1. Absolute beginner
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    Absolute beginner New Member

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    Do's and don'ts

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Absolute beginner, Feb 3, 2014.

    I have no formal training in creative writing and have no clue whether I will be able to finish a story but I am enthused by an idea and would like to give it a shot. My questions relate more to the "rules of the game". For example, can I start a novel (first paragraph) in the first person narrative and then have the 2nd paragraph in the third person narrative or is it advisable to stick to one or the other. Is there anywhere I can learn about grammatical do's and don'ts?

    Secondly, if I set my book in a different country, as it's a fictional novel, can I just make things up about the place or does it have to be factual to a tee? i.e. I am English writing about Hong Kong, is this crazy? I am obviously doing research via the internet which gives lots of information but it's difficult to find out really precise local knowledge.
     
  2. Rafiki
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    Rafiki Active Member

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    Don't worry about it.

    Last week I introduced some friends to League of Legends. They were terrible. They stood under tower, over extended, filled their inventory with boots (6 Doran's rings on Garen), all those fun little skills a person takes for granted were completely missing. My attempt at coaching was a failure. Any advice I spouted slipped through one ear and out the other.

    They didn't get better until they had some experience under their belt. After a few games they started asking me questions. "Why was I falling back then?", "How do I buy pieces of items instead of the whole thing?", "Why do I get gold off some minions but not others?" that kind of thing. I realized then that I couldn't tell them how to play, I just had to do the best I could and let them ask questions when they were ready for them.

    I could spout a laundry list of writing advice but it wouldn't do much good, would it? I will, however, leave you with this: If you really want to learn storytelling then do it. Don't worry about what's "Right", rather do what makes sense to you. Inevitably you'll find something you admire, and when you do I want you to write the artist and ask why they did it the way they did. I want you to take their advice and make it your own, add your own little twist and keep the ball spinning.
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2014
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  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    In creative writing, traditional rules, even the rules of grammar, can be broken. That being said, I wouldn't recommend breaking them unless you know what you're doing. In my opinion, sticking with one point of view is a good idea for a new writer.

    The best way to learn what works and what doesn't is to read a lot. At first you may have a hard time figuring out if something works or not, but trust me, it gets easier.

    As far as the setting goes, I don't think it has to be factual down to the tiniest detail, but you should get the major stuff correct. Online research should be more than adequate for this.
     
  4. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    I'd suggest you get a book or two for beginning writers. Two that you might find helpful are Stein on Writing and Immediate Fiction.

    It's advisable to stick with one or the other.
     
  5. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    You say that as if it's an immutable fact: you have no training so you have no choice but to wing it. There are hundreds of articles on writing online, and teachers of writing, some of them recognized as specially good, have given their thoughts on the subject in books that are just a click away. Why not invest a few dollars and a bit of time looking at what the pros have to say? Then you'll at least know what you don't know, and be able to ask the right questions. Given that you have no experience, you might want to start with Deb Dixon's, GMC: Goal Motivation and Conflict, available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble for whatever reader you have access to. It's a really easy and gentle read, like having a personal conversation with the author.
    Your goal (and this is where writing fiction for the printed word differs from verbal storytelling) is to place the reader on the scene as a participant, not inform them on the details of a period on someone's life. And to do that we need to make the reader feel they're experiencing the story in parallel with the character, in real time. And in real time you don't stop what you're doing while an invisible narrator talks about you to an equally invisible audience. And in the protagonist's viewpoint, it's always "now." So if you start out as the protagonist describing the action, can you really change perspective and have the reader feel as if they're staying in the same character's viewpoint?
    The most popular is Strunk and White's, Elements of Style. But there's a good free update to the original book here.
    ,
    There's no other kind. :)
    No one is going to stop reading to go check if such a city exists. The story is about the people and their struggle, not facts. But that aside, why do you even have to mention the name of the city? The reader can't see it in any case. If someone has a reason to mention the city, and you do set it in a real town, you have the advantage of hopping over to Google and making the scene real by looking at it on street view. Another advantage is that if you describe something the reader may be familiar with they will get a mental picture of the scene.
     
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  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Do give it a shot.

    Don't start with walls.

    Do think about what the story is you want to tell.

    Don't think about the mechanics at the beginning. Those are things you learn as you go. They matter at some point, but the story you have inside of you, the story you want to tell and the characters you want to bring to life matter more.

    And do, accept our welcome to the forum. :)
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2014
  7. AlannaHart
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    AlannaHart Contributing Member

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    I reckon, just write as much as you can whilst you're enthusiastic, then worry about fixing up cultural errors and POV errors later. If you have it all written out you can enlist the help of people with 'formal training' to look over it for you. First novels are rarely perfect no matter how learned the writer.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    you can start and write a novel any way you want... the question is will it work?... and it can, if you have a good reason for doing so and write well enough that it makes sense to the reader...

    if you've been reading novels long enough, you should have noticed that authors often change from one to another... the hard part is making it make sense...

    high school textbooks and online grammar websites... somewhere on here there's a sticky with a list of the ones i use and recommend...
    if you don't want to be seen as a clueless beginner, don't ever say/write 'fictional novel' because novels are fiction... ;)

    you can, but if readers are familiar with the location and you've described things that are far from believable about the place, it won't do your rep as a writer any good... so, you'd better do the requisite research and 'get it right'... and it's not all that hard to get 'precise' local knowledge, thanks to the internet...
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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  10. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think everyone's dad used to say, If you can't sing good...sing loud. Myself, I would either try and get location information fairly accurate, or, make it obvious that the place isn't the one that actually exists.

    This isn't entirely true. Using the meaning, • invention or fabrication as opposed to fact my novel is very much fiction. i.e. I bloody well need to start writing.
     
  11. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    As @mammamaia said, if you go too far field of known characteristics of the locale in which you set your story, you will lose credibility with the reader, so spare no effort in research. My current project is set in a country which I cannot visit, so I have had to rely on research and a few people from that country that I have interviewed. I have not limited myself to the internet. I have invested heavily in books about that country, not only general histories but books targeted to specific historical incidents - sometimes several books on the same incident. I have also read some novels and poetry by writers from that country, so that I would have a greater understanding of more than just historical facts.

    If you are writing about Hong Kong mostly or completely set in the current day, then talking with people from there will be of immense value, but do your reading first. That way, you can ask the best questions.
     
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  12. Absolute beginner
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    Absolute beginner New Member

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    Thanks everyone for your valuable comments. Definitely lots more reading on the agenda and I will also invest in some of the books you have recommended. I hear what many of you are saying about the different location for the book setting and I'm not trying to slack on research but researching in the western world is much easier than researching in Hong Kong, I found the police station (as an example) but it's then trying to find out if it's the main one and if homicide would be managed by that particular branch, I agree I need to speak to people on the ground which is definitely do-able but even locals may not know that (unless they were involved with that kind of thing). Don't worry, I will keep at it and also agree with some of your responses about writing while there is fire in my belly. Wish me luck!
     
  13. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Remember, you will be revising your work a lot before it's ready for others to see it. You'll rewrite whole sections, edit others, delete chunks and add new chunks and move stuff around until you're happy with it. This is especially true since you're a beginner.

    Don't think you have to get it right in the first draft. Take the time to experiment, try things out, see what works and what doesn't. Your learning curve will be very steep and the beginning - don't be afraid of it.

    Good luck!
     
  14. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    As you say you're a complete beginner - while you *can* switch between POVs (point of views, eg. first person narratives, third person etc), it is usually not advised and it is hard to manage well without confusing readers. So, since you're a beginner, for the moment, stick to only one POV, which is the standard anyway. Later when you're more experienced, you can play around with it a little more if you still feel so inclined.

    As for facts about locations - that depends on what you're making up. The soap Neighbours is set in Ramsay Street in Australia, and the street doesn't exist, but that's about as far as the fictional stuff goes. If you're gonna start making up that the Chinese, I dunno, is completely clueless when it comes to other languages or maybe that they eat tree bark because they're so foreign, then no, definitely not - be especially careful what you might be implying about the people and culture through what you make up, which could come across as racist.

    It also depends on your genre. If it's fantasy set in a fantasy version of Hong Kong, you'd have much more leeway, but then one might question why you'd call it Hong Kong at all. If it's a historical novel or general fiction set in the real world, your leeway would be a lot smaller.

    A little heads up - if your character is someone from Hong Kong, they probably wouldn't refer to themselves as "Chinese" without making some other comment or explanation. A large portion of Hong-Kongers do not consider themselves one and the same as those from the mainland, and there's an awful lot of tension between the two. Generally speaking it's a very conflicted identity. Hong-Kongers in general look down on the mainlanders, and the mainlanders think we're snobs lol. The bias in general is that mainlanders are rude and uneducated, and that China is far dirtier than us.

    Another thing heads up - know that the local and main language of Hong Kong is *not* Mandarin. Most signs are bilingual, announcements trilingual in places, and most people would understand and speak some English and/or Mandarin. Mainlanders are cheaper to hire than local Hong-Kongers I think, though I'm not sure - this could be the mainland/HK prejudice coming through.

    From what I gather, HK mentality is far less traditional than China mentality. Basically, when you do your research, make sure it is about Hong Kong, and not China. Whenever you see something that generalises the Chinese or "people from China", lumping Hong Kong in together, be careful what you take from it. Hong Kong culture is rather different to the culture in China.

    Oh and we also have our own currency. The Hong Kong dollar. We have some pretty cool coins - there's one that looks a bit like a cog :D

    I'm afraid I couldn't tell you much more other than perhaps the atmosphere that I remember, and of course, the food! Salted egg, anyone? :D

    I saw your other message about police stations - might this be of help?
    http://www.police.gov.hk/ppp_en/01_about_us/os_chart.html

    http://www.gov.hk/en/about/abouthk/factsheets/docs/police.pdf

    http://www.jsscs.gov.hk/reports/en/scds_gs_08/gs_ch8.pdf

    These are just the first couple of google links I found, so perhaps you've already read them.
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2014
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  15. Absolute beginner
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    Absolute beginner New Member

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    Thanks Mckk, I have visited HK a few times and hubby is Chinese so I do know a few things and the family love to fill me in on what I don't. The location is relevant to the storyline otherwise I wouldn't make my writing more difficult by picking such a distant location with language barriers! hopefully between the internet and the family, I'll mangle my way thru!
     
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  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    actually, it is entirely true in the literary/publishing world... and that's what i was referring to...
     
  17. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Just keep gathering information via websites, grammar books, how-to-write books, literature studies. Writing is all about constantly learning anyway. I have no formal creative writing education myself. Everything I learned came the hard way - studying, reading, looking things up.

    Never let locations stop you from writing about them, just do the research maybe talk to a few people via the internet and you should be good to go. Especially if this is a starter project - first draft may seem thin but you can always flesh it out in subsequent drafts.
     
  18. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @JayG
    I really like this.

    There is no reason to make things more complicated than they need to be. In general, just make your readers experience a scene as if they were the character themselves—and don't yank readers in and out of different character's heads any more than necessary.

    Another thought. Will your point-of-view characters be experiencing Hong Kong as if they were natives, or visitors? If you can construct the plot so they are visitors, preferably first-time visitors, then you might find it easier to write. You can concentrate on what a visitor would experience instead of what a native knows. Meaning ...your characters won't always understand the background (or speak the language) of what's going on around them, but that's not fatal—they're only visiting.
     
  19. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    @JayG - so do I. Mimicking verbal storytelling in writing is an easy trap for new writers to fall into.
     

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