1. WritingGuru
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    WritingGuru New Member

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    A question for those several REALLY GOOD writers

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by WritingGuru, May 3, 2010.

    Well I have noticed that there are only several VERY GOOD writers which can write so "lively". I mean they can create sounds, temperature, textures, echoes, even the body language and other inner and outer feelings that when I read it I believe that I'm participating myself in their action of story. Where could I learn that or read more about how to create this feeling in my story?

    Also I want to ask - is there a rule of a thumb how to describe an environment? I mean is there any perspective of look? Like drawing a landscape - from the top to the bottom or in the other way...
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The simple answer? Read the works of those writers, and pay attention to how they accomplish it. Also look at how often (or how seldom!) they indulge in deep description.
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yup!

    only by constant reading of the good stuff... and seeing how/when it's done by the best writers in the business... there's no formula for this... one is either able to do it, or not...
     
  4. boesjwoelie
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    boesjwoelie Member

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    a lot of reading and a lot of practicing for yourself of course :)
     
  5. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    Practice is as important as reading, here. I've previously mentioned the rule of thumb that a writer needs to have put down a million words before she can say she's mastered the craft. That's not literally true, but I stand behind it because practice matters incredibly. You can read a book a week for years and still suck at writing, if you haven't practiced those things you want to evoke: imagery, texture, tension, little movements and bits of characterization that make your creations seem like people.

    And the sort of specific writing you are talking about isn't one of those concepts that can be explained to you. Like placement - making sure your reader knows how the characters' positions relate to one another and to any plot-relevant items or bits of scenery - or physical gestures and description, you will develop your own style over time, and will have to fiddle around with words a bit in order to get a sense of what is required for each piece.

    I think I've reached the point where my description works. Take this short excerpt, a modified bit of a short story I'm going to send out after its next revision:

    When he could sit up without noticeably more pain than normal, William did so. The last shreds of his daydreams melted away, leaving him only with a vague emptiness and a half-remembered presence that faded even as he yawned. He reached up to touch his face, absently, feeling the roughness there and the thickened line of skin that neatly bisected his chin and ran down his neck before petering out halfway down his chest.

    It's the second paragraph that mentions his pain, and the first that mentions the scar on his neck. Both are important, since I am writing about someone who was seriously injured a while ago and is still recovering. When he has trouble lifting things, or when people stare, the readers know why. And I didn't even use the word "scar" to bring up the image. In fact, I only use the word "scar" once in the entire 5000 word story.

    But I've written quite a lot since I first began. More than half a million words now. (Yes, my writing ego is roughly the size of Manhattan.) And I am a lot better than I was a couple hundred thousand words ago. My writing from sophomore year isn't strictly bad, it just doesn't feel polished, and I don't get as many paragraphs that I can look back on later and say "This is fine as it is."

    One last thing -- peoplewatching isn't a bad habit. In particular, note how people act when they are feeling particular emotions. When they are angry, or laughing, or bored. When they get a great hand in poker and try to hide this. When they fib, or accidentally bump into someone in a crowd, or get pounced on by a puppy when they weren't expecting it. (Describing the gestures and facial features of a man whose kitten has just clawed its way up his trouser leg is an interesting exercise.)

    The observations you make will translate to precision in your writing.
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Practice, practice, read, read, practice.

    Remember that your writing is not finite. It's not like you only have so many words within you to write. Think of the words instead as building blocks. Like Legos. They are infinitely reusable and re-shapable.
     
  7. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    HeinleinFan, you make some good points in your post - peoplewatching, for instance. Observation is absolutely vital to a writer - not just the superficial, surface observations, but the little ticks and personal curiosities individuals exhibit. Like the way that kid walks with his legs splayed to keep his 'bitch pants' from falling down or the way that woman casts a sidelong glance at her reflection in every window she passes. Catalog those bits along with your assessment of what is behind them (and there may be more than one possible answer to that.) But, borrowing from my TKD master, "Practice doesn't make perfect, practice makes permanent." Which is to say, if you practice something the wrong way, that will become your habit. So it is critical to learn it the right way at the outset.

    Of course, the study/reading and the practicing go hand in hand. But, if you don't understand what makes this or that work, you are not going to be able to translate that to your own work. To a great extent, that ability is rooted in some deep part of a person's psyche. Some people may never be able to master it. Even some very popular writers struggle with that and may never be able to cross that Rubicon. Most people who lack that gift, and it is a gift, will never have any interest in creative writing other than to read their favorite Grisham novel. There are two levels of this art. The first is that natural, inborn awareness of human nature, that level of creating livng breathing characters that some never think about, they just do it. A zone to which we all aspire but to which most will never enter.

    The other level hovers just below those lucky and select gods of the written word. We continue to reach for the next rung up the ladder. We study and practice and try, try again. Hoping, each time, to improve our ability to breathe warmth and life into our characters. Many succeed to one degree or another. Most will continue to struggle - and labor at their 'day jobs' to pay the bills - then return home to devote time to their addiction.

    Like life, writing is a learning process. Whatever we choose to do, if we want to do it well, we must not only practice, but we must study the task from as many different angles and from as many different sources as we can. From that olio of information, we can then draw on the parts we can use, discard those we cannot, and continue to study the rest. If we are lucky, we might even have an occasional brush with greatness.
     
  8. Laxaria
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    Laxaria Member

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    I definitely don't call myself a "good" writer, per se, but from my own experience, you should try to be engaged and actively participating in the creation of your work. If you have the interest and desire to push a good story out no matter what it costs you, you'll slowly realise how much more attention you pay to the words you choose.

    Don't attempt to write about something you have little connection and motivation to do. If you dislike Science Fiction, writing in that genre will only hurt you. If you adore Non-Fiction writing on social issues, then go for it. Your desire to explore, experiment and try new things will often propel your writing.

    Sometimes, I always have trouble finding words to pen into a poem simply because, while the idea is very novel, it just doesn't really appeal to me. One of the poems I'm currently working on is quite good in itself, from my perspective, but I am not satisfied. I am interested in the idea and that has motivated me to keep ripping it to shreds and trying new things with the same idea.

    Ultimately, write what you want to be seen and be passionate about it. By having sustained interest, it will inevitably lead to improvement. This can be said for just about any sort of "skill" that can be learnt.
     
  9. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Playing Devil's Advocate here for a moment, you must consider that, what one person considers stellar and lively another perceives as pure crap. A lot of what is received as good or not so depends largely on the reader and what he or she is looking for or expecting from their reading. Also, what is alive and vibrant in Sci-Fi may fall completely flat in some other genre (and vice-versa).
     
  10. JTheGreat
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    JTheGreat Contributing Member

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    I'm not sure if I am the textbook example of a good writer. People have told me I'm good, but they've mostly been good friends and people online.

    It takes practice, I'll tell you that. That's what those sites full of writing prompts are handy for.

    It also takes a big imagination. You need to really think about yourself there. What would you see, hear, touch, taste, and smell?
     
  11. Nobeler Than Lettuce
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    Nobeler Than Lettuce Contributing Member

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    Writing goes beyond all senses and touches on the harmonics of the very soul.

    No really.

    HG Wells wrote history books at great length and impressive depth. Orwell wrote what could only be described as political manifestos. Dostoevsky was imprisoned by the Russian Government and spent a good portion of his life rotting in Siberia.

    A lot of talk and nonsense goes into writing about what you know, but can you imagine what these men knew? Sure, The Gambler was wrote as a silly love story to a stupid girl in the middle of a crisis of debt, but did it suck? Stephen King wrote Christine and got hit by a car. But this isn't about what a really good writer is to me, it's about you. What have you read that has complexes which you understand in depth? What can you do to carve and mimic the honeycomb of language you see? Use your hands, and as Tool says: No way to recall what it was that you had said to me - like I care at all. But you were so loud. You sure could yell. You took a stand on every little thing. And so loud.

    Don't let me down. This is a love that has no past. Write what you are and someone somewhere will like it enough for everything to suddenly matter.
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    wells wrote much, much more than 'history books'... he wrote of detailed futures he envisioned, 'scientific romances' and the very first dystopian novel, as well as several utopian fantasies... none of which could have been 'what he knew'... the imagination of a fiction writer should know no bounds...

    however, even when one does turn the imagination loose, a sound grounding in reality is needed as the starting point... and that's where the 'write what you know' comes into play... i might amend that bit of advice to be 'start with what you know'...
     
  13. Nobeler Than Lettuce
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    Nobeler Than Lettuce Contributing Member

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    I only meant as one of his first jobs. (Like the other writers I mentioned and how they got their start.) Wells wrote a two volume masterpiece called "Outline of History". I'm lucky enough to have a first edition of the 1920 work, as well as his work "A Short History of the World", both bound by incredible duct tape.

    While I haven't read much of his fiction, those two books were way ahead of their time as far as textbooks go. I quote often from them simply because they're so well written, not like a typical modern History book at all.
     
  14. Eternity
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    Eternity Member

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    If you live your writing, your readers won't be able to help it but live it with you. Immerse yourself in it, feel it, experience it. Cry and laugh as your story takes you on a whirlwind ride. Don't reign it in. There's a whole world cooped up in your fingertips, and your computer keyboard is the perfect thing to coax that world out onto paper. You live it, readers will live it. Have fun!
     
  15. Dermit
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    Dermit Member

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    If it were a thing that could be conveyed in a message on an internet forum we'd all be bloody brilliant. It isn't. To quote Hawthorne: "Easy reading is damn hard writing."

    Beyond a certain point, when the words themselves cease getting in the way, I see no tangible constant that makes one writer's work superior to another's. Nothing one can point to and say "Aha! This is why he's brilliant!" or "See? This is why he falls flat." People will try, of course, but I don't believe that elusive quality is something quantifiable at all. Call it good instincts, call it a good ear. I don't know. I only know I'd give my left kidney to have it.

    Still, in the nature of the other advice offered here, I will say the closest to a formula for successful writing I have found is thus:

    Read, write, pray.
     
  16. jayden-woods
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    Stephen King's book "On Writing" has some really good tips about this, particularly regarding effective description. The gist of it is don't bog yourself down with heavy details like "the stove was smoking and the chair was in the middle of the room and the table was there the dog was over there" yada yada obviously that was a terrible example. But close your eyes and picture the room and what is most important. Give a couple colorful details that will make everything else fall into place. "Smoke drifting from the stove covered the table and chair in a gray haze" or something like that, and there you go. Hope that helps :)
     
  17. SilverWolf0101
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    SilverWolf0101 Active Member

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    "Pratice makes perfect" a line I'm sure we've all heard more than once in our lifetime. Unfortunately, my ap english teacher didn't believe in it, instead she made us rethink the entire concept of that line when she said "The more you practice, the better you become. The more you write, the more you learn. Practice is the only way to bring near perfection to your words." After that we began the book report a week, and two essays a day (one in class, one at home). Each time we would hear that line.

    My basic point is, there is no true perfection to writing, you're not instantly going to be the next Steven King, H.G Wells or Orwell the moment that pen hits paper or your fingers touch the keyboard. In one interview I read with Kenneth Oppel, he pointedly stated that it took him "forever before I felt that I could even begin to compare to King in the least."

    Although this line may become dual and boring and perhaps even your worst nightmare, it is still the best line when it comes to writing: Practice, practice, practice and read, read, read.
     
  18. s.knight
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    s.knight Banned

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    H.G. Wells was a Fabian Socialist who wasted half his creative life preaching the 'World State' gospel. Much of his work is centred around his own ideology. A gradual, progressive movement toward a scientifically organised global village. And his work also propagandized against things he found unacceptable.
     
  19. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    I must take exception to that mantra. (As though I have never done that before!) In that great fairy tale beginning ... Once upon a time ... a wise martial arts instuctor told me, "Practice doesn't make perfect. Practice makes permanent. The repetition ingrains the practice so, if you are practicing wrong, you will ingrain the process wrong."

    Perfection is a goal to strive for but improvement is a learning process that comes from more than merely repeating the same steps over and over. If you are a sucky writer and you keep repeating the same process, you will be a perfectly sucky writer. Practice is only of value if you continually change what is not good/right/beneficial to improve your writing each step of the way.

    In writing, as with anything else in life, perfection is a goal none of us will reach. But that doesn't mean we should not continue to strive for it... just not by repetition of bad habits.
     
  20. Barry G
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    Barry G Senior Member

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    "Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent."
    Oh where do you get these little gems from Wordsmith?

    You might pay a small fortune to a McTimoney practitioner to learn that which you have cast away free of charge.

    Mr McT also said that to relearn to do it the correct way means that first you have to unlearn doing it the wrong way. Then you have to learn to do it the correct way, whilst your brain is trying to tell you to continue doing it the way it was first learnt - the wrong way.

    Sadly the truth is that practising to do anything the wrong way gives rise to problems in numerous spheres. You do not have to be a golfer to learn the truth of that statement.
     
  21. SilverWolf0101
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    SilverWolf0101 Active Member

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    Good point, I never really followed her motto to the t, but it was the first thing I could think up that would give a good example for this forum. I'm not claiming it to be perfection.

    Very true
     
  22. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    as a mentor to thousands of aspiring writers, after years of working with those who'd been 'practicing wrong' i most heartily agree!

    and it's the 'unlearning' part that's the hardest nut to crack...
     
  23. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Girl! Did you say a mouthful!
     
  24. RedRaven
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    RedRaven Active Member

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    A bestselling famous author once said..
    that talent is hidden in you.
    Either you are a good writer and you can strive to be excellent.
    Or you are a bad writer, and you can strive to be mediocre.
    But a bad writer, will never be excellent, no matter how he tries.

    I think its bullocks. Just a clever way of trying to stay ahead of the game, is what I think and maybe trying to discourage bright and shiny new writers of trying to get where he is.
    Because if you love to write and you write for the sheer joy, you will one day find your voice and in the meantime, what all the others say. Practice, practice, practice and learn from the good and the bad!
     
  25. tcol4417
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    Huuurrrrmmmmm... no short answer.

    Depends on what writing style you're trying to go for and what audience you're appealing to. The easiest thing to to is read works relevant to what you're trying to accomplish.

    As a general rule, Matthew Reilly doesn't mess around - all of his books are about fast-paced action with the occasional technical detail fitted seamlessly with the flow before something EXPLODES. That's sci-fi action I guess.

    Then you've got Proper Fantasy - Gimli, son of Gloin, son of Grundin, son of Mundin, son of Wikipediahasmorearticlesonlordoftheringsthanworldwartwo. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's too much detail, but sometimes the descriptive passages really do drag on. That being said I'm not a big fan of proper fantasy, but the Song of Ice and Fire series (George R. R. Martin) is worth it for me.

    Then you've got those mumbling, meandering introspective pieces like J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye or the Diary of Adrian Mole.

    Um... thinking, thinking, thinking - Rowan of Rin, Deltora Quest, adventure books written for kids typically have a unique texture to them that I can't be bothered thinking of a good analogy for.

    You get the idea, though. If you know what you want to write, look for more of the same before you try to make your own. It really helps you get into the groove and you'll almost definitely pick up some tips that you can use later.
     

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