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Dr. Kloctopussy
Apr 22, 2003

"It's DIE!"
Welcome to the Fiction Writing Advice (and general discussion) thread!

Writing fiction is hard, frustrating, fun, and rewarding, and it is awesome that you are doing it (or thinking of doing it)! This thread is the place for you to ask and answer all sorts of questions regarding fiction writing. Also to post all your successes and (if you feel like it) failures, and get appropriately enthusiastic and encouraging responses. Also possibly appropriate and enthusiastic critiques. It’s a good place to engage in dialogue with other people who are writing fiction, at all levels of “accomplishment” or whatever.

Chances are good that by the time you are reading this thread, it will be very long and you just won’t have the time to read the entire thing. That is fine! No one really expects you to.  Please do us all the favor of reading AT LEAST THIS FIRST loving POST FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.

Meta-Advice, AKA How to get the most out of this thread

First off, I have tried to summarize both my own experiences with writing and advice from the former thread in these first posts, BUT these are not complete or absolute answers. We went into much greater detail (and had lots of fun discussions) about most of these topics in the last thread. Despite the length and volume of these next few posts, there is much, much more to talk about. Even if your question or thought is discussed in these OPs, please do post it! As you will see me say in the rest of these summary posts (if you read them), most writing advice is subjective, nothing is an absolute, and the more approaches you learn about, the more you can adapt them into a system that works for you. This thread will grow and prosper to the extent that people use it to discuss the wonderful, devastating thing that is writing fiction.

That said, please read and consider the following guidelines:

1) Read this entire post and (hopefully) the post below addressing your substantive question (see list at the end of this post) (Hey! Come back here! I said to read this post, too!)

2) Good Questions (i.e. likely to get useful responses):

What are your opinions on__________?
What are your experiences with ______?
How do you _____?
Can you recommend_______?

Everyone loves talking about themselves and their opinions!

Seriously though, there aren’t any 100% true answers in writing. The benefit of having a forum is that you can get ideas/opinions from other real people. Not universal super advice. There are no absolutes in writing. Okay, maybe don’t replace every instance of the word ‘the’ with ‘walrus’ or something, but other than that...

Everyone has their own ways of approaching various parts of writing, and learning how other people think and do can lead you to finding your own way, that works for you.

3) Less Good Questions

Some people say that no question is a bad question, but some questions are more bad than others:

Is my idea good?

a) Yes, it is great!
b) NO.
c) It doesn’t matter because an idea doesn’t make a story.

Can I do x?

Can I punctuate my dialogue in this totally neat, unconventional way like Cormac McCarthy? Yes you can!
Can I replace every instance of the word “the” with “walrus” instead? For sure! You can.
Can I leave all the pages of my book blank and rely on telepathy to directly communicate the words into readers’ brains? Indeedely-doo you may!

These are “bad” questions because we cannot give you useful answers. It comes down to will your book be better if you do it? A lot of times, only writing the book will answer this question, and even then, different people will have different opinions. Not everyone likes Cormac McCarthy and his neat, unconventional dialogue. You probably think this is a stupid, unhelpful, flippant answer to your burning question, but guess what — it’s not. This is the only answer to “can I do X” that is possible to give without reading your entire manuscript, and even if someone does that, they’ve probably only got a 50/50 chance of giving you the right answer.

Punctuation and Grammar 

If your question has a correct answer, do everyone a favor and type your question directly into the search bar instead of going through the extra steps of posting it here and having someone else type it into a search bar and then write a post.

For punctuation questions, learning how to look bothersome little questions up is a skill worth developing, though it does require learning the correct vocabulary. There are plenty of good punctuation guides in print and for free online.

For example:
Strunk & White’s Elements of Style
Eats, Shoots and Leaves — has a more visual interface

(NB: If you want to have an argument over whether or not Elements of Style is too prescriptive, please read back a few pages and make sure we haven’t had it in the past month or so).

ON THE OTHER HAND. Some punctuation and grammar questions are subjective, especially in fiction, and please do feel free to ask them.

a. Do you think this neat, unconventional punctuation of dialogue too distracting? (See how this is different from Can I use neat, unconventional punctuation?)
b. How do you think I should punctuate this:


God, she probably would have told me eventually, just to rub my nose in it. That’s Ada. Never misses the chance to lord it over someone. Me especially.

God. She probably would have told me eventually—just to rub my nose in it. That’s Ada: never miss the chance to lord it over someone, me especially.
These questions can be super fun so post away!


If you want advice on specific things you are writing, you have a couple options. If it’s just a few sentences, you can post it in here. If it’s longer than that, check out Fiction Farm. Never ever ever post something that you haven’t already read and revised yourself.


5) Giving Advice: This is for me, as much as for anyone else: Remember that being helpful is way more important than totally sick burns. 

(If you refuse to read a book, I’m gonna lay down some hella sick burns on you)


The best advice I can give you is this:

There is no such thing as “being as a writer.” There is only writing, what you have written, and writing more. You will have to figure out what works for you. There is no absolute always-true advice

Except for this:

1) Read more: Reading good books is the best education you can get in how to write good books. It is also a delightful, moving, and potentially transcendent experience. The right book at the right time can profoundly change your life. Hell, the wrong book at the wrong time can change your life. Comprehension of the power of the written word, and by extension, the power to wield it, begins with reading. READ MORE.

2) Write more:  There is nothing written except that which has been written. You cannot improve except through dedicated practice. Thinking about writing does not constitute practice. Writing more serves two basic purposes: First, it gets easier to actually put words (any words) on the page. You develop the writing habit, figure out what works for you, etc. Second, it gets easier (or possible) to put better words on the page. Figuring out a story, what has to happen, what has to be said about what happens, what words to be used, and in what order, all that takes a lot of practice. You can read about painting, look at paintings, but you still have to do a lot of painting. You can’t skip the “doing a lot of painting” step. You have to do a lot of writing. Start now.

3) Get feedback: Here’s the thing: It’s super difficult to see the difference between what you think you are writing and what you are actually writing. Chances are, even if you happen to be a child prodigy savant genius, that your writing could benefit from some good, old fashioned critique from other writers. That’s why you are asking other people for critiques, right? Definitely not just to hear other people tell you how great you are? Find a way to get honest feedback from strangers. This forum is a good start. See the post on feedback, below. Do not under any circumstances post something you just wrote off the top of your head without ever looking back. I will loving murder you.

3a) Give feedback: Giving feedback is part reciprocity and part building your own skill set. By thoughtfully reading and responding to other people’s writing, you will learn how to think more clearly about your own writing.

- Save regularly -
- Drop box -
- Google docs -
- Auto-backup stuff on your home wireless network -
- Figure something out or you will be sad -

Topics (posts):
1) Intro (this post!)
2) Read More
3) Write More (Writing Process, Ideas, World Building, Editing)
4) Feedback
5) Elements of a Story: Plot, Character, Dialogue, Action, Perspective
6) Misc. (Tools, publishing, Book Recommendations, Mental Health
7) Reading exercises/examples
8) Extremely good posts from the last thread, also authors
9) Saving this b/c I’ll probably think of something else I want to say

You might be able to find people to talk about fiction writing on #readmorewritemore


Learning to write is a life-long process

It can be heartbreaking, but don't give up. I kind of know this guy, barely—okay, we met once at a party, and now we’re Facebook friends. He’s a published novelist, Big Five, working on his purchased second novel, over a dozen pro-market sci-fi/fantasy stories, yada-yada. Successful, right?

He just posted about how he got his 1400th rejection letter from a magazine.

Writing requires bravery bordering on recklessness.

:siren: YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE. :siren:


(Go get started, god drat it, what are you waiting for?)

Dr. Kloctopussy fucked around with this message at 09:59 on Oct 3, 2020


Dr. Kloctopussy
Apr 22, 2003

"It's DIE!"
:siren: READ MORE :siren:

Read More. Read More. Read More.

I’ve been writing various impassioned pleas for writers to read more for years, and I mean them all. Reading can inspire you, send your mind soaring, break your heart, leave you crying, leave you wondering if life is worth living, give you reasons why life is worth living that you never thought of, and more. It takes you to places you’ve never been, it puts you into shoes of people you can never even meet, it brings you stories that you would never find in your own life. Set aside all the sarcasm, would-be jokes, self-depreciation, and anything else that builds a wall of emotional safety between me and this one statement of truth: reading changes your life.

Now, I suppose a bit of that is why you should read as a person, so let me get down to brass tacks about why you should read as a writer:
Reading good authors attentively is basically taking a master class in writing well. Even reading decent authors inattentively will improve your writing a bunch. By reading you build up a reference library in your head: plots, plot structures, kinds of characters, voices, settings, and more. On top of that, you’ll see how different authors have handled them: how they’ve gradually (or immediately) revealed characters for who they are; how they’ve maintained tension, easing it then pulling it tighter, over the course of a book; how they’ve written dialogue; how they’ve painted a picture of a foreign universe as their story unfolds, without writing a world atlas as a prologue; and more! Much, much more!

As you read, as you find your favorite books and authors, you assemble a group of teachers. When you have questions, you can go look and see how the writers you love have answered them. Writing is a dialogue between authors stretched over centuries. Even if you aren’t reading books from centuries ago, you are reading books by authors who have, or authors who read books by other authors who have. William Gibson’s top 6 books include Dracula (1897) and The Time Machine (1895). Michael Chabon’s include Paradise Lost (1667), Moby-Dick (1851), and Pride and Prejudice (1813). Hemingway liked Dostoevsky, and J. K. Rowling’s favorite author is Jane Austen.

No, writing isn’t spinning a wheel of prior plots, characters, and settings and mashing them together, but existing works are a source of inspiration. Both for content and form. They help you discover your own stories, and how to tell them. In the {{reading exercises}} post below, I have included some ways that I have used books to answer specific writing questions. Reading and analyzing books like this is not necessary to get any benefit out of writing, though. If you read at all, you are building your writing library.

So reeeeeaaaaad. For the love of god, read.

That said, “read more” isn’t some kind of page count contest, either. It's more important to actually get something out of the text, rather than just trying to add books to your “have read” list. I’m not saying never blaze through a Jason Bourne book on an airplane (or don’t try to read every romance book in your library with Duke in the title just for the heck of it), but sometimes you want to slow down, and consciously think about what you are reading and how it is written. That’s how you’ll learn the most.

You can supplement, but not replace, reading real fiction by reading books about writing. There’s a list of suggestions in the {{recommended books}} post (or will be soon). Same thing goes for this thread. Remember that trying to learn to write by reading writing advice and not actual fiction is like trying to cook from recipes without ever tasting food. DON’T DO IT.

They can be helpful if you get stuck with some particular element of writing, but don’t take their word as gospel, either. Most offer only a single approach out of many, and it may not be the one that works for you with your current problem in your current work.

Advice for reading if you don’t like reading:
If you don’t already love reading, I think you should do some serious self-reflection about why you want to create in a medium that you don’t enjoy. It’s like being a musician who doesn’t like music, or a vintner who doesn’t like wine. “Oh, but no one makes wine I like,” the would-be-vintner says. But how would she even know that if she hasn’t drunk A WHOLE gently caress LOAD OF WINE? So unless you have read a whole gently caress load of wine, don’t assume there aren’t any books out there that aren’t to your taste and you just have to write your own. Or more accurately, that you can actually write something new without having tasted what’s already out there.

Make an effort to find books you have a decent chance of liking. Set aside time each day to read, and remember that for now at least, it's not pleasure, it's work. I hope that over time you will discover the joy in reading and this will become pleasure not work, but regardless, you must persevere. Don't whine that you don't have time to read. You have to make it a priority. After you’re done with your self-assigned reading, take at least a few minutes to think about what you read. It might help to write some of it down. What you liked (if anything), what you didn't like, most importantly why you liked/didn't like whatever. At least this will maximize your time/value of reading. If you hate a book day after day, try again with a new one. Try a different genre, try a different decade, ask for recommendations, read a short story. If you’re trying tons of books and don’t like any of them…. Are you still sure you want to write?

Dr. Kloctopussy fucked around with this message at 01:14 on Jan 28, 2017

Dr. Kloctopussy
Apr 22, 2003

"It's DIE!"
:siren: WRITE MORE :siren:

There’s no such thing as “being a writer.” THERE IS ONLY WRITING. And having written, I guess. Going to write soon definitely doesn’t count. Therefore, you must write. More.


Learning how you, can get words on the page is one of the biggest parts of learning to write.  There’s no one magical perfect solution that universally gets everyone to write more. You’ve got to figure out what’s going to work for you. I keep repeating this idea over and over about everything because it’s true. The following are some techniques that have worked for other people, and which you should maybe try. Trying things is important. Don’t just dismiss them out of hand because you think they won’t work for you. Just keep trying things. Over and over again. Maybe you need to combine a few. Maybe you will invent your own and share it with all of us. Maybe something will work for a while and then stop. At that point, try something else. I know someone who did great with pomodoro for several months, then it quit working, and he discovered that changing locations worked great. Never give up! 


Word Count Goals vs. Time Goals

There are two main ways to measure how much you are writing: the number of words you have written, or the amount of time you have spent writing. Ultimately, you have to write some number of words to finish whatever you are working on, obviously, but you can look at individual sessions either way. It’s just which mental approach works for you. Some people like to sit down and write until they hit 500 words, others want to write for half an hour. Some people might have a daily goal of 2,000 or of two hours. Both of those examples seem to equate 500 words with half an hour, but there’s not a magic number like that, don’t worry about it. Sometimes it might take you half an hour to write 500 words, other times you might do it faster, other times you will be gritting your teeth to get 500 words done in an hour. No worries. I mean, that last one can be painful, but it’s fine. 

Also, some people prefer to do a combo: I’ll write for two hours or until I reach 2k, whichever is shorter (or, whichever is longer!)

If you want to pressure yourself into reaching a monthly word-count goal by toxxing yourself if you fail (and getting your name on a list of shame), check out the monthly Long Walk threads right here in this forum.


Pomodoro is a purely time-based system. You set a timer for 25 minutes and do nothing but write for those 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, you make a tally mark on your pomodoro record for the day, and set the timer again for a five minute break. Then you set the timer for 25 minutes again. After 2 hours (four pomodoros), you take a 10 minute break. 

This is the only system that consistently works for me. I also give myself permission to either write or just stare at the page/document. As long as I don’t do anything else, it counts. I haven’t had an entire pomodoro of just staring yet, but I probably will some day. The hardest part is setting the timer in the first place, and then making sure breaks are only 5 minutes and don’t stretch into 15 or 20 or 2 hours (drat you internet). The sound of a ticking timer is now some kind of Pavlovian signal to my brain that it is time to work. 

Set Writing Times

Decide when to write in advance and stick to it. Most people find that first thing in the morning works best, because then you can’t get caught up in something else, but as always, whatever works for you. To make this work, you must treat these times as nearly-inviolable appointments. Like, okay if you have to take your kid to the hospital, interrupt your writing time, but not just because something more fun comes up (like sleeping in).

Most people who use this system advocate setting the same time every day. I think it’s possible, though probably more difficult to maintain, to have different times per day, and even different times each week if you have a particularly volatile schedule (if you are an hourly employee, for example). As long as you set the times in advance, and stick to it, you will be fine. I kind of use this in conjunction with pomodoro, by starting pomodoros an hour after I wake up. I’m bad at it though, honestly. Now that I admit this isn’t working for me, I see that I should try something else (probably setting the same time every day).

Carrot and Stick

Reward yourself for accomplishing your writing goals, and/or punish yourself for failing to meet them. A common suggestion for punishments a while ago was donating to a political cause you hate, but uhhh, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Maybe don’t play video games or eat ice cream or something. Common rewards are buying stuff or doing something you enjoy. Make sure it’s something you actually enjoy, though. Don’t try to reward yourself with a nice walk if you never go for walks and just think you should. And obviously don’t spend money you don’t have or choose a “reward” that is dangerous or unhealthy (I’ll shoot up heroin if I finish 2k words is probably not a good idea :( )

Also, make sure you actually have the willpower to follow through with your punishments/rewards, even when you don’t have the willpower to just get yourself to write without them. This strategy never works for me, because I will do whatever I want eventually. gently caress YOU DAN, YOU’RE NOT MY REAL DAD.

Location, Location, Location

Basically, having a set and/or separate place to write. This strategy works on two theories, I think. The first is escaping the distractions of your own house. There’s no xbox at the coffeeshop. If you write by hand and don’t bring a laptop, there’s no wireless either. There’s also no kids or roommates or partners. The second is the psychological effect of being “in my writing place.” I don’t think the psychological cues of rituals or special places should be underestimated. Things that tell your mind “now it’s time to write” can make a huge difference. If that’s the case, a place in your house can work. Preferably not the same place you surf the internet. On the other hand, most of us only have one desk. If that’s the case, you might try experimenting with some other kind of situational cue that indicates “now it’s time to write!” The ticking timer works for me. Incense or candles might work, even though it sounds cheesy, because smell is a powerful sense for psychological cues. You might also try creating a separate user account on your computer, so you have a separate digital location. Just try stuff.

Calendar (Write Every Day!)

Simple: get a calendar, physical or digital, and make a mark on it or put a gold star on it, whatever, every day that you meet your writing goals. As the chain of marks get longer, you’ll want to keep it growing and feel worse about breaking it. It’s really satisfying to see a big ol’ line of gold stars. There are tons of apps that are designed for this, too. 

I have a big desk calendar hanging on my wall. It’s turned to May 2014 and has no marks on it. So. 

Free Writing and Other Tricks to Get Started

Sometimes the hardest thing is going from not-writing to writing. Forget staring at a blank page, I’m talking about sitting down and taking out a blank page to stare at. It feels so intimidating! 

My favorite way of dealing with this is free writing — pretty much every time I write, I start with the much less intimidating act of writing three pages of whatever the gently caress comes to mind. Usually the first page and a half at least are whining about how much I have to do (like, omg dishes and laundry) and how writing is hard and I don’t know why. Then I might start writing about what I’m actually gonna write later. Maybe. But I’ve started putting words down. It’s “broken the seal,” so to speak. 

Another possibility is to take a few minutes to jot down a few sentences about what you are about to write. Like, “In this scene Donnie goes to the store and sees Jane, but he is afraid to talk to her so he hides behind the apples and his older brother makes fun of him.” Or whatever kind of information helps you frame what you are about to write. A variation on this is to spend the last few minutes of any writing session writing these notes for what you are going to do next time, and starting by reviewing those notes.

You can also try reading over what you wrote last time. People have really strong opinions about reading earlier stuff! For some people, the temptation to start editing will be so strong that they won’t actually get any further writing done. They will just edit. If that’s you, don’t do this! But for other people, it helps refresh their brain and get them back into the story, without being stressful. 


Writing is the most important part of writing.

Obviously, to write, you have to have some kind of idea, but a great idea written poorly is worse than a bad idea written well. And a great idea that isn’t written at all is nothing. A great idea that is half-written is….keep writing!

I say the above because I’ve seen a lot of new writers who were so in love with their ideas that they sacrificed story. Most readers will not be in love with your idea. It’s not always true, just very nearly always true. Every now and then there is a story that succeeds just on the brilliance of its idea. For example, hmmmm…. Anyway, most of the “idea based” stories are backed up by good writing, if not great stories.

We also see writers who have only worked on one 600k word epic fantasy series for years and years, and nothing else, because they think that is their one great idea. This approach also works sometimes. I’m looking at you Patrick Rothfuss. It usually doesn’t work. I’m looking at you, tens-of-thousands of unpublished writers with 600k epic fantasies in the works. Becoming obsessed with a single great idea, or even thinking you need a great idea is more likely to be harmful than helpful.

Here’s Jim Butcher talking about ideas:

“Jim Butcher” posted:

The bet was actually centered around writing craft discussions being held on the then-new Del Rey Online Writers’ Workshop, I believe. The issue at hand was central story concepts. One side of the argument claimed that a good enough central premise would make a great book, even if you were a lousy writer. The other side contended that the central concept was far less important than the execution of the story, and that the most overused central concept in the world could have life breathed into by a skilled writer.
It raged back and forth in an ALL CAPITAL LETTERS FLAMEWAR between a bunch of unpublished writers, and finally some guy dared me to put my money where my mouth was, by letting him give me a cheesy central story concept, which I would then use in an original novel.
Me being an arrogant kid, I wrote him back saying, “Why don’t you give me TWO terrible ideas for a story, and I’ll use them BOTH.”
The core ideas he gave me were Lost Roman Legion and Pokémon… Thus was Alera formed.

Now maybe you want to say “come on though, Jim Butcher isn’t exactly a great author or anything,” and that’s fine. But, uhhhhh, if you’re willing to take advice from us….

Anyway, you just need a pretty good idea. Then you gnaw on that idea for a while, see where it takes you, let it evolve, expand upon it, experiment, take things away, add things. Is a story emerging? An interesting character? Keep building on that. Start writing it down. Ta-da!

How do you know if an idea is pretty good? If it inspires you to write and leads you to interesting plots and characters, it’s probably pretty good. Plus, you know you’ll probably change it a lot as you go along, right?

Finally, don’t wait until you have a final, fully-developed idea to start writing. Start writing* immediately. Be prepared to change, to throw stuff away, to dig stuff out of the trash, to put half of what you write into a different book. You cannot accurately evaluate an idea until you are writing it. I’ve found that the more I write, the more ideas I get. Kind of like how I can make you rich, but you need to have a million dollars.

But where do ideas come from?


If you don’t have any little ideas niggling at the back of your head, you can try to implant one in the following ways:

Reading other books
This is seriously an extremely good way to get ideas, and one of the many reasons you should read a lot. And no, you’re not copying another book just because you get an idea while reading it! Authors have been inspired by other authors since… forever, probably. Sometimes you might be reading and think something like “aw, I wish this had happened!” Or “I wish there was a book like this, but set on Mars.” These thoughts can become the seeds of ideas, which eventually grow into full-fledged ideas and then works. Of course I am not suggesting you write thinly-veiled fan fiction with everything the same except for your one little change. No no, you take that little idea and poke it with a stick until it wakes up.

Even if you don’t get specific ideas while reading, the more you read the more you have little bits of ideas (plots, characters, settings, concepts) bouncing around in your head. The more you’ve got in there, the more likely they are to bump into each other and make little idea molecules, and then hook up and make bigger idea molecules, etc. Eventually you have an idea DNA, and you stick it a test-tube and feed it and you get some hosed up sheep. But a hosed up sheep is way more interesting than a normal sheep. Success!

Writing Prompts
Do a google search for writing prompts and you sure will get a bunch! Are they any good? Well:

“Writer’s Digest” posted:

Rudolph’s Revenge
By: Brian A. Klems | December 16, 2016 | Comments 50
After years of teasing and name-calling, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has finally had it. Write a strongly-worded letter to all the other reindeer from Rudolph, allowing him to air his grievances and announce that he is quitting to join (fill in the blank).

“Writer’s Digest” posted:

Mystery Cookie
By: Brian A. Klems | November 11, 2016 | Comments 184
One day you come into work and find a cookie mysteriously placed on your desk. Grateful to whoever left this anonymous cookie, you eat it. The next morning you come in and find another cookie. This continues for months until one day a different object is left–and this time there’s a note.

“thinkwritten” posted:

The Unrequited love poem: How do you feel when you love someone who does not love you back?

“Reddit” posted:

(WP) It is modern day America, but everyone speaks in Shakespearean English. You are a gamer raging out during an online multiplayer match.

Some of them might be better, or you might write a best selling novel inspired by a passive-aggressive “I quit!” email from Rudolph. I mean, as I will repeat endlessly, Jim Butcher wrote a best selling book on “the Lost Roman Legion + Pokemon,” so go forth with whatever inspires you.

Prompt places: (hahaha)


There’s a prompt here every week, often times actually good ones. Also you get merciless critiques, a chance to ascend to the blood throne (temporarily), or to get a really great new avatar.

Genre Remix

This is when you play the pitch game of “It’s like X, but…” or similar.
“It’s like Harry Potter, but in space and noir”
“It’s like The Big Sleep, but in Victorian England and the detective is a woman.

You can skip the “it’s like,” and just cross two genres and see what comes up. It’s a Western in Space! (Star Wars) It’s a Western but Steampunk! (Wild Wild West) It’s a Western but with Aliens! (Cowboys vs. Aliens). Again, I’m not talking about writing fan-fiction of Harry Potter where he is a space detective. Elements! Combine elements and make something completely your own.

You can also take genre tropes, and play around with them. Flip them backwards, nudge them sideways, see what comes out. A hard-boiled detective novel, where the detective is a vicar’s wife heavily involved in the temperance movement? A sci-fi where the sprawling AI works perfectly, but people are trying to break it? Literary fiction exploring a complex mother-daughter relationship, but also they are wizards? Hmm.

Your own drat life
Fiction isn’t autobiography, and I don’t advise writing a thinly veiled autobiography and calling it fiction. But there are things that happen to us, things we notice, that have an emotional impact, or are ridiculous, or make us laugh. You can take those moments, and expand on them, put them in another place, consider other possible outcomes.

Eavesdropping (on strangers)
You should be doing this anyway. It’s a great way to get anecdotes, to see people in the middle of an argument, a date gone horribly awry, excited about something that’s meaningful only to them, dealing with frustrations, and more. Yes, the tiniest things can inspire you.

History, Museums, Travel
Exposure to things outside your normal life puts new ideas in your head. The War of the Roses. A poison ring with a cameo of a young girl. The destruction of a relationship while climbing Kilimanjaro.

News Stories

I see this one in a lot of books. Sometimes the news can spark an idea that spins off into its own crazy cool thing. Please don’t just write thinly veiled political allegories ;___;

* As I talked about above, different people write differently. If you are one of the people who likes to outline an entire novel before you start, then start outlining. Start wherever your writing process starts, but start.

The So-Called World Builder’s Disease
Wake up kids
You’ve got world-builder’s disease
Page 14, of treatise on native trees.
Huge outlines: you're busy still writing these
Histories. You never even begin.

“World Builder’s Disease” is a term for getting so caught up in making up facts about your world that you never quite get to the story. There are a couple reasons this can happen:
1) You love building worlds and it is the most fun part of writing, and eh stories who cares.
2) You think it’s all really important to your story
3) You are afraid that if you don’t have everything in the world perfect you can’t start writing…. Or maybe you’re just afraid to start writing.

If you fall into Camp 1, don’t listen to anyone who tries to tell you to quit, but also maybe just accept that you’re into building the worlds and not really that interested in writing fiction. Nothing wrong with that.

If you fall into Camp 2, have a really serious discussion with yourself about whether or not everything is actually important. Start that conversation with “how do I know what is important if I don’t even know what the story is?”

If you fall into Camp 3, let go of being perfect. You need to start writing even if it’s scary. Remember that you can’t actually know what you need in the world until you start writing. For the most part: story first, setting second.

Only you can decide if world building is really a good use for your time, but if you keep saying “I really want to write a novel….” but keep designing tectonic systems instead, it’s time for you to think harder and more honestly about what’s going on.

Here is an example where I think world-building gone awry (notice how at the end they say it feels like a pointless holdup):

Sitting Here posted:

Question: How painstaking are you when developing the climate and geography of a non-earth world (thinking more fantasy here than literally other planets in this universe)? For example, I'm writing about people who live on an isthmus in an area that has a roughly Mediterranean climate, and since they're fishers and farmers I have to figure out what would live and grow in that area, and so on. And then what starts as a simple scene with a villager getting run down on a clam field by a guy on a horse turns into a bunch of research about whether there would even BE clam fields in an area like that, or whether they would need to dive for clams, or what. After a while it starts to feel like a pointless holdup.

My cool reply, because I am cool:

Dr. Kloctopussy posted:

In an imaginary world, clams can literally live anywhere, because it's a made-up world. Even if the climate is "Mediterranean" and clams don't really live in the Mediterranean here on earth, clams can live in that climate in your world because it is fake and maybe clams evolved to be adapted to that climate, or to be able to read or ride horses. Maybe clams are actually a huge computer, communicating through binary opened/closed patterns. It doesn't matter because it's a goddamned made-up world.

A lot of people really love world building, and that is great. But it can also be a huge time suck, and a distraction from the hard work of actually writing your story. While a detailed world can enhance a good story, it isn't itself a good story. Don't slack on the story in the name of world building. As long as it's fairly internally consistent, you're good to go (gently caress that one reader who triangulates mountains or whatever.)

Also, I did find this:

Also-also, I wrote a huge stupid post about world building in the last thread which is too long to include here b/c this post is also already so huge and stupid:

Educating Yourself and/or Write what you know

Are you writing about a horse trainer who decodes encrypted messages received over their HAM radio? But you are not a horse trainer, do not decode encrypted messages, and couldn’t identify a HAM radio in a line up of compressed lunch meats? Are you worried about getting emails from angry cryptologists about how you don’t decode encrypted messages, you decrypt them?

“Avast, young master!” As my historically inaccurate and completely unresearched pirate character would say, “Get thee to a library!” (Hey, she’s a ship-type pirate, not a dark-net pirate)

But didn’t you just say not to spend a billion years getting distracted by research? OMG you hypocrite! Well, here are some reasonable goals for research:
1) Don’t look like an idiot
2) Don’t spend a billion years trying to satisfy everyone
3) Don’t be an rear end in a top hat

Fine, you might say, I will only write about polo dudes at Harvard (you do play polo for Harvard, don’t you?). Don’t! I implore you not to take the easy way out.

Empathy is one of the most important components of writing
Empathy does not mean agreeing with someone. Empathy means being able to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” as the cliche goes. You absolutely must be able to imagine yourself in a different experience than your own. Otherwise, your characters will be either reflections of yourself or caricatures of how you see other people (I’m not even going to go into how those are arguably the same thing).

How do I get into someone else’s shoes?
You learn about their shoes, preferably from their own perspective. Primary Sources. If you are uncomfortable or unsure of how to conduct your own interviews, dig into interviews by other people: blogs, books that contain original texts, autobiographies, oral histories, library records, old photos, etc. etc. The farther away from your own experiences and mainstream culture a person is, the more research you need to do. What are the concerns and experiences of underground electronica musicians? What does an underground club look like? Who else is there? Be very wary of making assumptions based on a few newspaper articles you’ve read.

Murders Gonna Murder
Anyway, the old adage “write what you know,” is limited at best, and harmful at worst. I shouldn’t have to tell you that if you want to write a murderer, you don’t have to go kill someone. And if you want to write about a drug addict, please do not go and get addicted to drugs.

Writing what you know comes down to three things: 1) If you have expertise or experience in a specific field, embrace that and draw on it if you’re interested in writing related stories (no way am I going to write about lawyers just because I went to law school); 2) pay attention to your own general experiences (especially with people and emotions) and use that as a guide for how characters might react; 3) don’t (for example) assume that you can write a poor black woman from Wichita without, you know, actually looking into what that experience might actually be like, just because you “understand the universal human condition” or whatever. Like, duh if you are a poor black woman from Wichita, you know what that’s like, but if you are a rich white dude from San Francisco, don’t try to just imagine what you would do if you were magically transported into that situation right now. Do some research.


Do I outline? Do I have to write the beginning first? What’s the “right” way to do all this? Well, if you read the first post, I bet you can guess the answer: there isn’t a right way and you have to do the work to figure it out yourself. Here are some approaches that can help you get started:

Outlining v. Discovery Method

There are two main approaches to figuring out what to write: deciding how the story goes, step-by-step before starting (Outlining) and going straight into writing without a detailed plan (Discovery Method). These aren’t hardline distinctions, but rather opposite ends of a spectrum. Some writers will outline every chapter, others make a short list of just the main plot steps, some will start knowing the ending and work their way there, others will just have a loose concept and start from there. There’s no way that is going to work for everyone, you must start trying and see what works for you. On top of that, different methods may work for you when you are writing different things. If you’re stuck outlining a book, try a bit of the discovery method or vice versa.

There are common pros/cons of each approach, though these pros/cons won’t be the same for every single person (please imagine I am continuing to say that after every sentence, okay?)

1) You know what you are writing about & where the scene is going to go
2) You don’t have to worry about getting yourself into some weird plot corner where everything falls apart
3) Easier to manage a bunch of subplots at the same time

1) The actual writing process will always bring up new ideas or change characters, and it’s harder to adjust for that
2) Temptation to awkwardly force certain things to happen so you can get to your next planned plot point
3) Following a rigid structure may lead you to following a formulaic plot progressions when that isn’t what is best for your story.

To avoid these cons, remain flexible and don’t be upset about changing your outline. Focus on what happens in your story and how it fits together, not on making something up for every point on someone else’s graph.

Methods: There are tons of ways to go about outlining, many of them based on various models of plot structure (check out the {{{plot section}}}).

Check out J. K. Rowling’s charted outline.

(Other sample outline approaches hopefully coming soon)

Discovery Method

1) The writing process will always bring up new ideas and change characters, and if you are free to let that happen, you may discover wonderful things that you wouldn’t with an outline
2) The potential to structure your story in a way that suits it better than following a pre-determined formula

1) You’re probably going to have to edit a lot. Like, really, really A LOT.
2) You might write and write and then realize that you have made a critical mistake in the direction of your story and need to toss out a bunch of stuff.

To avoid the cons, figure out important elements of your story first: (e.g. the emotional cores of your characters, the thwarted desire, the crisis, possible escalations, possible climaxes). In order to write a satisfying story, your escalation needs to lead (inevitably) to the climax. I think the best way to learn this is by reading a bunch of fiction, so that you have examples of story progressions in your head and can call on them as needed (probably unconsciously).

Neither of these approaches is absolute! You can go back and forth between writing and creating/updating an outline. You can write a lot, look at what you’ve got, make an outline, decide what to keep and where to go, then finish writing. These days I write out summaries of what I want to happen, which I then move around and nudge, like an outline but without all the formatting stuff that makes me feel confused and locked in.

Getting Started


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 the 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 stash it away for later. Some writers start at the beginning, some at the end, and some at whatever part they think of first. Especially since you will be editing after you finish, there is zero reason to worry about getting the first paragraphs right at the beginning.

I’m trying to write, but all the words are bad: First Drafts!

Don’t panic!

I typically title all my first drafts “Super-lovely First Draft That Will Inevitably Be Terrible.” I find acknowledging that it's going to suck helps the “inner critic” go away (leave me alone, Charlotte :( ). What is she going to say when I've already labeled the thing a piece of poo poo? And my first drafts are, in fact, incredibly awful. Lots of telling, lots of telling at really awkward places because I forgot to tell it earlier and just thought of it now, when it ties in to whatever other thing I'm telling about. This gets especially messed up when I’m writing long hand.

This is how I end up like:

Dr. Kloctopussy posted:

Confession: I just roughed out my Thunderdome entry and I used "rejoined" as a speech tag 5 times in 900 words.

There was not a single instance of “rejoined” in the final story.

Your first drafts probably won’t be as bad as mine, and feel free to repeat “Dr. K is worse!” as many times as you need to get yourself going.

Keep Going Until You Get to the End

The thing about first drafts is that they're just for getting your ideas down on paper, and worrying about them sucking is counterproductive, especially for beginners. You are probably going to rewrite and fix a bunch of it later. But you have to get that poo poo down on paper first so you have something to rewrite and fix. And you have to get the ENTIRE thing down, because that's the only way you can know what actually happens in the story, so you can figure out what needs to be included. Like if you haven't written to the end scene where your heroine uses her cut-off grappling hook like a lasso to catch the bad guy, then you don't know that you need to put something in at the beginning mentioning she grew up on a farm and knows how to use a lasso.

When I say get the entire thing down, I don’t mean never look back. If you realize you need to add an earlier scene, or if your outline changes and you need to make major changes, do it. But don’t write chapter one, then spend hours editing chapter one to make it perfect. You’re just going to have to do it again when you finish the whole thing, and it will be harder to do because you’ve already spent so much time making it pretty.

Okay, I wrote a whole thing! I’m done now right? Ha ha ha, no.


If you don’t bother to edit, you are just quitting in the middle.

As with everything in writing, there are tons and tons of ways to edit. I’m going to talk a bit about “levels” of editing, what things to consider and look for when editing, and then some “tips and tricks.”

Levels of Editing

It is not helpful to finish your first draft, scroll back up to the first paragraph, and start looking for punctuation mistakes. First consider your book as a whole, then start narrowing your focus, in steps. Punctuation mistakes are last. Don’t spend time fixing punctuation mistakes when you might just delete the whole scene (or chapter, sigh….) later.

Book Level

At this level, it actually does not matter what exact words you have on the page. What matters is what happens and why. Does the flow of events make sense, especially based on the characters and their motivations? Where can it be made stronger? Tighter? More interesting? This is level where I’ve rearranged when things happen in the story, added subplots, deleted subplots, added foreshadowing, revised character goals so their actions are consistent throughout the story, and decided to eliminate what appeared to be a major character (everything he did could be done by someone else, and it would make things more simple and more interesting).

A high-level summary of your book should make sense. Get it to that point before continuing. If you don’t have a solid story, making different parts of it better isn’t going to magically transform it into a solid story.

Chapter and Scene Level

Once you have a solid story, make sure that everything in the story is actually on the page. Do you have the scenes you need? Do people do what needs to be done and say what needs to be said in the scene? Is there a balance between action, dialogue, and description that is appropriate for the scene?

At this point, it’s also useful to start looking at the items mentioned in the macro-level critique section below: POV, motivation, tension, tone, voice.

Line Edits
Finally we get to the point of really looking at the words, sentence by sentence! The guidelines for doing line edits on your own are the same as for doing line edits for others, as described in the next post.

Proofreading/Copy Editing
Get all your grammar and punctuation right. I find this extremely difficult to do for myself, because once I’ve read, rewritten, and read again, I’ve become blind to misplaced commas.

Tips and Tricks!

Give some of these a try if you are floundering:

- Make a reverse-outline of your story. Look at what is actually written and summarize it, then check the summary to make sure everything is there.
- Do specific reverse summaries for characters/subplots that are giving you trouble
- Look for places where things can be combined (have the argument during the car chase; merge two minor characters into one—this often tightens up subplots significantly; show the opulence of the palace as the farm boy meets the queen for the first time)
- Check your scenes for plot: do they move the story forward? What do the characters each want, and how is that resolved?
- Read the story out loud. This will reveal most awkward phrasings.


1) Now
2) When it’s due
3) When you give up
4) When you’ve made it as good as you think you reasonably can
5) When you realize that all further edits are just pushing you into an unending spiral of desolation and there is no end other than resignation
6) When you die
7) When it’s perfect

At some point you must be finished with whatever you are writing. I highly recommend not allowing that point to be when you die. And there’s a reason why “when it’s perfect” comes after “when you die” in the list above (it’s because you will die before it’s perfect). The rest of the list is in no particular order though, because honestly, you need to figure it out for yourself. And figuring it out for yourself, other than in the blessed situation of “when it’s due,” can sometimes result in existential crises, panic attacks, or an overwhelming sense of relief.

If you have written your story start to finish, given it multiple editing passes, and tinkering with it is no longer enjoyable, let it go. If you were planning to submit to a contest on a certain date, submit it.

Writing requires a bravery bordering on recklessness.

Should I finish everything I start?

While some people advise this as a way to avoid starting a bunch of things but never finishing them, I don’t think an absolutist position on finishing everything is helpful. Sometimes you’re going to start something and realize it’s going nowhere and that continuing to work on it is pointless. When that happens, it makes sense to give up on that particular piece. Otherwise you are just wasting valuable time and energy.

However, if you are only starting things, and never finishing them, you have a problem (unless you don’t care about producing a finished work and just enjoy writing beginnings, I guess). At that point, it’s time to face the scary facts and look at why you aren’t finishing anything. Is “getting bored easily” secret code for “anxiety over not being good enough’? Is there some particular point in a story where you always get stuck (screw you Act II doldrums…)? Have you noticed that you don’t do anything ever without outside pressure? (I’m looking at you mirror). Try to identify and address the problem.

If you get bored easily, try writing something shorter. It’s way easier to get bored of a 1,000 page epic than a 1,000 word short story. If you get stuck on specific things, look at how other writers handle it. Maybe look at books on writing for suggestions, too. If you freak out about perfection or need an external deadline, look for things that will force you to be finished at a specific time. Here on SA you can consider the Thunderdome and the Long Walk, but there are also fiction magazines with submission deadlines and other {{writing groups}} that focus on accountability.

Okay, I’ve decided I’m finished now what do I do?

If you want to seek publication of this piece, now is the time to begin that process. Check out the {{post on publication}} for information on that.

Many times, though, especially as a new writer, the answer is that you will file it away and just get started on the next thing. Writing requires practice and not everything will turn out good enough to publish. There is value in what you learn by writing, even if it doesn’t make you an overnight best seller.

Dr. Kloctopussy fucked around with this message at 04:22 on Jan 29, 2017

Dr. Kloctopussy
Apr 22, 2003

"It's DIE!"
:siren: GET FEEDBACK :siren:

First a note about the word “critiques” — it’s not the same as criticism. It just means outside feedback, not necessarily negative feedback (although most honest feedback is going to include some negatives). I use the two terms interchangeably.

Where to get feedback on

a) If you just need to know if a couple sentences make sense, go ahead and post it in this thread.

b) If you want feedback on something less than 1000 words, 1) critique something in Fiction Farm, 2) post your stuff in Fiction Farm, 3) post a link in this thread. Not sure how to critique? Read on, dear reader.

c) If you want feedback on something greater than 1000 words, 1) create a new thread, 2) post a link in this thread. If you have written something very long (say over 5k words), you will get more feedback if you post it in smaller chunks. Post Chapter One of your novel, get feedback, post Chapter Two (in the same thread). Keep in mind that this is a community, and you are likely to get more feedback if you are an active participant in the community. That means posting in this thread, Fiction Farm, and giving critiques to other people. The best way to get someone to actually critique your work is to trade critiques. I’ll scratch my back if you scratch mine, but in a good way, not like underhanded gangster deals (unless that’s what you’re into).

d) If you know you want feedback to improve your writing, but don’t really have any writing you want to share, try out Ye Olde Thunderdome, where pretty much every story gets a crit and if you are new, kind people will often give extra crits. More extra crits if you keep with it.

e) You can try asking in #readmorewritemore (, but I make no promises. Critiquing requires time and effort, and people are often weary of doing it for strangers who may never return the favor and may just ignore it all if they disagree (see note above about ~~community~~ ). Asking for a trade is likely to get you more responses.

:siren: No matter what do not post something you “just scribbled down off the top of your head” and ask for critiques. That is a garbage thing to do to other people. If you’re not willing to put any time into improving it, don’t ask other people to put time into improving it. Basic courtesy here. Ideally, you would wait at least one day between writing something and posting it. Read it (and probably edit it) during that time. Surely you do not actually need feedback on it right this very second.If you are freaked out by editing and don’t know what to do, still read it. You might notice some changes that would make it better, and boom, you are editing, good job. (You may also enjoy the editing section of the above post and/or asking questions about editing in this thread.) If you write something while high/drunk/whatever, do not post it until you have read it sober.

If you can’t even be bothered to read and think about what you just wrote a little bit, don’t ask us to do it. :siren:

Getting feedback elsewhere on the internet

There are other websites that work similarly to this forum, where you post something and other users will critique it. I do not use any other writing website, but here are some places I hear you can get crits: (has a “credits” system, where you have to critique others before being critiqued. It has an annual $49 fee, but it’s also produced some very successful authors, including Jim Butcher, Elizabeth Bear, and Rae Carson. It has a free month-long trial.) (this one has a “credits” system, where you have to critique others, before being critiqued) (another credit-based system) (oldest critique group on the web, another credit system, and conducted exclusively in .txt format through a crazy email process, but maybe that is your thing!)

A frequent claim about those other sites is that they are all “hug boxes” where everyone will just tell everyone else they are great or whatever. I have no idea if it’s true. Maybe we’re just being smug. If anyone has experience with any of these, chime in.

Writing Groups

Another option is to get together with an online or in person critique group. Basically, you have a set group of people who critique each other’s work on a regular basis. Some benefits to working with a set group include motivation through peer-pressure, knowing the common strengths/weaknesses of the other members (valuable both for your critiques of their work, and evaluating their critiques of your work), and of course, life-long friendships.

These groups can be an excellent source of motivation, as long as everyone continues to participate seriously. In my experience, it helps to have at least one super-reliable person who will give you the “I’m not mad at you, son, just very disappointed,” look if you gently caress up. Or maybe actually be mad, and be willing to kick people out if they aren’t pulling their weight. If everyone is kind of slacking off on a regular basis, the group will probably fall apart. Yes, this one is based on personal experience (we can’t live without you, Systran :( ).

Working with the same people means you get to know their writing and their critiquing styles. Maybe one writer in your group is great with plots, but isn’t so great with dialogue, so you can pay a little extra attention to that. Maybe one writer in your group never likes your dialogue, but no one else has a problem with it, so you don’t take it super-seriously.

Will you actually become life-long friends with your group? Who knows, but Brandon Sanderson is still working with people he met in his critique group in college, so maybe. On the other hand, I’m not sure if those people are his friends or not.

This article describes some general considerations when looking for an online critique group (it applies to in-person, too). The most important part (in my opinion) discusses how to know if a crit group is right or wrong for you:


Don’t be afraid to leave a group that isn’t working for you. Look for warning signs. You’re in the wrong group if you’re giving more value than you receive. You’re in the wrong group if members aren’t receptive to newcomers or if the crits lack substance. You’re in the wrong group if members turn in writing so bad you cringe or if nobody understands your genre. Lastly, you’re in the wrong group if—after careful consideration—you disagree with most of the crits.

But you’re in the right group when you wake up and realize your prose has taken a leap in quality. You’re in the right place when you recognize that people in your group have become dear friends. You really belong when another member sends a heartfelt thank-you note for your critique. You’ve found a home when you’re ecstatic that another member has sold her piece.

Finding Critique Groups

In person:
If you already know local authors, they might be able to refer you to in-person groups (or invite you to theirs). If not, your best bet for finding in-person critique groups is probably a google search:


Feel free to post in this thread looking for people who want to make a writing group. Please describe what kind of work you would be open to critiquing, planned frequency of meeting, method of exchange/discussion, etc. Don’t worry if you don’t know all of that. You’ll probably want to discuss it with other members of the group anyway. Just something more detailed than “hey let’s do a group.”

Running your own group:
1) You should really be that super-dedicated person if you’re gonna start the group
2) Have set times and frequencies to meet
3) Have set expectations for how much people are going to submit
4) Have set expectations for how extensive/detailed the critiques should be
5) We used a combination of google groups, google docs, and google chat to share and critique works. It worked well, and that’s what I would use again. There are also plenty of places online where you can set up your own forum for free, and that could also work.

Many of the forums linked above also have places to find set writing groups. Here are a few places that focus more on groups: (women only, matches you with a single critique partner, not a group) (both a place to find groups, and a platform for exchanging and critiquing work. This is a pay service.)

I’m just finding these on google, so again if anyone has used them (or any others), please let us know your experience.

When joining a group, in person or online, read the description of the groupscarefully, and make sure it sounds like what you want. For example, do not try to join a group focused on poetry if you are writing paranormal romance. If you want to work with a small group of people consistently, you might be wary of a drop-in group. On the other hand, don’t get discouraged and give-up if none sound perfect. Give things a try, you might find something you like.


yes, you do

You can write alone in candlelit tower for years, and never know that your writing is just…not that appealing to other people. Or you can only show your writing to friends and family and get a lot of friends and family telling you it’s quite good. Do them all a favor and don’t ask for any specifics. You can write for fanfic communities and get nothing but praise for years on end, but that doesn’t mean anyone outside of that community wants to read your Data/Nancy Drew slash fiction (I do, though, please send).

Do you really want to know if your writing is “good” by other people’s standards?

You need some honest feedback.

What Can I Learn From Critiques?

All feedback is “subjective” in that everyone will read a text differently. But that’s true of all readers. Including the ones you want to buy your book. And including, most of all, yourself. Other people will see things you don’t and not see things you do.

It is very difficult (impossible) to be see your writing from a new reader’s point of view. You know too much. For a reader the only thing that exists is what’s on the page. Thus, one of the most helpful things you can learn is whether or not what you have written makes sense and whether or not it conveys the information you want it to. They will spot confusing plots, jarring character changes, and dull dialogue that you gaze right over b/c you’re so familiar with it, and probably have different versions of it in the back of your mind, which explains things.

Readers, especially if this is a first book, are not invested in your world or characters until you get them invested. Readers will reveal whether you have written something that can pull someone in.

Once you get down to nitty-gritty line critiques, experienced critiquers will point out awkward phrasings, confusing action, paragraphs that don’t add anything, and more.

Do Not:
1) Ignore everything negative people say
2) Argue with your critiques
3) Call your critiquers names

1) Take everything said in the critiques under consideration
2) Thank people for the time and effort they put into helping you
3) Ask questions if you would like clarification of critiques

When someone asks for "feedback" but refuses to accept any criticism, they insult us by wasting our time. When someone posts a lovely first draft, they insult us by asking us to spend time when they couldn't be bothered. Listen to the people who are trying to help you. Their eyes are invaluable supplements to your own eyes!

Using Feedback

Pay attention to the feedback people give you. Look at your work with their feedback in mind, and look for places where their feedback shows you areas to improve. What changes can you make to fix the parts where they had problems? Can you use what they liked to strengthen the rest? Can you reimagine a character’s motivation? Make action clearer? Make a sentence less clunky? Do it. But use your own judgment to evaluate and adjust your writing in response to criticism. You don’t need to (can’t) please everyone.

While ignoring all feedback makes giving feedback a waste of time, you don’t need to change your story based on every single piece of feedback you get. You need to think about them and decide what you need to change (if you decide you don’t need to change anything… go back to sentence one of this paragraph).

A personal anecdote about deciding certain criticism wasn’t useful: In my crit group, I switched to writing a new genre. One of my group members, a person who I really respect as a writer and who had given me extremely useful critiques in the past, basically said “I hate this genre, and I never read it, but I really don’t like how [you did this thing that is standard and expected in this genre].” There are two take-aways from this: 1) I did not need to make changes based on this critique, 2) I knew they hated the genre and yet still gave it to them for feedback, thus wasting both of our time. Don’t do this!

And before a bunch of people want to scream at me “you should get crits from people who hate your genre because truly good writing blah blah blah blah.” Yeah, sure, if you are trying to write some great, genre defying work of art, or think what you are writing is sooooooo good that even people who would literally never otherwise read something in that genre, go for it. Draft your apology notes in advance. It’s totally fine to ask your writing group to look at stuff that isn’t their favorite genre. But someone who hates it and has never read it? I say: be a kind person, and just don’t.

If a bunch of people give you the same criticism, it is probably correct.

Another personal anecdote about (not) ignoring criticism: I wrote a story for Thunderdome that I thought perfectly balanced being too obvious versus too obscure, but in the critiques, 4/5 people completely missed what I was trying to do. They didn’t understand the character’s motivations, what was actually happening, or the point of the story!!!! Oh wait, no, they didn’t “miss” it, I didn’t write it. Ignoring their criticisms might make me feel superior, but it leaves a major problem in the story.

Friends and Family: Don’t do it!
Your friends and family have a bigger interest in being nice to you than in helping you to improve your writing.

With all that said, when your stinging from a less-than-glowing critique, the best advice remains: keep writing. Write a lot.

Write poo poo. Promise yourself you will write poo poo. Force yourself to write poo poo. Get over yourself and your ideals and let yourself write something no matter how bad it is. Do it again and again.

Be brave and subject it to criticism. Accept the criticism (it's okay if you get mad or want to cry for a while--for some reason getting your writing criticized sometimes feels like people are criticizing your very existence, but you get over that with practice.) Learn from the criticism.

Then, write again. It might not feel easier than the first time. Promise yourself you will write more poo poo. Force yourself to write more poo poo. Keep writing poo poo; do it again and again.



“Effective criticism requires both absolute honesty—which is a sign that you respect the writer—and absolute tact. You want the writer to leave the workshop with a feeling of possibility rather than failure. Be excited about the potential story you can glimpse in what the writer has done so far. Challenge the writer to ask more of the story, and convey your belief that he or she is up to the task. If you offer insincere praise for fear of offending someone, you’re lowering the bar and encouraging mediocrity. Assume the other person wants to grow, not be patted on the back, and offer your comments accordingly.”

- Kim Addonizio, poet

Stuporstar’s Critique Guidelines from the last OP were awesome and detailed, much of the following is copied from them verbatim:

Critique Guidelines

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-Level Critique

This is similar to the reader’s critique, but more technical.

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.

Thank you Stuporstar!

There are more detailed styles of crits, as well!

Line Edits

A line edit looks at the story sentence by sentence, pinpointing specific places where things go wrong and ways that the story could use improvement. It covers the same things as a Macro-Level Critique, but on a more precise level, often identifying exactly where something went off the rails.

A non-exclusive list of other things to address:
- Effectiveness (or not) of the beginning of the story in hooking the reader, and why
- Confusing sentences
- Awkward Phrasing
- Passive voice (the ball was thrown vs. Bill threw the ball)
- Weak words (usually will be words that are generic/imprecise, often accompanied by a modifier. Big house v. Mansion. Sometimes appropriate, but can make prose weak.)
- Over-use of the thesaurus (opposite of above, yes you could say Bill defenestrated Jane, but you should really say “Bill threw her out the goddamned window!”)
- Ineffective (and probably unintentional) repetition of words/phrases
- Failures in pacing (e.g. this paragraph drags on forever)
- Incorrectly used words
- Words that are technically used correctly, but still don’t fit well
- Similes and metaphors that don’t work/are confusing/are distracting
- Where things are too vague
- Information that feels superfluous (please, no more info on clam lifecycle, thank you)
- Dialogue that goes on for too long or feels unnatural or doesn’t make sense
- Unanswered questions that hurt the story
- Punctuation problems, especially ones that lead to confusing sentences (as you notice them, this isn’t proofreading)

If there are problems in the story that are too big to address in a line-by-line, everyone is better off if you just do a Macro Crit. A line-by-line doesn't help, because the problems are over-arching, even if there are a bunch of punctuation and word-choice problems piled on top of them. If a story fails on a structural level, there's no point in explaining how adverbs work, because even if you fixed all of the superficial problems, the underlying story would still fail.

Line-by-line doesn't make sense until the problems are on a line-by-line level. When they are deeper than that, a summary crit may be all that is useful or possible. And sometimes all you can say is "I have no idea what the gently caress just happened." That’s a useful crit if it’s true!

Copy Editing/Proofreading
These aren’t really critiques, but instead fix technical errors.

And here’s a link to another big post about critiques in the last thread, too:

Examples of Critiques (from Thunderdome)

These are just examples, not platonic ideals of what you MUST do in a crit. You’ll also notice that there’s not really a clear distinction between types of crits, many of these have elements of more than one. If you want to read more examples like this (or even get them yourself) check out Thunderdome.

Reader’s Crit

steeltoedsneakers posted:

Sitting Here - One-Sided Conversation
I felt like this was part of something bigger, and because you couldn’t give me that broader story it didn’t satisfy. You’ve lovingly crafted a character (who is inept at what? Grasping reality? Non-violent muggings?) and there’s some fantastic imagery in the opening - there’re excellent words throughout, but I felt less strongly about the tail than I did your initial scene-setting.

Reader’s Crit / Macro Crit

Ironic Twist posted:

Lifting the Veil

This is alright. You have a habit of getting the eerie and the macabre correct, and this story is no exception. The ending is a bit of an anticlimax, though—I was looking for “horrifying”, but instead I got “clever”, which wasn’t what I was expecting, both in the positive and the negative sense. The time loop seemed not only like a pulled punch, but also more of a pain in the rear end for whichever Lovecraftian entity was on shift that day than just a bloody death. The little details, like the grandfather clock, and the self-strangulation—those did a lot more than the rush of feeling at the end for me. It makes me think that if you’d have just hinted at something much more dark without fully showing it, the story would’ve had a more lasting effect.

Macro Crit:

Kaishai posted:

Mrenda, "Christmas to Forget"

You likely want to intrigue with these dropped hints and vague allusions to your world that coyly decline to show the reader its full face. To your credit, I do wonder why the world is ending, and I gather that Alison and the unnamed "he"--the choice not to name him is insupportable--are involved with one another in a way the girl who must be his daughter wouldn't understand. So far, so reasonably interesting, if not a little vague.

But then Alison and Nameless launch into reminiscences, naming random characters and awkwardly reminding each other of their stories for the reader's sake. You're trying to avoid infodumping and to make the exposition natural, I think, but the shaky effort fails right around the line "He rose up like the times he testified before the courts: like when he’d dragged her to protests to face off against the Blackshirts." That dropped nugget of backstory clunks like a fallen muffler against the road. At this point I have minimal reason to give a flip about Alison or Nameless; I have no reason at all to care about the unseen Flubs. The increasingly clumsy exposition is not made more palatable by this.

In the end, I piece together that Alison and Nameless were childhood friends who grew up to rebel together against a government that exterminated what I'm guessing, stress on guessing, is an alien race. Another eleventh-hour sci-fi revelation, huzzah. Now they're together at the end of the world and spending their last moments telling each other things they should already know. Most of the story is dialogue, and dialogue is probably the worst way to deliver this much backstory or to build an SF world. Nothing that Alison or Nameless says makes the world come alive, compels me to feel the tragedy of their situation, anything. They're talking heads telling a story in scraps. Good lord, he never does get a name! Why on Earth not?

The first section is salvageable with only a few changes, naming the man primary among them, but I'm skeptical you could do much with the rest short of rewriting it completely. I'd prefer to see these events shown rather than told, but it's possible to pull off what you're trying to do. Difficult, but possible. Keep what these characters would never need to say to each other at the forefront of your mind and avoid having them say it anyway for the reader's sake. It's very obvious what you're up to in sentences like "We could have left, before college, before they began campaigning against our neighbour systems." You need to be able to sketch a reasonably complete and compelling picture through organic human conversation in order to succeed at telling a story through dialogue alone.

P.S. Saying this is centered on a holiday would be a holly-garlanded lie. Christmas is mentioned, but the story would be exactly the same if it weren't.

Line Edits:
Formatting these for full inclusion sucks, so links (thanks flerp!):

Dr. Kloctopussy fucked around with this message at 01:51 on Jan 28, 2017

Dr. Kloctopussy
Apr 22, 2003

"It's DIE!"

Here it is! The post that you probably thought would be the entire OP!

Show vs. Tell!



OOOOOooooooohhhh plot. So many words have been written on what it is. Or should be. Or could be. I’m gonna share a few of them here, but it’s by no means comprehensive, and simply cannot be. If you want more do a google search and enjoy spending as long as you want reading about plots. I think it’s best to read actual fiction first (obviously), and then take a look at some of the theoretical stuff if you’re struggling or have questions, write some, come back if you’re still struggling, repeat.

There is no magical plot guide that will solve all your problems forever. Do not waste your time looking for one.

You’re going to improve your plotting the most by reading more fiction, and writing more fiction!

Personally, I think the concept when it comes to plot is GROWTH. Problems grow harder to solve; stakes grow higher; the character grows stronger, smarter, more vulnerable (esp. in romance), more informed (esp. in mysteries), etc. It’s most satisfying when the character grows more able to recognize their flaws and move beyond them, but more on that in the character post.

Here’s my short version of the “universal” plot:
1) Someone wants something but can’t immediately get it (ugh, the worst!)
2) They try real hard but only manage to gently caress things up further;
3) Now they try really really hard and appear to make some progress;
4) Ahahahahaha they were an idiot and now things are basically as bad as they can get;
5) they learn a little something about love (or at least themselves, or sometimes just the bad guys) and can finally do something different;
6) hark, it turns out doing something different leads to different results?! Usually these results are very exciting!!
7) Yay! Things are better or worse or in a very few cases the same!!

A Million More Detailed Versions of Plot Advice

All of the following breakdowns of plot can be useful. Let’s be honest here, I’m a know-it-all nobody on a forum. These models were made by some kind of experts. I’m not going to try to summarize the following versions of plot outlines. I’m not even going to link to text explanations of them. Why? There are about a billion explanations of all of them. I don’t have the cred (or time) to read them all and decide which explanations are “good.” You want to know which one is good? Oh, well, it’s whichever one helps you write something good. WELCOME TO WRITING.

Three Act Structure

Five Act Structure

Hero’s Journey

An image that tries to put everything in one graph

if you would rather your graphs masquerade as monsters

(From Wonderbookby Jeff VanderMeer

Save the Cat

General Battuta posted:

I don't like Save the Cat because I think it's a trap. It presents a decent structure and set of rules for telling a story...but if you read around I think most successful stories don't obey them. Save the Cat teaches you how to mimic but not to understand. It's a good way to produce competent structures, but I think the harder road, reading a lot of good poo poo and writing hundreds of thousands of words of awful poo poo, is ultimately more rewarding and powerful. It is, admittedly, a lot harder.

I just don't want bookshelves to read the way modern action movies play. I bet everyone here can find a bunch of great stories that completely defy the Cat structure.

Pardon my soapbox, though, I know writing isn't the same for everyone. Reading Save the Cat won't hurt you, I just hope you'll move past the formula!

Even though Battuta was specifically addressing Save the Cat, I think it’s worth considering his comment for all of the plot models. They are only guides. They can help you get an over-all feeling for common ways to structure a story, but they can’t answer the question of how to structure your story. By reading a bunch of fiction — yes, reading a bunch of fiction is always the answer — you can see how other people apply the models, or ignore them.

This is a good time to bring up two “opposite” approaches to writing and learning how to write. They are not absolute or exclusive; they exist on a spectrum and you can move between them fluidly. On the one hand, you can be heavily analytical—you can memorize all the above models, you can read books and map them against models, you can create and stick to an outline based on all that. On the other hand, you can write intuitively—you read books, absorb things by osmosis, and go from there. Neither of these is more correct than the other. In my opinion, they both have strengths and weaknesses. Too analytic and you miss opportunities because you are too focused on conforming to a model; too intuitive, and you might end up rambling and going no where. If you get stuck, try moving towards the other end of the spectrum.

And again, keep in mind that models and guides are just that. If you are stuck half-way through your book, looking at one of the above models may give you an idea of what to do next, but it’s not like you have to twist your story to fit some .jpg I found on google.


Characters are the heart and soul of your story. A good character can carry a boring plot. To some extent a good plot can carry a lame character (DiVinci Code?). But mostly, what brings people back to even the most plot-driven stories is a character. There’s a reason why Agatha Christie stuck with Ms. Marple and Hercule Poirot. They aren’t particularly well-developed characters, but they ground the story and give a sense of continuity to a multitude of otherwise disconnected tales.

Humans are intensely social. We are obsessed with our relationships to other people: love, hate, power, obligation, dominance, subservience, etc. Common modes of self-definition are frequently an expression of comparison (mother/child, police officer/criminal, boss/employee, strong/weak, smart/stupid, etc.). Even the misanthrope is defined by his rejection of society, not by his embrace of something else. If every man is an island, then everyone else is the ocean lapping at his shores, eroding the jutting cliffs, or pushing broken coral into the sandy beaches.

People want to read about people. Or animals who act like people. If they don’t care if people are in the story, they will go read something other than a story.

Where plot can be described as what characters want, and how they go about getting it, Character is 1) why they want it, and, far more importantly, 2) why they go about it the way they do. I think there can be some debate over whether “what a character wants” is plot or character, but I’m going to ignore that for now (I welcome robust future discussions on the matter).

What makes a “good” character?

There’s a lot of talk about likeability. Probably 99% of the time, you want a likable protagonist. Readers tend to empathize with the protagonist because they see the world mainly through their perspective. Likable people are easier to empathize with. If your character is unlikable, they better be fascinating, because there has to be something there to keep people spending time with someone who’s a jerk.

Keys to developing realistic characters

(This section needs some work!)


Look at yourself and the people around you. Pay attention to their complexities. What do they love, how do they show it? What angers them, how do they show it? How do they face fears, challenges, embarrassments? What lies do they tell — to themselves? To others?


Try to put yourself in other people’s shoes. Real people and your characters. You must understand someone to write them.


Everyone has a facade. Everyone lies to themselves. It doesn’t make us all bad people, it’s just how people work. Writing requires you to pull back that veil on your characters. Uncover their secret motivations, while realistically portraying their actions, based on who they are and who they want to be.

The false lure of “character sheets” for creating depth

There are some things floating around the internet that call themselves “character sheets” where you can write down information about your character so they are well-developed. Some aspects of these are useful. It’s probably a good idea to keep track of motivations, major character traits, relationships with others, etc. Even keeping track of physical features (sapphire eyes! Ruby lips! Pyrite hair!) is useful if you are going to mention them multiple times. All these notes become more important the more characters you have floating around.

But then sometimes these character sheets are like 500 lines long and have stuff like “Morning Routine” and Favorite Drink” and “Biggest Embarrassment.” There are times when knowing these details are useful because they are relevant to the story (like if they are disguised as someone who is allergic to coffee, but then drink coffee and get caught). Filling out a 500 question dossier about your character will probably just confuse you with extraneous information. It’s easy to come up with totally cool answers to these, and then feel like you have to incorporate them somehow. You don’t.

(p.s. Please don’t use D&D character sheets for writing novels :( )

A special and important note about writing people who aren’t like you

Don’t just assume you’ll be fine b/c you understand universal human nature or whatever. There’s more detailed coverage of this in the {{Write What You Know?}} section above.


There are two (four?) main things to think about when writing dialogue:
1a) What are people saying
1b) Why are they saying it?
2a) How do they say it?
2b) Why do they say it that way?

Don’t just write what your characters thing or want and put it in quotes!

People don’t always say what they mean. They prevaricate, they flatter, they fish. Moments of direct honesty are rare and dramatic. The ways that characters go about all this depends on who they are, who they are talking to (and in front of), and what they want.

Realistic Dialogue

You want your characters to sound like real people, but you don’t want to exactly transcribe what real people say, because we have a lot of verbal ticks (um, uh, okay, I know right) that bloat dialogue and distract from its meaning. Leave nearly all of those out.

Realism in dialogue comes from paying attention to the important parts of what people say: the content, patterns of speech (long words, flowery sentences, one word outbursts?), how formal they are, how they speak differently to different people, etc.

Discussion in the last thread about writing arguments:

Extended conversations and the Talking Heads

No one wants to read pages of pure dialogue, and if they do, they can go read Plato. Furthermore, when you have lengthy dialogues, it’s easy for the reader to become confused about who is talking. Luckily, these things can be fairly easily fixed:

Compress your dialogue — we might have a conversation with 20 exchanges. Characters do it in 5. If you are struggling to figure out what those 5 exchanges should be, start by writing all 20. If you want to see how long people actually take to talk about things, look at a deposition transcript. It is a nightmare.

Including action in dialogue — Even if your characters are locked to a dungeon wall and can’t move, you can still include information that isn’t dialogue. Thoughts, sensations, outside sounds. If you need to have a conversation that takes place in the black emptiness of a person’s subconscious with no thoughts or interruptions, for God’s sake make it short.

Speech tags — use “said” in most cases, and put your dialogue in quotes unless you are literally Cormack McCarthy, and honestly probably even then. Fancy speech tags (Shouted! Bellowed! Whispered! Crooned!), if used judiciously, can add emphasis or contribute important information. But if every line of dialogue in an argument is “he shouted,” you lose any special effect. Typically, the content and context of the dialogue should adequately express the emotion behind the words, not dialogue tags.


I’m breaking down action into three loose categories for purposes of this discussion:
1) Normal action: every day movements that are needed to get through a scene (walking around, opening windows, picking up a phone, casting a minor spell, cleaning a gun, etc.)
2) Indicative action: Actions that show something particularly important, such as lying, slamming the door after a fight, etc.
3) Exciting action: Fights! Car Chases! A Wizard Battle! Sex!

One requirement of nearly every description of action you ever write: it should be easy to understand what is happening. Beware of complex phrasing and figurative language.

Normal Action

For the most part, you want normal action to blend in to the rest of the scene. It is part of what is happening, not the most important part. The goals are clarity and balance—you don’t want the reader stopping and trying to figure out wtf just happened, to have nothing but dialogue for pages, or to leave out important things, but you don’t want to over describe things that are ultimately not super-important.

Normal action can be compressed a lot. If Amy is in the kitchen, you can just say “she poured herself a glass of water.” You don’t need to describe her walking to the cabinet, opening the cabinet, taking down a glass, walking to the sink, turning on the water, filling the glass, and turning off the water.
Now, if any of these steps are particularly important or revealing, then it might make sense to draw them out:


Amy made her way across the chipped linoleum floor, leaning heavily on her cane, still impatient after all these years with her halting steps. She took down the “World’s Best Mom” mug that she bought at Goodwill, and continued her agonizingly slow trek to the sink. She turned the tap and waited a few seconds until the rusty water ran clear, then filled her cup.
That’s over-doing it probably, but you get the idea. Now you can say “well doesn’t all action reveal something about the character?” — sure, but do you need to show every single action a person takes in detail to reveal what the reader needs to know? No.

You can skip large amounts of steps and actions that would be boring to read and don’t add much. For example, most car rides can be skipped entirely. As long as the reader knows where the character is going, you can just stick them there at the right time. You don’t even need to see them getting there, entering, exchanging greetings, etc. Just start where the important action happens.


Julia did a final check of the costume her secretary had sent up, and decided she made an adequate Aphrodite. The mask covered nearly all of her face, and that was the most important thing.
Of course, her disguise didn’t fool John for an instant. He strode across the ballroom, aiming directly for her, ignoring the people who scurried hastily out of his way. He was dressed as Zorro, and Julia thought his leather pants a little tighter than strictly necessary.

You could even skip the ballroom all together:


The bartender poured Julia another whiskey without being asked, and moved away discreetly. The mask hadn’t covered enough of her face after all. John had recognized her almost immediately, and she was escorted out less than five minutes after she arrived. Not nearly long enough to find the letters.

Usually you want to show something as dramatic as Julia getting tossed out of a party, but as you can see the story makes sense even leaving it out.

Non-exclusive list of things you can skip:
- The details of everyday movements that pretty much everyone understands: driving a car, eating, getting dressed, putting on make up, etc.
- The details of complicated, specialized actions that your readers are unlikely to be interested in: open-heart surgery, rewiring a house, driving a tank, putting on make up, etc.

Obviously there are times when you will want to describe these things: if you are writing about racing cars, you might want to include all the stuff about shifting and how the gas pedal feels under your feet or whatever else race car drivers do. If you are writing military fiction, it might make sense to describe the specifics of driving a tank.

Indicative Action

Indicative actions show something significant happening, often strong emotions, decisions, important transitions (though that’s not all):
Lying, slamming the door after a fight, loading a gun and walking out the door, taking your estranged sister’s hand at your mother’s funeral, walking into a new job, deciding which gang to join, betraying your partner to the police, taking up the mantle of Batman, etc. etc.

Indicative actions can be of varying importance (taking up mantle of the Batman might be more important than lying about it later, even though both are significant). The action should stand out in relation to its importance. Some ways that can be done:
- Muscular phrasing — simple sentences, active verbs
- Contrast with the ideas or structure of prior sentences
- Put it its own paragraph (use sparingly, but don’t bury indicative action in the middle of a long paragraph, either)

Indicative actions are often found at the ends of scenes and chapters. Here are a few examples, and I’ll put more into the reading exercises post below:

J. K. Rowling in Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone, end of Ch. 6 posted:

Hagrid raised a gigantic fist and knocked three times on the castle door.

This sentence is its own paragraph. The importance of Harry entering Hogwarts for the first time is reflected by the power of Hagrid’s fist knocking on the door (literally muscular, heh), the break between the outside world and new world of Hogwarts (the door is closed, and permission to enter must be requested and granted), and the dramatic pause created by ending the chapter on this note.

Raymond Chandler in The Big Sleep, end of Ch. 6 posted:

Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead.

This sentence, also its own paragraph, follows a farcical description of Philip Marlowe breaking into the house: straddling a fence and leaning out to try and see in a window, ineffectively trying to charge the front door, and then kicking in a window and getting a face-full of drapes. The contrast between that, the first phrase of the sentence, and the ultimate conclusion turns the dead body into a punchline. Maybe not a funny one, but a punchline nonetheless. And with the chapter break following, you have the dramatic pause for a cynical laugh.

Exciting Action!!!!

Exciting action: done right, the reader’s heart will literally beat faster, or their breathing might change, or they might get that twisty feeling in their gut that means excitement or anxiety. Our ridiculous human brains will react to the idea of something happening almost as though it were actually happening. That’s one of the reasons why reading can be such fun. Wooooooohoo!

To take advantage of this, you need to craft exciting action scenes to draw in the reader, carry them through increasing tension without distraction, and finally hit the high-point of the action. Yes, exciting action is climactic. But it doesn’t just go at the climax of the book. It happens throughout, with each action scene going through these phases.

Exciting action requires enough detail to create something easily imagined. It needs to take long enough for excitement to build. “He chased me down the street,” isn’t exciting action. It needs to be drawn out, the tension rising, and allow the drama to unfold. At the same time, it needs to be clean and quick enough that it doesn’t get bogged down and rob the significant moments of their meaning. The amount of detail will vary based on any number of things: A sword fight and a sex scene can both be exciting action in a single book, but one will probably be longer in a romance, and the other in a spy novel.

Now, the climax of an action scene doesn’t need to be the ultimate resolution of the problems (there will be many exciting scenes leading up to the final climax). The hero doesn’t defeat the villain in their first fight, the villain gets away. But they fight increasingly harder until something important happens that ends the conflict.

All kinds of different things can be exciting action, it’s not just poo poo that happens in a Mission Impossible movie. It can be anything with high stakes and emotions: a sex scene in a romance, the dance-off in your book about an amateur jitterbug star, the courtroom scene in a legal drama, the first time your wizard finally casts that stupid spell, etc. What is important about exciting action is how it is written, not the content. A car chase does not need to be written as exciting action.

An action scene that is interrupted, without leading to a climax, will leave the reader feeling uneasy. Imagine a fight, the protagonist is scrabbling with the villain. The hero is down and the villain is about to kick the hero in the ribs, but instead he just smiles and walks away. There is no resolution of the conflict, it just ends. The hero lies there, presumably confused. The reader is confused. What just happened? Sometimes, this is a good thing. We are now questioning exactly what is happening with the villain—has the hero made a misjudgment of some sort? He’s missing something.

Finally, exciting action is NOT the same as plot. A bunch of chase scenes, fights, sex, dance-offs, and murder trials strung together is not a substitute for a story.

See some examples of exciting action in the reading exercises thread (eventually)


Setting: the entire world where your story takes place. Geography, geology, biography, biology, agriculture, architecture, infrastructure, counter-culture. All of it.

Do I need every one of those things?
Probably not.
How much of it then?
As much as your story requires.

What to include

How much development and description of the setting should be included is highly dependent on what story you want to tell. Some speculative novels revel in detailed descriptions of new worlds, some just sketch the outlines. The same is true of novels set in our world, too. Some authors delve into history, some into architecture, sometimes the atmosphere of a specific city is integral—consider the importance of London and Paris in Tale of Two Cities (I mean, it’s right there in the title!).

Our World: Be Thoughtful
Even if your story takes 100% here on earth, in our timeline, you still have to develop the setting. You choose what to include and what to ignore, and you should do that based on how it contributes to your story. Please do not describe a train station in extensive detail unless those details are important!! In many cases, a few words are sufficient to set a scene in the real world: a sky scraper, a barn, a traffic jam. Add further details when necessary, not just because they sound pretty. In other cases, even places in our own world can be quite unfamiliar: a rainforest at night, a crowded market crammed into a Chinatown alley, the Google campus. When the setting is unusual or important, add detail. Note: setting being important is different from the scene being important. A scene with a major event can take place in a bar, and there’s no need to describe the bar in detail, just focus on what’s in the scene.

Other Worlds: Focus on the Differences, and Still Be Thoughtful
When the story takes place in a different world you might require more description so the reader can understand and imagine the world. However, that doesn’t mean you need to describe every tiny thing. Focus on 1) the differences and 2) what’s important. Any differences between "our world" and the "other world" should fold back into the story. They should to have a narrative point.

Let’s say your fantasy palace has a courtyard covered in grass. Do you need to tell us the grass is green, about 3” high, with thin blades? No, you are just describing what we already think of as grass. You can just say “a grassy courtyard.” Now what if your palace is falling into ruin because the princess gambled all of the kingdom’s money away at the fignith races, and she had to fire the gardeners, and the grass is now mostly dead and patchy? Now the condition of the grass means something, and justifies a bit more description. What if the grass is a rare purple variety that is poisonous to the touch, and your main character is a herbologist fascinated with rare, purple, poisonous plants? Go to town!

Not what I said about the fignith races. You don’t know what a fignith is, because I just made that up, but most people probably assume from context that I’m talking about an animal. There are other possibilities, of course, but the phrasing is the same as when we talk about the horse races (not the car races). So just in that sentence we’ve established the existence of a strange new animal. A detailed description can come when it’s more immediately relevant. And please, please, don’t have it turn out so the fignith is just another term for a horse. Call a horse a goddamned horse!

Do not include something just because you thought of it!
You may have discovered (or created) some amazing histories or buildings or geological systems in your research, but do they really play a role in your story? You do not need to include a description of your world’s unique tectonic system. Probably not even if your story takes place on the edge of a tectonic plate. Maybe if you are the ghost of Michael Chriton writing about a tectonic platologist.

Think carefully about what your readers actually need to know. How does the setting effect the characters? Does it restrict them? (Victorian morals on the behavior of women.) Give them a benefit? (Neo in the Matrix.) Confuse them into making grievous social blunders that cause a civil war? (Doubles Adams probably has something like this.)

If you even mention tectonic plates, it better come into play at some point. There better be an earthquake or a volcanic eruption or a tsunami, and it better have some significance, either in the plot or metaphorically (Actually both. Always both.)

How do I include setting in a scene?
Maybe I should just write a big paragraph describing the setting up front and then I can get down to dialogue and action and stuff, right? NO NO NO NO.

Integrate setting description into the story and scenes
Setting should be written as it occurs in the story—not in giant blocks of description at the beginning of the book. Or in the middle. Or at the beginning of each scene. Give readers information that is important to the story when (or close to when) they need it.

Additionally, unless you are writing in 3rd Person Omniscient, your setting descriptions will be limited to what can be observed by the POV character. In fact, it is limited to what your character actually would observe and how they observe it. So now, setting is intimately connected to plot and character. Would your character notice:
“A modern chair”
“Some kind of modern chair, all metal tubes and strips of leather that looked more like a bondage prop than something to sit on.”
“A Wassily chair by Breuer, but clearly a knock off, with cheap black vinyl instead of leather.”

Don’t be seduced by fancy language!

William Gibson in Neuromancer posted:

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

Setting descriptions can be a good time to whip out all those cool metaphors and similes you’ve been holding back on, but BEWARE. Metaphors and similes draw attention and have the potential to be confusing. Sometimes they click instantly and add depth and layers, other times they pull the reader out of the story and leave them scratching their heads. The same goes for stylized, lyrical writing. Don’t use it just because they sound pretty or clever.

Setting as a reflection

Settings should not be random.

The location of your story should be meaningful. Two stories with very similar plots will be different if they are set in a village vs. a big city vs. a container ship. Unlike real life, all aspects of setting are under your control (except for the rare situation where you are writing events that happened on a certain day, in a certain place, and you care about being accurate to that).

The locations of individual scenes are important. Does the protagonist meet the wealthy banker under a bridge or in the banker’s office? Turf matters. Locations are symbolic.

Weather matters. Does it start to rain when your character is sad? Is your character jubilant despite of the rain? Is the San Francisco fog something they can ignore after 45 years in the city, or does it contain specters of knife-wielding men? Some of these might sound cliche, but do not just throw a snow-storm into your story willy-nilly! At least have the heroine get snowed in with her mother who she has always felt trapped and smothered by. COME ON.

Setting isn’t just the world, buildings, or the weather

Objects, history, culture. And then it starts blending into character with costumes and what people own, what they drive, etc. Nothing stands alone in a story.


Description helps a reader imagine things more vividly. But too much description overwhelms the events of the story, and can grow boring. Much like everything in writing, it’s all about finding the balance that works for the story you are telling. There is no magic amount. China Miéville’s novel Perdido Street Station contains tons of lush, detailed descriptions of the dark, fantastical world of Bas-Lag, while The City & the City contains significantly less.

Description is best worked in as it comes up in the story. Wind it up in the events and characters: where they are, what they see and smell and hear. A few words in a sentence can be more effective than a sentence devoted entirely to description. The story keeps flowing, but with specific details that bring it to life.


All fiction is written from a certain perspective: a combo of a tense, a person, and a point of view. Sometimes you will just fall naturally into using a perspective, without thinking about it, but that doesn’t mean you never need to think about it. Perspective should at the very least complement your story. In many cases, the perspective is integral to the success of the story.

Tense refers to the time the story takes place, relative to the characters in it. Like the rest of us, characters have a past, present, and future.

Past Tense
The story is written as though everything has already happened to the character(s):
He walked through the door. / I walked through the door.
The rain fell around her, ruining her coat. / The rain fell around me, ruining my coat.
It was the best of times. / It was the worst of times.

Present Tense
The story is written as though everything is happening to the character{s} right now:
He walks through the door. / I walk through the door.
The rain falls around her, ruining her coat. / The rain falls around me, ruining my coat.
It is the best of times. /It is the worst of times.

Future Tense
Thank god I have never seen an entire story written in this!!

Tenses in Practice

A work of fiction does not need to tell the entire story in the same tense. The most common example would be a story told in present tense, but including flashbacks. A flashback can also happen in a story in past tense, just making it farther in the past. A story can be told half in the past tense and half in the present tense. Either flipping only once, or going back-and-forth.

HOWEVER, you must maintain a consistency of the primary tense in use at any given time. You cannot sloppily meander back and forth. If an action is happening in the past, it needs to stay in the past! It cannot be happening in the past at one moment, then in the present the next, then in the past again!


The rain falls around me, ruining my coat. I walked through the door. Jeff stands behind his desk, glaring at me. I glared back at him.

Do you see how difficult to read this is? It is confusing. Suuuure, we can parse it together and understand what is happening, but we don’t have a way to tell when.

Now, Not every sentence in a scene needs to be in the primary tense. Much like we always live in the present, we slip easily into referring to the past and the future.


I walk through the door. It had been raining all morning, and my coat is ruined. Jeff stands behind his desk—I’ll never call him anything but Jeff—and gives me the same disgusted look he did when I broke my arm in third grade. I fell out of a tree trying to escape the gang of neighborhood boys who had already decapitated my favorite Barbie doll. The gang led by Jeff’s beloved son. Now, his mahogany desk sprawls between us, a gleaming reminder of his power. I glare back at him. I won’t let him scare me anymore.

Stories told in past tense can be told from the perspective of different points in time.


The appearance of Susan, a sodden mess dripping on his carpet, did not surprise Jeff Montgomery one bit. She might think she came of her own volition, but he had staged the meeting as well as any theater director: He chose the location, he chose the time. He could almost convince himself he chose the weather. He thought he had her well under control. Soon he would learn just how badly he had misjudged the situation.

In the final sentence above, the narration is still in the past tense, but it is from later than the action being described in the scene. Much like a switch between present and past tense, this jump between times tends to be jarring. It takes the reader out of the flow of the action and reminds them that there is a narrator. This result can be very useful when employed to dramatic effect (as the above example attempts, poorly, to show)—it foreshadows the future, and places greater weight on whatever surrounds it.


The narrator of the story, in relation to the point-of-view character in the story. If you have taken a foreign language, you probably remember this from eternal verb conjugations.

First Person
The point-of-view character is the narrator.
I walk through the door.
I walked through the door.
I will walk through the door.
I wish I had never walked through the door.
I’d been walking through doors for decades.
I would walk through the door tomorrow, for the last time.

In first person voice, the story is filtered through the view point of the narrator. It’s not only what the character sees, it’s how they see it, how they interpret it, what they think about it. In many cases, this involves a very strong “voice” of the character. They have identifiable patterns of thought structures (usually the most obvious aspect), biased reactions, and a scope of observation and response limited by their own attitudes. In most cases, unreliable narrators will be written in first person. A narrator who does not present the entire truth to the reader, but instead the truth is heavily filtered through a specific, and potentially deliberately dishonest perspective. There are lots of good examples throughout literature, and I will soon include some in the {{{{reading examples}}}} post.

Meanwhile, here is a dumb example from myself:

a dumb story by DocKloc posted:

“I need it!” I don’t care that I’m screaming. I need it. It’s pounding in my head, it’s pounding in my chest, it’s bigger than my heart. The whiskey’s in my blood and it’s not enough.

“No.” All Chloe ever loving says to me: no. It would be nothing to her. A hundred bucks? She has millions. She has an above-ground garden. She has three self-piloting BMWs and still hires a chauffeur. The whole family went to some loving lunar resort twice last year, and she won’t even give me one-loving-hundred dollars.

It’s rambling, it’s grammatically incorrect, it’s biased. But you feel the character far more than if she merely related to you what was happening. An important question though: could you read an entire novel written in this voice? My guess is probably not. It would have to be toned down significantly for a lot of the book. There is nothing wrong with that — that’s part of figuring all this out.

Third Person
The point-of-view character is a separate person from the narrator and the reader.
She walks through the door.
She walked through the door.
Susan will walk through the door.
Susan wished she had never walked through the door.

Some important versions of 3rd Person:

Third Person Limited:
The narrator speaks in third person, but only from one character’s view point. Nothing that is unknown or unexperienced by the point-of-view character is included. There can be multiple POV characters, but the perspective is consistent through a scene or chapter (George R.R. Martin is famous for this).

I further delineate what I call “third person close.” This is when the words written are in nearly the voice of the POV character. Consider this rewrite of the above first person passage, and how many sentences are left nearly exactly the same:

a dumb story by dockloc posted:

“I need it!” Jodi didn’t care that she’ was screaming. She needed it. It was pounding in her head, it was pounding in her chest, it was bigger than her heart. The whiskey was in her blood and it wasn’t enough.

“No.” All Chloe ever loving said to her: no. It would be nothing to Chloe. A hundred bucks? She had millions. She had an above-ground garden. She had three self-piloting BMWs and still hired a chauffeur. The whole family went to some loving lunar resort twice last year, and she wouldn’t even give her sister one-loving-hundred dollars.

Third Person Close doesn’t need to be this dramatic in voice. Most people don’t think quite like that anyway. And writing in third person close doesn’t mean everything has to be told stylistically from the character’s viewpoint.

Third Person Omniscient: The Narrator Speaks
The story is told by a narrator who knows all and can show all. They can share what is happening in a scene “objectively,” outside of a single character’s experience. They can include external context that the character doesn’t know. And more! These possibilities, when used (and if not, why bother with omniscience), tend to separate the reader slightly from the story, by making the narration more obvious. The tale is more obviously being told, rather than lived. The most extreme example of that being the deplored “Dear Reader,” where the narrator directly addresses the reader. Nonetheless, having the narrator as a noticeable presence is not universally a bad thing. It’s great for sarcasm, for example (Dickens!). It’s good if you want to make meta-jokes, which are hard, but pleasing when they work (consider Into the Woods).

Third Person Omniscient has fallen out of favor, but there are plenty of classics written in it (Dickens!). It is associated with a dry, rambling style that is over descriptive and boring to modern readers (Dickens!). But, nah: Chapter 1 of Harry Potter is omniscient, though the rest of the books tend to be limited. Discworld and Hitchiker’s Guide are omniscient, and take advantage of giving the narrator a distinct voice.

What I would say distinguishes Third Person Omniscient from Third Party Limited with Multiple POVs, is that information not available to the current POV character is given to the reader. Some people disagree with me. The cool thing is you don’t need to know the exact terms, you just gotta write consistently.

Yo, you skipped Second Person!

Second person is pretty much universally discouraged, and for good reasons. But fine!

The reader is the point-of-view character.
You walk through the door.
You walked through the door.
You will walk through the door.


Point of View

Point of View (POV) is the character who the story is being told through. In first person, they are the one telling the story. In third person limited, it is whoever the view is limited to. In third party omniscient, it is the narrator, but the narrator is usually not an active participant in the story.

Your POV character isn’t just anyone, though. It’s who you’ve chosen to tell the story through. Although this choice will often seem completely obvious, it’s still worth actively thinking about, especially if you are struggling to move forward. The POV character plays a tremendous role in shaping the narrative—this explains why it’s possible to rewrite classic stories from the villains point of view and have them be interesting.

The POV character is not always the main character, either. Sherlock Holmes is written through Watson, as Hercule Poirot is written through Captain Arthur Hastings (who Poirot is constantly insulting, so I don’t know why he sticks around). The explanation for these choices is fairly obvious: if we were in the head of the detective, we would see their reasoning completely too early, and it would spoil the mystery. Not all mysteries are written this way, because not all mysteries are about super-smart people who figure everything out too early. It’s not only mysteries, arguably Nick Caraway isn’t the main character in The Great Gatsby. Wuthering Heights is narrated not by Catherine or Heathcliff but by Lockwood in the beginning and end, who for the most part is recording the servant Nelly, who occasionally veers into relating the first-person accounts of other characters yeah, that’s three layers deep of narrators, all unreliable. Brontë rules).

Usually, though, you will want your POV character to be the character or characters who are going to be most active and most effected by the events in the story!

Show vs. Tell

A common piece of advice to new writers is “show, don’t tell,” but now it’s fashionable to complain about this, especially based on some stuff Orson Scott Card said.

Showing means showing the reader what is happening and how the characters are feeling, basically giving them information from which they deduct other information. Angry characters wave their arms or stomp their feet. High schoolers get weak in the knees and breathless when their crush walks up. The police car swings out of the alley and the siren starts wailing. You do not need to describe the cool smoothness of the doorknob and the slight resistance before it turns every time a character opens a door.

Telling means telling the reader what is happening or how the characters are feeling directly. Jill was angry. Jill had a crush on Ben. The police started chasing Ben’s get away car. One particularly annoying form of telling is the “info-dump” where the writer just writes in paragraphs of facts they consider useful or interesting, but which seem irrelevant and boring to the reader.

SO, here it is, the final answer:

Sometimes it’s better to show, and sometimes it’s better to tell.

Dr. Kloctopussy fucked around with this message at 04:26 on Jan 29, 2017

Dr. Kloctopussy
Apr 22, 2003

"It's DIE!"
- Publishing
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- Book Recommendations
- Mental Struggles and Substance Abuse


Now that you have a finished, well-polished piece of fiction, you are ready to start thinking about publishing. Oh, you don’t? Then none of this matters right now.

There are three main ways of publishing novels: Traditional publishing through one of the “Big Five” publishers and their many imprints, publishing through a small press, and self-publishing.

(See bottom of this post for publishing short stories.)

Traditional Publishing with the Big Five

This is it! You’re a star now! No wait, you’re a bottom- or mid-list author barely making a living, whhhhyyyyyyyyyyyyy??? Maybe I shouldn’t preface this section with such depressing words, but it’s the truth. Even moderately successful authors aren’t the stars you think of when you think of published authors. Consider this: how many published authors can you name? Is it one hundred? Is it one hundred currently publishing authors in the genre that you want to write in? Okay, this is just depressing. Here’s the thing: getting published isn’t like becoming the next J. K. Rowling or whoever. It’s probably more like becoming the next Marissa Meyer if you are insanely lucky. No, not the Yahoo lady, that’s Marissa Mayer. See what I mean now?

If you’re going to try this route, it’s worth knowing a bit about the industry. There are five huge publishing companies in the US market: Penguin Random House, Hachette, Macmillan, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster. It was the big six until Penguin and Random House merged in 2013, arguably in response to OMG ebooks. If you walk into a physical book store, chances are every book you pull off a shelf not labeled “LOCAL!!” will be published by one of these companies. They each have a large array of “imprints” covering different genres. A lot of these different imprints are smaller publishers they have acquired over the years. Examples include: Tor/Forge, one of the most prolific sci-fi/fantasy publishers, is an imprint of Macmillan. Song of Ice and Fire is by Bantam, an imprint owned by Random House. The hugely popular A-is-for mystery series by Sue Grafton is published by Holt, a subsidiary of Macmillan. Twilight was by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, an imprint owned by Hachette. The huge romance imprint Avon is also owned by Hachette. Even Inifinite Jest by David Foster Wallace was published by Back Bay Books, an imprint owned by Hachette. OKAY?

Except weirdo Scholastic. Who the gently caress knows about them. :wtf: so far as I can tell they are not owned by any of the Big Five, but managed to pick up Harry Potter AND the Hunger Games. GOOD JOB YOU.

Here are the benefits of a Big-5 publisher, as I understand them:
1) you will almost always work with a loving amazing editor.
2) They will give you an advance on your royalties. That means some amount of upfront cash. Maybe only $5k, maybe a billion dollars. Probably closer to $5k. These come out of whatever royalties your book eventually makes. It’s not a special bonus.
3) They handle some of the marketing (sometimes not a benefit. Also, you might want to some marketing on your own if you are mid-list because they won’t put a lot of money into it)
4) They will get your book onto the shelves of real physical book stores, where I hear some people still go?? They might even pay for an end-cap or cover-facing-out display! Wooooo!
5) They handle cover art and getting blurbs and stuff

Here are some possible downsides to going with a Big-5 publisher, as I understand them:
1) You effectively lose ultimate control over your book. For the most part the publishing company will listen to your input, but they aren’t really obligated to follow it.
2) The publisher has exclusive rights to your book for probably a long time. You’re stuck with them and what they do for you.
3) You’re going to cry when you see these royalty rates for the first time: “Typically, an author can expect to receive the following royalties: Hardback edition: 10% of the retail price on the first 5,000 copies; 12.5% for the next 5,000 copies sold, then 15% for all further copies sold. Paperback: 8% of retail price on the first 150,000 copies sold, then 10% thereafter.” ( Ebook royalties are typically 25% of profits, not list price — thanks Apple!! NOTE: for many authors you will still make more money through a traditional publisher due to the increased visibility and non-ebook markets.

How do you get this sweet sweet publishing deal??

Most of the time, you have to get an agent.

Every now and then, you can submit a manuscript directly to the publisher. Some of the romance imprints take unsolicited manuscripts all the time, and I know Tor accepted them for a brief period at least once. Not sure if that’s something they open on a regular basis. You can look up the imprints in your genre, then look at the internet to see what they accept. For example, here is what Penguin Random House had to say when I wrote this: DAW, one their sci-fi/fantasy imprints accepts unsolicited submissions. But it’s not the imprint that publishes Terry Brooks, Jim Butcher, Laurel K. Hamilton, or China Mieville. It is the one that publishes Patrick Rothfuss though!

Anyway, generally speaking you have to get an agent.

How do you get an agent? VERY CAREFULLY.

It’s actually not terribly difficult to find a legit agent. Basically, avoid anyone who charges. For anything. Including referring you to paid services such as editors. Agents make money by selling books to publishers, not by charging authors. They get a percentage of the royalties.

Finding an agent you want (and who wants you) is harder. You must find an agent who represents the kind of book you have written. You must have already finished your book and made it as good as you possibly can. Only then can you start looking for an agent. Do NOT query agents if you haven’t finished a manuscript or if you only have a first (or even second) draft. Make that poo poo good poo poo.

There are a few ways of finding appropriate agents to submit to:
1) look in the acknowledgments section of books in your genre. Authors generally thank their agent.
2) Directories such as Agent Query ( also have listings. You can try looking in your local library for copies of their yearly books instead of paying for their online services or buying the books yourself!!
3) There are occasionally events on twitter where agents post what they are looking for.

Always check the agent’s website and look at:
1) recent clients and sales
2) whether they are accepting new clients
3) their querying guidelines (make sure you follow these to the letter!)

The next step is querying the agents you’ve found. You can query more than one agent at once, and you probably should because turn-around times aren’t great and failure rates are high. Queries are typically very short emails intended to tempt the agent into reading a few sample chapters of your book, but see above regarding always reading specific querying guidelines and following them to the absolute letter.

A good guide to querying is It’s run by a literary agent and has hundreds of examples of query letters critiqued and improved.

After you get an agent, they sell your book to a publishing house. Hopefully. Frankly, I don’t know much about that. Also, you write a second novel and they try to sell that to publishers, too.

Once your book is bought by a publisher, the editing/revising process starts. You get a bunch of notes and have to make a bunch of changes and it totally freaks you out.

That’s what I’ve heard.

Small Presses

The main thing about small presses is that there a ton of them and they are all different. There’s not really a good way to summarize them collectively, but here is my attempt: Small presses will generally provide some part of the array of the services provided by one of the big publishers, but on a smaller scale. This primarily covers editing, promotion, and accounting. Each small press offers a different range of services and on a different level, while taking a different percentage level of royalties. You will need to cover any other expenses or publishing needs on your own. An example would be a small press that covers cover design, proof-reading, and has a small advertising budget that advertises all of their books together. You might still want to pay for any higher-level editing that you need (you probably need it, see posts on editing/feedback), and further promotion for your book individually.

If you see a “small press” that asks you for money, they are not a legitimate publisher. They are a vanity press. If you want to pay someone to give you hard-copies of your book, then just acknowledge that’s what you want to do and find the cheapest vendor who will print bound-books with custom covers. It’s probably FedEx-Kinkos or similar. If someone is saying you need to front them the money for advertising… they are probably lying. Do a ton of google searching (probably for publisher name + scam) and check out the self-pub thread.


Check out The self-publishing thread

Sundae is putting together some information on Self Publishing for me to include here! Check back soon!

Self-publishing used to be the realm of scammers taking advantage of desperate authors who could find no one else willing to take them on. Key words there: used to be. Soon, these kinds of introductory sentences won’t even be necessary. With the rise of ebooks, self-publishing has become a legitimate, and in some cases more profitable, option for publishing and selling your work. The most consistently profitable genres for self-publishing right now are romance and erotica.

The most important thing you need to know about self-publishing is this: you are literally taking on all the functions of a publisher. That means seeing that your book is decently edited, has a cover, has a blurb, and is promoted.

There is an absolutely wonderful thread here on the forums where many knowledgeable and successful people give excellent advice on self-publishing, so go listen to them, not me.

Publishing Short Stories

This is an extremely brief summary (mostly cribbed directly from Grizzled Patriarch’s OP in the short fiction thread). So, for excellent and detailed advice, go to the publishing short fiction thread

2020 update note: unless I specifically mention an update, assume everything is out of date, living the dream back in 2016.

Publishing short stories is a different ballgame than publishing novels. But, the facts that you need to have a finished, polished work before you submit, and that you need to CAREFULLY read every bit of the market’s submission guidelines remain the same, though.

What are “markets” you speak of??
Short fiction is published by magazine-like-things, which are referred to as “markets.” I say magazine-like-things, because while most markets used to send out collections on a regular basis, in a printed journal, to subscribers, that is no longer true. Most markets now publish online (either in addition to a paper journal, or not). Nonetheless, many of them still retain a format similar to a magazine: they publish groups of stories (and often non-fiction articles and illustrations) at regular intervals, referred to as issues. Pretty much all markets are focused on particular types of stories, e.g. Literary, Mystery, Childrens, SciFi, Fantasy, Horror (Although combos of the last 3 are fairly common). As always, the best way to know what kind of stories a place is looking for is to read what it publishes.

Many markets have word-count restrictions (i.e. will only publish stories within a certain range of word counts). Here is a loose guide to word-count terminology:
Flash Fiction: Less than 1000
Short Story: 1000 - 7500
Novelette: 7500 - 15,000
Novella: 15,000 - 40,000
Each market has their own limits, so make sure you read their submission guides carefully! For example, Clarkesworld accepts stories from 1000-16,000 words. Tin House accepts stories up to 10,000 words. Tin House also only accepts unsolicited submissions between September and May (as of this writing). Again, READ SUBMISSION GUIDELINES CAREFULLY.

Note: Most genre markets (at least) do not allow simultaneous submissions (sending your story to more than one market at once).

Cool, how do I find a good market?
There are two major options: Duotrope and The Submission Grinder. Duotrope costs $5 a month (or you can buy a year of it for $50), while The Submission Grinder is totally free. If you are just starting out or not submitting too often, the Grinder is more than good enough. Both of them let you search for markets with all sorts of handy filters, like word count, pay rate, genre, response time, etc.

Duotrope's advantages are:
More accurate data on acceptance rates, turnaround times, etc.
A more intuitive UI (in my opinion) and a few other similar quality-of-life upgrades
Support for poetry and non-fiction markets

2020 update: While both Duotrope and Submission Grinder now offer submission tracking tools for authors, the impression I get from other posters in this thread is that duotrope is better and worth the money if you are going to be writing and submitting a lot of stories. They have a seven day trial period where you can decide if you care about their additional features (or more up-to-date user interface), and their prices remain as stated above. end update

Something else to consider is that The Grinder skews slightly more towards sci-fi and fantasy markets, and tends to have pretty thin data (and fewer market listings) for "literary" journals. It's not a huge deal, but if you are planning to submit on a frequent basis and don't mind the cost, Duotrope is a pretty handy tool.

Another site worth keeping an eye on is Funds For Writers, which posts a lot of submission calls for contests, grants, and writer in residence programs.

If you are writing genre stuff, ravenkult recommends checking out The Horror Tree for submission, contest, and anthology calls before they hit Duotrope and The Grinder.

How do I submit?
99% of the time, it's incredibly fast and easy to send stories out. The vast majority of journals use Submittable now, which lets you type your name + a short cover letter / bio, attach your story, and send it. Submittable even has its own little tracking system - they'll let you know when the journal has received your submission, when it's in the reading queue, and whether it's been accepted or rejected. This is nice, because it means you don't have to worry about whether your story got lost in the void or something.

There are still some places that just want you to send your story as an attachment in an email, or even pasted into the body of the email. Most of those places are still very good about letting you know that your submission has actually been received, though.

And of course, there are the old dinosaur mags that still, in the year of our lord 2016, somehow only accept snail mail. Mostly these are the stuffy old university-run lit mags that have been around for a hundred years and don't really have any incentive to get with the times / are so prestigious that people are willing to jump through the hoops. You can decide whether it's worth your time or not. These places almost invariably also have ridiculous response times (some as high as an entire year) so I've never bothered. (2020 update: I'm assuming places like this still exist but I'm not going to spend several hours googling to confirm.)

Before you submit, make sure you have read the market’s formatting requirements. Many will accept Shunn Manuscript Format, but some have their own special requirements. Not following them is an easy way to get dumped without reading. OBEY.

Alright, how rich am I going to get?
First things first: You are not going to make a living writing short stories, full stop. Even famous, best-selling novelists aren't making big bucks with short fiction, and even the absolute best-paying markets are paying you less than minimum wage for the hours invested in writing. That being said, publishing can potentially be a decent source of beer money (depending on how much beer you drink), if you look in the right places. Both Duotrope and The Submission Grinder will let you sort markets by No Payment, Token Payment, Semi-Pro Payment, and Pro Payment.

Token payment is usually in the $5-10 range. Semi-pro payment is anything between 1 and 4.9 cents per word, while Pro Payment is 5 cents or above per word (or 6 8 cents per word, by Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America 2020 standards). Some places also pay flat rates, either for the entire piece or per printed page. There are a decent number of journals that pay in the $20-40 range per printed page, which is a nice chunk of change. There are a few places that have great payouts - Electric Literature pays $300, and The Sun pays all the way up to $1,200 - but those places have crazy low acceptance rates. Also, if you are published in a mag that is actually printed on paper, you are almost always going to get a contributor copy or two.

Something to keep in mind is that paying =/= better than. There are tons of very widely-read and well-respected journals that don't pay anything, or pay very little (I’m looking at you The Atlantic).

2020 update:
This is NOT TRUE for genre markets. All the prestigious genre markets pay top rates. Resident published sci-fi author General Battuta says "Don't shortsell yourself. I think that if a market does not meet a certain standard of pay and prestige it's better to not sell a story than to sell it there." I personally agree, even though I will probably never write anything good enough to be published in one of those top markets. However, I think this is a decision every individual must make for themselves. There are many posters here who have been published in smaller/lower-paying markets, and it's pretty cool to see their work out there in the world.

The guidelines for The Atlantic are now basically an email address, so who knows what they pay (probably still nothing, tbh). As mentioned below, some legit contests and literary journals charge small reading fees. Thanks to the glorious internet, a bit of diligent research should reveal whether or not it's a scam. (end 2020 update)


And legit agents do not charge authors for their services. They do not require authors to pay “editing fees.” They get paid a percentage of royalties by the publisher. NEVER send money to anyone claiming to be a publisher or agent.

A good site that maintain lists (and the occasional exciting horror story) of scammers is SFWA’s Writer Beware pages

Some not-quite-exceptions:
- Freelance editors and proofreaders are not necessarily scams. The ones that you seek out, not ones that an “agency” “requires” you to pay if they represent you. These are legit professionals and can provide extremely good feedback. Look for recommendations from other writers and a list of authors they have worked with.
- A few legit writing contests have an entry fee (for example Glimmer Train’s contests, Glimmer Train being one of the top-ranked literary journals in the US) (2020 update: Glimmer Train is now closed and I am too lazy to find another example), but I still recommend exercising quite a bit of caution when looking at a contest! Look for contests run by well-known and respected markets, and with well-known and respected judges. (Well-known past winners is probably a pretty good indication of quality as well!)
- Some reputable markets charge nominal processing fees, the ones I’ve seen are $3 or less.


A word of caution: don’t get so caught up in organizing and finding the perfect tool that you don’t write. Tools are tools. Still, it’s fun to waste a bunch of time thinking and talking about tools, so:

Scrivener 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.

Scrivener can be set up to back-up to dropbox, which is nice for the all important backing-up-your-work, but not useful for actually working on your stuff “in the cloud."

You can buy Scrivener here. Make sure you get the right one for your operating system (my browser automatically shows the Mac one—double check!) It goes on sale for 1/2 off regularly.

A free program with similar functionality is yWriter (Windows only)

Google Docs
If you are writing in Microsoft word, you should seriously consider switching to Google Docs. it’s basically like Microsoft Word, with similar capabilities for organizing in folders like on a home computer. The main advantages to Google Docs are 1) Accessible anywhere b/c cloud, 2) Automatically backed up to cloud, 3) Easily sharable. These advantages are huge and should not be underestimated. This paragraph is short because the reasons to use Google Docs are so obvious that it doesn’t require a lot of explanation.

Word Processor Machines/Typewriters
You can type everything on a typewriter, and use physical folders/binders/whatever to organize your work. You’ll have to type everything back into a computer at some point, but that might not be a problem for you — I do the same with handwriting, for example, and it’s a natural editing process. One of the “nice” things about using a typewriter is that you can’t go back and edit as you work. 

If you enjoy the act of typing on a typewriter enough to make that sacrifice, then go for it.

Word Processor machines are usually a keyboard with a few display lines, kind of like a digital typewriter hybrid thing. They let you save your work as a digital file, so there’s no re-typing, but you can only see a few lines at a time, so there’s still no real way to get bogged down in editing-in-the-moment.

Several people in the last thread really liked them. You can find them on eBay, typically for less than $50.

Models recommended in the last thread by people who like them:
(Will look for these when I have more time)

Ye Olde Text Editor
All you really need to write is some way to put words down permanently/semi-permanently, so in theory, you can just use Notepad.exe (or Text Editor) and use your computer’s file indexing system to keep everything straight. 

Eventually, you’re going to have to copy the text somewhere else, but some people might find all the features of other programs distracting, and prefer this method for drafting. I will point out that Scrivener has a composition mode that is just a blank “page” to type on, though. ;) 

Ye Olde Pen & Paper/Index Cards
I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that writing by hand activates a different part of your brain than typing. In any case, I know that it works brilliantly for me when it comes to rough drafts.  The main struggles are 1) keeping things organized, and 2) you have to type everything up eventually. As I mentioned above, I don’t find the typing part an issue, because I find it creates a natural editing-step.

Keeping things organized is way more difficult. Especially if you write non-linearly. If you write linearly, you’re probably fine just opening a spiral notebook and going at it, because everything will be in order. If not, there are tons of ways to go about organizing, so if you find writing long hand works for you, you’ll want to put some effort into finding a system that works for you. FYI, you should expect to go through several systems and never find the perfect one and have to go back and reorganize stuff, so just keep writing and doing your best. 

I think I’m the person here who writes long-hand the most, so here are some things that I have found semi-effective (I say semi-effective because I don’t do anything consistently. If i did them consistently, they would probably be really effective?)

1) Binders. Those gross plastic ones with the rings. Get D-Rings if you can, they are way better. You probably would want a separate binder for each book, one for short stories if you write them. You can put nifty dividers in them and sort things by category (character notes, drafts, ideas, whatever), or by chapters, or you can make a bunch of dividers and then just shove your loose-leaf paper in the front of the binder (that’s what I do!!)

2) Immediate/Near-Immediate data entry. As soon as you write something long-hand, type it up. Or, maybe within a week. Soon enough that you don’t have to worry too much about an organization system for your hand written stuff. The goal is to NOT end up with 2 years worth of spiral-bound notebooks with ideas/drafts for 4 different novels scattered randomly amongst them, a thing which definitely did not happen to me at all. Still, it’s not an insurmountable situation. Just keep on typing it in. 

3) Post-it Notes/Index Cards. You can use these to outline scenes, and then rearrange them.  I prefer post-it notes b/c then I can stick them to paper in order. Also, I always end up using 5 post-its per scene, because I can’t actually write a scene summary, just a bunch of stuff. Making index cards/post-its after the fact would probably be more effective for me, but for most people, the point is to sketch scenes and arrange them BEFORE writing. Scrivener has a function that mimics this. 

4) Legal-margin paper. This is more like one of those silly “life hacks,” but I’m throwing it out there b/c I really like this stuff. It has an extra-wide left margin, so you can make summaries or notes or whatever you like. It’s really useful if, like me, you write big rambles to figure out important stuff.
Write or Die (and similar)
Write or Die is a writing app that basically punishes you for pausing, either by playing horrible noises, showing you annoying pictures, or actually starting to delete what you’ve previously written. It can also now reward you for hitting goals by showing you pictures of puppies or kittens or porn. People like it b/c it encourages them not to just sit there staring at the screen or going back to edit and therefore not making any progress. If you face those challenges, give it a try. 

Evernote is, as the name suggests, primarily an app for storing notes, but it can be used for writing. You can create different notebooks to group multiple notes together, give them tags, view them as post-its, and they are searchable. They sync across multiple devices/platforms. Making them available offline is a premium (paid) feature.
I started writing all of these posts in Evernote, but eventually moved them into Scrivener, because they became too unwieldily to organize easily in Evernote! 


Eventually, I’d like this to be an annotated resource, so if you have read/used one of these resources, let us know what you think! 2020 update: i did not do this

On Writing, by Stephen King: Lots of different opinions on this. While it contains some specific writing advice, the bulk of it is Stephen King talking about his history writing and his own approach.

Reading Like a Writer, by Francine Prose

Uranium Phoenix posted:

I'll chime in to add as a resource. It's a podcast by several writers (Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler and Dan Wells are the core of the group) who put out lots of 15 minute long casts that tackle some writing concept (or something related to writing), then give you a prompt. The prompts are generally fun, the conversations interesting and informative, and there's now twelve seasons of content that include a plethora of guests and different topics.

Ironic Twist posted: has a lot of resources and competitions for authors looking for agents (mostly in YA, but there are adult, middle-grade, and children's categories), as well as personal accounts from authors that contribute to the site.

Leng posted:

To contribute - I've seen Writing Excuses brought up a few times in the thread, but not Brandon Sanderson's main YouTube channel which contains all of his BYU lectures on writing SFF and some other miscellaneous questions on writing that he's been answering during his livestream signing sessions. This is the playlist for the 2020 lectures:

Most of what he covers applies to any genre (or any storytelling really), though there's a few that are very specific to SFF (e.g. world building and magic systems). He also has 2 lectures covering the business/publishing side of things (traditional and self publishing).

Jerry B Jenkins also started up a YouTube channel and recently posted a pretty good video on writing dialogue:

(More coming really soon, I promise) 2020 update: this was a lie


This probably seems like a strange topic to include in the fiction advice thread, but both of these issues have come up a few times, and they are very important to me.

The “tortured artist” is a myth.

Yes, many famous authors (and other artists) have suffered from mental illness or substance abuse. Yes, some authors have produced famous works through that experience. No, those experiences are not necessary to creativity. Acknowledging the experiences of mental illness and substance abuse is important. Glorifying them is harmful.

For every author who is an alcoholic, there are hundreds who are not. And more importantly there are like 10,000,000 other alcoholics who are not authors. How many of those voices are we losing because alcoholism keeps them from writing?

Depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorders, and other mental illnesses harm writing by making it more difficult to actually do the most important part: writing. Take care of yourself, and seek treatment if needed.

Dr. Kloctopussy fucked around with this message at 10:10 on Oct 3, 2020

Dr. Kloctopussy
Apr 22, 2003

"It's DIE!"

As I’ve mentioned several times (probably not enough, though), one of the best ways to learn how to write is by reading. And sometimes it’s useful to not just read books like normal, but to look at them closely for specific things. Here are some examples:

(Note: if any other poster shares something like this, I will also paste it into this post)

How do I insert physical descriptions?

Take lessons from the masters: pull out your favorite books and look for physical descriptions. Consider how they handled it and how well it worked. You might be surprised at how clumsily it's handled, even by experienced writers (looking in a mirror, oh lord).


Okay, I've pulled some off my shelf, because this a good exercise for everyone! Only looking at the first chapter:

“William Gibson’s All Tomorrow's Parties” posted:

...Shinya Yamazaki, his notebook clasped beneath his arm like the egg case of some modest but moderately successful marine species...Yamazaki blinks, making his new contact lenses swim uncomfortably.

That’s describing the apparent Main Character. There’s no physical description, but you still get a picture of him.

An old man:


”Come in," says the old man, in Japanese. "Don't leave your rear end hanging out that way." He is naked except for a sort of breech clout twisted from what may once have been a red T-shirt. He is seated, cross-legged, on a ragged, paint-flecked tatami mat. He holds a brightly colored toy figure in one hand, a slender brush in the other. Yamazaki sees that the thing is a model of some kind, a robot or military exoskeleton. It glitters in the sun-bright light, blue and red and silver. Small tools are spread on the tatmi: a razor knife, a sprue cutter, curls of emery paper.

The old man is very thin, clean-shaven but in need of a haircut. Wisps of gray hair hang on either side of his face, and his mouth is set in what looks to be a permanent scowl of disapproval. He wears glasses with heavy black plastic frames and archaically thick lenses. The lenses catch the light.

A sick friend:


What seems to be a crumpled sleeping bag....The American groans. Seems to turn, or sit up. Yamazaki can't see. Something covers Laney's eyes. Red wink of a diode. Cables. Faint gleam of the interface, reflected in a thin line against Laney's sweat-slick cheekbone....Laney draws a ragged breath...."No." Laney says and coughs into his pale and upraised hand....Laney reaches up and removes the bulky, old-fashioned eyephones. Yamazaki cannot see what outputs to them, but the shifting light from the display reveals Laney's hollowed eyes....Laney shakes his head. The cables on the eyephones move in the dark like snakes....Laney nods thoughtfully, the eyephones bobbing mantis-like in the dark.

So here, we get the most detailed physical description of what is likely to be the least-important character (the old man). Why? Because his description doubles as a description for the new world that Yamazaki is entering when he visits his friend Laney in a slum. Notice the description of vision and eyewear in each description (the closest thing to a physical description we get of the MC is that his contacts are swimming). The first chapter also discusses social invisibility and whether or not someone is looking for Laney. It all ties together. No physical description is given of Yamazaki or Laney, but you don't need it to feel them as characters.

“Stephen King’s The Gunslinger” posted:

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

....He passed the miles stolidly, not hurrying, not loafing. A hide waterbag was slung around his middle like a bloated sausage. It was almost full....

Below the waterbag were were his guns, carefully weighted to his hands; a plate had been added to each when they had come to him from his father, who had been lighter and not so tall. The two belts crisscrossed above his crotch. The holsters were oiled too deeply for even this Philistine sun to crack. The stocks of the guns were sandalwood, yellow and finely grained. Rawhide tie-downs held the holsters loosely to his thighs , and they swung a bit with his step; they had rubbed away the bluing of his jeans (and thinned the cloth) in a pair of arcs that looked almost like smiles. the brass casings of the cartridges looped into the gunbelts heliographed in the sun. There were fewer now. The leather made subtle creaking noises.

His shirt, the no-color of rain or dust, was open at the throat with a rawhide thong dangling losely in hand-punched eyelets. His hat was gone. So was the horn he had once carried; gone for years, that horn, spilled from the hand of a dying friend, and he missed them both.

The man in black is nothing but that. The main character is also described primarily by what he wears and carries. That is who he is. His physical features matter far less than his guns: inherited, well-made, well-maintained. This information tells you far more about the character than the color of his hair or the shape of his nose.

“James M. Cain’s Mildred Pierce” posted:

Yet, although it was a hot afternoon, he took his time about it, and was conscientiously thorough, and whistled. He was a smallish man, in his middle thirties, but in spite of the stains on his trousers, he wore them with an air. His name was Herbert Pierce....

After combing his hair, he dressed. Slacks hadn't made their appearance then, but grey flannels had: he put on a fresh pair, with polo shirt and blue lounge coat.Then he strolled back to the kitchen, a counterpart of the bathroom, where his wife was icing a cake. She was a small woman, considerably younger than himself; but as there was a smear of chocolate on her face, and she wore a loose green smock, it was hard to tell what she looked like, except for a pair of rather voluptuous legs that showed between smock and shoes....

....there was a rap on the screen door, and Mrs. Gessler, who lived next door, came in. She was a thin, dark woman of forty or so, with lines on her face that might have come from care, and might have come from liquor.

Again, not much in the way of physical descriptions. But look at how much each description tells us about the character. Do you really need to know more about Herbert Pierce than him combing his hair and putting on fresh pants and a blue lounge coat before leaving to see another woman? Would knowing that Mrs. Gessler had a few grey hairs add to those lines, that might be from care and might be from liquor?

Then he gives you this:


The child who now entered the kitchen didn't scamper in, as little Ray had a short time before. She stepped in primly, sniffed contemptuously at the scent left by Mrs. Gessler, and put her schoolbooks on the table before she kissed her mother. Though she was only eleven she was something to look at twice. In the jaunty way she wore her clothes, as well as the handsome look around the upper part of her face, she resembled her father more than her mother: it was commonly said that "Veda's a Pierce." But around her mouth the resemblance vanished, for Bert's mouth had a slanting weakness that hers didn't have. Her hair, which was a coppery red, and her eyes, which were light blue like her mother's, were all the more vivd by contrast with the scramble of freckles and sunburn which formed her complexion. But the most arresting thing about her was her walk. Possibly because of her high, arching chest, possibly because of the slim hips and legs below it, she moved with an erect, arrogant haughtiness that seemed comic in one so young.

Hooooly poo poo. This passage is the most physical description we've seen since the old Japanese dude. But see how nearly everything does double duty? Now we know about her dad's weak mouth and her mom's blue eyes. And all of these things are relevant to her character. We don't need a laundry list of hair/eye/skin color for every character. But for Veda it matters, so we get it, and Cain makes the most of it. The more subtle details are still the most important: the sniff is more important than the freckles, the erect, arrogant walk more important than her hair.

Editing to add: think about Shakespeare, and how amazingly memorable and vivid his stories and characters are. Not a drop of physical description.

Sentence Structure

Go open a book you like and look at the sentences in it and see how they are structured. I’ve done that by inserting a carriage return between every sentence in the examples below.

Then do that with another book. Maybe even a third? Then edit some sentences you have written to change up sentence structure (you can post some stuff here and I/other people can take a look if you get stuck).

I like doing this and I think I have a book I like around here somewhere within walking distance... Yeah, here we go.

“Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep” posted:

It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills.
I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them.
I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it.
I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be.
I was calling on four million dollars.

The main hallway of the Sternwood place was two stories high.
Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn't have any clothes on but some long and convenient hair.
The knight had pushed the vizor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he was fiddling with the knots on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere.
I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him.
He didn't seem to be really trying.

So, in this first example, you can see that Chandler actually uses the simple subject-verb construction most of the time. The repetition of "I was" in the first paragraph focuses in on the narrowing description: his clothes, what they meant, what he was after. Even within that repetition, you can see how he has varied the sentence length, and added subordinate clauses. The second paragraph also uses mostly the subject-verb construction, though you get an introductory clause in sentence two ("Over the entrance doors"). In this paragraph, however, the subject changes, (The main hallway, The Knight, I, He), so there is more variation at the beginning of the sentences, even though the primary structure remains the same. There are also more subordinate clauses and sentence length variation through out.

The picture in the stained glass and his reaction to it is also an apt summary for the book, and once you've read it, you can see the end of it right there. That's a fine first two paragraphs, in my opinion.

“Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere” posted:

The night before he went to London, Richard Mayhew was not enjoying himself.

He had begun the evening by enjoying himself: he had enjoyed reading the good-bye cards, and receiving the hugs from several not entirely unattractive young ladies of his acquaintance; he had enjoyed the warnings about the evils and dangers of London, and the gift of the white umbrella with the map of the London Underground on it that his friends had chipped in money to buy; he had enjoyed the first few pints of ale; but then, with each successive pint he found that he was enjoying himself significantly less; until now he was sitting and shivering on the sidewalk outside the pub in a small Scottish town, weighing the relative merits of being sick and not being sick, and not enjoying himself at all.

Inside the pub, Richard's friends continued to celebrate his forthcoming departure with an enthusiasm that, to Richard, was beginning to border on the sinister.
He sat on the sidewalk and held on tightly to the rolled-up umbrella, and wondered whether going south to London was really a good idea.
Holy Moly, look at that second paragraph; it is all one sentence. We also see the repetition (again!) of "he had enjoyed." Within that monster sentence, you see how he uses subclauses to break up the repetition, it starts with he had enjoyed, he had enjoyed, but then which each successive pint, until now. Gaiman uses introductory clauses to give us information about time and location (the night before he went to London, Inside the pub), but other than that he also sticks to the subject-verb construction, albeit with some more changes in tense (was not enjoying, had begun by enjoying, had enjoyed). He varies the verbs themselves more, outside of the repetition of enjoy, and keeps Richard (or "he") as the subject of all but one sentence.

“Robin McKinley's Chalice” posted:

Because she was Chalice she stood at the front door with the Grand Seneschal, the Overlord's agent and the Prelate, all of whom were carefully ignoring her.
But she was Chalice, and it was from her hand the Master would take the welcome cup.

From the front door of the House, at the top of the magnificent curling sweep of stair, she could see over the heads of the crowd.
The rest of the Circle stood stiffly and formally at the foot of the stair with the first Houseman and the head gardener, but nearly the entire citizenry of the demesne seemed to have found an excuse to be somewhere in or near the House or lining the long drive from the gates today.

Their new Master was coming home: the Master thought lost or irrecoverable.
The Master who, as younger brother of the previous Master, had been sent off to the priests of Fire, to get rid of him.
Third and fourth brothers of Masters were often similarly disposed of, but the solitary brother of an unmarried Master without other Heir should not have been dealt with so summarily.
So the Master had been told.
But the two brothers hated each other, and the younger one was given to the priests of Fire.
That had been seven years ago.

Wow, that's a lot of different ways to start a sentence!

Dr. Kloctopussy fucked around with this message at 02:22 on Jan 28, 2017

Dr. Kloctopussy
Apr 22, 2003

"It's DIE!"
While I’ve summarized a bunch of the advice given in the former thread, some posts are radical on their own, and I don’t want to lose them to the ravages of time (aka The Archive).

Take your prose to the next level

Djeser posted:

Krunge asked for some tips on taking your prose beyond a basic level, so here's a rambling meander of a post.

There's a filmmaking principle called the Kuleshov Effect, and it says that two shots placed together create more meaning than a single shot. Because they're placed together, the audience draws relations between these two shots. If you show a skyscraper from outside, then the interior of an office, the audience goes "ah, the office is in the building." If you show a distant shot of a battleship and then someone at a periscope, the audience goes "ah, that's what they're looking at." Meaning exists not just in the content of the shots, but in the placement and structure of the scene as a whole.

You can probably guess the analogy to fiction here. In critiques I've said before, "Your story is just what's on the page," which is true, but maybe not entirely accurate. Your story isn't what's in your head, but there's more to it than just the words. What the words imply is just as much a part of the story as what they say outright.

That's enough faffing though, let's get to some actual tips.

1. You can show a lot with a little.
It doesn't take a ton of detail to draw a quick picture, and the audience's brains will fill in the rest. Think of something you want to convey, some detail that gets across the idea you're going for, and let it act like a sketch. Say someone's got "a smile like an uncle over for Thanksgiving." That gets you a whole lot with just a little, because it's not just the smile you're thinking about now, it's the vaguely familial social obligation and the sense of someone who's trying to be your friend, and maybe even the image of a middle-aged man with a mustache. This is something that poetry uses a lot, and it can be worthwhile to read some poetry to see how people are able to get at images with only a few words. Here's a few lines from a Carl Sandburg poem I enjoy a lot: "And at the window one day in summer / Yellow of the new crock of butter / Stood against the red of new climbing roses…" It's just describing colors, it's doing it in a particular way that creates a sense of soft domesticity. Just from reading that, I imagine a house with yellow stucco walls and a wooden lattice with roses climbing up the beams.

2. Sense, thought, action.
This is one of those rules that you should probably break, but it's a good way to think about things. So, there's generally three things you can be doing in a story: you can be describing a sensory image, you can be providing someone's internal monologue, or you can be giving exposition. Sense, thought, and action is a rough estimate of the mental loop people go through. You see(/taste/smell/hear/feel) something new, you think about it, you do something. "Emily began to cry. How could she get emotional at a time like this? I offered her my handkerchief." It's not wrong to do it in a different order or to sustain one of the phases for longer, but I've found it to be a good way to move through a series of events.

3. Specifics and action.
When it comes to anything involving action, being specific is better than being general. Enemies didn't pour in from three different directions, they poured in through the doors and came charging toward us. He didn't miss his throw, his rock hit a foot to the left. The reason that specificity is important is because action is something that needs to be clear in the reader's mind. And not just actions, but spaces too. If you're climbing onto a ledge to escape the snakes, is it a ledge big enough to curl up into a ball and weep or are your sneakers barely big enough to fit? With action scenes, the physical details become important to the conflict, and being vague on them is like being vague on whether it's the protagonist's mother or father who died.

4. Voice is important.
Even outside of dialogue, the voice you write in can add a lot of meaning to a story. Sebmojo's Dave: is a great example of this, where the story is narrated by someone who's berating the main character for his incompetence, but in a lot of cases, you'll be writing in something close to the voice of your main character, and that's an excellent space to give them personality. Show the way that they reflect on things. Let them be impartial. Show them so frustrated at a crying kid that they start to refer to the kid as 'a football'. A lot of the time when I'm judging Thunderdome a story that has a good voice will stick out of the ground against stories with more dry and narratorly voices.

I hope some of this is vaguely helpful. I tried to write more but I was just rambling by then.

How to point out that not everyone on earth is white:

General Battuta posted:


Okay, so what you are kind of awkwardly fumbling around here is a problem called 'the unmarked state'. Readers will often assume that if you don't specify a character's race/gender/sexual orientation/whatever, it is the default (whatever their default may be). This is a pretty basic trait of human cognition. You can get around this issue without being a shithead by finding appropriate, understated, contextually appropriate ways to mark these states for your characters. You should try to be even-handed about this. Don't leave your white characters unmarked and point out other races, for instance; that's just driving home the racial default.

If you think that 'an ethnic name or behavior' is something you should...I don't even know what you mean by that, or how to explain why it's a terrible idea. It's a terrible idea. Are you asking whether all your characters need to confirm to crude ethnic stereotypes so readers won't be surprised to learn they aren't white? No. Jesus, treat your characters as people, do good research on other cultures and religions, allow your characters to act like real people from real places, be respectful and sensitive and don't use other peoples' heritage as a cheap 'exotic' thrill in your work. Like Nika said, read decent books, examine how they do it. Make sure they're actually decent, though, since a lot of authors really gently caress this stuff up.

A good story should provide a lot of respectful, effective ways to explain who a character is and where they come from without staring in a mirror or infodumping a biography.

Please don't call things 'ethnic', gently caress.

Stuporstar on linguistics and grammar

Stuporstar posted:

kaom posted:

Except I have no dang clue how to write in present tense. It’s uncommon enough that I don’t have the same ear for it as I do past tense.

“My eyes land on the window. Can I? That was the deal. But I pictured wearing practical clothing when I left—fur-lined boots, layers of coats, my favourite hat…l

My ear insists this should be “left” but I keep wondering if it should be “leave” instead?

It’s perfectly fine because you’ve established that entire sentence as past tense with “pictured.”

When you write in present tense, it’s ok to shift into past tense once in a while to express action in the past in relation to the story’s present.

This is the difference between absolute and relative tense. Absolute tense is time in relation to the speaker. This is the tense you choose for your story and try to stick to.

However, you can shift within that story using relative tense, which marks time in relation to context. (Note: this is entirely how Ancient Egyptian did tenses, what they didn’t have is a marked absolute tense like English does.)

So you pick present, but you can shift into past or future from that present reference point. You can project into the future or remember something that happened earlier—all that’s allowed so long as it’s always within the envelope of the present tense speaker.

Now, if you ever wanna read someone who just went buck wild with present tense, give Damon Runyon a read. He never slipped out of present tense for a moment and went into hilarious contortions to stay in it, even using shall instead of should every time. It would have made an Oulipo writer proud. He also invented like half the gangster lingo of New York in the 30s.


Here I have a shift in tense as the character goes outside:

That second paragraph opening “feels” right to me, it’s descriptive rather than active. But maybe it should be “Clouds blow around” instead?

“Clouds blowing” is perfectly fine, nothing ungrammatical about it. This is another aspect shift rather than tense, expressing the continuous aspect.

It would probably be a great help if grammar teachers stopped conflating aspect with tense, because once you realize how decoupled they actually are from each other they’re a lot easier to get a mental handle on.

All tense is is the time reference. Aspect handles all the manners of action, like whether it’s a finite event/complete action or a continuous action. English really only has two, the perfect (complete action) and imperfect (continuous/progressive action). AAVE has the habitual aspect using the verb be: “He be drinking,” meaning dude’s a drunk. And “used to” is also used the same way by. This is another imperfect aspect. You can use pretty much any of these aspects with any tense to make the past perfect, future progressive, or whatever.

Stuporstar posted:

kaom posted:

“Clouds are blowing around in a way that’s completely disorienting, making the moonlight and shadows dance over the mounds of snow.”

I actually wanna get into this one more, because it’s doing a cool thing grammar teachers don’t talk much about re. English. What you’ve made here is a Stative construction. I have to get to what this sentence is doing the long way round.

So, Ancient Egyptian has what they call the stative verb form. It’s a complementary aspect to the perfect:

Perfect = action completed, or more accurately “achieved” because it has relevance to the present. If you “have eaten,” you’re saying it because you don’t need to eat again right now, vs. the simple past “I ate” which says nothing about the now.

Stative = state attained, and currently sustained. Ancient Egyptains had a verb form to say, “Ra is risen,” because—look, the sun is in the sky right now. You can use the perfect, “the sun has risen,” and have it make perfect sense, but there are times when the stative does cool poo poo the perfect can’t.

It all comes down to transitive and intransitive verbs. The former being where the action of the verb has to be transferred to an object, and the latter something the subject does with themself.

An intransitive verb with the perfect is, “He has gone.” It describes the action (he left) and the result of it (he’s no longer here).
An intransitive verb with the stative is, “He is gone.” It says nothing about how that was done, just that’s he’s not here. Sometimes you want this different shade of meaning.

With transitive verbs, the perfect and stative are completely different.

Perfect: “The horse has thrown a shoe.” Active voice.
Stative: “The horse’s shoe is thrown.” Passive voice.

Transitive verbs become passive when in the stative form in Ancient Egyptian, and it was one of their more common forms of passive voice, so it’s how it’s translated. English has the grammar tools to translate this and we even make stative statements like this without knowing that’s what we’re doing. Could be because we had a stative but mostly dropped it along with, “Jesus is come” and the thees and thous of the Bible, but German has it and still uses it. We can still use it too, it’s not gone.

What makes the stative “shoe is thrown” different from other passive constructions is that it describes the condition of the horse. If you say, “The horse’s shoe was thrown,” it’s like… where? It says more about the horseshoe than the horse. The perfect, “horse has thrown a shoe” has the same thing to say regarding the horse’s condition, but it blames the horse for something that just happened to it. Sometimes the passive voice is what you want.

When you use the stative with a ditransitive verb, one that can be either transitive or intransitive, they’re different yet again.

Perfect: “He has broken it.” Active, has to be transitive and take an object – dude broke a thing and it’s broken.
Stative: “He is broken.” Passive, no longer transitive – describes the sad state the dude is in.

So, “Clouds are blowing around” is a continuous stative statement: they’re doing a thing and keeping on doing it. But it’s stative because the “blowing” part is ambiguous. The clouds aren’t blowing themselves, they’re being blown by the wind, but since wind isn’t mentioned it should be passive, if you were going to be boring about it and use, “are being blown around.” You could make it active by, “the wind is blowing the…” Ugh, yawn, we know the wind does that. You’ve made the clouds almost active instead. I say almost because it is stative, kinda sitting in between active and passive, a continous shifting state, and that is way loving cool, linguisticly. It works for what you’re going for, which is to turn the clouds into a mesmerizing mystery.

e. Hell, it’s so cool I wanna stick it in my conlang along with the regular stative. Hot drat

Stuporstar posted:

Leng posted:

Adding to the general :aaa: at your awesome deconstruction of grammar. Because I suck at grammar, do you have a list of resources you used to research all this in your conlang quest, because I'd love to upskill myself in this regard.

The two best things I ever did to get a better handle on English was:
1. Pick up a few linguistic books instead of grammar books.
2. Decide to learn another language.

When I started, I didn’t even want to learn all this nitty-gritty grammar poo poo, because the way grammar instruction is done is so prescriptive and dry. I said I’d never go full Tolkien on making up future slang, just Clockwork Orange it up a bit, but once I got into it—well, now I guess I’m going full Tolkien with a conlang, god help me, because it turns out to be hella fun and this pandemic project has kept me insane in a good way rather than bad.

Anyway. So I picked up a few books on linguistics that explains things our language actually does in the wild, rather than what English is supposed to do according to a couple centuries of convention, and it opened up so many possibilities, I was finally motivated to look grammar poo poo up.

So find a few accessible linguistic books:
I haven’t read this one yet, but I’ve seen it recommended in the linguistics thread (with a caveat to stay away from his non-linguistic books) as one of the best for getting a handle on the basics, and will definitely give it a read:

I have read a couple of his other books, which were great. Power of Babel focuses on how language changes over time, gets into stuff like dialects and creolization, and has a few great examples of how other languages have features English doesn’t have:
Unfortunately that one’s not out in ebook format.

This one is loving great, because it in the process of explaining how and why we say rude poo poo, it explains a lot about how swearing is one of our most flexible modes of expression, does cool poo poo with grammar, invents new grammar, and also gets into AAVE, which is kickass:

And this one was great for talking about the fun poo poo we’re doing with English right now:

Liguists also seem to have a better vocabulary for the mechanics of language than I’ve seen from a lot of grammar websites. I do a lot of searches for specific grammar questions and end up reading a wide variety of them. Mostly though, I default to wikipedia because it explains various points of grammar really well—but it will uselessly drown you in too much information unless you have specific questions you want answered.

Like one thing I’ve learned just by looking up questions and randomly stumbling on poo poo is that the difference between types of verbals like infinitives and gerunds and when a word like “doings” ends up actually being a noun (which is why it can take the plural -s)—is entirely contextual. The grammatical context a word is in, what it’s doing syntactically, is more important than its form*. That’s because we do poo poo like verb nouns all the time, and once you learn how nouns get verbed, or vise versa, you can learn how to use words in more creative ways.

That saying about learning the rules before you break them—gently caress grammar websites for that, learn this poo poo from linguists.

The problem with a lot of grammar instruction is it’s done by a lot of people who’ve barely glanced at languages other than English. So learning a second language (even a dead one, but I’ve been learning a bit of Arabic grammar comparing Ancient Egyptian to a living Semitic language to help figure poo poo out), is one of the best ways to learn what English does, because a lot of learning materials explain how that language differs from English. It helps expand your idea of what language can do, and in turn stuff that English does that we don’t even think about.

Like this has turned out to be one of the most helpful books I’ve ever read about English grammar because he explains really well how it works in relation to Ancient Egyptian grammar.

Also learning a second language is a great goal to actually motivate you to learn more about language in general.

And, if your interest lies in fiddling about with a conlang, this video series is great. He explains the absolute core basics of grammar in the process as well, as in the cool poo poo grammar teaching doesn’t even cover:

*I learned how much more important syntax is for a language that relies on it (some don’t in favor of case marking), like English and Ancient Egyptian, because AEL is almost entirely made of up of verbs which then get used as nouns or adjectives, often without any change in form. The only way you know what’s what is through its context in the sentence. So nfr (nafir probably) could mean “being good” or the adjective good or even “the good one” just standing there alone as a noun. Language is really flexible, and its hard to get a sense of how flexible until you see how other languages get along just fine without features English has, or have features English does not.

Stuporstar posted:

More Grammar poo poo, for those who care

I’m gonna go into the “doings” thing further, because learning this has finally made all that bullshit with infinitives and gerunds (and the total lack of teaching participles) finally click, which are an absolute brain-bitch.

First, participles and infinitives are non-finite verb forms, meaning they don’t inflect for tense or aspect (or mood).

Participles are verbal adjectives.
I am doing it. – The verb is “am” and “doing” a participle because it describes what the action is. Verbal adjectives are basically adverbs, because adverbs are adjectives for verbs, but making this distinction rather than calling them adverbs is helpful because the category “adverb” is way too broad.*

We also have past participles, which normally end in -ed, but the past participle of “doing” is “done.”
He is done. – The verb “is” followed by a description of what is “done.”

Infinitives are not -ing words, they are to + non-finite verb - just the bare-rear end verb hanging out there, not covering its butt with inflections.
I’m going to do it. – The verb “am” followed by participle “going” followed by its infinitival complement “to do.” It is a verb form that forms a verb phrase.

I can do it. – This is a called bare infinitive because it doesn’t need the word “to” but it’s still an infinitive because the verb is “can” – “do” is its infinitival complement. This is how we do grammatical moods in English, with a modal verb + infinitival complement. It’s a verb phrase.

This is all syntax difference because:
She did it. – Here “do” is a finite verb, inflected for past tense.

Gerunds look like participles but instead they are treated like nouns. It’s defined entirely by context. If the -ing word is being used like an adverb, it’s a participle. If it’s being used like a noun, it’s a gerund. A gerund can be the subject or object of a verb, which a participle cannot.
I am going swimming. – Here “swimming” is the object of the verb phrase “am going” (verb + participle). You can replace it with the infinitive “to swim” and this is why the two get confused all the time.**

But here’s the thing: -ing words can also be true nouns. Compare:
I work in that building. – Noun. A building is a thing.
I like building things. – Gerund. It’s being treated like a noun, as in it exists as the object of the subject+verb “I like,” but it’s referring to an action, not a thing, and it takes “thing” as its object.

So this is why doings is a noun and not a gerund.
It was his doing. – Here “doing” is a noun because it is a thing that was done.
You can pluralize the noun to “doings” as in “things which were done” but cannot do that with a gerund. You can’t make an action plural, only true nouns. A noun can’t take an adverb or an object or do any things a verb can do, which a gerund does.

What we did was nominalize the gerund “doing” into a noun, entirely by using it in a different grammatical context. Use a verb as a noun, it becomes a noun. Use a noun as a verb, it becomes a verb.

**Here’s what wikipedia has to say.
“An -ing form is termed gerund when it behaves as a verb within a clause (so that it may be modified by an adverb or have an object); but the resulting clause as a whole (sometimes consisting of only one word, the gerund itself) functions as a noun within the larger sentence.
For example, consider the sentence "Eating this cake is easy." Here, the gerund is the verb eating, which takes an object this cake. The entire clause eating this cake is then used as a noun, which in this case serves as the subject of the larger sentence.”

When you look up this poo poo in google it pulls up a bunch of English learning websites that throw up their hands and go “I dunno” when it gets to the part about why a gerund is used vs. an infinitive and when. It’s entirely contextual. Infinitives are used in verb clauses, and gerunds in noun clauses, even though both are functioning like verbs inside their clause. If you know this, you can figure out which one to use when it’s ambiguous and you need to fix poo poo.

*Wikipedia mentions that participles were only taught “traditionally” and modern grammar classes no longer distinguish between participles and gerunds, which is stupid because there is a difference, and it does in fact matter whether you’re using an -ing form as and adverb or a noun. You can’t just go, “if it looks alike, what’s the diff?” in a syntactic language like English, because context matters more than form. With that realization comes so much freedom to play with the language. You can’t really master it without getting this, so conflating participles with gerunds is a goddamn crime.

You don’t need to know all this poo poo to write because as a first language we pick it all up in context and learn to use it just fine without pulling it apart and examining its workings. I really helps though when you want to play with the language, just run rampant with coining new words and doing funky poo poo to phrasing. Like, that dude who wrote 30s gangster stories I mentioned earlier, Damon Runyon. Goddamn that dude had to know his poo poo to be able to write like that and have it work. Emberto Eco too (no surpise, a linguist).

e. One more handy link:
If you ever need to figure out wtf your sentence is doing, click the link to their sentence parser (direct linking it doesn’t work for some reason). You have to know the basic terminology to figure out what it tells you, but it can really clear up a messy-rear end sentence once you figure it out.

Famous Authors Say Cool Stuff, Too

Ray Bradbury posted:

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. Ray Bradbury

Somebody fucked around with this message at 07:26 on Feb 22, 2022

Dr. Kloctopussy
Apr 22, 2003

"It's DIE!"
Placeholder: I wrote this much so it’s certainly possible I’ll write more!

If you have any ideas for what to put here, speak up.

Dr. Kloctopussy fucked around with this message at 01:37 on Jan 28, 2017

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007

Actually, I just want to bookmark this thread and make it easy to find all my (probably not helpful) posts.

This is really, really good, Dr. K!

anime was right
Jun 27, 2008

death is certain
keep yr cool


keep sucking

suck less

Dr. Kloctopussy
Apr 22, 2003

"It's DIE!"
lol i just accidentally quoted a whole post of mine instead of editing it

I better think of something else to say about fiction writing somehow

Dr. Kloctopussy fucked around with this message at 02:21 on Jan 28, 2017

Feb 28, 2007

Plaguing your posts with incidental music.
Wowie, that is a hell of a set of OPs.

Meanwhile, I think I need to find another writing group. I'm not ditching this thing yet, but I just suffered through reading the second chapter of this jackass' novel, where he gave his main character absolutely crippling, hugely life-affecting agoraphobia, did absolutely no homework about agoraphobia or related anxiety disorders, and got stupid bent out of shape when I said I didn't think I could really read further on the piece and recommended he hire a sensitivity reader. Someone else talked him down before I got to it, which I guess is okay, because I didn't really want to get thrown out of the group for telling this guy to go gently caress himself, but geez.

This is just one in the latest of things that are thoroughly driving me toward thinking I need to find something else. I don't respect almost all of these people's work (leading to a feeling of 'gently caress yeah I'm brilliant' which is literally the opposite of what I want), and I don't respect their opinions either (absolutely gushing over stuff, not mine, that is incompetent in literally every possible way) which is a bad combination for a group like this.

I've had a fair bit of good stuff come out of this-- helped me identify some severe issues that sent me to redrafting a lot of this novel, and they're super consistent, the group isn't just dissolving or whatever, so this is super aggravating.

e: note that I'm not really looking for suggestions or advice on this, I really just want to complain out loud.

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh
Great OP.

Since I have something to add: has a lot of resources and competitions for authors looking for agents (mostly in YA, but there are adult, middle-grade, and children's categories), as well as personal accounts from authors that contribute to the site.

Dec 8, 2016
Speaking as an new guy to SA who just signed up for his first week in Thunderdome, I really appreciate everything in here. There's already a few things I saw on first read that had me nodding to myself as mistakes I know I'm guilty of. Awesome OP and much thanks.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


Amazing thread, thanks Dr. K so much for putting it all together.

I'll chime in to add as a resource. It's a podcast by several writers (Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler and Dan Wells are the core of the group) who put out lots of 15 minute long casts that tackle some writing concept (or something related to writing), then give you a prompt. The prompts are generally fun, the conversations interesting and informative, and there's now twelve seasons of content that include a plethora of guests and different topics.

Dr. Kloctopussy
Apr 22, 2003

"It's DIE!"

Ironic Twist posted:

Great OP.

Since I have something to add: has a lot of resources and competitions for authors looking for agents (mostly in YA, but there are adult, middle-grade, and children's categories), as well as personal accounts from authors that contribute to the site.

Uranium Phoenix posted:

I'll chime in to add as a resource. It's a podcast by several writers (Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler and Dan Wells are the core of the group) who put out lots of 15 minute long casts that tackle some writing concept (or something related to writing), then give you a prompt. The prompts are generally fun, the conversations interesting and informative, and there's now twelve seasons of content that include a plethora of guests and different topics.

Thank you! I have added these resources above. I am working to build the Resources section of the OPs and I love recommendations like this.

I know that many books were recommended in the last thread, and I am (slowly) going through it to find them, but hey, it's 2017, and books are hella passé. In addition to books, pile on the recommendations for websites, podcasts, twitters, whatever you kids are doing these days. (Like, lol it's 2020 and the twitters is hella passé).

Dr. Kloctopussy fucked around with this message at 11:05 on Jan 28, 2017

May 5, 2008

Where do fists come from?
Awesome OP, Dr. Kloctopussy. I have one contribution I've been sitting on a while. I moved it from Dropbox to Imgur so anyone can throw it up when needed.

Stuporstar fucked around with this message at 21:54 on Jan 28, 2017

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007
So, I got an acceptance AND feedback from four editors! Yay! Only they all have different ideas about what would make the story better. The person who likes the story most also gave the most accurate summary of what it's about, but the other editors want totally different things, ranging from killing the main characters to literally making the story about something else. Now they're waiting for me to make changes (or not), and I don't know what to do! I guess it's already been accepted, but I am a little at a loss as to how I should respond.

I've been asked to make changes before, but it was more of a unified "this is what we think you should do, let us know if that's acceptable" type thing. I just don't want to come off poorly.

General Battuta
Feb 7, 2011

This is how you communicate with a fellow intelligence: you hurt it, you keep on hurting it, until you can distinguish the posts from the screams.
Huh. What markets are the four editors with?

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007

General Battuta posted:

Huh. What markets are the four editors with?

It's a small publication, but they gave a lot more feedback than I was expecting so I want to respect the time they took in reviewing the story.

Dec 11, 2013

by Pragmatica

Dr. Kloctopussy posted:

:siren: WRITE MORE :siren:
Line Edits
Finally we get to the point of really looking at the words, sentence by sentence! The guidelines for doing line edits on your own are the same as for doing line edits for others, as described in the next post.
Awesome OP Doc...

A good line-edit is like having a grand-master of chess analyze and critique your every move and rate it for strength.
-Super insightful.
-Super helpful.
-Super awesome.
-Much appreciated.
-Occasionally a bit debasing.
-Sometimes soul-crushing which is way better than having someone blow sunshine up your rear end.

Dec 11, 2013

by Pragmatica

Dr. Kloctopussy posted:

B]Show vs. Tell[/b]
A common piece of advice to new writers is “show, don’t tell,” but now it’s fashionable to complain about this, especially based on some stuff Orson Scott Card said.

Showing means showing the reader what is happening and how the characters are feeling, basically giving them information from which they deduct other information. Angry characters wave their arms or stomp their feet. High schoolers get weak in the knees and breathless when their crush walks up. The police car swings out of the alley and the siren starts wailing. You do not need to describe the cool smoothness of the doorknob and the slight resistance before it turns every time a character opens a door.

Telling means telling the reader what is happening or how the characters are feeling directly. Jill was angry. Jill had a crush on Ben. The police started chasing Ben’s get away car. One particularly annoying form of telling is the “info-dump” where the writer just writes in paragraphs of facts they consider useful or interesting, but which seem irrelevant and boring to the reader.

SO, here it is, the final answer:

Sometimes it’s better to show, and sometimes it’s better to tell.

This video is in reference to "The Matrix" but has some really good things to say about the scene in the Construct from the first movie.

Oct 17, 2012

Hullabalooza '96
Easily Depressed
Teenagers Edition

Dr. Kloctopussy posted:

Editing to add: think about Shakespeare, and how amazingly memorable and vivid his stories and characters are. Not a drop of physical description.

Having read A Midsummer Night's Dream until I pretty much quote chunks in my sleep, there are two quick descriptions of two characters: Hermia and Helena. However, they are quickly integrated into the text. Shakespeare never came out and said "Hermia is short and dark" but at one point Hermia says (modernized) "Did you just call me call me short? I'm not so short I can't bring you down to my level!" Also one character, Flute, is stated that he has to play the woman cause he has no beard yet and has a high chirpy voice perfect for a bit of the old Boy-Plays-Girl Switch-a-roo.

But that's the thing. Don't do a whole paragraph of, say, head to toe description of someone. Of anyone. Unless it is character important and chances are it is not. It's jarring and annoying and stops the momentum of the story, and often comes off like a mix of purple prose and weird online role play garbage.

Story time! When I was a small, we used to have to write descriptive essays for grades. The teacher would put up a picture of, say, a bear in a tutu holding a polka dotted umbrella, and the task was to start at the top of the picture, describe everything in minute detail, and the more descriptive words you put in the better. I could not get away with "The bear has a black nose." I was expected to barf up something like "The bear's small, shiny, triangular nose was slightly rough and black like the soul of the goth kid someone in this class is liable to grow up to be." I am convinced this was half because it was the 80s and nothing made sense. (Which is also why I had to write "how-to essays" like I was describing making a PB&J sandwich to someone who hadn't yet figured out that peanut butter generally comes in jars with lids that are expected to be removed in order to reach the smashed goober goodness. Look, the 80s was a crazy time.) In one part it was a semi-useful exercise in teaching us descriptive words existed, but in a lot it was not because then you had a bunch of kids writing Jennifer E.'s First Fiction Story and they'd go on for ten pages about How Green And Lush is The Front Lawn at Bonnie-Sue's house. Seeing paragraphs of overtly flowery description down to the gold buckles on the shoes makes me think you got the same Texas mid-to-late 80s elementary school education I got. Or perhaps read a few too many Baby-Sitters Club Books and had to hear all about what Claudia wore from head to toe that sounded like garbage but somehow she magically pulled it off with her Magic 80s Powers of making sure sheep earrings were so fetch.

Basically, the purple prose description lump? Do not do this. You can describe people in one or two lines, or even just one off ref. One of the crits I got on an otherwise meh story pointed out that the only description of a character's mother was


"Her manicured nails dug into my arm as she dragged me to our gas stove[.]"
--and in all that I managed to convey the woman's cruelty and perfectionism.

No one needs a head to toe description off the bat the moment you see Joan F. Protagonist (the F stands for Robots). Integrate that poo poo.

Nethilia fucked around with this message at 13:14 on Feb 4, 2017

Mar 22, 2013

it's crow time again

In drawing, every contour you add to someone's face adds five years. The extra detail complicates the picture, making it harder to read what's important and what's not.

You have to learn how to use just a few lines to capture the important characteristics, while avoiding all the irrelevant detail.

I feel like this is applicable to writing, somehow.

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

Djeser posted:

In drawing, every contour you add to someone's face adds five years. The extra detail complicates the picture, making it harder to read what's important and what's not.

You have to learn how to use just a few lines to capture the important characteristics, while avoiding all the irrelevant detail.

I feel like this is applicable to writing, somehow.

The best trick is to characterise people by the details of their surroundings and actions, as DocK points out above.

There's a great Haruki Murakami line - "he held the pen between two fingers and dropped it on the desk, as though testing local gravity conditions". That tells you so much about the sort of person who would do that.

Dec 11, 2013

by Pragmatica
I'm currently reading a great interview with Matthew Weiner creator of Mad Men on the creative process that's got a lot of insight to it.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007
Crossposting from Thunderdumb:

Sitting Here posted:

Just in case people missed it, or are looking for more ways/places to post about writing:

Muffin's new daily prompt thread!

February Long Walk!!

22 Eargesplitten
Oct 10, 2010

Oh, hey, one of the first writing questions in a new thread. How would you show rather than tell someone noticing that someone had changed since they last saw them? In terms of demeanor, not physically. The last time they saw them was before the story started.

Nov 25, 2012
in the room where you sleep
Compare and contrast. Maybe throw in some anecdotes about who they used to be, or some other sort of evidence. I've got a story where a man's meek behavior is contrasted with photos of him being a party animal in past years.

Mar 22, 2013

it's crow time again

22 Eargesplitten posted:

Oh, hey, one of the first writing questions in a new thread. How would you show rather than tell someone noticing that someone had changed since they last saw them? In terms of demeanor, not physically. The last time they saw them was before the story started.

Think about this: what does it feel like when someone's changed? It's like they're doing the wrong thing, or it's like everything they do becomes hightened and evidence that something's different. Have the point of view character dwell on what they're doing in between sentences, maybe. On some level you will have to point out to the reader that they're not supposed to be like this, but it could be like "she tapped the menu on the table and grinned, wider than i'd ever seen her grin." While that 'than i'd ever seen her' feels blunt, it's doing a couple of things. First, it's not dancing around the issue. The reader knows what's up. Something's different Second, it makes the whole sentence about what's different. And third, it's in reference to a physical thing. It's not saying that she's more energetic than before, it's saying that she's tapping her menu and grinning now, and that's strange. It's concrete detail instead of an idea.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007

22 Eargesplitten posted:

Oh, hey, one of the first writing questions in a new thread. How would you show rather than tell someone noticing that someone had changed since they last saw them? In terms of demeanor, not physically. The last time they saw them was before the story started.

Another option is to have Character 1 behave normally around Character 2, but Character 2 doesn't respond normally. Then Character 1 could pause and reflect on Character 2's change of behavior. Like, if you have two friends who used to joke around all the time, then one day one of them is more solemn or stoic than usual, that would illustrate what you're talking about. Depends a lot on the exact scenario, though.

22 Eargesplitten
Oct 10, 2010

Okay, that all makes sense. I'll probably post an example of it in here for you to rip apart critique once I write it.

anime was right
Jun 27, 2008

death is certain
keep yr cool
so this is a dumb thought i had when struggling with how to write the middle of the story.

typical structures seem more focused on the pacing more than the reasoning which made it hard for me to think about like, what events should be transpiring in the middle, and then this thought came to mind

"the middle contextualizes the ending that your beginning set up" - and i think this did a better job in my head of knowing what to trim and what to grow, personally. i dunno.

whats a good resource on writing middles

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

Hi thread, the something awful best dog invitational has started and we need to win!

I feel that real strongly.

As creative convention we are obviously best at creating poo poo. Obviously.

So write the best dog and post it in that thread by 3 March. Great will be your glory!

Mar 21, 2010
People want me to post this in FA:

I basically just slammed together two common breakdowns of the Hero's Journey. More info re the Harmon Embryo can be found here and is definitely worth a read -- the whole series is wonderful.

Oct 30, 2016

We know that 500 question character sheets suck, but does anybody have some actually good resources for creating characters?
I'm starting a new novel and this time I'm trying to *actually plan things out* and have some reference sheets for setting/characters/magic stuff.

Apr 10, 2013

you guys made me ink!

I'd say read through these to help you structure your characters.

I don't know if more experienced writers agree with this or call it a load of bull, but I myself do find characters most interesting if they have a flaw or misconception that impedes their success in the story during the first act, and which they must accept or overcome by the final act to achieve success. You can then play with this framework by having characters fail to overcome their flaw, or misattribute failures to one of their good traits instead, or double down on their flaw entirely.

When reading the articles on the site above, you have to remember that the "Lie" as the author calls it, is such a flaw or misconception. As a writer, you have the final say in what is a flaw and what isn't. That's part of the internal rules of the world you create. If the central theme of your story is "violence is cool and good" then the flaw your character might have is their unwilligness to fight, or they might wrongfully believe that people are inherently good. On the other hand, a story about compromise would consider these traits strengths that let your character resolve their plot after overcoming their violent tendencies or misconception of others.

On the subject of structuring specifically, you can plan these character arcs out to more or less coincide with the plot beats. At the end of your first act, the protagonist should have suffered as a result of their flaw, enough to know they need to change if they want to get what they want. By the final act, the protagonist must have dabbled with solutions and alternative approaches enough to make a final decision in how to tackle the problem. That's when you decide whether they find the "truth" and get their happy ending, or stray further from it and end in tragedy. The latter is effective for side characters that you use as influences or mirrors to the protagonist.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007

SurreptitiousMuffin posted:

People want me to post this in FA:

I basically just slammed together two common breakdowns of the Hero's Journey. More info re the Harmon Embryo can be found here and is definitely worth a read -- the whole series is wonderful.

I don't have anything to add to this, but it's interesting and helpful. Dan Harmon's structure has been the most helpful one I've encountered so far, but this is a cool synthesis. Intuitively, I want there to be a beat between the final showdown and riding off into the sunset...something like a realization of never being able to go back to the state the story began in? IDK, maybe that wouldn't work for every story, and maybe you can incorporate that into the final beat, but my brain looks at those last two beats and wants there to be something in between them. The the marriage/murder/ride into the sunset bit feels like an epilogue. I want there to be more of a denouement before the final scene.


Mar 17, 2009

Somewhere in the last thread, there was a link to a list of expressions and phrases and physical cues that convey different emotions with showing instead of telling, and I didn't bookmark it. Anyone have that still?

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