1. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    When to Ask

    Discussion in 'Insights & Inspiration' started by EdFromNY, May 30, 2014.

    I'll begin with a disclaimer...I hesitate to offer anything that is crowned with the mantle of "experience", because thus far, outside of a small range of advocacy article, my lone experience has been to try, fail, and learn. Then again, I restrained myself from what I really wanted to do with my life for two decades because I thought, "What right do I have to think anyone would want to read what I have to say?"

    But I am prompted, here, by two things: 1) the desire to see what I think is a really good idea - a forum for advice on a wide range of topics from those who have been whaling away for an appreciable amount of time and 2) a recent discussion in which I was taken to task by a member I happen to respect a lot.

    There is no dearth of threads asking for help. I break these down into three categories: 1) lazy requests, 2) fearful requests, 3) legitimate requests. "Lazy" requests are those that are made in lieu of doing a little digging. "What would be a good setting for a town on the edge of a jungle?" "What are some examples of slave economies?" "What happens to someone when a piano falls on their head?" Not only could they be answered by a little aggressive research, the process of doing the research, but the process of doing the research would be an educational experience, in many cases leading to the serendipitous discovery of other useful information. A little time spent could yield great results. Why leave it to forum responses?

    "Fearful" questions are those that are likely driven by a lack of confidence in one's own creative ability. "I want to write a story about a world where humans are subjects and super-intelligent machines rule. How would I do that?" as I said recently in a nearby thread, this is the type of thing a writer cannot and should not be helped on. Why?

    As writers, there are rules of SPaG that we must follow. There are submission guidelines we must follow (if we want to be traditionally published). There are certain pathways to telling a story that only pure genius can violate. But the one thing that every writer owns, exclusive from all others, is our ability to create a world, characters and a story and blend them all together. To accomplish this, we draw on everything we know and are - what we've learned, what we've experienced, what we've felt. No one else can substitute for us on this, because then it becomes their creation, not ours. A question I put to another member on the nearby thread was: at what point do you stop asking? In other words, at what point do you take responsibility for your own writing?

    So, what are legitimate questions? They are legion! Anything about the craft of writing itself - methods of exposition, use of setting, how great writers create characters, POV, voice, what constitutes a scene; anything and everything that has ever been published, and what it meant; the internal logic of a scene or plot.

    I don't say this because I don't want to help new writers. I say it because I do, because just like someone else can't learn all the scales for a new musician, can't do the cardio work for an aspiring athlete, can't study for someone else for the bar exam, there are some things that an aspiring writer has to do for him/herself. And I hope the advice will be taken with that in mind.
     
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  2. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    Spot on, good sir. I thought your "Bridge Advice" was excellent and educational. It was much more eloquent and insightful than a "do it yourself" response.:agreed:

    BTW, I am trying to create a world where coconuts migrate. Any suggestions?:crazy:
     
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  3. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    Coconuts do migrate. Their seeds fall into the water and then they begin to grow once they make landfall. I saw a television show about it once. They are pretty unique that way.

    http://askabiologist.asu.edu/content/how-do-seeds-travel

    Ed I think the problem is that too often new writers aren't afraid to ask questions, but rather they are too scared to just write and instead ask more questions than they need to.

    Yes, there is no such thing as a bad question, but sometimes a person needs to take their future in their own hands and worry about the details as they go.
     
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  4. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    I agree. I also agree with @Lewdog. Sometimes, when we're just starting out, we are afraid to actually start. We worry that we'll just get it wrong, so we look for direction in question after question. I remember in my earlier days here I asked about opinions for a name I had in mind for a God. I got a lot of opinions, but it didn't do me much good because I never actually started writing that story. I asked all about the development.

    That brings me to another good point. Many new writers become a little overzealous about the development process and get stuck there. Maybe not afraid to write, they become so meticulous about getting the world just right that they never get to the writing. Some actually begin to doubt their own decisions, and thus ask for more opinions than they need.

    Not to say that's what happened in the instance referenced here, but something to think about. It's also a good point to consider that giving answers does sometimes hinder writers from doing their part, or rather, realizing certain things are within their realms.
     
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  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I'm sure some new writers are afraid of failure, which leads them to think that if they ask for help and fail, it isn't their failure alone but also that of the people who helped them.
     
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  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Hmmm...that's a hard nut to crack. :oops:
     
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  7. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    It is comforting to a lot of people to have somebody to blame.
     
  8. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    As someone who spent the last 13(14?) years online helping people write, answer their questions, beta read, post my own work, win a few competitions, help others get published, spent hours on various forums... I think you get it, I must have answered the same sort of questions you mentioned over a hundred times to the point where I wonder whether just making a copy/paste file of all my answers for when someone needs it.

    It gets old, real fast. But I keep doing it as that was my primary method of learning, doing the thinking and research for them :p
    I just wish there was a way to communicate them the answers to the simplest of questions without them having to ask and answering completely so they feel confident they got the "right" answer, y'know?

    Even on this forum, I'm sure we all saw the same sort of issues and questions raised by new members frequently.
    Nothing wrong with it, everyone needs their chance to learn.
    But some of the questions seem like they don't fully understand what they're asking when they ask: "What would be a good conflict for my love/romance novel?"
    What they're asking us there is basically to throw them a pitch and hope that's the one they'll fall in love and run with and that makes little sense considering stories and building them is part of being an author, right?
     
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  9. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    There needs to be a stickied FAQ that has answers to questions like "What do you think of my idea?" and "What point of view should I write in?" Hell, maybe I'll create one.
     
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  10. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Coconuts migrate on ocean currents.

    :)
     
  11. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    It's a Monty Python joke!!!:crazy:
     
  12. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Interesting, but every idea is so unique. How could you possibly capture responses that valid across a wide platform. Granted, there are a handful of responses that people should consider reading.
     
  13. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I suspect @thirdwind has a version of @Cogito's "Ideas mean nothing, it's how you write it" in mind.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes, i don't think it was a serious suggestion, more of a reminder that such questions have no one-size-fits-all answer...

    bravo, ed!... your opening post was well done and much needed...

    my thoughts, exactly, lew... thanks for saving me the typing time...

    hugs, m
     
  15. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Yeah, what Ed said. "Ideas mean nothing" can apply to a whole range of questions. I remember a span of a few months a couple of years ago when every other thread in General Writing was a "Rate my idea" type of thread. We don't see much of those anymore, but they do sometimes pop up. Hopefully having a FAQ would prevent newer members from creating such threads.
     
  16. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    @thirdwind, @EdFromNY
    I figured as much, after thinking about for a minute. It is a good idea, actually Maybe we could compile a list of the types of questions we see tand the types of responses, or something more general like the "Ideas Mean Nothing" thread. I was making the point that as maia put it, "such questions have no one-size-fits-all answer..."-- which is something you guys are well aware of anyway. :)
     
  17. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    This whole scenario, has put me in a quandary as to how to answer such threads.
    From my point of view, the scenario presented in the particular thread which prompted this one, was actually quite a fun one to think about answers for. The sort of plot question, which sparked my imagination much more than most of the threads in the so called "writing prompts" forum.
    I was thinking about throwing in a few random suggestions and I'd have been doing what the thread owner was asking for - but the majority opinion from the senior members seems to be that it'd be more helpful to let the new writers learn to use their own creative wings rather than get into the habit of design by committee.
    So I've not replied to it.
     
  18. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    As politely as possible. I think we should all remember that. After all, we want to be welcoming and not scare away new members.
     
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  19. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    I don't find answering these questions to be entirely harmful. You see, helping writer's brainstorm can be good for everyone involved a a ton of fun. It just seems valuable to mention that some questions are best answered by the writer, and sometimes the ideas they develop on their own are better than what they gather from others. :p
     
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  20. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    On my good days, I refrain from even responding to some questions; on my bad days, I will sometimes ask "Did you even try looking that up?". This is typically for questions about basic grammar and a lot of research questions. "Can I do this in a/my story" questions should receive a standardized "If you want to; just do it well" response, except when it pertains to legal issues - those need a standard "Contact an attorney".

    I have no problem answering/discussing questions people have when they've done their own work but have questions because they don't quite understand something or found contradictions. And there are questions that are really just asking for help brainstorming, or getting feedback on something they'd like to do within the story, and I have no problem with those either - as long as they're actually looking for assistance and not "Tell me what I should do next!!!!".
     
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  21. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I do think that "brainstorming" types of questions could be legitimate. Not "please solve this detailed problem and fulfill these eight criteria, plus all the other ones that I come up with through the thread." But "my thoughts are getting stale; can you throw out some ideas in this general area?"
     
  22. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I have nothing much to add to what you guys have said. This is a good thread, and thanks to @EdFromNY for starting it.

    Just one suggestion, following on from what @ChickenFreak said. Maybe what's needed is a 'Brainstorming' section on the forum. If it's called that, then I think people might be more focused on what they're asking for. It makes it obvious that story ideas are getting chucked around, and that anybody can throw in a few, if they're so inclined.

    I think @Andrae Smith and @Lewdog are right, too. Some folks seem so scared of writing, and get so bogged down in all the rules about starting, plotting, outlining, opening lines, structure, etc that they end up so nervous they can't actually write. Is my plot okay? Are my characters believable? Do I have a good opening hook? What do I name my character? Should my POV character be male or female? All these questions before the story is even formed in the author's head. It's like thinking you've got to become a brain surgeon before you can hem a skirt.

    I'd say just start, write, create, finish ...and see what you end up with. THEN ask questions! Is my plot okay? Are my characters believeable? What do you think of my opening hook?

    That's where the forum comes in.
     
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2014
  23. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think I'll continue to respond to such threads with suggestions when the mood takes me, but if no one else has done so I'll add a caveat along the lines of-

    Of course it's your story, so you'll
    know what fits better than anyone on a forum. I often find the act of writing the parts of a story I have settled on gives me inspiration for the elements I was less sure about.
     
  24. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Like like likety like....
     
  25. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    I think this is a decent idea. It could go in the new Applied Writing section, or as a sub forum under research if the questions are right. Although that creates the potential for more writers to ask questions and "brainstorm" what they could be doing on their own. For instance. When I was newer to writing I asked for a lot of opinions and brainstormed and everything, here and elsewhere. What I've learned since then is that I really didn't need to. Most of the questions I could ask here I could find an answer to online--the research based ones, that is. The ones based on ideas were a bit tricky, but I didn't realize I siply wasn't trusting myself enough to start in one direction and be willing to change course if I change my mind on something. Writing is developmental, and I think asking too many questions stunts a young writer's chance to recognize that. All that to say, if we could keep an eye on the type of questions that get asked it could be valuable. On more than one occasion, asking questions has led to forum member suggesting books and other resources and example.

    Then again, another downside is it might provide incentive for members to be less specific. By using any of the other forums, members are forced to think their projects through a bit so they can get help on specific issues, thing that are worthwhile for everyone. Hmmm... just thinking on the fence. :rolleyes:
     
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