiceover while the protagonist stares glumly out the window.

Do readers complain that your prose is too flowery? Screenplays are intended for an "audience" of people who don't give a poo poo about the bits you can't film. You get a couple lines to set the scene -- and that's assuming that your scene even requires a description. You then have to rely on action and dialogue. The various technicians who, if you're extremely lucky, will be translating your script to film? They need clear, concise descriptions, and then they need you to get the hell out of the way so they can do their jobs.

Stage Plays
These have many advantages in common with their screen descendents, but there's a bit more latitude with dialogue length, and a lot more constriction with the mise-en-scène -- you can't exactly load an otherwise-dull play with car chases and explosions.

Mainly, though, if you're writing in English without ever having read a Shakespeare play -- it's like never having read any of the King James Bible. Sure, you can get by without it, but you're missing out on hundreds of years' worth of literary allusions.

Poetry
If, on the other hand, readers complain that your prose relies too heavily on cliche, poets have been beating their brains out for millennia to dodge that particular trap. A decent familiarity with the work of meticulous wordsmiths tends to expand one's expressive horizons.

Another strength of the form is economy of language. Even epic poetry is vastly condensed in comparison to the prose equivalent of the same tale. In poetry, there's little room for words that can't pull their weight -- especially in free verse, where concessions don't need to be made for meter and rhyme scheme, and which has to be outstanding in order to be considered any good at all by the sort of audiences who get suspicious of poems that don't rhyme.

Comics
Up until the mid-'90s, your average comics scribe had 24 pages (at most; backing stories could range from seven pages down to one), each sectioned into nine panels, in which to tell their story. That's 216 bursts of information. Less, if there was a splash page. 216 frames is nothing in film. It's literally nine seconds. You can do a lot with 216 paragraphs of prose, but if you're bogging it down with a bunch of scene description, your reader probably won't like you.

Comics writers can jam in as much detail as they want (Alan Moore's scripts are notoriously particular), or they can leave the lion's share of the storytelling to the artist (the "Marvel Method" pioneered by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko, had Lee mostly responsible for dialogue and captions). Most scripts (and many trade paperback collections contain a page of script in the back of the volume) read lean, and expand only when the writer needs to get a very specific image or concept across to the artist. In prose, this would stop a story dead in its tracks, but with the intervention of the artist, the story should flow without the reader even being aware that an incongruously huge block of text lies behind Page 8, Panel 4.

squeegee
Jul 22, 2001

Bright as the sun.

Stuporstar posted:

Read. Read more. Read inside your favorite genre, and broaden your tastes outside your genre. Read character driven fiction. Read novels and short stories instead of devouring nothing but comics, games, and movies. You’ll develop a better eye for writing stories as you read them.

I think this is the single most important piece of advice in the OP and I can't even count how many times this advice was given out in the old thread. A lot of people seem resistant to it-- "I don't like character-driven fiction, it's boring", "I don't have time to waste on reading things I'm not interested in," etc. First of all, anyone who says this just hasn't read enough outside their genre-- there's certainly something out there that will appeal to them. Second of all, you just can't be a truly competent writer if you don't broaden your horizons and read things in many genres, from many different perspectives, with many types of characters and situations and varying styles of prose. I guess if you've literally never read anything at all and start to write you might produce some kind of interesting outsider art due to lack of knowledge of conventions, ala The Shaggs, but you probably won't. You're not a special snowflake and neither is your pet project, so get your rear end to the library and you'll improve both in the process.

Tiggum
Oct 23, 2007


budgieinspector posted:

it's like never having read any of the King James Bible.

Why King James specifically? That seems like a pretty odd restriction.

NeilPerry
May 2, 2010


squeegee posted:

I think this is the single most important piece of advice in the OP and I can't even count how many times this advice was given out in the old thread. A lot of people seem resistant to it-- "I don't like character-driven fiction, it's boring", "I don't have time to waste on reading things I'm not interested in," etc. First of all, anyone who says this just hasn't read enough outside their genre-- there's certainly something out there that will appeal to them. Second of all, you just can't be a truly competent writer if you don't broaden your horizons and read things in many genres, from many different perspectives, with many types of characters and situations and varying styles of prose. I guess if you've literally never read anything at all and start to write you might produce some kind of interesting outsider art due to lack of knowledge of conventions, ala The Shaggs, but you probably won't. You're not a special snowflake and neither is your pet project, so get your rear end to the library and you'll improve both in the process.

I'm a very slow reader and I cannot help it. Is there a way I can maximize my reading efforts to becoming a better writer? I almost exclusively read character-driven fiction but sometimes I feel as if I'm too stuck in what I absolutely know to be good because we've had 50 or so years for us to process them(Henry Miller, Hemingway, Faulkner, etc in fact the most recent thing I've read was Blood Meridian). So, what kind of modern fiction of the same genre would be a good place to start?

EDIT: While I'm here, I wanted to ask about my greatest problem starting out. I'm Belgian, and although I've been able to pick up on the English language extremely quickly from a very young age I'm stunted due to never having been around English speaking people for longer than several days at a time. I don't know how people actually speak in English, and I feel as if I can't write dialogue properly. In fact, due to my penchant for '20's to 40's literature my "voice" tends to be too solemn and even robotic at times(it's not been that bad in my current project though). The only thing I can think of to solve it is to find a way to go to England for a couple of months, probably via my college's erasmus programs. But does anyone have any advice for that? And no, I can't write in my own language for reasons I can't quite comprehend myself.

NeilPerry fucked around with this message at 14:43 on Jul 15, 2012

squeegee
Jul 22, 2001

Bright as the sun.

You might want to check out books of short stories, especially if you're a slow reader. Even if you write only long-form fiction, a good short story can teach you a lot about tight structure and economy of words. Raymond Carver, for instance, is a master of very, very tight and sparse short stories and while not everyone is going to want to write that way, they're enjoyable stories and are useful as a teaching tool.

Erik Shawn-Bohner
Mar 21, 2010

by XyloJW


squeegee posted:

You might want to check out books of short stories, especially if you're a slow reader. Even if you write only long-form fiction, a good short story can teach you a lot about tight structure and economy of words. Raymond Carver, for instance, is a master of very, very tight and sparse short stories and while not everyone is going to want to write that way, they're enjoyable stories and are useful as a teaching tool.

To add to that, you should try beginning with Carver's collection Cathedral, Barry Hannah's Airships, and Larry Brown's Big Bad Love if you want some character/dialogue heavy stories that are in the realm of Lit fic.

Tiggum posted:

Why King James specifically? That seems like a pretty odd restriction.

Because of that specific interpretation's use in literature. It's quoted and alluded to in many classics, and the meaning of certain parts changes with other interpretations. While modernized versions may be more useful in a religious context, the KJV is more important in the study of literature.

Erik Shawn-Bohner fucked around with this message at 15:38 on Jul 15, 2012

Chillmatic
Jul 25, 2003

always seeking to survive and flourish

Great OP. I'd add a little something about the value of critique groups, both good and bad. Critique groups can be a great place to beta-test your writing, but in some cases it can be the blind leading the blind. I'd suggest that new writers take everything they hear in such groups with a grain of salt, unless they're dealing with advice from a fellow writer who has already achieved the level of success that the new writer himself wishes to achieve.

Of course, it's true that some people in these groups are just bitter ninnies But I'll say that if you have an entire group of people telling you that something in your story is not working, you need to pay close attention to what they're saying, and give it serious consideration.


One other comment:

quote:

Show, don’t tell. You’ll get this advice if your characters are emoting all over the place without describing their reactions. Don’t just tell us your character is angry. Does he glare in the corner? Does he stomp around like a dinosaur? If you show us, you don’t need to tell us. You’ll also get told this if you do a massive info-dump. Do we really need a paragraph about some ancient war, or how your character grew up a sad little orphan, before you get into the story? Why should we care? If it’s relevant to the story, make its effects ripple across the story. Keep your backstory to yourself, and reveal it through what the characters are doing right now.

I agree that bad writing often simply tells things that it should show, but I honestly believe that the rampant repeating of this mantra probably did more damage to my early writing than any other. I began to notice that every scene I wrote was LONG. Very Long. Every character interaction had a ton of dialogue because I wanted to show these two peoples' history rather than simply cutting the reader some slack and telling them a few things about it.

The example that clued me into this failure of mine came to me from Orson Scott Card's excellent book on POV and characters. I'll paste the entire excerpt from the book that really gave me a new perspective on how to write character interactions- the same excerpt that finally gave me permission to do a little telling and not worry about showing everything.

The sample writing is in italics, the unitalicized part is Card's commentary.

quote:

She sat down beside him. “I’m so nervous,” she said.

“Nothing to be nervous about,” he answered soothingly. “You’ll do fine. You’ve been rehearsing your dance routines for months, and in just a few more minutes you’ll go on stage and do just what I know you can do. Didn’t I teach you everything I know?” he said jokingly.

“It’s easy for you to be confident, sitting down here,” she said, gulping nervously at her drink.

He laid his hand on her arm. “Steady, girl,” he said. “You don’t want the alcohol to get up and dance for you.”

She jerked her arm away. “I’ve been sober for months!” she snapped. “I can have a little drink to steady my nerves if I want! You don’t have to be my nursemaid anymore.”


Talk talk talk. The dialogue is being used for narrative purposes — to tell us that she’s a dancer who’s going on stage for an important performance after months of rehearsal, and that she has had a drinking problem in the past and he had some kind of caretaker role in her recovery from previous bouts of drunkenness. Attitude is being shown through the dialogue, too, by having the characters blurt out all their feelings — and in case we don’t get it, the author adds words like soothingly and jokingly and snapped. The result? Melodrama. We’re being forced to watch two complete strangers showing powerful emotions and talking about personal affairs that mean nothing to us. It would be embarrassing to watch in real life, and it’s embarrassing and off-putting to read.

But with penetration somewhere between light and deep, we get a much more restrained, believable scene, and we end up knowing the characters far better:

Pete could tell Nora was nervous even before she sat down beside him — she was jittery and her smile disappeared almost instantly. She stared off into space for a moment. Pete wondered if she was going over her routine again — she had done that a lot during the last few months, doing the steps and turns and kicks and leaps over and over in her mind, terrified that she’d forget something, make some mistake and get lost and stand there looking like an idiot the way she did two years ago in Phoenix. No matter how many times Pete reassured her that it was the alcohol that made her forget, she always answered by saying, “All the dead brain cells are still dead.” Hell, maybe she was right. Maybe her memory wasn’t what it used to be. But she still had the moves, she still had the body, and when she got on stage the musicians might as well pack up and go home, nobody would notice what they played, nobody would care, it was Nora in that pool of light on stage, doing things so daring and so dangerous and so sweet that you couldn’t breathe for watching her.

She reached out and put her hand around Pete’s drink. He laid his hand gently on her arm.

“I just wanted to see what you were drinking,” she said.

“Whiskey.”

He didn’t move his hand. She shrugged in annoyance and pulled her arm away.

Go ahead and be pissed off at me, kid, but no way is alcohol going up on that stage with you to dance.


In this version there are only two lines of spoken dialogue and nobody gets embarrassingly angry in public. Furthermore, you know both Pete and Nora far better than before, because you’ve seen Pete’s memories of Nora’s struggle with alcohol filtered through his own strong love for her — or at least for her dancing. We also know more about Nora’s attitude toward herself; the “dead brain cells” line tells us that she thinks of herself as permanently damaged, so that she is terrified of dancing again. The scene still isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot better now because we were able to get inside Pete’s mind and see Nora through his eyes, with his attitude toward her, his knowledge of their shared past.

Card is specifically talking about viewpoint in this instance: more specifically, the "cinematic" viewpoint. Which is all well and good, but it blew me away to see that first sample he gave- it's more or less exactly how my writing used to look. Way too much contrived dialogue to try and reveal plot elements and backstory, when sometimes simply telling those elements can work just fine. Again, it all depends on the situation and context. But sometimes, telling is truly more appropriate than showing.

For me personally, telling is most egregiously terrible when you've already told or shown something, and you continue to beat your reader over the head with that same thing. Trust your reader. They're smarter than you think, and beating them over head is going to lose them almost as fast as being boring will.

Erik Shawn-Bohner
Mar 21, 2010

by XyloJW



I'll grant you that a lot of advice is tossed around frequently, but many of those pieces of advice are given for very good reason. They are also frequently misinterpreted, and there's where the problem you see comes in.

"Show, don't tell" doesn't mean to add dialogue. It also doesn't mean to sperg out and tell us everything about a character. In the example you cited, the (bad) dialogue is telling us rather than showing us. The difference is that a character is telling us rather than the author.

As for the prose after, it's a close third. It's perfectly fine to inflect the subject's voice and thoughts. It's expected as much as in first person. The subject is "thinking out loud" a bit, and their relationship, the focus of that piece, is shown through the sparse dialogue and action. That passage is a condemnation of bad dialogue and storytelling more than the rule.

When it comes down to it, "show, don't tell" means to not force the concept you're trying to convey on the reader. Instead, pretend the reader is peeking through the key-hole and watching these people acting naturally. People can naturally infer the attitudes of a person in a situation by looking at their reaction to it.

There are times you should tell, but it's only when you want to pass over something that's semi-important for the situation but not the focus. The reason it's repeated so often is because new writers have great difficulty in identifying what is truly important and what is the focus of their scene. They think everything is important and don't realize that a lot of the poo poo shouldn't be shown or told because it's just fluff.

Here's an example of tell v. show:

Bob is angry about the mess his wife left in the kitchen.

That's telling me that bob is angry about the mess. That's the author looking through the keyhole at his characters and relaying the information to me, the reader.

Bob opened the door to the kitchen. Flour rose in a mushroom cloud of disturbed air. Broken eggs crunched under foot as Bob approached the island counter in the middle of the room. He dug his nails into the edge, chest heaving and knees shaking. Blood clawed at the veins in his eyes as he looked at the message painted in blood: Get out.

Yes, there's more words there, but it allows the readers to look through the keyhole themselves. They can tell there's a mess in the kitchen, that Bob is angry, and they can infer from either previous or future text that it was his wife that did it.

In that story, the kitchen being in that state is very important. It is the story. But what if the kitchen being dirty was only partially important?

Bob entered the kitchen. Like the rest of the house, it was wrecked. He kicked aside eggshells as he traced the vandals' footprints out the back door. Along the left-hand side, the doorframe was broken and twisted. The busted wood by the doorhandle was in the shape of a wrenching crowbar.

In that instance, the kitchen being dirty is a detail that shows the whole house is wrecked and the trail leads out the back, but he already had the shock of seeing the front room destroyed when he opened the door--that you would show in detail because it's his first impression. It's important. In this story, you can tell a little when it comes to that detail.

The "show, don't tell" advice is also like the "always use active voice" advice. It's not a hard rule, but there's a 94.3% chance you'll Dunning-Kruger the poo poo out of yourself thinking a crap passive line is good unless you're very familiar with how it works and why you're doing it. You won't go wrong with good prose in active voice, so it's best to practice that as much as you can since the great majority of your prose should be in that to make it readable.

The same applies to "SDT" because if you show everything, you will see parts that are important and parts that should be cut. It teaches focus and good habits in writing.

Erik Shawn-Bohner fucked around with this message at 17:09 on Jul 15, 2012

budgieinspector
Mar 24, 2006

According to my research,
these would appear to be
Budgerigars.



Tiggum posted:

Why King James specifically? That seems like a pretty odd restriction.

The quality of language, and the influence it held for hundreds of years as the standard translation of what was often the only book a family owned. And if they didn't own a copy (or couldn't read) it would be what they heard every Sunday as they filled their community obligation to attend church.

Wikipedia credits it with having introduced 257 idioms to the language -- more than the complete works of Shakespeare. It doesn't source this assertion, and I'm sure there's room to quibble about how commonly-used those 257 idioms might be, but there's really no denying where the phrasing of those idioms comes from.

Quick compare and contrast (Exodus 20:3):

"Thou shalt have no other gods before me." -- KJV
"You are to have no other gods but me." -- Bible in Basic English (BBE)
"No other gods, only me." -- The Message Bible
"Never have any other god." -- GOD'S WORD translation

For blunt clarity, I'd say the GOD'S WORD version wins. For adhesion to dogma, the prize probably goes to The Message (its phrasing seems to dismiss the existence of other gods, where the others have more of a "Jehovah: Ask for Him by name!" vibe, acknowledging competition in the marketplace). The BBE just replaces some of the archaic language in the KJV -- which was archaic when the KJV was put together, by the way, as the translators were aware that English evolved quickly, and decided that it would be better to phrase things conservatively, than to place their holy book in the fickle hands of contemporary jargon.

That archaic approach lends an antiquely-poetic tone to the words. The reader hears that inflection, and its immediately apparent that these words are from Ye Olden Days. (Side note: There are literally people in America -- and probably elsewhere -- who are so convinced by this tone that they cleave to the KJV and denounce all other translations as heretical because "If [the KJV] was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for everyone". Yes, they actually believe God shared his message to mankind in English -- and not only in English, but in the exact form of it employed by the KJV.)

EDIT:

NeilPerry posted:

I'm a very slow reader and I cannot help it. Is there a way I can maximize my reading efforts to becoming a better writer?

[...]

I'm stunted due to never having been around English speaking people for longer than several days at a time. I don't know how people actually speak in English, and I feel as if I can't write dialogue properly. In fact, due to my penchant for '20's to 40's literature my "voice" tends to be too solemn and even robotic at times(it's not been that bad in my current project though). The only thing I can think of to solve it is to find a way to go to England for a couple of months, probably via my college's erasmus programs. But does anyone have any advice for that?

I've got a two-birds/one-stone solution for you: English-language audiobooks.

Can you access this site? http://www.audible.com

(I've heard complaints from Europeans and Aussies that certain titles aren't available in their territory, so if some of the site is blocked in Belgium, let me know.)

Also, podcasts. Aside from the purely informational ones -- some of which are outstanding -- there are also plenty of discussion-style podcasts, which you could use to get a feel for how English speakers from various regions speak extemporaneously.

budgieinspector fucked around with this message at 21:06 on Jul 15, 2012

Stuporstar
May 5, 2008

Where do fists come from?


I'll update the "Show don't Tell" a bit. I was trying to stay as succinct as possible and explain why people say it, but I've talked before about its pitfalls as well. I've read Card's Characters & Viewpoint as well. Despite what one might say about the author, the man knows his craft. It taught me a lot when I was starting out. Great posts on it, Chillmatic and Nautatrol. Great posts everyone. Everyone front-loading advice and questions about it makes for a great front page for the new guys just popping in later.

Here's my longer version on:

“Show Don’t Tell” and Avoiding Exposition.

“Show don’t tell” is the most often heard writing advice. You most often get it when you write a long passage without immersing the reader in the action. For example:

Tell: John was angry.

Show: John threw his phone across the room.

The second engages the reader more because it gives us a better mental picture. When we can see he’s angry, you don’t need to tell us. You can bring weak passages to life with dialogue (internal and external) and action. Think of your characters like actors on stage, who show internal reactions with physical ones because we’re not telepathic. Sure characters can beam thoughts into reader’s heads with the written word, but a clear mental picture is always stronger.

However, don’t be too prescriptive about “show don’t tell.” Sometimes you just want to get a character from one scene to another. In such cases, you simply tell the reader, “John got home late …” and get on with the next scene without describing a boring car ride. You use “tell” during scene transitions, and to skip over dull dialogue. For instance, we don’t need to see everyday greetings and small talk. You can simply tell the reader the characters have met and cut to the relevant dialogue. Though, include it if the greeting/goodbye is not everyday and shows us something about the character.

Rule of thumb: if it’s important, show it. If it’s filling in an unseen detail, tell it (briefly). If it’s not important, leave it out.

Sometimes “tell” enhances the narrator’s voice. It’s up to you to decide who the narrator is and how they talk. It’s easy to go overboard with this though, so get another pair of eyes on it to tell you if it’s working.

Exposition is the bane of SFF writers, because often you’ve built a whole new world and you need to fill in the reader. It’s tempting to lay the groundwork in one big info-dump, but it’s boring. You need to hook the reader in the first chapter, and “There’s a big evil about to swallow the world. Let me tell you all about its history …” is an old crutch most people will roll their eyes at. Start with your characters and make us give a drat about them first. Show us why we should care about your world ending, then weave the backstory into the actual story once it gets going.

The more detail you weave in through characters living in the world you’ve created, the more vivid the story world is in the reader’s mind. Sometimes you need to outright explain things to the reader, but avoid doing it in paragraph long info-dumps because they’re intrusive. You want to avoid ripping your reader’s head out of the story.

Writing out the backstory is important for you, but there’s no reason to give it all away at once to the reader. In fact, some of the most potent backstory is left implied. You can use it create a mystery and let the reader discover it along the way. Mystery has a powerful pull on the reader. It’s far more effective than dumping out your Lego in a prologue and asking the reader to watch you fiddle with them, saying, “I’m building a castle. Here, you can look at the instructions while I do it. NO, DON’T TOUCH.” I used to punch my little brother for pulling that poo poo.

Stuporstar fucked around with this message at 21:03 on Jul 25, 2012

Black Griffon
Mar 12, 2005


I might as well post some of the advice I've given to other people on How to Start Writing (and keep doing it).

It's well established that the notion of inspiration suddenly hitting the writer like a lightning bolt is overly romanticized. Listen to any published author, and they will tell you that writing a novel is work. It can be just as grueling as a job at Burger King. Waiting for that moment of inspiration or creativity to work on your novel is about as useful as waiting for your boss to pick you up at home. I have periods where I can't get a single word out in a month, and then I have periods where I can write five thousand words a day. One thing I've noticed when I have my good times is that I do certain things that you could call practices or exercises:

1. Grab everything that gives you an idea.

When I'm in my prime, I write about everything I find interesting during the day. If I read an interesting news article, I'll write a little weird short inspired by the article. If I see something interesting on the street, I'll take inspiration from that. Back in '06 or so, someone posted a news article that was hilariously terribly written. I got a tiny idea, and I made into a short story that everyone in the thread loved. However, if you're doing this while working on a larger project, you need to watch out and...

2. Write short shorts.

For me and many others, it's important to finish any projects you've started. Starting a hundred novels or short stories will eventually create an Infinite Backlog of Unfinished poo poo, and for people like me, that's a very bad thing. Those unfinished bits will stick to your brain like a tumor, and even if you purge them from any medium, it's detrimental to your progress. When you grab inspiration and write, take care to write things that you can finish in a short time. Don't worry about editing now, that's not the important thing. The important thing is to have self-contained and completed Thing that you can be happy about. It doesn't need to be good, original or anything, in fact...

3. Don't worry about [X]!

Don't worry if it's poorly written, don't worry if it's too short or has a bad ending. Don't think about originality or variety. Write fan-fiction if you want. Write a tiny play or a fake news article or an SCP. Make a creepypasta or any other stupid meme. The priority of these exercises is to Just loving Write Something. When you're finished with a Thing, you move onto the last step.

4. Practice editing.

This is what you do when you're drained and tired of writing. Take one of your pieces, grab your thesaurus and your copy of The 10% Solution, and get to work. Use every piece of advice you get here and every other place, and you'll slowly improve both your editing method and your vocabulary. The best possible outcome is that when you're finished, you have something good enough to post in the Daily Writing thread, or the outline of a great short or even a novel. Just make sure it doesn't get in the the way of your main project.

When I do all of this, I notice that I enjoy writing even more. It feels good to finish something, and hopefully that will carry over to your main project when you get your rear end in gear.

Martello
Apr 29, 2012

by XyloJW


Good poo poo, OP.

On a long drive, so I'm just reserving this space to re-post my combat writing advice with some edits. I think it will be good to keep it on the first page.

Here it is. Sorry this took me so long, everyone, and I still need to respond to some things in the old thread - I was in a military wedding on Saturday about four hours from where I live so I didn't have a whole lot of time for this sort of thing. I was able to do a saber arch which is pretty awesome, and I had the honor of being the last dude on the left who swats the bride on the rear end with the flat of the blade.

==============================================================================

On writing combat scenes - I'm sure it's very possible to learn to write good ones despite never being in combat or receiving combat training, it just makes it much harder. I look at poo poo I wrote before I got into the Army, and I just shake my head at my own ignorance.

Tips on Writing Military SF is a pretty good resource for general military tactics, and it applies to contemporary military fiction just as much. I disagree with some of the guys predictions for future military tech, but they're just predictions and we can't all be Nostradamus.

Tom Clancy, for his flaws, absolutely knows how to write military combat scenes. Greg Rucka does great combat scenes. So does Stephen Coonts. These are writers to look at for examples of how to write combat.

I'm going to split my own advice into two sections, since I'm saying a lot here. I by no means think I'm the highest authority on this poo poo.

Hand-to-hand

Now, I primarily write and read stories involving gun combat. For me, this tends to be easier to write. Hand-to-hand, especially "theatrical" martial arts, involves a lot of back-and-forth, and it's not very interesting to write or read. Something like this:

quote:

Kung Lao snap-kicked Shang Tsung in the side of the neck. The wizard took the blow and rolled with it to the right, coming back up with a lightning-fast serpent strike aimed at Lao's right armpit. Lao parried wit a ridgehand, and countered with a knee to the chest. Tsung grabbed the knee quicker than the monk could have ever expected, and spun, throwing his opponent to the ground. Lao rolled into a back somersault, avoiding Tsung's stomp kick. He rose back up to his feet and threw a middle-knuckle punch at Tsung's left temple. Tsung parried with his own knifehand, and...

See how this starts to get boring and tedious? It'd probably look pretty awesome in a movie, but writing it takes forever and I don't find it interesting to read. You can condense that kind of scene, describing the general shape of the fight, punctuated by important or especially devastating or even just cool strikes and moves.

quote:

Kung Lao snap-kicked Shang Tsung in the side of the neck. The wizard took the blow and rolled with it. The two men went at it, a flurry of perfect kicks, serpent strikes, ridgehands and knuckle punches traded back and forth, blow for blow, parry for parry. At one point, Tsung gained the upper hand, using one of Lao's high-knees as an opportunity for a spinning single-leg takedown. Lao was able to avoid Tsung's follow-up stomp kick, and the two men were back at the elegant and deadly ballet.



I find it much easier to write realistic brawling, where there really isn't a whole lot of back-and-forth striking and blocking bullshit. This includes MMA-type fighting. Describe a few punches and kicks here and there, then get into the grappling. Since grappling involves much bigger muscle movements, you're getting through more of the fight using less space and fewer words. I'll use one of my own characters for this example, some of you should recognize him.

quote:

Bronco stared at the drunk redneck with the neckbeard, waiting for him to throw the first punch. The neckbeard cooperated, swinging for Bronco's jaw with a big, obvious haymaker. Bronco took the punch on his right shoulder as he stooped, coming up with a right hammerfist to the neckbeard's sternum. The guy grunted like an angry hog, and reeled back into the bar. Bronco was on him, fast for his massive size, shoving the neckbeard up against the stained wood. Bronco grabbed his head and slammed it into the bar, three times.

He stood and turned, not ducking fast enough as the neckbeard's plaid-shirted pal swung a pool cue at his face. The cue didn't snap, and Bronco felt a stripe of fire across his right cheek. He dropped low again, charged plaid-shirt and grabbed his thigh, executing a single-leg takedown that would have made his high school wrestling coach weep tears of pride. Bronco scrambled into the mount, all of his two hundred and fifty pounds on plaid-shirt's abdomen. He rained down punches, felt plaid-shirt's nose shatter on the second or third.


So Bronco just beat the poo poo out of two dudes in only a little more time than it took for Kung Lao and Shang Tsung to dance around and wave their limbs about like a couple of kung-fu pansies. You can strip this poo poo down even more, just describing the general sense of big, hard punches, a takedown here and a chair to the sternum there.

There's also nothing wrong with just summarizing fight scenes.

quote:

The five jetheads sauntered across the room, cracking knuckles and twitching. Two of them had cheap knives, one had a baseball bat. Bronco and Gabe exchanged vicious smiles. It took a few minutes for the cousins to drop all five of them barehanded, and Bronco only got stabbed once. Gabe nursed a sore calf from a good solid bat swing, but the five druggies were going to need immediate medical attention. Bronco was pretty sure the guy he had thrown was dead, but the cousins didn't bother to stick around and confirm.

Guns and realistic tactical combat

I already gave some places to look for good tactical writing. Now for some of my opinions and advice on it.

Depending on what kind of scene you're trying to write, you can either go fast and tight or slow and methodical. For any kind of close-range combat like room-clearing or house-to-house fighting, most of the tension comes from the speed and violence of action. Don't bother to go into too much detail of what everything looks like. Use quick visual flashes and short sentences to give the impression of lightning-fast, violent gunplay. This is something I wrote recently and I there is a separate thread for the whole story. It's longer than the stuff I put in the last post, and it also transitions from gunplay to hand-to-hand:

quote:

At the corner of the drug house, she took a knee, her FN assault rifle tight in her shoulder. Without looking at Bronco, she motioned with two fingers to the front door. Bronco slid past her, his Dearborn Valiant low and at the ready. He dropped to his own knee to the right side of the heavy steel fire door set into the blockhouse wall. Mathis gave the thumbs up, and he pulled the sticker charge out of his right cargo pocket. The square sheet unfolded with a quick snap of the wrist, and he placed it flat against the door just below the handle and maglock. With a quick swipe of his hand, he smoothed the charge and stuck it securely to the metal. He looked up at Mathis and nodded, then quick-stepped back around to her position, pulled tight up against that beautiful rear end.

“Now,” she whispered, and he pressed the stud on the pen detonator. The sticker charge blew with a flat, hard bang, and the door swung open. Mathis was water again, flowing along the wall and hooking left in the front door, Bronco angling right almost simultaneously. Living room, two ratty couches up against the right wall, big TV to the left. A kitchen beyond, two industrial stoves with six burners each, all twelve on high. Restaurant-size stewpots bubbled, the sickly-sweet scent of jet filling the air. Bronco was thankful for the small mask he wore over his mouth and nose. Five men were in the room, two on the left and three on the right. Bronco and Mathis opened up at the same time.

The crosshair projected in Bronco’s smartspecs flashed to a skinny man’s chest as Bronco aimed the Valiant. Two dry pops, suppressed 6.5mm bullets punched through the man’s chest and exited into the wall. Like an animal acting on instinct, Bronco already acquired the second target, a larger man trying to aim his pistol. Bronco gave him two rounds in the chest, one in the upper throat to make sure. He could hear Mathis shooting to his left as he swung to engage the third target.

A flash in the corner of his right eye, and then a stone-hard fist smacked into the angle of his jaw. Bronco reeled, dropped to a knee. His vision swam as a foot whipped up and hit him in the forehead, flipping him over on his back. He looked up, a tunnel closing around his vision, saw a foot poised to stomp. Bronco grabbed the foot and yanked, twisting to his left on the floor. His assailant went down with him and Bronco frantically grappled for position. He could hear the man breathing, and it wasn’t quite right, strangely regular and loud. He felt no heartbeat, could only hear his own. He rolled upright, threw a leg over, sat on the man’s stomach. An ordinary face looked up at him, a tangle of light brown hair. The face was wrong, though, the eyes were inhuman red orbs. The man’s torso was naked, and it wasn’t flesh. Tough, rubbery synthskin coated a full cyborg body. The man was pushing against Bronco’s massive strength, and he was starting to win. Bronco had already dropped the Valiant, but he had his Beretta in his hand now. He didn’t even remember drawing it. The muzzle was pushed into the man’s forehead, but Bronco couldn’t pull the trigger. The cyborg grabbed his gun hand and slowly, unstoppably turned the pistol towards Bronco.

The cyborg’s head exploded in a bloody ruin, brain matter and inorganic parts splattered across the floor. Bronco felt and heard the three rounds fly just past his head, felt the overpressure from the muzzle blast of Mathis’ rifle.

Hopefully this gives an idea of the kind of fast-paced, kinetic prose that looks good for a tactical combat scene.

Going slow and methodical is good to build a different kind of tension, the waiting game between a sniper and his prey or a squad moving through a rural or even urban area and looking for contact. It works very well if you can describe the slow, tense movement from house to house or hill to hill, the protagonists just waiting for the first bullet to fly. Then transition into that fast, violent prose.

Black Hawk Down is still among the best movies for realistic tactical combat. It's a great thing to watch before writing that kind of stuff. Haywire, which I just watched for the third time last night, has some very good small-unit urban combat poo poo, and uses very realistic explosions. That flat bang followed by a cloud of dust is about what C4 looks like when it goes off in real life. Only certain specific explosives go up in a huge loving fireball, and most of them have some kind of fuel in them. Grenades and any kind of demo charges most certainly do not create fireballs.

If anyone has any specific questions on tactics or firearms, feel free to ask. You can PM me or just post here if you think it would be good information for everybody. Again, I don't claim to be the be-all, end-all for this kind of poo poo, but I've done it in real life and I know a little about writing it.

Guns vs. Swords :hist101: :jihad:

Guns always beat swords, period. If you want to go the other way, make your story obviously unrealistic with fairies, unicorns, vampires and magical girls or whatever, and nobody will care. But don't try to come up with stupid, convoluted reasons why the protag always uses swords or other "melee weapons" - don't ever write those words together in fiction by the way - it will just make anyone who knows even the least bit about real combat roll their eyes and stop reading. A bullet will always move faster than a blade, and moving my trigger finger a quarter-inch will always be quicker than some dude trying to cover six feet or more of distance to stab me with his mastercrafted claymore. If any super-cool HEMAA or Japanese weapon art practitioners think swords are better and want to argue with me here, please do, I love ripping your poo poo apart. :allears:

Martello fucked around with this message at 05:32 on Jan 26, 2013

Pompous Rhombus
Mar 11, 2007


Does anyone have recommendations for a book (or something online, or whatever) that has pointers for getting the most out of reading fiction, from the perspective of someone looking to learn to become a better writer themselves? Basically, tips on what makes good stories/characters/etc work and what makes others fail. It's something I do a bit of on my own in a journal, but it's far from comprehensive.

Stabbey_the_Clown
Sep 21, 2002

Wanna see a demonstration of my school? It's called "Eight Leaves, One Very Big Stick"!


Taco Defender

Pompous Rhombus posted:

Does anyone have recommendations for a book (or something online, or whatever) that has pointers for getting the most out of reading fiction, from the perspective of someone looking to learn to become a better writer themselves? Basically, tips on what makes good stories/characters/etc work and what makes others fail. It's something I do a bit of on my own in a journal, but it's far from comprehensive.

One book that for better or worse, has forever changed how I react to novels is How Not to Write a Novel (Amazon Link). It points out 200 common mistakes in a hilarious way. You'll want to read this book several times even if you don't need to.

It brings me great joy to read published novels and spot a few of the gems that are warned against.

FauxCyclops
Feb 25, 2007

I'm the man who killed Hostess. Now, say my name.


Picked it up on your recommendation. This better be awesome!

squeegee
Jul 22, 2001

Bright as the sun.

FauxCyclops posted:

Picked it up on your recommendation. This better be awesome!

It's a funny book and a quick read, but if you've been writing for any real amount of time, a lot of the problems it warns against are pretty drat obvious and probably ones you're aware of already. It is entertaining, though.

budgieinspector
Mar 24, 2006

According to my research,
these would appear to be
Budgerigars.



Stabbey_the_Clown posted:

One book that for better or worse, has forever changed how I react to novels is How Not to Write a Novel (Amazon Link).

I'm on the waiting list for this book at the library.

Something I'm curious about : How many folks here regularly use their local libraries?

I recall hearing something about David Cameron's government trying to close libraries across the UK, and we've got a bunch of international goons posting here, so I guess I'd like to know if you guys visit your local public or university libraries, how you'd rate them, whether they're in danger of being shut down by your respective governments, etc.

Hot Sauce Batman
Oct 8, 2011

by T. Finninho


I've recently started to really write seriously, and while I have a bunch of ideas that I've been working on for a while, my biggest hurdle is first paragraph or two. Should I just not worry about the opening until after the first draft? Or start the story in the middle and go back to the beginning when it hits me?

Pompous Rhombus
Mar 11, 2007


squeegee posted:

It's a funny book and a quick read, but if you've been writing for any real amount of time, a lot of the problems it warns against are pretty drat obvious and probably ones you're aware of already. It is entertaining, though.

I bought it a year or two ago (perhaps based on a recommendation in the old thread?) and that was my take-away as well. Quite enjoyed it, although most of it was pretty obvious.

budgieinspector posted:

Something I'm curious about : How many folks here regularly use their local libraries?

I recall hearing something about David Cameron's government trying to close libraries across the UK, and we've got a bunch of international goons posting here, so I guess I'd like to know if you guys visit your local public or university libraries, how you'd rate them, whether they're in danger of being shut down by your respective governments, etc.

My local public library (and librarian) played a huge role in developing my love of reading at an early age. I'm deeply indebted to both.

When I was in college, I used both my university library and the local library. Between the two of them (inter-library loan at the latter) there was very little I couldn't find. My local library system was particularly good for audiobooks on CD, which I used to listen a lot at my old job (used to get through The Economist audio edition and most of a book per week). The university one had a pretty poor selection of audiobooks, but a ton of good specialized non-fiction (as you would expect) that complimented the public library's selection nicely, as well as shelves of great photography books that I used to like looking at on my lunch break (worked on campus).

I moved to Japan last year, and my old library situation is one of the things I miss most (first world problems, heh). I assume the library in my city probably has some English-language books, but if it's like my old university library in Thailand, just limited to the classics. Also, they aren't air conditioning them in the summer due to an electricity conservation push by the government, which makes them pretty miserable places to spend any amount of time in.

I've started using the electronic resources from my home public library; actually, this week I downloaded and am reading the Card book on characterization mentioned above through them. For the most part though, I'm getting the books I want to read through Amazon in America (Japanese Amazon has a surprisingly good selection of English books, but they're usually 60-100% more expensive). Not so interested in the mp3 audiobooks from the library as I don't have as much time to listen to them at work as I used to.

Stuporstar
May 5, 2008

Where do fists come from?


Hot Sauce Batman posted:

I've recently started to really write seriously, and while I have a bunch of ideas that I've been working on for a while, my biggest hurdle is first paragraph or two. Should I just not worry about the opening until after the first draft? Or start the story in the middle and go back to the beginning when it hits me?

Write in whatever order gets you writing. If you have a scene in your head, and don't know where it fits in the story, write it and figure it out later. Some writers start at the beginning, some at the end, and some at wherever it strikes them.

I'm going to link Scrivener here. It's basically a customizable writing suite designed to accommodate a wide range of work methods. What I love the most about it is the non-linear part, because you can write your scenes, chapters, or whatever in individual text files and shuffle them around on virtual index cards. You can change the "corkboard" into an outliner, or you can view your draft all at once. It frees you from thinking of a large project, like a novel, as a single document. It treats it more like a proper project, allowing you to drop in research files, pictures, and websites, and open up a dual panel view so you can check one document against another. You can make new folders for whatever you want, so you can organize deleted scenes, backstory, ideas, or anything. It also compiles your draft into doc, pdf, ebook (one of the cleanest automatic ebook compilers too), etc. and can automatically convert it into a standard manuscript.

Looking at all the things that program can do, whether you decide to use it or not, can give you an idea of the varied methods writers use to get poo poo done. Don't worry about starting at the beginning. Just start.

Anais Nun
Apr 21, 2010


Hot Sauce Batman posted:

I've recently started to really write seriously, and while I have a bunch of ideas that I've been working on for a while, my biggest hurdle is first paragraph or two. Should I just not worry about the opening until after the first draft? Or start the story in the middle and go back to the beginning when it hits me?

First pages are notoriously difficult to get right. Don't worry about it. Definitely don't worry about it until you have a first draft. In my experience second drafts are so dissimilar from the first that you'll need a whole new beginning anyway, so start whereever you like. You can always come back to the beginning. Nothing is written in blood. It can all be changed.

Tiggum
Oct 23, 2007


budgieinspector posted:

Something I'm curious about : How many folks here regularly use their local libraries?

I used to when I was in school and had no money, but the selection of books is obviously quite limited and often the books you want are checked out or have been lost or damaged so I haven't been to a library in years. Now I just buy ebooks, because you can't beat the convenience of hearing about a book, searching for it, and then having it in your hand within the space of about a minute, no matter where you are.

Testro
May 2, 2009


I find individual library situations quite fascinating. I would never think of a library as having limited stock (so, obviously, my experiences have been fortunate!). My local library has more books than all of the bookstores in the area put together (it has tens of thousands of books), and does a great job of buying both the obscure and the popular.

Libraries are wonderful, because you can dip your toes into any book, any genre, any writing style etc with no purchase risk...it's all for free.

I fear that libraries are deserted by many people for convenience reasons...not just the e-book market, but the fact that people would rather pay £3 in Tesco and don't have to remember to return it. If you're only reading a handful of books a year, which is what most people do, it's viable financially but you end up limiting your reading without even realising it.

I think if you're an aspiring author, a library card is one of the most valuable things you can have. I was surprised (having always thought that I was a big reader) at just how little I was reading after graduating from university, so I have made a conscious effort to read more, and I rattle through at least a book a week now. Deciding to read more is the best thing I've done in years.

I costed my reading habit up and to have bought all the books I read last year, it would've cost me several hundreds of pounds...and I don't think I'd have been as adventurous with my choices had I been purchasing the books.

StickyNavels
Apr 2, 2009


I hit thrift-stores and other second-hand places a lot more often than the libraries. Carrying off a gym bag filled to the brim with books for next to nothing in money is nice, but it's the unexpectedness that's the major appeal: Next to ten identical copies of some Keyes novel you'll find a collection of Russian poems from the '70's, or chance upon a technical introcution to leather-working buried beneath a bunch of The Phantom comics... My bookshelves grow strange and lovely.

That said - here in Malmö I have access to a nice assortment of libraries should the need arise. I'm heading to the city library today to pick up a copy of Color and Light. Some libraries will order books that aren't stocked.

Out current government's done a lot of haphazard cutting to expenditure in all things culture, but at least they've yet to implement the "library fee" they were serving up a couple of years back...

StickyNavels fucked around with this message at 12:49 on Jul 16, 2012

Tiggum
Oct 23, 2007


Testro posted:

Libraries are wonderful, because you can dip your toes into any book, any genre, any writing style etc with no purchase risk...it's all for free.

I usually read the sample chapter(s) of ebooks from Amazon before buying them.


Testro posted:

If you're only reading a handful of books a year, which is what most people do, it's viable financially

Even if you read a lot, books are pretty cheap. $5-$20 for a book as compared to $60-$90 for a new video game or $15-$30 for a film at the cinema. Or even compared to $2-$4 for a coffee. And if I'm short on cash I switch to public domain books from Project Gutenberg for a while, or stuff I've already bought and not read yet. I never finish a book and don't start another one.


Testro posted:

I costed my reading habit up and to have bought all the books I read last year, it would've cost me several hundreds of pounds...and I don't think I'd have been as adventurous with my choices had I been purchasing the books.

I just don't even think about the cost of books, really. They're cheap entertainment that doesn't really make an impact on me financially. If I hadn't spent that money on a book I'd just have spent it on some other form of entertainment. Or worse, snacks.

psychopomp
Jan 27, 2011


Testro posted:

Libraries are wonderful

I haven't had a library card in years, but you've inspired me to go out later today and get one.

squeegee
Jul 22, 2001

Bright as the sun.

Even if your local library doesn't have a ton of books they can probably order what you want from other libraries in the area through interlibrary loan. Seriously, free books. Why not? You just have to remember to return them, and you can usually renew a few times if you're a slow reader, as long as they aren't new/really popular.

Chillmatic
Jul 25, 2003

always seeking to survive and flourish

Stuporstar posted:


I'm going to link Scrivener here. It's basically a customizable writing suite designed to accommodate a wide range of work methods.

Scrivener is amazing. I'm in the middle of a fairly ambitious story and that drat program is the only thing that is keeping my head - and plot- straight. I second the recommendation, particularly if you're the kind of writer who has trouble keeping things organized, or who has 96 different word docs all relating to one story and find yourself switching between them constantly.

Also, how not to write a novel may provide obvious advice, but it does so in a really loving hilarious manner. The examples are a guaranteed laugh for me. Like, this one, where the authors are cautioning against having characters who literally do not emote at all, even in response to obvious stimuli:

quote:

But when he pulled the covers from the naked form, it was not his wife there at all—it was the lovely Veronica, his brightest and most eager graduate student, wearing nothing but a tattoo of Leonard Cohen.

“Hello, Veronica,” said Professor Johnson. “What are you doing here?”

She pulled a gun out from under the pillow and sobbed. “I am here to kill you,” she explained.

“Why?” he said. “I’ve never done anything to you.”

She sat up, a beautiful vision in her youthful nudity and state of undress. The moon made her unblemished skin glow like something luminous, and her black hair fell over her slim shoulders like a cape of hair. She said, “You gave me a C!”

“I’d be willing to reconsider your grade if you’d do something for me,” the professor said.

“Oh? What’s that?” she asked, tossing the gun aside and thrusting forward her young breasts, her eyes dewy with willingness.

“I’ll be needing a cat-sitter for two weeks in April for my trip to Cancun. Would you be available?”

Cardinal Ximenez
Oct 25, 2008

"You could call it heroic responsibility, maybe," Harry Potter said. "Not like the usual sort. It means that whatever happens, no matter what, it's always your fault."


What's with all the passive voice dissing? I know it is "common" advice, but at this point, you are a necromancer raising this long-discredited prescriptivist cliche from the grave. It irks me because it gets covered by fairly reliable sources about as often as the "eskimos have n words for snow" thing.

I agree that there are some sentences out there that could be better constructed if there was a change in the voice, but a blanket condemnation of perfectly valid grammatical features is unwarranted.

quote:

I'm going to link Scrivener here. It's basically a customizable writing suite designed to accommodate a wide range of work methods.

Does anyone have any experience with the Linux port? It looks interesting, but I'm not going to spend $40 without a significant chance of it working.

Martello
Apr 29, 2012

by XyloJW


Martello posted:

Combat and poo poo

Edited my placeholder post with the combat writing stuff from the old thread. If anyone has any questions or things they want me to elaborate on, let me know and I'll edit it in or just make another post.

Runcible Cat
May 28, 2007

Ignoring this post


Cardinal Ximenez posted:

Does anyone have any experience with the Linux port? It looks interesting, but I'm not going to spend $40 without a significant chance of it working.
It gives you 30 days grace to try it out (and not consecutive days either; days of use).

Runcible Cat fucked around with this message at 16:41 on Jul 16, 2012

Purple Prince
Aug 20, 2011



Cardinal Ximenez posted:

What's with all the passive voice dissing? I know it is "common" advice, but at this point, you are a necromancer raising this long-discredited prescriptivist cliche from the grave. It irks me because it gets covered by fairly reliable sources about as often as the "eskimos have n words for snow" thing.

It's advice for new writers. Like anything else about the craft and every other craft, it's not a blanket rule, only a general one. Of course passive voice is useful in descriptive phrases and other places where something is, well, passive. The problem is when you have awful things like "He was moving towards her, his grey eyes flashing. She was standing still and falling into his eyes."
In that case the alternative, "As he moved towards her, his grey eyes flashed. She stood still and fell into his eyes." is clearly better (though still awful). The real problem is not active or passive voice but inappropriate voice. Using active voice throughout a descriptive passage would be just as bad as using passive through an action scene.

Martello
Apr 29, 2012

by XyloJW


What you just said isn't actually active vs passive voice. You were talking about tense, there.

Active voice is "He hosed the dog."

Passive is "The dog was hosed by him."

Chillmatic
Jul 25, 2003

always seeking to survive and flourish

This is why I stick to the passive-agressive voice in my writing.

Purple Prince
Aug 20, 2011



Martello posted:

What you just said isn't actually active vs passive voice. You were talking about tense, there.

Active voice is "He hosed the dog."

Passive is "The dog was hosed by him."

I'm a terrible human and a worse grammarian.

psychopomp
Jan 27, 2011


Chillmatic posted:

This is why I stick to the passive-agressive voice in my writing.

We know. :colbert:

Cpt. Mahatma Gandhi
Mar 26, 2005



Anais Nun posted:

First pages are notoriously difficult to get right. Don't worry about it. Definitely don't worry about it until you have a first draft. In my experience second drafts are so dissimilar from the first that you'll need a whole new beginning anyway, so start whereever you like. You can always come back to the beginning. Nothing is written in blood. It can all be changed.

Since you brought up "second draft", I feel this is as good a time as any to ask the question that's been weighing on my mind recently.

How do you all approach second drafts? Do you edit your manuscript with a pen and then insert the edits you've made into your word processor of choice? Do you rewrite some of it or most of it? Do you simply put your manuscript down and start right from page 1 and completely write the story or novel again from scratch?

I ask because I finished my first ever first draft of a novel in April and, after taking a couple months off to not look at or think about it, started editing with a pen and notepad. I've also started returning to the manuscript on the computer and typing my edits in. So far it has worked okay, but at times it also feels like I'm shortchanging myself because I have some big, sweeping changes to the story I want to implement. Right now, I'm thinking I could correct all the grammatical & legibility errors to form a "draft 1.5" and then insert the big story changes to round out the second draft.

Obviously I realize a second draft would not mark the end of the editing process, so I'm not asking how to turn my lovely first draft into a golden second. Drafts and edits will surely continue after the second is done. I'm more looking for a little advice on how some of you go about transitioning from first to second drafts, especially with regards to novels. After all, I've never actually been in this position before :shobon:

Cpt. Mahatma Gandhi fucked around with this message at 18:32 on Jul 16, 2012

Testro
May 2, 2009


Tiggum posted:

I usually read the sample chapter(s) of ebooks from Amazon before buying them.

Even if you read a lot, books are pretty cheap. $5-$20 for a book as compared to $60-$90 for a new video game or $15-$30 for a film at the cinema. Or even compared to $2-$4 for a coffee. And if I'm short on cash I switch to public domain books from Project Gutenberg for a while, or stuff I've already bought and not read yet. I never finish a book and don't start another one.

I just don't even think about the cost of books, really. They're cheap entertainment that doesn't really make an impact on me financially. If I hadn't spent that money on a book I'd just have spent it on some other form of entertainment. Or worse, snacks.

psychopomp - great stuff, I hope your library service is a good one!

Tiggum - I know my post came after yours and referenced a bit of what you said, but it wasn't a criticism of you and your book buying methods. A lot of what I wrote was more in relation to people who buy hard copy books (particularly from supermarkets - I totally understand why people buy from supermarkets, but I think there's a myriad of problems with doing so); e-books are a different kettle of fish, really.

However, "proper" books are pretty expensive in the UK (ignoring online shopping for a moment). A new hardback at RRP will clock in at around £20 and paperbacks are usually £7 or £8 at RRP. Obviously, you can get deals on books (3 for 2 or "buy one, get one half price" are both common), but usually the better deal you get, the worse the store's selection of books. I see books a bit like free-to-air series television - I watch a series/read a book for free, and then if I like it, I invest in the DVD boxset/buy the book to keep. As someone who's grown up as a library user (and without much money!), it would never occur to me to buy a book before I know I like it.

Another thing that's got me back into the library habit is that I realised that I could realistically read 50 books a year, and if I'm lucky, will get the opportunity to do so for another 50 years. That's only 2500 books, and my local library holds about 25 times that amount - and they're adding to the stock every day! It made me realise that I'll only ever scratch the surface of the literary world, so I stopped re-reading books and have actively sought out new authors instead.

I will add that I am aware that I've been very lucky where I've grown up, and I've always had access to a great library service, with up-to-date, well looked after and relevant stock - and I think your own experiences in a library will always colour your feelings towards them.

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Stuporstar
May 5, 2008

Where do fists come from?


On the library thing: there's nothing like a well stocked University library when it comes to obscure reference books. I've found fantastic references there, and when I wanted a copy for myself, found they cost anywhere from $200-$1500 on Amazon, or were ancient and out of print. Libraries also gives you access to scientific journals hidden behind paywalls.

Cpt. Mahatma Gandhi posted:

I ask because I finished my first ever first draft of a novel in April and, after taking a couple months off to not look at or think about it, started editing with a pen and notepad. I've also started returning to the manuscript on the computer and typing my edits in. So far it has worked okay, but at times it also feels like I'm shortchanging myself because I have some big, sweeping changes to the story I want to implement. Right now, I'm thinking I could correct all the grammatical & legibility errors to form a "draft 1.5" and then insert the big story changes to round out the second draft.

You're going at the process backwards. You don't want to edit your prose before making big story changes because the prose is still going to change as you revise the story itself. Focus on the story first. If you're going to put up something for critique, sure go over that segment's grammar and make it legible first, but if this is just sitting on your HD or drawer awaiting your revisions, you're wasting precious hours polishing before you rewrite whole sections.

Cardinal Ximenez posted:

What's with all the passive voice dissing? I know it is "common" advice, but at this point, you are a necromancer raising this long-discredited prescriptivist cliche from the grave. It irks me because it gets covered by fairly reliable sources about as often as the "eskimos have n words for snow" thing.

I agree that there are some sentences out there that could be better constructed if there was a change in the voice, but a blanket condemnation of perfectly valid grammatical features is unwarranted.

This is why I included the warning "don't be a prescriptivist rear end," and consider the author's voice above all. It's not a blanket condemnation.

Everything I've mentioned, I've seen abused all to hell by people posting their work for critique here. Much of it looks like they just came off writing essays for high-school/college, where using passive voice throughout the whole thing is either accepted or expected. Take science papers for example, where you want to emphasize the experiment being done, and not the experimenter. They then try to write a story in that mode, not realizing the passive voice is killing their action scenes and so on. Therefore, it warrants mention.

Stuporstar fucked around with this message at 19:03 on Jul 16, 2012

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