1. AndyC
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    AndyC Member

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    A few questions about fiction writing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by AndyC, Mar 21, 2014.

    First, and I've been struggling with this one for some time now, I understand thet (And please, correct me if I'm wrong) you can identify, on a very general scale, three main Third Person Perspective narrators.

    The "camera-like" narrator, the omnipresent narrator and the "limited" narrator (Which is similar to the omnipresent but his "knowledge" is limited to just one character in the story.)

    I want to practice narration on the third person but I can't figure out which of those three to use. I'm sure you can somehow change between them on the course of the story, and even change to first person perspective also, but I don't believe I'm skilled enough to actually manage to do that, so I'd rather stick with one perspective from start to finish.

    Which of those three would you choose between the others? And why?

    Second, I've been often told that, at least on something similar to fiction novel writing, it's better to "show" rather than "tell", in a way that you wouldn't much describe a character's emotions, but you would point out certain actions that would suggest, to the reader, certain emotion. At which point do you believe this is true? Does that mean that you wouldn't point out a character's emotion directly at all?

    And, finally, I've read that you should start your story where it actually happens and not before. This, in a way that if in your story your plot starts, let's say, on a certain day of 2000, you shouldn't start by telling something that happened before that. Instead, if that thing you want to tell to your readers is, in fact, something meaningfull to the story itself, you should show it later using other techniques, such as dialog between characters, for example. At what point do you think that doing so is, in fact, true?

    Please, forgive me if any of this questions have been answered before. I looked for them on the forums but I couldn't find something similar.
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    To my knowledge, this is purely writer preference.

    Show don't tell addresses one of the common new writer mistakes. You have a story and you write the story the way you'd tell it to someone. It's much more interesting and engaging to read stories that paint pictures in the reader's mind rather than stories that just tell the reader what happened.

    John was a tall man. [telling]
    "Who decided what the damn height doors should be?" John muttered, rubbing the latest bump on his forehead. [showing]​

    See the difference?

    If you are a new writer, don't settle on the first chapter first. Write the story, see how it unfolds, get some feedback. Don't be afraid to throw out whole sections later if they don't work and you end up starting the story someplace else.

    Here are my magical keys for what they are worth: Give the reader a reason to care about your main character. Add a heavy dose of inner and outer conflict. Try to make each chapter move the story forward.
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    @AndyC, my answer to all your questions is that it depends on the situation. For the first question, you wouldn't want to use an all-knowing narrator for a murder mystery for obvious reasons. Learn the limitations of each point of view and choose accordingly.

    I've always hated the "show, don't tell" rule because so many new writers take that as an excuse to show way too much. There are times when telling is perfectly fine. Sometimes a simple "She was tired." is preferable to a paragraph-long description showing how tired she was. Again, learn when you should show and when you should tell.

    For the last question, ask yourself if any background information is necessary for the reader to enjoy the read. If it isn't, toss it. This is a personal preference because some writers, even contemporary ones, tend to start with long descriptions in the beginning, whereas others prefer to start with action right away. Neither is inherently wrong.

    I'd like to add that the best way to learn the things I mentioned is to read a lot. Read contemporary novels and classics. Read several genres. By studying all these texts you'll eventually become a become writer.
     
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  4. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ok, first thing to remember is, the advice isn't a commandment, so don't misunderstand it in terms of 'always' and 'never'. This is particularly important with things like 'show don't tell' which is basically a reminder that just 'telling' the reader what's happening is often less effective than showing it. However, other times, it is important to 'tell' because you need to say something more quickly and directly. 'Showing' when you should be 'telling' is as bad as 'telling' when you should be 'showing'. Learning to choose the right one comes from a lot of practice, developing a personal style and reading loads, to see how the masters handle it. I always recommend an excellent book called 'Scene and Structure' by Bickham. Read it, you will not regret it.

    Starting with the story, not before, is the same. Most of the time, starting with the story works, but sometimes starting before or even after works even better. But if you are new to this, it's worth starting with the story, because you don't want to break any rules before you actually master them first.

    With points of view, different characters can have different POVs but they should be consistent throughout the book. But different characters in the book can have different povs, for example, the bulk of the book is third person limited (the most common pov in fiction) but one of the characters has their own 1st person pov. Or there's a narrator's voice which is 3rd person omniscient. But keep each character's pov consistent throughout, otherwise, it's too confusing for the reader.
     
  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    My preference is third person limited. It seems to be the most popular these days; omniscient is felt as fairly old-fashioned, plus it's too distant for my taste, plus it "knows" too much for my taste. Third person limited allows you to be very close to the viewpoint character, his thoughts, his feelings--just as close as first person. I like that closeness with the viewpoint character, both as a writer and a reader.

    There's a whole lot of "it depends" here. My view is that words are shallow and the imagination is deep. If you try to hand the reader the whole truth in words, that truth will be shallow. If you try to demonstrate the truth, then the user has to use his imagination to fill out the picture, and the result will be deeper.

    I rambled on about show and tell in this post:

    http://www.writingforums.org/threads/show-dont-tell.129996/#post-1182335

    Yep. Avoid backstory. You want to start right in the middle of story. Now, you don't necessarily have to start right in the middle of *the* story, but you need to start in the middle of something interesting, rather than with backstory and explanation. For example, if Jane, above, is going to end up fleeing from zombies and undergoing personal growth to overcome the self-esteem problems created by her mother, then you could start with a fight between Jane and her mother before they go to a charity event. And even there, you want to avoid backstory for the smaller event. Don't start with:

    Jane and her mother were dressing for a fundraiser for the Widget Theater. Jane's mother was a long-time supporter of the theater.

    Instead, start right in the middle of the scene:

    Mrs. Smith turned from the mirror and studied Jane. After a moment, "Is that what you're wearing?"
     
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  6. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    I prefer third person omniscient. Fast moving, complex stories with more than one important character are too difficult to tell limited to a single viewpoint and set of emotions.

    Think of the typical Western High Noon showdown. you could tell the story only from the Sheriff's point of view while guessing at the villain's thoughts and feelings only by the way he looks and moves. Or you can move back and forth between the two, building the scene a step at a time, knowing what both gunfighters think and what they know - and what they don't know. Both could work.
     
  7. AndyC
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    AndyC Member

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    Thank you all for your replys and your feedback, and I agree with all of you. I think maybe too much when I'm writing, about all these things, and maybe that isn't very good. Maybe I just need to let myself go and after I finished what I have in mind, then I start to "analyze" it. I've been writing some stories that come to mind, usually short ones, and the narrator I enjoy to use a lot is the Third person limited.

    Another concern that I have is about characters: How much thought I need to put on them? Because when I create a character I usually start doing mini biographies about them that end out not being so much "mini's". I end up describing a lot of really small aspects about them and I think that they don't really are relevant to the story itself. I read another post that covered that aspect about characters and it gave me an idea of where to stand when creating them.

    I've gotten an idea for a kind of long story and I'm playing with it. Is it okay if I show you some of it on this same post and you tell me what you think, or I should post it somewhere else? I'd really appreciate some feedback.
     
  8. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    You need to be here 2 weeks, 20 total posts including 2 critiques of other's work in the writer's workshop and you can post it there for some decent feedback.

    http://www.writingforums.org/threads/forum-rules.6214/#post-101625

    "Posting Your Writing
    • You must own the copyright to all work claimed your own.
    • All stories, poems, or other writing offered for comment must be posted in the Writing Workshop.
    • If your writing contains adult language, sexual behavior, or violent, it must be marked/categorized as such.
    • Enclosures, links, and images are not acceptable. The work to be reviewed, and all critiques, must be posted directly, without any supplementary materials.
    • Posting in the Writing Workshop requires 2 or moreconstructive critiques of other members' work for each new posted work.
    • You must be registered for at least 14 days and have made 20 posts before you can create a thread in our workshops.
    • Only your own writing may be posted in the Writing Workshop.
    • By posting, you are granting limited use. Specifically, retention or removal of that piece of writing from the site is solely at the discretion of the site administration team, and members may quote the submission in full or in part for the purpose of critique within that thread.
    • Please do not spread stories and articles across multiple threads, including blog threads. If a story won't fit in the initial post, subsequent pieces should be posted as replies to the original post. If the piece is revised, the revision should be posted in the original thread, not a new thread.
    • Once an item is posted for critique it will not be deleted. The critiques given by members belong to them and are the evidence that they have met the requirements to post their own work. Deleting obviously deletes this evidence and compromises the continuity of the forum."
     
  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Feedback on ideas, on the other hand, are fine to ask about. It's just that it's harder to say much about an idea without seeing how it looks as a written piece.
     
  10. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @AndyC : It depends whether you are interested in telling a character driven story. In my opinion, every book deserves well developed characters, but a lot of action, adventure and even other genres these days, have pretty flat characters who don't develop in significant ways, lots of tokens, lots of focus on the milieu.

    But the more you know about your characters, the better they'll come across on paper, you don't have to mention most of the info from those biographies, but knowing all that will help you to keep their actions and motivations consistent.

    I don't think you should post anything on this thread, but wait until you can post in the workshop (you need 20 posts, 2weeks on the forum and 2 genuine critiques of other's work) when you qualify.
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2014
  11. AndyC
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    AndyC Member

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    Well, when I'm creating characters, most of the time I kind of do a big and extenvise biography of them. Not because I have to, but I enjoy doing so. The good part about it is that I end up with a well defined personality for them and makes things easier when I'm putting them on paper.

    Thank you for the advice, I've read about the workshop but I didn't know exactly how it worked. I'll wait then, and try and do some good critiques, although I don't think I can point out something significant on other's work, when I'm still not sure of anything myself, but I'll try.
     
  12. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm the same with characters, love knowing their backstory. I don't end up telling the reader most of it, but still, it's worth doing. With critiques, it's really whatever you can offer in terms of constructive opinion or advice. You can say what worked and what didn't work and why. As long as it's not just "This is great!" it'll count :)
     
  13. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Welcome to the forum, Andy. You've gotten some great advice above and I wouldn't argue with any of it.

    I will add this, though - be careful about being so inundated with advice that you let it direct your writing. When you learn of a technique, a structure, an element of style, whether here or in a book on writing, it's a good practice to go back and look at books you've read and enjoyed and see if and how it was employed in them, and to what effect. When I read new books, I read not only for the pleasure of reading, but also with an eye toward "What is the author doing here and how well?" It takes longer to read that way, but it's worth it.

    You mentioned wanting to post a piece of your story in the workshop; a lot of newcomers here are very anxious to post their story ideas for validation. In my view, that's a mistake. The first thing you need is to be committed to your story idea. I've seen some folks post an idea, have it criticized, and actually respond, "Okay, I guess I won't do that." Participating in the Workshop is actually most beneficial for what it teaches you about critiquing, not for the critiques you will receive. That's because critiquing is something every writer needs to learn in order to objectively evaluate his/her work.

    Best of luck with your writing.
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2014
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  14. AndyC
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    AndyC Member

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    Thank you, ed. I agree that learning to self evaluate one's work is one of the, if not the most powerful tool a writer can have. I have lots of stories and I develop them on different ways, trying different approaches to them. It just turns out to be really fun, and that is mainly why I do it.
    I also would like to see what everyone of you think about how I develop those stories, because even if I learn to analyze them myself, oppinions from others are always helpful.
    After all, we start writing for ourselves, but we end up writing for others, to make stories someone else, apart from us, would enjoy. At least that is how I see it.
     
  15. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I should start by emphasizing that I'm an amateur, and most of my opinions about writing come from reading a huge quantity of books, rather than from successfully writing them. I haven't come near to finishing a novel yet. So while my earlier advice in this thread was pretty confidently stated from my informed-reader point of view, below I'm describing what I do, not advising what to do, because it comes from my amateur-writer point of view.

    I rarely plan my characters. Usually they appear full-formed in a specific moment, with their past and other details a blank slate. As I write about them, it feels as if I'm discovering information, though of course I'm creating it. If I were to plan all the details in advance, I think that that feeling of creation would be lessened, and I would be less interested in my own characters.

    This means that I'm likely to write a lot of scenes that I throw away, because those scenes won't turn out to have any particular value in any particular story. That doesn't bother me. I'm writing scenes for three theoretical novels, (working names Coriolis Effect, Tulips and Butter, and Shuteye), and as I write them, the characters slowly increase their footprint in the present, and develop a past.

    This also means that the most important characteristics of the characters are set first--"most important" meaning the ones that I see when they appear in my head, the ones that make them speak to me as believable people. Other characteristics have that "discovered" feel. And then other characteristics get set only when the story cares for plot reasons. Those last ones are the ones that are closest to consciously planned.

    For example, I know a lot of things about Emily, the character at the core of Coriolis Effect, but I don't know what she does for a living. That fact means, to me, that she doesn't care a great deal about her job--for her, it's "just a job." I do know that she's not all that impressed with herself, and she's not too concerned about impressing others, and she's fairly conscientious, and she doesn't like risk, so that puts parameters around possible jobs, but it leaves things pretty open. That means that I can pick from any number of jobs for her, to fit in with a plot.

    On the other hand, the main character in Shuteye has very *very* limited options for his profession, and those limited options are going to drive the story to a great degree. So I'm going to have to make that decision for him very early. However, I may make that decision by writing a few job interview scenes and seeing how they go.

    Um. I'm not sure if I had a point here. I'll stop now.
     
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  16. AndyC
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    AndyC Member

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    Haha, don't worry! I think I got what you were trying to say. That there are some aspects of a character that "comes" with them when you create them, but others aspects are "discovered" or are "built" through the story and the way it unfolds around those characters. I never thought of that approach, I'll certainly give it a try.
    As for me, for example, I'm writing... Something. I don't think I could describe it as a novel, so let's just title it a long story.
    I spent a significant amount of time with the main character, who I named Liam
    (Just because I like that name, no other reason).
    I made some sort of biography of him. I marked important aspects such as: If he would change or not through the story, if he would retain the same personality, or not, and other things like that. All of them were according to the plot of the story I had previously developed.
    But, aside from that, I listed all sorts of things. Like physical characteristics, such as height, weigh, hair color, eyes color, the way he dresses, the way he walks, if he has some facial tics or something like that, if he has any props, any distinguishable features, and so on.
    Then, some psychological aspects about him. His personality (roughly), something about his past, his way of thinking things (Is he impulsive, or he rather analyzes things before acting?), if he has a particular way of doing something, like something he could be recognized for, his way of expressing (Mainly the way he talks), and so on.

    Most of this information is probably never going to be revealed in the story itself, or perhaps it will, at some extent, but I just like getting that level of detail on my characters, until I feel that I got to know them. At least on the main ones.
     
  17. HallowMan
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    HallowMan Banned

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    There are three ways I generally start writing a new story. Most often I start with the scrap of an idea, almost as often with a character, and once in a while a setting grabs me and starts the ball rolling.

    There is a fourth way to get a story started, and it's one I've largely ignored. That method is to begin with a theme in mind. I've avoided this method of story creation largely to avoid writing fiction with a "message". I write to entertain, not educate and having my writing come across as a sermon does not appeal to me.

    The competition to get into college is stiffer than ever, and being a transfer student only makes it that much more difficult, but that’s what we’re here for, to make your life easier and to get you the college transfer essay you need to have the best shot at acceptance. We know how tough and stressful it can be, we know how much is riding on it, and we want to make sure that you don’t settle for anything less than the best!
     

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