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  1. Edward G
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    Edward G Banned

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    Rantings of a Curmudgeon

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Edward G, Dec 21, 2010.

    Most people are extremely bad writers. What's even worse is they think they are good and simply different or original. Yet in the critique section, I see nothing different or original; the mistakes are all the same and the same as all amature writers have always made.

    If you want to be a writer, you're going to have to go to school and learn how to write. If you want anyone to read what you write, you're going to have to learn the classical and concrete steps that are required to make a story--any story--work. Here are the most common mistakes I see (Perhaps you'd like to add to my list in your comments.):

    1. Vagueness in place of suspense.

    2. Stilted dialog instead of realistic dialog.

    3. Bad gramar, punctuation and very bad English composition.

    4. Characters with no more depth than the name the writer gives them.

    5. Lack of a moral to the story.

    6. Lack of pithy narration.

    7. Posting unedited work.

    8. Unrealistic motivations or no motivations for characters' actions.

    Here's some unsolicited advice to make you angry: Good writers go to college, read books with a critical eye, and live wide lives. Go and do likewise.

    We all pretend to be writers; there's nothing wrong with that. What makes a bad writer is the person who's reached his goal with the pretense.
     
  2. xxkozxx
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    xxkozxx Active Member

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    CORRECTION: grammar

    It's kind of in poor taste to make this kind of post without editing your own work.

    That said, I think you make some valid points as to what you see on this forum. The idea here is to hone your craft, be it a hobby or a full time job. So, if you come here expecting perfection on every phrase or sentence I think you are digging a little too far.

    College is not the end-all-be-all of learning to write, although it will help. Children have published works that are as inspiring as some adults that have been schooled in the art of writing. There is no real "formula" to good writing other than make it real, make it intriguing and make it your own.

    The best advice to give someone who truly wants to write well is, as you've already covered, to read a lot and learn to critically apply what you are seeing. Scrutinize every word, sentence and paragraph and dissect it until it makes sense for you. Live your entire life with a critical eye and take advantage of as many experiences as possible. There is always a story in there somewhere.

    This forum is a place for people who don't have experience writing and would like to focus on the their strengths and weaknesses as well as those who are established and look for continued growth.

    I think your message is clear. You expect more professional writing to come from the people on the boards. If that is what you expect to see, then I would encourage you to offer your wisdom in the field and give these aspiring writers the tools needed to bring their pieces of work up to par.

    After all, isn't that what it's all about?

    In all fairness, your list of common mistakes is dead on. I think you make some very valid points in that list and any writer, experienced or not, can use those when reviewing their characters, plots, scenes and themes.

    As far as first drafts go, I firmly believe that it's always a good idea to have another person look at them. I don't mind seeing an unrevised first draft. It gives the writer a chance to get feedback and sculpt their piece into something more relevant.

    Lastly, I don't think anyone here "pretends" to be a writer. You either write or you don't. Everyone here writes. That makes them writers, good or bad.

    To say that they are pretending is to say they aren't writers at all. I'd say that the person who sits down and spits out an idea on paper for no other reason than they have it rattling around in their head is not pretending. They are serious about it. They want to make it better. They have a passion for it. I'd say that's qualification enough. I'd sure like to know what your definition of a writer actually is.
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    From my experience, SPaG errors are the most common mistakes found in the review section. Most of the other "mistakes" pointed out in your posts aren't quite mistakes. Some writers do include characters with no depth or unrealistic dialogue because it fits the story and/or they don't care for realism.

    As for the college part, I'm sure there are many writers out there (and many on this site) who would beg to differ. There are/were several famous writers who never went to college and/or dropped out of school.

    And I'm not quite sure what the part about pretending to be a writer means.
     
  4. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    If all you want to do is chastise "bad" writers, then get off the critique section. The review room is for improvement, so you ought to expect that there will be errors.

    And don't over-glorify college. I go there. Half of us can't write.
     
  5. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    This.


    Am I to take it, Edward G, that you never made any such mistakes? That you burst into the writing world with your talents complete and fully form? Doubtful.

    Many of the people who post in the review room are new writers, who are just setting out and learning the craft. Of course the writing they produce isn't going to be of perfect standard, if it was why would they be posting it here?

    Conversely, you won't find many writers posting work for review who are at a more professional level because they'll be intending to send their writing for publication. The review room isn't a showcase of writing, but a place for writers to get feedback to improve their writing.

    Basically, if you feel these factors are problem, then put them in reviews, not a general rant at how awful everyone is.

    (And your comment about college is utter bollocks- many writers do go to college, but it's by no means as essential as you're making out)
     
  6. Donal
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    Donal Contributing Member

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    Stupid article. Says more about the poster than who he is speaking about. The published college boy writer looking down his nose at those starting off and those without the cash for college. Lots of the people who post here are just trying to develop their craft. Lots of them are just writing as a hobby. Lots are teenagers who want to try writing. Not everyone seeks a Booker Prize.
     
  7. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm with Donal and others on this one - you don't even need to be literate to be able to tell your story (we have had oral stories long before anyone put pen to paper - willing to bet those that spoke the Bothy Ballads or the Arthurian Legends or those of the Vikings didn't go near a college), a good story for me is about characters, story, plots. The action, the description. Can you make those images come alive.

    Give me a badly written story with a character I can love and a situation I can be transported to another magical world and be entertained. My own English is good enough I can work it out. It says more about your own if you can't. SPAG and technical issues are something that can be learned and fixed. Basic inability to tell a stonking good story isn't - the ability to bring about characters people love to read about, stories that enthrall that can't be taught in college.


    This site has one writer who for me is one of the best for characters, dialogue and description I have ever read (and I have read, listened to or watched a lot of stories over the years). I feel very honoured I get to see him work at this stage. There is another gentleman who writes the best steamy scenes :) beautiful deep sensual. Others who write fun time travel stories or funny humour. Some have an Alan Bennett feel to them one of my favourite writers.

    I don't need to do anything to be a writer - my writing is improving all the time thanks to some amazing people on here. I have one to help me with description, several to help my teen stay a teen and not a middle aged woman, one gentleman has kindly helped raise my fight scenes to that of anger and emotion rather than middle aged lady with her handbag, others with encouragement, words ideas. Thanks to spending time in a chatroom with erotic fiction ladies has improved my action scenes and romance.

    My first completed book is good but my second will be better. Forget being a writer, enjoy being a reader. Unlike your favourite books what is put up here is often first draft written in a short time as a hobby - it is raw, hasn't been beta/proof read, hasn't been polished. I am not about to put later drafts of something I may publish later up. Look past the rough, and see the gem - some of them on this site have amazing potential.

    If you love literary fiction that is great for you make it your goal - I even search through that to find the odd gems like Cloud Atlas. However most people want characters they can love and stories they can be entertained by. How can you hope to be a successful storyteller if you cannot be a successful story reader ? Reading and Writing are abilities and talents that go together - if you don't appreciate a good story, great characters, fun dialogue etc How do you intend to produce them.

    I have never read Twilight for example vampires are not my thing - and yes they may be really badly written. But Stephanie Meyer clearly has an ability to communicate through her writing - she has an ability to entertain and is successful storyteller. Whatever you may throw at her by way of fiction the fact is her writing has communicated better to more people than the average literary prize winner. I totally understand her when she interviewed, I don't write to be perfect, I write to entertain and my writing does just that.

    OH BTW have studied a variety of subjects at degree level including English Lit and American Studies - my SPAG still sucks - like Jo says a college degree does not guarantee anything. Says something actually of those helping improve my SPAG most haven't been near college in fact most are still at high school.
     
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  8. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    As much as I want to be indignant about the original post, he does (sorta) have a point (that could have been made much more delicately). A lot of the writing posted here is amateur, unpolished, unsuccessful and sometimes just plain bad, mine included. And he's right--a lot of the mistakes are repeated, again and again, sometimes by the same people.

    But the reviewing forums are a place to improve, and as members of this site, the only way we can ensure that they fulfil that function is to critique honestly and openly. Be transparent, be direct, be brutal when you have to be. God knows I've made some enemies around here for that approach to critiquing writing, but it's the only way those forums become valuable, and I heartily encourage others to take the same tact. They should not be a place to flatter writers, they should not be a place to lazily review just to have your work unlocked. They should be a valuable tool that can help any writer take their work to the level where the comments made by the OP do not apply.

    In my opinion, a lot of the OP's opinions are more or less accurate, but rather than simply rejecting them out of some sense of pride or loyalty, why not channel that energy into writing better reviews? When was the last time you helped a writer in the review room? How many times can you say you made a difference? Maybe we should all try a little harder to improve the quality of each other's writing, rather than defending its mediocrity...
     
  9. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I mostly agree Arron but there is no need to be brutal to be honest there is no piece of writing that cannot be improved. Instead of highlighting the negatives show rather than tell - help them become positives.

    I had one piece someone asked me to look at (not from the site)- I couldn't find anything I liked. Story was bad, writing was bad, characters flat -and dialogue some of the worst I had ever seen. Instead of tearing it down like I started doing I deleted that email and changed it to - how about you consider this, try this technique. If you do this it may help with this.

    When it came back the story was still dull, however the characters were better, it was better written and was a reasonable read. It was like a different writer had written it.

    Some writers though I don't care if they make mistakes they take me on a journey - that is when I find critquing the hardest is when whilst I can see issues they make no odds to the entertainment value of the piece. I don't want to nitpick something and ruin my enjoyment of a good story.
     
  10. Trevor
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    Trevor Member

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    Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, Dylan Thomas, Mark Twain, Victor Hugo, Leo Tolstoy, Hemingway, Faulkner (quickly dropped out), Nabokov... I don' think I need to go on.
     
  11. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    I'm siding with the original poster on most of his points. (Not the college one. Too many colleges accept students who can't write their way out of a paper bag, and very few writing programs actually try to teach students how to make it as a pro writer.)

    Look, it's not pleasant, but the fact is that writing is glorified as an "easy," anyone-can-do-it career. You write one book, you make a million bucks, whoopee! (Note that this is sarcasm; I'm perfectly aware that pro writers generally write at least a book a year for the length of their writing careers.) Unfortunately, it's a craft as much as an art. You have to learn the basics of SPaG, and of characterization, pacing, description, how to blend the character's voice with the narrative voice of the writer, how to foreshadow, how to write realistic dialogue . . .

    Most people just plain can't write. I don't mean that they can't write stories, I mean that they cannot put their thoughts down on paper in a way that is clear and easy to follow.

    The people on this site are a huge step above the norm. Most of us have done some writing before, and we want to improve. We either know SPaG or we're working to acquire those skills. We're learning about and developing the more complex skills of foreshadowing, character development and pacing, as well as the others I mentioned.

    And our Review Room reflects that. A goodly number of the writers on this site aren't ready to be published professionally; most of the ones who are have gone beyond the stage where the Review Room can help much. I've idly considered posting "Picture in Sand" here after the rights revert back to me next summer, just to see what sort of suggestions I'd get, but generally speaking the Review Room isn't intended to make a very good story perfect. It's intended to show writers how they can make their writing better, and that's all.

    But all this doesn't change the fact that yes, most people think writing is easy when it isn't, and most people who want to be writers are frankly terrible at writing.

    It's a topic worth discussing. A fair number of the people on this forum are likely to become professional or semi-professional writers. (Some already are, of course, but here I'm talking about the newer writers who are still working on their skills.) They're going to have to face the people -- well-meaning, merely ignorant people -- who say, "You're a writer? Oh, yes, I've always wanted to write a book, I've just never had the time." Or who say, "Really? Why don't we make a deal? You and me split the profits fifty-fifty, I'll tell you the idea I have, and you can write it up. Win-win, right? After all, it's not like writing is hard."

    Or, perhaps worse, the people who find out you're a writer and want you to read and critique their manuscript. Usually they're friends-of-friends, and usually they think their work is pretty good. Most of the time, they want a pat on the head and a cookie instead of an actual critique. And there just isn't a socially acceptable way to tell them, "No, sorry," because of the popular perception that writing is easy, so you have a hard time explaining that your time is valuable.

    It's not as much an issue on this site. There are too many serious writers here for such perceptions to last long, and many of us are more than willing to gently disabuse ignorant folk of the idea that writing is "so easy anyone could do it!" But I still think the popular perceptions, including the conflict between "writing is easy" and the fact that most people who want to write are terrible at it, should be discussed now and then.

    If only to prepare us for the real world, and the people whose views -- while well-meant -- are shockingly naive or outright offensive.
     
  12. Noya Desherbanté
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    Noya Desherbanté Senior Member

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    Mmnkay, I'm a-gonna wade in with my two pennies here...

    1. Vagueness in place of suspense. Unless you know the finite details of how writing works, and quite a lot of successful writers don't, it's hard to tell these apart. Also you may be misreading the text. It may just want to be vague. You may be looking for misworded suspense where there is none.

    2. Stilted dialog instead of realistic dialog. I hate to pick holes, but all dialogue is stilted in fiction - if we included every um and ah, realistic though it may be, it would be an effort to read. What you construe as 'stilted' is merely an inexperienced writer - not a bad one - feeling his way towards the balance of real life speech and dialogue that we're all trying to attain.

    3. Bad gramar, punctuation and very bad English composition. I have noticed two grammar errors in your own post - if you must be as harsh as this, prepared to receive harshness back. I must add that I don't know if one is an Americanism, but 'dialog' to me has always meant a discussion between two or more people, and 'dialogue' was speech in a text - and my spell checker does not recognise 'dialogue'.

    4. Characters with no more depth than the name the writer gives them. Another mark of an inexperienced writer, granted. But that is why they are here, not to 'foist their bad writing on us' at all, but to get help. And sometimes, especially within short stories, why do you need more than a name? Your own imagination should tell you that Artemis is going to automatically be more heroic than Mike - and if you're surprised by finding the opposite is true, that's a testament to the writer employing a naming device to make you think otherwise.

    5. Lack of a moral to the story. Moral is just another device that makes a book resonate more, but isn't essential. Does everything have a moral that happens in real life?

    6. Lack of pithy narration. You mean that you don't like the fact peoples' styles are different? I have to say I don't understand this one completely.

    7. Posting unedited work. Your post is unedited.

    8. Unrealistic motivations or no motivations for characters' actions. This, like dialogue, is just about finding a balance. Not every real person has a reason for everything they do - there's more bubbling under the surface than even fiction can get at; and this is just a writer trying to display that, or finding he likes his plot more than his characters.

    Overall I'd quote the others - this is not a forum for people to post wonderful polished pieces of mastery; if it was, no one would post, because everybody would be out publishing it instead. This is a place to discuss pieces the poster knows has something wrong with it, but needs help with, and not everyone can like the same piece of work, no matter how an intricately perfect piece of construction it may be.

    Good writers do not go to college; like Jo Spumoni it's not a place I would say was wonderfully literate. I attend college, but I never went to school.

    I agree with you completely here. This is where they learn, guided by we helpful individuals, and I'm sorry to say I didn't regard your post helpful in the least.

    Another SPaG! But that is because not everyone wants to rifle through endless posts to point a beginner towards something that may be relevant but spoken to someone else, or even worse, shut the thread for being a copy. There are some patterns that keep coming again and again, but unless you help every single time, you will turn someone away from writing.

    And finally...
    I don't understand this at all. Are you saying that a bad writer is one who's reached the top not being serious about his work? I would envy that man... if I was at all 'serious' about writing, the fun would be immediately sucked out and it would be just another 9 to 5.

    If you bring harsh words to the table, expect to have to take some away. My own wee bit of controversy: I, personally, would rather the world was full of 'bad' writing than a few technically perfect masterpieces.
     
  13. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I've not posted in a while for lack of anything new to say, and I've really nothing new to say here either, but I think it bears saying again... in this case, anyway.

    As with the rest, I don't really condone the trashing of effort as a concept, but quite often effort seems to be what is lacking. Effort to learn to walk before you run. Effort to learn some basics in diction, syntax, and punctuation. Effort in planning your story before you drape it in capes, wands, and (god forbid) fangs.

    Thomas Chippendale spent years as an apprentice wood worker before becoming the icon of style of his age. He learned the characteristics of woods, what it will and will not do, what can be drawn from it. He learned to hold his tools correctly. He learned which tools were meant for a given kind of work. He learned form, proportion, and weight. He learned to have a care for the sensibilities of his customer as well. His work lasts to this day and is copied and reproduced and aped because he was a man founded and centered in the basics. If you look at his work, it may not suit your tastes, but his original style elements are to be seen still today in modern furniture. His genius is undeniable and it is rooted in a sound, firm grasp of the basics.

    I absolutely agree with Banzai that the review room is an area for fledgling writers to critique work (notice that I did not say to get critiqued). It is a place for the new writer to lend a critical eye to work not ones own and thus learn to hone that same eye when s/he sets pen to paper. But the OP is correct in that there are some very basic items that are missing in the attempt to dazzle with props and stage-work.

    Learning grammar and syntax is boring. Learning mechanics can make you want to pull out your fingernails. Punctuation can sometimes feel like learning assembly language, but they are all necessary and precursor steps to turning out anything of value.
     
  14. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    And thank Zeus for that. There's nothing worse than preachy fiction.

    This sentence makes absolutely no sense.

    I agree that if people want to be professional writers, they should take the craft seriously, but I think your post serves nothing good. Had you practiced what you preached, your post would have been worded in an inspiring way rather than being a list of bitchings.
     
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  15. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well it may be somewhat harsh but I agree with some aspects of the original post.

    I agree that folks should take some care with their writing before posting it for review.
    It makes sense to make it the best you can before asking for critique.
    Doesn't it?

    But I've seen some interesting writing on here as well.
    I made a point of reading a lot of the back posts in the review rooms, just out of interest.

    As for the going-to-college stuff, not in all cases. The other two points, most definitely.

    VM
     
  16. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not really my best work I reserve for my novels which I hope to be published. For me the review room is about trying out ideas and concepts. Sometimes I just throw them together to get another opinion. I have 3 small children most fantasy short story contributions need to be written in about half an hour usually with screaming kids or a nappy change in the middle.

    The help i have received with them has been invaluable in moving my work forward. Plus it is much easier for someone to critique :)
     
  17. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    In British English both are 'dialogue', although the US English 'dialog' is creeping in. I don't know whether users of US English make a distinction between 'dialog' and 'dialogue'. My spelling checker doesn't recognise 'dialog'.
     
  18. boesjwoelie
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    boesjwoelie Member

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    I have little new to add, only this:

    I don't agree with this. I think the critique section is full of interesting, different and original stories, that only need a bit of fine-tuning to become pretty good actually.
     
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  19. Noya Desherbanté
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    Noya Desherbanté Senior Member

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    Ah, thankyou for that! :)
     
  20. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Entirely agree with this - we have some amazing writers on here. There are some people that post and I get excited about reading the next installment.

    Edward do you restrict yourself to certain genres ?
     
  21. SashaMerideth
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    SashaMerideth Contributing Member

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    If you want to read something polished and perfect, try your luck in a bookstore. We're here to improve.
     
  22. TokyoVigilante
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    TokyoVigilante Member

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    Matter of opinion. Are you seeing people reuse archetypes? People ripping off eachother? People trying to emulate popular series? Whats wrong with any of that?

    Doesn't the administration of this forum go on about how it's the quality of the writing, not the originality that counts?

    Encouraging creativity I see. There are plenty of writers who didn't attend school and don't use typical conventions in their writing.

    These are not mutual. Vagueness can be used to allow an audience fill in the details with their own imagination, or create a rich unexplored history for a world. Do you want fantasy novels to come with a history textbook? Vagueness can create suspense, but they are not one in the same.

    Derp. I work in a call centre. I listen to hundreds of random strangers talk. Fictional diologue should be artificial (and to an extent, stilted); because real people talk like idiots. Lots of "uuuh", "umm", pauses, run on sentences, in completed thoughts. It's annoying and no one wants to read that.


    Haha.

    This site doesn't allow entire works to be posted. Of course there is no depth, how can you reasonably complain about this?

    what's wrong with pulpy action novels? This is a stupid complaint, because how can you make that judgement from only parts of stories?

    Story fragments, Herp-Derp!

    From the tone of his post, I'd say he isn't coming back. Good riddance; he obviously doesn't have anything constructive to provide. Hopefully he can find a website that has tomes of professional grade unpublished literature that this site doesn't provide him.

    What a douche.
     
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  23. R-e-n-n-a-t
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    R-e-n-n-a-t Contributing Member

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    So, to be a writer you need to have gone to college? Great job making an ass of yourself on a forum where at least three-quarters of the members fit into the "fake writer" boundaries you've set.

    Here's an idea, post a novel excerpt of yours and we'll critique it. Then we can decide if you're a real writer.
     
  24. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Ok, I think this thread has waded into flamie waters.....

    CLOSED
     
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