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This is a legacy project, an archival of a very useful thread that popped up in the twilight of our old home. It will be posted here to represent our heritage, to preserve our past for future use. There has been some light editing done for a cleaner presentation.

Dilleux_Lepaire • December 29, 2012 2:24 PM CST wrote:

I know there are quite a bit of writers here on this forum, so I'd like to use your experience. What are the most common mistakes new writers do? What are the things to avoid? The best tips for a starting writer?

Sometimes, it's through the eyes of the others that we ban better ourselves [/jediwisdom].


Jivanmukta • December 29, 2012 2:37 PM CST wrote:
Dilleux_Lepaire wrote:
I know there are quite a bit of writers here on this forum, so I'd like to use your experience. What are the most common mistakes new writers do? What are the things to avoid? The best tips for a starting writer?

Sometimes, it's through the eyes of the others that we ban better ourselves [/jediwisdom].


Take. Criticism. Well.

That is in my opinion the absolute most important thing in my opinion.


HairlessThoctar • December 29, 2012 2:40 PM CST wrote:
Mistakes I've learned from my first experience putting my work out there:

Stay consistent. The way a character speaks, acts, etc. Don't let the characters bleed together.
Don't say too many things. Less is more. You might find it interesting to tell your audience every detail of what the character is doing or thinking; the audience might not. If a statement does not further the narrative, cut it.
Get a bloody editor. Seriously. Run it by a friend or family member. We're trapped in our own minds and we might not even notice something is wrong because we're too close. Let someone else take a gander; they might notice some errors you didn't, they might have some critiques you wouldn't have thought of.


Yxoque • December 29, 2012 3:07 PM CST wrote:
The most important thing is, I think, to actually write. It's probably my biggest fault. I enjoy writing, and I'm not too bad at it, but I never get around to actually put words on paper/my screen. Since I have quite some free time, I'm trying to improve that.

Apart from that: Make sure you know (at least roughly) were you want your story to go. Create an outline. You can always deviate, but it's nice to have something to fall back on.

If you have some time, check out Screenwriting 101 by FilmCritHulk. It has a lot to teach you.


Its_Always_42 • December 30, 2012 3:21 AM CST wrote:
Some of my inane ramblings:

Try not to overthink things -- as in, don't get overly wordy. I have this problem in droves.

The phrase "Show, don't tell" is touted around all over, but I still haven't wrapped my head around what that means, really. I think part of my problem is that I don't know enough about storytelling (in any form) to recognize things in action. I fear I may also have been spoiled by traditional fantasy like Salvatore's works and Elf Quest.

I find that writing under constraints is much more prolific for me. Evidence in what I wrote for GWIII and Phyrexia Reborn vs. everything I've written outside of the flavor games. I've started thinking to artificially create those constraints for myself to get more done for the M:EM. Make that, to get anything done for the M:EM.


Hmm... I wonder if Tevish is around... He should have some real, credible experience to add. Unlike myself.


HairlessThoctar • December 30, 2012 9:14 AM CST wrote:
Have characters act how they feel.
Don't have them tell us how they feel, that makes me angry. D:<


Dilleux_Lepaire • December 30, 2012 11:13 AM CST wrote:
HairlessThoctar wrote:
Have characters act how they feel.
Don't have them tell us how they feel, that makes me angry. D:<


When you're writing in first person, though, your main character will most probably have a lot of "I share feelings to myself" moments.


BeastEngine • December 30, 2012 1:14 PM CST wrote:
A lot of newer writers like to get extremely self-defeatist and angsty about their work when they feel it's threatened. Don't do that, none of that is personal. Like Jivan said, it's criticism, not a personal attack.

Also, in line with that, don't get discouraged to the point where you quit. Especially starting out, you're going to put out a constant stream of terrible garbage, and you might not even know it. Someone might tell you as much. And that's totally fine. You need to produce garbage so you know what garbage feels like to produce, so you can avoid it. That's how you refine the process. I had to learn that one the hard way.


Dilleux_Lepaire • December 30, 2012 11:13 AM CST wrote:
HairlessThoctar wrote:
Have characters act how they feel.
Don't have them tell us how they feel, that makes me angry. D:<


When you're writing in first person, though, your main character will most probably have a lot of "I share feelings to myself" moments.


BeastEngine • December 30, 2012 1:14 PM CST wrote:
A lot of newer writers like to get extremely self-defeatist and angsty about their work when they feel it's threatened. Don't do that, none of that is personal. Like Jivan said, it's criticism, not a personal attack.

Also, in line with that, don't get discouraged to the point where you quit. Especially starting out, you're going to put out a constant stream of terrible garbage, and you might not even know it. Someone might tell you as much. And that's totally fine. You need to produce garbage so you know what garbage feels like to produce, so you can avoid it. That's how you refine the process. I had to learn that one the hard way.


Tevish_Szat • December 30, 2012 3:06 PM CST wrote:
Its_Always_42 wrote:
Hmm... I wonder if Tevish is around... He should have some real, credible experience to add. Unlike myself.


I'm always around. Sometimes I just choose to stay hiding beneath the floorboards.

So, some advice for would-be writers

1: Like Yxoque says, WRITE! This is the hardest part in many cases, actually being able to step beyond the planning stage and create, in its entirety, a short story, serial, or even a novel.

2: Second, you must FINISH. When you actually get going on something, push through it until you actually complete it. You can write a lot, bit if you keep writing chapter 1 of this and that over and over again, you've not done much over not writing. If finishing is hard for you, consider truing a single-section short story, something you can finish in the same sitting you start it so you can learn that it is possible to write to completion.

3: That said, don't be afraid to fail. I've completed a number of works, but probably scrapped more than I've finished. Some of the thing I've scrapped were flawed on the fundamental level, others simply needed to be redone from the start. Bits and pieces of scrapped plots have gotten re-assembled with each other to make new things. A work failing is not the writer failing, any more than losing an early creature in Magic loses you the game

4: Don't be afraid to write what you love. YES, it is possible to get "in a rut", and produce the same thing -- but that's far less dangerous than producing something without passion to it, and there is no shame in having patterns and tropes that you like and others you like to avoid. If you really, truly love what you're writing, it's much easier to write it, complete it, and share it with the world rather than if you're creating a certain way because you think you should whether you want to or not.

5: Get into your writing. I find that I write better when I'm not just writing things I love, but can get inside the characters -- even the ones I don't like as people -- and understand them. Perhaps this is just me, since I was a bit of and actor before I was a writer, but if you can feel a character's point of view, you do better than if you can't.

6: Sometimes, it's okay to tell. I really hate the "Show, Don't tell" advice that gets quoted, because it's quite nebulous and sometimes leads the new writer in the wrong direction. Speculative Fiction (That being Fantasy, Sciencefiction, Whateverpunk, supernatural horror, and many related genres besides) especially needs to tell at times, for economy and pacing issues. There are right ways and wrong ways to do it, and if you can "Show" (let the audience know something by watching it happen rather than having a character just utter words to the effect) it's good to do so.

7: Generalizing the above NO RULE IS ABOSLUTE. You can tell if context dictates it is best. Passive voice may be used. There are no mortal sins in writing.

8: That said, in most cases, try to give characters a little dimensionality. Perfect saints and inexcusable devils (especially the former) aren't often interesting to read about, nor should a sound off of stereotypes tell me everything there is to be known about a character in most cases. You don't need much, especially for minor characters, but two notes are usually more interesting than one.

9: When all is said and done... accept that you probably haven't produced gold, and that's okay. Editing and criticism are not offenses to you. If you hear "Maybe change x" or "You should try y", it means you did well enough that someone actually read and finished and has ideas of how it could be even better. Don't expect nothing but praise, and don't consider your vision immutable glory. (one of) The worst thing(s) you can do is gain Protection from Editors.


Yxoque • December 30, 2012 3:26 PM CST wrote:
Tevish_Szat wrote:

6: Sometimes, it's okay to tell. I really hate the "Show, Don't tell" advice that gets quoted, because it's quite nebulous and sometimes leads the new writer in the wrong direction. Speculative Fiction (That being Fantasy, Sciencefiction, Whateverpunk, supernatural horror, and many related genres besides) especially needs to tell at times, for economy and pacing issues. There are right ways and wrong ways to do it, and if you can "Show" (let the audience know something by watching it happen rather than having a character just utter words to the effect) it's good to do so.


I mostly use "show, don't tell" for emotions and internal thoughts of people who aren't the main character. For the setting, the technology, looks... describing, in detail can be great. Neal Stephenson is my favorite writer, and at least a third of his books are about telling you about his latest obsession.

I feel it's mostly about not going "Ben was angry," but rather: "Ben's voice was rising, his speech became fast and blurred and his eyes almost popped out of his head." Or not just saying: "YXZ is a badass," but actually showing him doing badass things.


The_Entromancer • December 30, 2012 6:25 PM CST wrote:
Quality over quantity. I can't tell you how many epic fantasy series I've read that, in my opinion, are inferior to shorter pulp works.


RavenoftheBlack • December 30, 2012 10:47 PM CST wrote:
Don't force things. If you're at a point in your narrative where you feel a character should say something clever, witty or funny, but you can't think of anything clever, witty or funny for that character to say, don't force it. Now, don't get me wrong, Tevesh is absolutely right when he said FINISH, and sometimes to do that, you have to force something, but keep in mind that writing can always be edited, reviewed, revised and rewritten.

Mostly, though, with the "don't force things" mantra, I mean things like lines. When I first got into creative writing, a mentor of mine told me something to the effect of "A chapter isn't worth a book, a paragraph's not worth a chapter, and a sentence isn't worth a paragraph." What she meant by that is that you may have the most amazing, beautiful sentence ever written, but it it doesn't fit with what the rest of your narrative is trying to accomplish, drop the sentence. Likewise with a paragraph that doesn't help you and a chapter and so forth.

I actually teach writing now, and the main thing I try to impress upon my students is to remember your purpose. Whatever you are writing, keep in mind the overall goal of the work. This applies to both creative writing and other types, just remember your purpose.

Finally, I'll tell you something that my college writing professor told me. "You learn the rules [of writing] in order to break them." A lot of my students resent the fact that I require them to learn the rules of writing, as they feel it "stifles creativity." But if you're breaking rules merely because you feel like it, you are likely not accomplishing your goal the way you think you are. Personally, I believe that before a person goes against the grain, they should have an understanding of why things are the way they are.

Well, that's my few cents, anyway.


KeeperofManyNames • December 30, 2012 11:16 PM CST wrote:
RavenoftheBlack wrote:
"A chapter isn't worth a book, a paragraph's not worth a chapter, and a sentence isn't worth a paragraph."


In short, "Kill Your Darlings." Not sure who said that originally, but that phrase has really stuck with me, and it does describe a common early mistake where people latch onto cool notions and cling to them even though they don't fit.

I'll probably throw some other thoughts here but the main thing I can think of is basically a spin off of that: new writers are terrible at coming up with themes and character arcs, but those are the only thing that matters. Epic powers? Pointless. Stunning, sexy romance? Useless. Dramatic battle scenes? Worthless. If you want any of that to have weight for your readers you need to understand theme and character arcs, and that which does not contribute to those things should be thrown out.

I mean, not really. That's super extreme and dogmatic. But it's good advice to keep in mind, and good practice.


FirstTurnKill • December 31, 2012 1:10 AM CST wrote:
There was a time when I seriously considered going into writing before physics, cognitive studies, and programming took hold. I'll tell you that it was difficult to walk away from Holly Lisle's advice for writers articles back in those days.


Its_Always_42 • December 31, 2012 2:58 AM CST wrote:
Dilleux_Lepaire wrote:
HairlessThoctar wrote:
Have characters act how they feel.
Don't have them tell us how they feel, that makes me angry. D:<


When you're writing in first person, though, your main character will most probably have a lot of "I share feelings to myself" moments.


I feel that the answer to that is, "Not really."

I recently picked up "The Skewed Throne" by Joshua Palmatier* which is, as far as I can tell (half-way through), completely in the first person. But instead of a lot of moments of ruminating on how she feels, the main character describes almost all her feelings either in short metaphors or in physical reactions. I was a quarter into the book before I stepped back and realized how utterly in to it I had gotten because of that. In short, you don't have to come out and say "That action that this other person did made me angry" in a first person format.

*Not so coincidentally, the book has been on my 'to read' list since the Crossing the Streams contest last year. Just found it this December.


Dilleux_Lepaire • December 31, 2012 2:50 PM CST wrote:
Its_Always_42 wrote:
Dilleux_Lepaire wrote:
When you're writing in first person, though, your main character will most probably have a lot of "I share feelings to myself" moments.


I feel that the answer to that is, "Not really."

I recently picked up "The Skewed Throne" by Joshua Palmatier* which is, as far as I can tell (half-way through), completely in the first person. But instead of a lot of moments of ruminating on how she feels, the main character describes almost all her feelings either in short metaphors or in physical reactions. I was a quarter into the book before I stepped back and realized how uttterly in to it I had gotten because of that. In short, you don't have to come out and say "That action that this other person did made me angry" in a first person format.


When in third person, something like "He clutched his hand in a fist and breathed deeply, the infuriating smirk reaching deep within his feelings" does the job. When you're doing first-person, something like "Anger boiled within me. Before I knew it, my hand clutched into a fist and I had to deeply breathe so that the swirling emotions would recede and let me deal with that smirk in a mature way" is a good way to describe one's feeling. After all, when you're angry, you know you're angry.

Of course a simple "that made me angry" isn't enough. You want more than that. Simply stating the emotion won't make your character believeable. It also always depends on the character. If you're into the psyche of someone with a poor grasp on his emotions, you'll have way less precise insight on his feelings than one who understands himself perfectly. A ten years-old and a forty years-old don't describe the same feeling the same way. It also depends on how deeply in the mind of the character you're writing and of the style you're doing. Realist writing (I'm not talking about the classification, only the literal meaning of the word) will lead to more precise wording than a more abstract one.

I'll add to the list the absurdly powerful characters with no weaknesses, the Black Hole Mary Sue (no link to TvTropes provided for you own sake) and too much Rule of Cool. Also be wary of a world that works. I've read books where time travel resulted in some actions changing the future and some that doesn't. There's always a limit to the suspension of disbelief. Think about the common lives of the people in your world. There's always a place where they get their ore, always a place where they chop wood.

Don't do active deities unless you've really thought this through and have a very good motivations for not simply doing all the work of the protagonists by themselves. I've read some books where there's a whole damn pantheon of powerful Gods that try to help the humans in a war by giving them a few power, but refuse to outright kill the enemy for some reason.

Don't get characters back from the dead easily, and if you do, make it unique. It's very difficult to make the reader believe in a character's death when everyone and their mother is coming back (hello FFX).

One of the ways that I keep characters different is by "pinning" them (not a real term :P ). You take a strong personality trait and you "pin" the character. You build him so that he's deep, has multiple layers and everything, but that very strong trait helps you get back to the core of the character and remember who he is, especially on long project. If you're writing five novels with the same protagonists, you may very well forget along the way what made the character. Of course, it shouldn't stop you from evolving the character, but I find that it helps keeping the character real. Hope that's a clear explanation :P.


KeeperofManyNames • December 31, 2012 4:23 PM CST wrote:
Dilleux_Lepaire wrote:
Also be wary of a world that works. I've read books where time travel resulted in some actions changing the future and some that doesn't. There's always a limit to the suspension of disbelief. Think about the common lives of the people in your world. There's always a place where they get their ore, always a place where they chop wood.


Hm. I think I want to add a caveat to that... a lot of writers (and worse, readers) can go in the opposite direction, demanding that the book pander to suspension of disbelief above all else at the expense of story. Remember that what makes the most SCIENTIFIC or RATIONAL sense doesn't always make the most THEMATIC or NARRATIVE sense. If you're trying to create a character arc sometimes you have to handwave inconsistencies and ignore problems with the logic of your world, because ultimately that stuff is on the same level as punctuation--it's important and getting it wrong will tick some readers off, but it is absolutely not the point of the story.

Not coincidentally, FILM CRIT HULK has an article on this subject too, albeit from the perspective of movie watchers rather than story writers. Still, it's useful stuff.


One of the other things I see new writers doing is relying on formulas without understanding their internal logic. I'm actually going to use academic writing as an example here rather than fiction because I'm a little more familiar with picking that sort of writing apart.

The problem comes when you tell a middleschooler, or even a highschooler, "Write this essay according to these rules" without explaining the logic behind them. Here in America this typically takes the form of the widely loathed Five Paragraph Essay. Students are essentially told to write one intro, one conclusion, and three body paragraphs, told to write a thesis statement that summarizes the contents of each of the three body paragraphs in turn, and given an almost fractal-depth set of further enumerations on just what should go there.

And the problem is that when these kids reach college they come to me with paragraphs that are three @#$% pages long. And based on what they have learned, that's totally reasonable because they have a lot to say on one subject but they have to stick that into one particular paragraph.

They've never been taught the reason WHY you have those paragraphs: because you want your information to be organized and easy for the reader to follow. If you ask me "What is the point of X feature of the five paragraph essay," I will almost certainly respond "To make life easier for the reader." Well... and to artificially impose strict boundaries so that students can be artificially measured by bored graders somewhere in Wisconsin or whatever, but let's ignore that bit of stupidity for now.

(Wow, this is turning into an essay. Sweet, maybe I can update StIT for once.)

So, since students don't realize that the underlying logic of the five paragraph essay is one of clarity and organization, they don't realize that if you have a three page paragraph you can break that up into sub-paragraphs.

It also means that their essays tend to get really repetitive. Oh my goodness do they get repetitive. I see the same thesis statement forms again and again, regardless of whether they make sense. Again, usually because they don't realize that the 5par thesis statement follows the form "Bladi bla is true because Reason Bleep, Reason Bloop, and Reason Glub Glub Suckle Squelch" NOT due to the Ordinance Of The Gods, but because that's an easy way to improve clarity. But if you've got seven different points this kind of thesis is just going to be a mess, not to mention a sanity-grinding agony to read for the thumpteenth time. (The same goes for conclusion paragraphs which usually just are rephrased Intro Paragraphs, since students don't get what the point of a conclusion paragraph is.)

So, if you're familiar with the kind of games I play, this is the part where I pull out The **** Twist. Ready?

The **** Twist here is that the same is absolutely true of fantasy writers. Oh my god is it true of fantasy writers. Everyone has this notion that because we can find parallel structures in myth epics across cultures, all you need to do to write is fit your story into the same format as Star Wars and you're good. Or worse, you have to follow the three act structure where everything makes sense as essentially a trilogy.

That's the same thing as writing a three page long paragraph. It's taking a FORM that you know and sticking to it because you misunderstand the FUNCTION. The beats in the Hero's Journey are there in stories because they make sense for the theme or character arc. And if they DON'T make sense for the theme or character arc, they shouldn't be there at all. They don't exist because of the Ordinance Of The Jungian Collective Unconscious, they exist because they serve specific narrative purposes.

And don't get me wrong, that stuff can be really useful if you DO understand the core mechanics. Like, Avatar: The Last Airbender is basically entirely about the consequences of the Hero's Refusal of the Call to Adventure. That's absolutely central to Aang's character conflict. But it doesn't really make sense for the character of Korra to go through the same thing. In fact, her character conflict comes from her impulse to jump at the call and rush headlong into disaster! The beats are present or absent for narrative reasons, not because they Should Be There.

I mean, look at my essay writing for goodness sake. I deliberately pointed out The **** Twist up there because it's something I include in a lot of my essays, to the point of it being almost formulaic. But I think I hope I pray that I'm using it in a way that is actually engaging for the audience. I don't force it into an essay if I don't think it helps keep things interesting or promote the kind of divergent thinking connections I want to promote in my audience. Of course, I could be totally wrong and it's actually just an annoying gimmick, but that's the rationale behind it, anyway. I'm using a form not because it's an Ordinance Of The Ivory Tower but because I think it is useful for my specific purposes.

So, what I'm suggesting isn't that new readers should go off-book and just Be CrEaTiVE. No, structure is still important and valuable. After all, you don't want to throw out comprehensibility--the goal of the five paragraph essay--along with the form. What I'm suggesting is that new readers should strive to understand WHY the form is being used, and whether or not it actually WORKS. How does the text use and abuse patterns? How successful is it? What does it do for the reader's experience?

Master the form, don't let it master you.


HairlessThoctar • December 31, 2012 4:33 PM CST wrote:
Sam Keeper, ladies and gentlemen.


RavenoftheBlack • December 31, 2012 4:58 PM CST wrote:
Dilleux_Lepaire wrote:
When in third person, something like "He clutched his hand in a fist and breathed deeply, the infuriating smirk reaching deep within his feelings" does the job. When you're doing first-person, something like "Anger boiled within me. Before I knew it, my hand clutched into a fist and I had to deeply breathe so that the swirling emotions would recede and let me deal with that smirk in a mature way" is a good way to describe one's feeling. After all, when you're angry, you know you're angry.

Of course a simple "that made me angry" isn't enough. You want more than that. Simply stating the emotion won't make your character believeable. It also always depends on the character. If you're into the psyche of someone with a poor grasp on his emotions, you'll have way less precise insight on his feelings than one who understands himself perfectly. A ten years-old and a forty years-old don't describe the same feeling the same way. It also depends on how deeply in the mind of the character you're writing and of the style you're doing. Realist writing (I'm not talking about the classification, only the literal meaning of the word) will lead to more precise wording than a more abstract one.


To quote the Robot Devil: "You can't just have your characters announce how they feel! That makes me feel angry!"

I've actually written two different short stories wherein I tried to bend as many of the "rules" as I could to see what would happen, and, not surprisingly, neither went all that well. The first was really just an extended inside joke I had with my college roommate, wherein the final line of the story read "The moral of this story is..." and then I gave the moral, although there was more to the sentence above it. The second was a story I wrote in second person and in the future tense. That one actually worked better than I thought it would, as I framed it like a fantasy-setting prophecy, but still, not my best work.

@Keeper: What you say about form is dead on. Usually, I'll spend an entire day of class explaining that five paragraph form, just trying to get them to understand why it's useful, and why it doesn't have to be five paragraphs. Most of them can't wrap their heads around that.


KeeperofManyNames • December 31, 2012 4:58 PM CST wrote:
I don't know how to shut up. >_> Holy hell, that's long.

@Raven:

Man, glad to hear from another writing teacher that A. I know what I'm talking about and B. I'm not the only person who has trouble getting students to understand the whole five paragraph essay thing. Oh boy is that ever a chore.

The only thing worse is explaining to Asian students how articles work. Pretty sure Japanese and Chinese at least don't have them, so it's hellishly difficult to explain why some things get "The" some get "A" and some get nothing at all. Raven, if you have any hints, feel free to share...


RavenoftheBlack • December 31, 2012 5:19 PM CST wrote:
KeeperofManyNames wrote:
I don't know how to shut up. >_> Holy hell, that's long.


Well, that's another mistake writers make. God knows I'm overly verbose.

To continue my cartoon quotes/references, here's a banner that appeared in the Simpsons:

"Brevity is...wit"


Ruwinreborn • December 31, 2012 6:36 PM CST wrote:
It's like I get to take a free college class every time I log on to these forums. :D


Yxoque • December 31, 2012 6:49 PM CST wrote:
Ruwinreborn wrote:
It's like I get to take a free college class every time I log on to these forums. :D


One of the things I think makes this community great is that we're not just bonded by an interest in flavor and storylines. We're also a community of learners. I don't think people with low curiosity would be able to hang around here for a long time. We've also got a lot of intelligent people here, with great ideas who don't mind sharing knowledge.


RPJesus • January 1, 2013 3:47 AM CST wrote:
Dilleux_Lepaire wrote:

Also be wary of a world that works. I've read books where time travel resulted in some actions changing the future and some that doesn't. There's always a limit to the suspension of disbelief.


spoiler


Also, still have to read through a few text walls here so it might have been covered, but I've found one of my biggest weaknesses is exposition. Generally either I forget to it, or it just feels shoehorned in (Although I do find the idea of a guy who just periodically runs up and shouts exposition at people somewhat amusing, but I still need to work on my ability in that department, especially given that King of Bandits Jing sort of pre-emptively stole that idea ).


Its_Always_42 • January 4, 2013 3:16 AM CST wrote:
Dilleux_Lepaire wrote:
When in third person, something like "He clutched his hand in a fist and breathed deeply, the infuriating smirk reaching deep within his feelings" does the job. When you're doing first-person, something like "Anger boiled within me. Before I knew it, my hand clutched into a fist and I had to deeply breathe so that the swirling emotions would recede and let me deal with that smirk in a mature way" is a good way to describe one's feeling. After all, when you're angry, you know you're angry.

Of course a simple "that made me angry" isn't enough. You want more than that. Simply stating the emotion won't make your character believeable. It also always depends on the character. If you're into the psyche of someone with a poor grasp on his emotions, you'll have way less precise insight on his feelings than one who understands himself perfectly. A ten years-old and a forty years-old don't describe the same feeling the same way. It also depends on how deeply in the mind of the character you're writing and of the style you're doing. Realist writing (I'm not talking about the classification, only the literal meaning of the word) will lead to more precise wording than a more abstract one.


I figured it out! What I've been trying to say, is that you shouldn't actually describe the feelings as the words we associate with them, i.e. avoid words like "angry," "sad," etc. Instead describe things as you would actually focus on them in the moment; something more like "I noticed him glaring at me through a dark squint, the greasiness of his soul spreading through his gaze."

This would be especially important if your telling your stories in present tense. I feel describing your feelings like your suggesting leans more toward the past-tense, second-person, and accounts (such as journal entries and such).

But of course, I do realize that everything has a place, and that most things are fine in moderation. What my point is: is that using "I was angry" is a kind of lazy way to try and describe things.

Quote:
One of the ways that I keep characters different is by "pinning" them (not a real term :P). You take a strong personnality trait and you "pin" the character. You build him so that he's deep, has multiple layers and everything, but that very strong trait helps you get back to the core of the character and remember who he is, especially on long project. If you're writing five novels with the same protagonists, you may very well forget along the way what made the character. Of course, it shouldn't stop you from evolving the character, but I find that it helps keeping the character real. Hope that's a clear explanation :P.


On a related note: Revisit those Pins. Not constantly, mind you, but show similar reactions to different situations, or even to similar situations. Show your audience that this is how your character feels about this kind of thing. Like, Rincewind always (trying to) avoid danger, or like Drizzt rushing headlong against 'normal' drow. This is just a theory I'm working with here, but if your audience experiences a character reacting similarly over and over, it cements their understanding of the character; and also makes deviations that much more potent.

For proof that this works, check out Homestuck or Avatar.


isaic16 • January 4, 2013 9:40 AM CST wrote:
On the topic of 'killing your favorites', I recall a revelation that happened quite recently in my story. There was one character that just wasn't working. He was the de-facto leader of the group, who knew people so well that he instinctively could give them what they needed to press on. He worked harder than anyone, driven by a sense of survivor guilt that he never showed, but which could be felt intrinsically. And he was smart, because I was tired of all the leaders in fantasy literature being idiots who somehow still got people to follow them. And the key twist was, he was set up as the classic Greek hero archetype, only to learn later that the meek sidekick character was actually the true hero of destiny.

Can anyone find the problem with the character? It took me ten years to find out what wasn't clicking. If you guessed "what does being incredibly smart have to do with his character", then congratulations, you are apparently smarter than me. My obsession with the brilliant leader caused me to miss the true heart of the character. The person who pushed himself and those around him didn't need to be naturally gifted. In fact, it hurt the definition of the character, and made him too much of a gary stu type (again, to some extent I wanted that for the bait-and-switch aspect, but it was just oppressing to anyone reading it).

In short, if something isn't working, look at what you have. More importantly, look at what is most important about the character/setting/plot/whatever. If something is just there because "That's what I want" or "Because he is", then odds are it's not something you really need.

Its_Always_42 wrote:

I figured it out! What I've been trying to say, is that you shouldn't actually describe the feelings as the words we associate with them, i.e. avoid words like "angry," "sad," etc. Instead describe things as you would actually focus on them in the moment; something more like "I noticed him glaring at me through a dark squint, the greasiness of his soul spreading through his gaze."


Unrelated but inspired by what you wrote here. Another issue I see, especially in amateur writing, is metaphor/descriptor porn. This is not shown in this sentence, but the sentence reminded me of it, with the 'greasy soul' line. A good metaphor or simile at the right time is fantastic for helping create immersion, and allowing the reader to build the world in his mind. However, I have seen so many creative writing efforts that literally had a metaphor at least once a paragraph, often times every sentence. Heck, I don't remember the exact wording now, but there was a sentence that used a simile on a metaphor.

Two recommendations for avoiding this: vary your sentence & paragraph structure. If you allow yourself, you may get in the habit of every paragraph describing something has one sentence naming it, another comparing it to something, and the last describing the emotion it creates for example. Deliberately try to force sentence or paragraph breaks where you wouldn't normally. I think that most people tend to have too long paragraphs anyway, so odds are your writing will be better for it.

The second is to re-read everything you write. Do this a lot. After you finish a paragraph, read the whole think back to yourself. After you finish a chapter, read the whole thing. At least once you should read it out loud, as it sounds different in your head than in your ears. After a few days, you should re-read it again, as the newness has worn off. Odds are, unless you are a prodigy, your first draft will sound like carp after the fact. Continuous iteration I have found to be the best way to smooth out the rough edges and remove some of the weird or nonsense-sounding lines that sounded good at the time.


magicpablo666 • January 4, 2013 11:03 AM CST wrote:
W/r/t expressing emotion: I really like the ASTB way. First person narrative, videlicet,

"His goal had been to provoke an emotional reaction from me.

Nature of emotional reaction: Somber, Nostalgic, Melancholy."

He had succeeded."


Dilleux_Lepaire • January 4, 2013 1:26 PM CST wrote:
Its_Always_42 wrote:
On a related note: Revisit those Pins. Not constantly, mind you, but show similar reactions to different situations, or even to similar situations. Show your audience that this is how your character feels about this kind of thing. Like, Rincewind always (trying to) avoid danger, or like Drizzt rushing headlong against 'normal' drow. This is just a theory I'm working with here, but if your audience experiences a character reacting similarly over and over, it cements their understanding of the character; and also makes deviations that much more potent.


Maybe I wasn't clear. Take, for example, a fictional character named Nev. Nev is a classy women. She was raised in a good house, but later on, fell the urge to turn to crime. With no challenge in her life, that's how she felt good. She took control of a local mafia cell and lead it to countless bank robbings to great success. Lately, she wonders if she made the right choice. Every time she kills someone, she feels compassion, something she thought she never would. At times, she's witty. Other times, she's cold as a rock. Her men fear her, but also respect her. She lead them to be better than just common bandits. She's known for destroying any man's ego in less than a minute. Don't talk to her about her old lover who got shot, though.

You had a multi-layered character, who will react to situations differently each time. A bit shaky in her personality, has a few weaknesses she tries to hide as best she can. Her pin is "classy". Whatever the hell she's doing, she's classy. Sometimes she will stray a bit away from that, of course, and throw a couple of un-classy lines. Sometimes she will simply be out-of-sync with her personality. However, her pin is "classy". When you write her actions, you have to keep it in mind.

Different pins can be "overly closed to other people", "cynical", "sympathetic", "docile" or "dark". It doesn't mean your character is always like that, just that it's something that draws you to it.

Maybe it comes from my acting background. When you want to instantly get into a character's head before going on stage, a good way of doing it is to get a physical movement you always do that makes you go into the character. For example, for one of my character, who was overly jovial and expressive, I would raise my chin and open my throat a bit. That would instantly put me into the right mood, without the need to concentrate. Even now when I play D&D with multiple characters, I have those quirks to quickly get in and out of character.

Hope that makes pinning more clear :(.


RavenoftheBlack • January 4, 2013 5:16 PM CST wrote:
Here's one I've always tried to live by. It's nothing I was formally taught, just a sort of mantra I've had for nearly as long as I've been interested in writing.

"Be unpredictable but not illogical."

What I mean by that is that the things that happen shouldn't be something your readers suspect or see coming (the major events, twists, that sort of thing, I don't mean EVERYTHING a character sees or does) but, when looking back, readers should be able to say, "oh, ok, that makes sense!"

For example, if you have a character who is a fervent, passionate American patriot, and throughout your book, he continually talks about how great America is and how much he loves America, and then he suddenly joined the Russian invaders or whatever, that's illogical, and it will damage the trust your readers have in your narrative. However, if you drop in little hints here and there that maybe he's being insincere and has ulterior motives, maybe that switch ties everything together.

As with many rules, there are exceptions to this one, of course. There are times when you quite simply need to be predicable. Likewise, there may well be times when the "logic" of a situation can't be explained at the time the twist occurs. But as a general rule, "be unpredictable but not illogical."


KeeperofManyNames • January 4, 2013 6:03 PM CST wrote:
One of the reasons I would recommend any aspiring creator to read Homestuck is that Andrew Hussie is a master of plot twists that, once you've hit them, feel like they were not just logical progressions but almost inevitable, inexorable forces.

To borrow a phrase from the comic, how can you outrun the plot twist WHEN IT IS ALREADY HERE?

Really, that's a good metaphor for it: a plot twist should exist like a waiting trap, like a genetic defect within the story itself that simply emerges and is revealed rather than comes into being, if that makes sense. The twist should already be there. All you're doing is pulling the curtain back on what was already true.


magicpablo666 • January 4, 2013 8:28 PM CST wrote:
I finally started reading it. Keeper and I think Thoctar? Maybe more of you. Let me tell you, I am enamored. Hussie is brilliant. I'm about 3,500 pages in. He is definitely a very skilled story teller. I loved it when he psyched me out. Like, image of Jade pops up. I got all excited about finally meeting this character that he had hinted at for the first 1,000 pages or so. And then. . . Anyway, he is a wonderful writer. Gives a whole new meaning to the concept of mixed media. I don't think I've ever encountered one so.

I'd really like to read something slightly more serious by him.


KeeperofManyNames • January 4, 2013 9:22 PM CST wrote:
He's talked before about how Homestuck is like an experimental ground for him, and he feels like if he did a straight comedy or straight drama now he could do something really strong... I believe him.

Which incidentally, has the idea that if you want to write you should read come up yet? Because you should. Constantly. And I really think it works best if you analyze what you're reading. The more conscious you are of other people's techniques, especially the stuff that happens below the surface, the better you'll be with your own writing.

It's the same reason artists copy master works, actually.


Deckhopper • January 4, 2013 9:35 PM CST wrote:
Here's one I've seen in only a few places. Exercise. Writing might be a primarily mental activity, but physical activity is a must as well. Not just to keep you from turning into a shapeless blob in a chair, but because it will actually give you ideas. Exercise gets the blood pumping up to the brain, gets the endorphins flowing, and basically just makes sure all the engines are firing on go. Get stuck? Take a run around the block while chewing on the problem. It really does help.


[...]

KeeperofManyNames • January 5, 2013 10:50 AM CST wrote:
Ah, that's another thing new writers (and even some more experienced writers, too) have trouble with: modulation of tone. It's hard to go from genuine feeling levity to genuine feeling horror, tension, and heartwrenching tragedy.

I... am not sure how to give advice on this one, though, beyond pointing out that it's difficult to master. Hm.


Deckhopper • January 6, 2013 7:27 PM CST wrote:
KeeperofManyNames wrote:
Ah, that's another thing new writers (and even some more experienced writers, too) have trouble with: modulation of tone. It's hard to go from genuine feeling levity to genuine feeling horror, tension, and heartwrenching tragedy.

I... am not sure how to give advice on this one, though, beyond pointing out that it's difficult to master. Hm.


Practice, practice, practice? I know when I'm trying to write something humorous I'll turn on something like Tom Lehrer to listen to, while action scenes get rock/heavy metal, tension gets soundtracks... Try to put yourself in the mood first, and see what comes of that.


magicpablo666 • January 6, 2013 10:11 PM CST wrote:
Anyway, on topic, I think we could also address how the author treats his or her reader. I, personally, like a lot of author/reader interaction. Be it of any kind. Open Hostility is definitely up there. I enjoy being abused by my writers. I guess, respect and almost friendly noddings are okay, too. This one should be easy for new writers because it is something that we do every day of our lives. I can tell if I really like a book if I find myself in apostrophe with the author. I still talk to DFW sometimes. Although, that could potentially just be my own mental instability revealing itself. That guy is a jerk. Or was. Maybe. Anyway, that is a thing that I wanted to bring to the table. Insult your reader. Or at least do something to him or her.


Its_Always_42 • January 9, 2013 4:18 AM CST wrote:
isaic16 wrote:
Unrelated but inspired by what you wrote here. Another issue I see, especially in amateur writing, is metaphor/descriptor porn. This is not shown in this sentence, but the sentence reminded me of it, with the 'greasy soul' line. A good metaphor or simile at the right time is fantastic for helping create immersion, and allowing the reader to build the world in his mind. However, I have seen so many creative writing efforts that literally had a metaphor at least once a paragraph, often times every sentence. Heck, Idon't remember the exact wording now, but there was a sentence that used a simile on a metaphor.

Two recommendations for avoiding this: vary your sentence & paragraph structure. If you allow yourself, you may get in the habit of every paragraph describing something has one sentence naming it, another comparing it to something, and the last describing the emotion it creates for example. Deliberately try to force sentence or paragraph breaks where you wouldn't normally. I think that most people tend to have too long paragraphs anyway, so odds are your writing will be better for it.

The second is to re-read everything you write. Do this a lot. After you finish a paragraph, read the whole think back to yourself. After you finish a chapter, read the whole thing. At least once you should read it out loud, as it sounds different in your head than in your ears. After a few days, you should re-read it again, as the newness has worn off. Odds are, unless you are a prodigy, your first draft will sound like carp after the fact. Continuous iteration I have found to be the best way to smooth out the rough edges and remove some of the weird or nonsense-sounding lines that sounded good at the time.


You don't have to lie for my benifit. I already know I like to be wordy for all the wrong reasons. My prose is so purple it's considered Troll royalty. My descriptions of a simple sunset can take up hours of your time.

I find a few days isn't really enough for me, though. I usually need a month or more, to the point that I've almost forgotten I've written it, to go back and see how utter crap it is. But I tend to do the bad thing and just write "when the muse hits me".

DON'T ONLY WRITE WHEN THE MUSE HITS YOU.


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 24, 2014 10:55 pm 
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Wow. Nice work Luna. This is excellent and provides some good jumping off points for more detailed advice. In particular, I think I want to take my brief thing there about reading a lot, and analyzing what you read, and expand it into a longer post.

Also, wow, look at all those people who aren't around anymore. Dilleux... isaic... Beast... :( Bummer.

(Also lol @ Jivan pontificating about taking criticism well)


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 24, 2014 11:03 pm 
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(Also lol @ Jivan pontificating about taking criticism well)

I never interacted much with Jivan.


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 24, 2014 11:05 pm 
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You were pretty lucky. He was ok sometimes, but most of the time he was pretty rude.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 24, 2014 11:34 pm 
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I believe I mentioned some time ago that I wanted to post a "what I have been reading about writing", and now I'm just wondering whether to repurpose this thread or start up another.

You were pretty lucky. He was ok sometimes, but most of the time he was pretty rude.

I pretty much avoided him, just because he was often up-front and quick-to-reply. One of my no.1 needs is time to ruminate.

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 25, 2014 6:02 am 
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I believe I mentioned some time ago that I wanted to post a "what I have been reading about writing", and now I'm just wondering whether to repurpose this thread or start up another.


I think that post would be a good fit for the intro/shop talk thread, too.

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 25, 2014 7:20 am 
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It could go either place I think, but it'd be a good way to keep bumping the Intro thread with actual useful content...


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 20, 2017 1:00 pm 
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I was delving into the deeper parts of the forum today, and I came across this thread, and thought I would bump it. There's some good stuff here.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 20, 2017 10:27 pm 
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This seems like a good excuse to post Elmore Leonard's famous essay on his "10 Rules for Writing," which is a delightful read in it's own right, and contains some golden nuggets of advice.

A few caveats, however, are in order:

1. This essay was written with tongue planted firmly in cheek, and that's the spirit in which to take it.

2. Elmore Leonard is one of my very favorite writers of all time, and yet you will notice that I break most of these "rules" about 100 times per story... :)


Quote:
These are rules I've picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I'm writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what's taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.

1. Never open a book with weather.

If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a character's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2. Avoid prologues.

They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.

There is a prologue in John Steinbeck's "Sweet Thursday," but it's O.K. because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: "I like a lot of talk in a book and I don't like to have nobody tell me what the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. ... figure out what the guy's thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that. ... Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. ... Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That's nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don't have to read it. I don't want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story."

3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with "she asseverated," and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" ...

... he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances "full of rape and adverbs."

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."

This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use "suddenly" tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won't be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavor of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories "Close Range."

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" what do the "American and the girl with him" look like? "She had taken off her hat and put it on the table." That's the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.

9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.

Unless you're Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you're good at it, you don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

And finally:

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he's writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character's head, and the reader either knows what the guy's thinking or doesn't care. I'll bet you don't skip dialogue.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can't allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It's my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)

If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a particular character - the one whose view best brings the scene to life - I'm able to concentrate on the voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what they see and what's going on, and I'm nowhere in sight.

What Steinbeck did in "Sweet Thursday" was title his chapters as an indication, though obscure, of what they cover. "Whom the Gods Love They Drive Nuts" is one, "Lousy Wednesday" another. The third chapter is titled "Hooptedoodle 1" and the 38th chapter "Hooptedoodle 2" as warnings to the reader, as if Steinbeck is saying: "Here's where you'll see me taking flights of fancy with my writing, and it won't get in the way of the story. Skip them if you want."

"Sweet Thursday" came out in 1954, when I was just beginning to be published, and I've never forgotten that prologue.

Did I read the hooptedoodle chapters? Every word.

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 20, 2017 10:39 pm 
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I've never agreed with 3 and 4, as I think speech tags can add a lot with a little. But I definitely follow number 8 a fair amount.


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 21, 2017 9:50 am 
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Quote:
If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.

The most important caveat to the whole thing, and when dealing with fantasy I think imagery becomes somewhat more important than in literary fiction. Like Raven, I disagree with the commentary on said-replacements and adverbs, but I do think it's a fair essay because at least it explains WHY the writer feels that these general rules might be held to. I'm just not the world's greatest fan of the minimalist technique that holds those rules as its bible.

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 21, 2017 12:32 pm 
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Quote:
If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.

The most important caveat to the whole thing, and when dealing with fantasy I think imagery becomes somewhat more important than in literary fiction. Like Raven, I disagree with the commentary on said-replacements and adverbs, but I do think it's a fair essay because at least it explains WHY the writer feels that these general rules might be held to. I'm just not the world's greatest fan of the minimalist technique that holds those rules as its bible.

I think another part of this is that everyone has to find their own narrative voice. We've talked around here before about how all of us sort of "sound" different, as it were, and I think the VITAL tournament helped illustrate that point well. There are times when I think a narrator should be more or less "invisible," as Leonard describes, but there are also times I really like when a 3rd person omniscient narrator has something of a personality.

As I've said before, you learn the "rules" so that you have a greater understanding of when, why, and how to break them effectively.


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 21, 2017 9:32 pm 
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I've never agreed with 3 and 4, as I think speech tags can add a lot with a little. But I definitely follow number 8 a fair amount.

Like Raven, I disagree with the commentary on said-replacements and adverbs, but I do think it's a fair essay because at least it explains WHY the writer feels that these general rules might be held to. I'm just not the world's greatest fan of the minimalist technique that holds those rules as its bible.

It's funny -- I think that where most people fall on "said" has *a lot* to do with the path through which they came to writing. If you came to it from a more literary route, I think you tend to be much more comfortable with the idea of using a variety of different speech tags. Whereas, if you came to writing via a journalistic or commercial background, you tend to have a strong, baked-in preference for "said." Leonard, for instance, was writing advertising copy for car companies when he first started writing pulp Westerns on the yellow legal pads he kept in his desk drawer.

As for myself, I essentially learned to write by working on newspapers, and so AP Style is sort of drilled into my head, even to this day. And one of the iron laws of AP Style is "said." There shall be only one speech tag, and that speech tag shall be "said." And I still kind of have that preference for "said."

Of course, now that I'm partying with you all, I can let my hair down a bit from time to time, and you may see a "shouted" or "yelled" or even a "whispered" come flying out of my keyboard every once in a while. And I have become rather overfond of adverbs along with my "said." But I do still love me a good, clean "said," too. You can never go wrong with "said."

I don't think it's any more "correct" than any other speech tag, but it's the cadence that I became very used to hearing in my head over the years, and I like it. There's a rhythm to "A said, B said, A said, B said," which is very pleasing to my ear, even as I know that Mrs. OL, for example, is not as fond of it. I think it's very much a formative preference, in that way.


I think another part of this is that everyone has to find their own narrative voice. We've talked around here before about how all of us sort of "sound" different, as it were, and I think the VITAL tournament helped illustrate that point well. There are times when I think a narrator should be more or less "invisible," as Leonard describes, but there are also times I really like when a 3rd person omniscient narrator has something of a personality.

As I've said before, you learn the "rules" so that you have a greater understanding of when, why, and how to break them effectively.

And this, of course, is the crux of it. The only iron "rule" is, if you have a good idea, break the other rules. :D

For example -- and, again, this goes to illustrate how sort of tongue-in-cheek the Leonard essay really is -- Leonard's very first rule is, "Never open a book with weather." And yet the very first sentence in "Get Shorty" -- which I think is not only Leonard's best book, but an honest-to-goodness, modern-day classic -- is:

Quote:
When Chili first came to Miami Beach twelve years ago they were having one of their on-and-off cold winters: thirty-four degrees the day he met Tommy Carlo for lunch at Vesuvio's on South Collins and had his leather jacket ripped off.


So, you know, never open a book with weather... unless you should. :D

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