1. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    Common Questions About Writing, and Great Advice for Them

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Infel, Mar 18, 2019.

    Hello, beautiful writing community!

    Throughout our time as writers--especially on forums where sometimes we've got questions, and other times we're providing answers--we get stuck in a lot of pits, and help other people crawl out of theirs. We look for solutions to our problems, and do our best to help provide other people with the solutions they're looking for. All of us run into our own personal speed bumps and, depending on what we learn by overcoming them, we try out best to help out other people who are struggling with theirs.

    So, in your time perusing forums, helping folks, asking your own questions, and being helped yourselves, what are the most common questions you see from writers, both new and advanced? What do they ask? What do they struggle with? What does it seem like they always need help overcoming? Do they have general questions about writing--how to start or how to show-not-tell--or maybe more specific ones about their personal projects--how long does it take to travel on horseback, or what was the average height of a medieval wall?

    And, almost more importantly, what answers do you provide to help spur them on their way? What are the best answers to the common questions writers ask? What solutions provide the most value, while being the most succinct? If we had a compendium of frequently asked writing questions, and their most useful answers, what might be in it?

    Thanks for any answers! I thought this might be a fun thread to create, and I apologize if it already exists!
     
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  2. XRD_author

    XRD_author Banned

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    My top answers to generic issues in writing:

    You should read Elements of Style.
    You should read Self Editing for Fiction Writers
    You should read Card's Characters and Viewpoint
    You should read Maass's The Emotional Craft of Fiction
    You should read The Art of Styling Sentences

    :)
     
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  3. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I think it all boils down to how do I publish? How do I write something publishable? Even with self publishing there are certain standards I think we all want to reach. The way I see that is that all other questions sort of fall into this category (for most writers).

    And I have personally found that the answer to most writing questions is always to read more. I don't know why people on forums often don't like hearing that, but reading and writing go hand and hand. The more reading you do, the better writer you become. That's my take on it.
     
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  4. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    Some sold advice, @XRD_author !

    @deadrats I think this response in particular is really interesting. I've noticed that a lot myself, but I wonder if writing something publishable should be the goal? Would it be worth teaching new authors that maybe, rather than trying to write something publishable, they should try and write something meaningful? Maybe meaningful to themselves? I have a sort of closet worry that the more people write 'in order to be published', the more we miss out on those unique, personal experiences that individuals have, because they're too busy trying to be like their favorite published author. But maybe those things aren't mutually exclusive! Maybe we can get both. What do you guys think?
     
  5. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I think in order to write something publishable it has to also be meaningful. Sure, people can just write for themselves, and there's nothing wrong with that. But I think most people who want to be writers do have publishing aspirations. And I think the goal of reaching those writer dreams is important. You don't have to write like your favorite author or anything like that. But being an avid reader is a great aspect for any aspiring and accomplished writer alike.
     
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  6. XRD_author

    XRD_author Banned

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    Problem is, excluding self publishing, there is no way to know what will or will not get published. Tastes and markets change, and all too often what's popular today is saturated next year and unpublishable the year after that.

    But learning the craft of writing well enough to qualify your writing as potentially publishable in the current or future market is something everyone can strive for, and something we here can help them achieve.
     
  7. Stormsong07

    Stormsong07 Living in my own little world Contributor

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    I think a major part of good writing is that while, sure, you can write with the intention of getting published...but if that is the ONLY reason you're writing, the quality will suffer. You have to want to write, you have to care about your story and your characters. I think you have to have that inner drive in order to write well. It adds a whole other dimension to your writing when its born out of a love, a drive to tell that character's story.
     
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  8. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I support @deadrats 's assertion that people need to read, if they want to become good writers. That doesn't mean they need to read WHILE they're writing. But there is no substitute for reading, to get authors familiar with how books and stories go. Not movies. Not TV shows, nor computer games. Books. If you want to write books, read them. Make them an everyday part of your background.

    That doesn't mean you need to read stuff you don't like reading, by the way. Don't force yourself to read stories you don't like. But you do need to like reading!

    It's like learning a language. You can study the language, learn all the rules, take all the tests, etc. But nothing substitutes for speaking it, or using it. And speaking your native language, whatever it may be, is something you picked up by osmosis! Yep, you did! Try to make sure that familiarity with written stories filters into your consciousness the same way.

    I personally am not happy with the general trend, seen a lot on this forum, to feel a writer has to write 'for the market.' Before folks start screaming and running in all directions, I don't mean a writer should never have a market in mind. Although (I know this is going to sound off the wall, but hear me out) it's not actually necessary. You can write the story you want to write, polish it to as near perfection as you can get it, then figure out how to market it.

    It's been said that most best-selling authors didn't follow trends. They set trends. That means, at some point, they broke away from market convention and created their own trend. So don't be afraid to do this.

    I sense a lot of fear in questions that get asked here on the forum. Am I doing this right? Should I have more than x number of characters? Is it okay to write about x? How much dialogue should I use? Should I use first person or third person? Which of these x options would you choose, please help....

    This bothers me. Writing is a chance to write YOUR story YOUR way. If you start out your writing adventure being fearful of making a mistake—afraid that you're going to offend so and so, or bore so and so, or not enthrall so and so, or make a mistake with such and such—you are hamstringing yourself. Go for it.

    If you write your own story, not somebody else's, you will discover a lot about yourself and what your potential is. You will get feedback, after you're done with your first draft (and subsequent drafts), that will help you focus on the good points of your story and eliminate the ones you don't need. And you will learn. If you make mistakes, you won't make them again (we hope.) You have a story in you? Let it out, any old way. It's the difference between running free, and traveling down a chute.

    I just read a statement about this very thing, in John Gardner's On Becoming a Novelist. He says, "Perhaps the one great danger that the student in a good creative writing course ought to guard against is the tendency of good technical theory to undermine individuality and the willingness to take risks." This from a well-respected teacher of creative writing.
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2019
  9. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    What an awesome post @jannert ! It does seem like a lot of new authors try to write in order to 'fit in' with what's currently being published. "Oh, I need to insert these kinds of characters because I have to have them in order to be published." Sounds like a surefire way to corrupt the idea you had and wanted to write in the first place--how can you write your story by someone else's requirement checklist?

    Then, as many of you mentioned, 'read more' is often a great piece of advice. Especially if your goal is to write novels, reading novels is pretty mandatory; you'll find what you like and dislike about that particular method of telling stories pretty quick. I am of the opinion, though, that other forms of media (movies, games, D&D) can help writers figure out the basics of how to tell a story. It might not help them write one, but stories across media share a lot of important themes, whether you're listening to an old folk song or watching the newest Avengers film, examining the way in which it's told can help you craft your own.

    However, I'm not sure any amount of reading for pleasure can surpass just how important reading about how to write can be. It's possible I'm just a bit more thick-headed than normal, but reading even two books on writing as a craft helped me leaps and bounds more in a shorter time period than any practical examination of my favorite books. Although that's not to say it can't be done--actually taking a close look at the mechanics of your favorite novels might be a great way to learn how to mimic them. Has anyone ever done that?
     
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  10. Fallow

    Fallow Banned

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    It really depends on what the aspiring writer's issue is. Many people ask about how to write with better grammar or word choices, and there is no substitute for reading an awful lot to improve your "SAT Verbal" skills.

    At the other end of the skill set, disecting how a well-written book handles all sorts of issues is also key, and often makes more sense than trying to apply the hypothetical philosophies of a how-to manual. But writing is a complex process performed by people with widely varied impediments - it isn't like learning to throw a baseball or other skill building that is linear. Two promising writers might have completely different problems.



    On a very different note, sometimes the advice for some writing problems is, "Not everyone is capable of writing a story that is publishable."
     
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  11. exweedfarmer

    exweedfarmer Contributor Contributor

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    I think the best advice I ever got was "Interview your characters." As in: What color is their hair, when is their birthday, racial profile, are they offended by someone asking about any of the foregoing? Everything you can think of. That way you can judge how they will react in a given situation.
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2019
  12. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, I didn't mean to imply you shouldn't read 'how to' books at some stage. They certainly helped me. I have a whole bookshelf of them here at home, and these are just the ones that survived my recent book cull. However, I didn't read any of them till after I finished my first draft.

    Yeah, I made squillions of writerly mistakes BUT I wrote what I wanted to and got it all out there. I went by the seat of my pants. Then, afterwards, I learned about how to hone the craft.

    However, I am a lifelong voracious reader of fiction, both novels and short stories. I also have a BA in English, so I've studied books as well. In other words, books were already in my blood before I ever started writing, and I had a good idea of what a story should sound like and look like before I ever started. What I had was a story (characters, a setting and a situation) that compelled me to write. I could read a million how-to books, and they wouldn't give me that. Furthermore, they might scare me into thinking my story's idea was bad, etc etc. They would have made me self-conscious about my writing, which would have produced a very different writing experience, and probably either no book at all, or one that didn't really say what I wanted to say.

    The problem with using movies and TV as the starting point for new writers is that writing is a different medium. Films are audial and visual media. Writing is only visual if you can create pictures in the minds of the readers. There is only sound if you make the reader hear it. Pacing is different. (Sometimes movies are slower, because a writer can sum up a scene change in one sentence, while a movie has to do transitions differently.) Writing also offers the huge benefit of direct insight into the characters' minds and hearts as well, which can offset the lack of vision and sound. We can hear and see settings, events and people through the opinions of our viewpoint characters, while a movie can only present a more neutral viewpoint. We can see and hear what characters are doing and saying in a movie, but we can only guess at their thoughts and feelings (which is pretty much dependent on the skill of the actors and directors.)

    I see lots of new writer efforts that spend a lot of time 'describing' settings and characters' outward appearance and what they are doing, then the writers rely on mostly dialogue to carry the story. That often betrays where the writers got their notion of storytelling. They're not used to working with the inner thoughts/feelings thing at all, and they seem a bit afraid of narrative unless it's describing action, etc. So what we get, basically, is a writer describing a movie. It's a distanced way to tell a story.
     
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  13. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    I think that's so important. I had the same experience. If you clutter your brain with too many rules at the start, you try to apply them instead of focusing on the creative aspect of writing. There's a real risk of getting so bogged down in 'how you ought to' that the passion, and drive, and emotion is lost in the technical aspect. That's a quick way to ruin a piece, to be sure! Regardless of how well written a piece is, the key is that emotion. You have to write what's important and meaningful to you!
     
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  14. XRD_author

    XRD_author Banned

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    And there's really not a single craft book out there required to do that. Most don't even help with it.
    Why do I say that?

    Good writing craft books aren't about how writers put words down on the page.
    They are about what readers do with what's been written.
    They help you with the really hard part of writing:
    getting your story off the page and into a reader's heart and mind.

    • Making your writing effortless to read with effective use of grammar and word choice
    • Leading them through your story so they get intrigued instead of confused
    • Evoking images in their minds and emotions in their heart.
    • And so on
    These are harder to do than many new writers (including me) expect, because when we read our own stories, we recall the images that were in our heads and the feeling that were in our hearts when we wrote it -- even if those images and emotions are nowhere to be found on the page in front of us.

    Getting a story on the page is easy. Making sure the reader can get it back off the page is harder.
    Craft books can help with that.

    [Edit: so can good critiques in the Workshop. :) ]
     
  15. Malisky

    Malisky Sirocco Contributor

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    This is some information I came across while I was searching general writing tips and whatnots, and I might not have had a specific question in mind at the time, but this has helped me a lot, and I mean A LOT. I've got it all written down in my notebook and the bummer is that I can't recall where I got it from. Maybe a channel or a writing site. Idk. If it rings a bell to you, let me know. I'd buy a writing book such as this.

    Writing Scenes: Planning

    • Basics:
    Setting:
    1. Where we are
    2. What is the occasion
    3. Whos is present
    4. What happens, or what is the plot event
    • Emotion
    1. Emotional pulse/subtext running through the scene
    2. Emotion at the beginning
    3. Emotion in middle
    4. Emotion at end
    • Plot
    1. Plot Goal
    2. Plot complication 1
    3. -||- 2
    4. -||-3
    5. ...
    6. Disaster at the end of scene
    • What gets reviewed in between scenes. This is the emotional reaction to what just happened and can be covered in a single word (Angry, she went...), or can take a couple of pages. After the emotional outburst, the character thinks about everything and decides what to do next, which leads to...
    • Goal of next scene.
    Extra Tip! : Conflict by itself is not enough. You must find conflicts that relate to the main conflict and make that conflict worse and worse with each scene - the narrative arc builds.
     
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  16. exweedfarmer

    exweedfarmer Contributor Contributor

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    Please don't let me hi-jack the thread but, are the rest of you folks really back-stroking through this much emotional soup?
     
  17. Malisky

    Malisky Sirocco Contributor

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    Without emotion a story reads like a manual. What do you mean? Don't you pay attention at the emotions you evoke at your reader as you go? I think that this is basic actually...
     
  18. Fallow

    Fallow Banned

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    People are automatically emotional if there are real relationships and jeopardy.
     
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  19. Malisky

    Malisky Sirocco Contributor

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    ...which you as the author write, so... ?
     
  20. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    It would be nice to believe this, but... do you have any real evidence to back it up? I can certainly say I've seen evidence that caring about story and characters is in no way sufficient to create something readable--there are way too many passionate writers out there producing way too much drivel for me to say otherwise.

    I guess "a whole other dimension" could be added by passion, assuming all the basic dimensions have already been dealt with. But if I have the choice of reading something written with skill but no passion, or passion but no skill? I'll take the skill, absolutely. (And do we actually have any way of knowing whether a given author had passion for a project or not?)
     
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  21. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    I'm not sure @BayView ! I absolutely agree enthusiasm alone isn't sufficient to create something readable; no matter how much love and passion you have, it's no substitute for actual writing skill. It's also probably pretty hard to measure how much 'passion' a writer has put into a project, I agree. There are some authors who publish multiple books every year--Stephen King and Nora Roberts come to mind--they can't possibly have unbridled love for each novel, right? Some just must be work? But they're still good. People still eat them up!

    Then again, Twlight and Fifty Shades are nothing but passion, with relatively little technical skill. I can't even imagine what Fifty Shades looked like before it got run through by an editor. And they were massively successful, relying nothing more on the author's personal desire for wish fulfillment. Although I'm sure those are two tip-of-the-iceburg examples in a sea of passionate authors writing, but examples nonetheless! Maybe not examples we want to emulate, though...

    I wonder if its one of those things where having one is necessary but both is best?
     
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  22. Fallow

    Fallow Banned

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    I don't think those novels sold because of passion, but because they were the kind of thing people wanted to read. Despite whatever flaws, the authors hit on some unique formulas that didn't arise from strong feelings.
     
  23. Stormsong07

    Stormsong07 Living in my own little world Contributor

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    No, I don’t have any evidence off the top of my head. But I feel like if you’re just writing for the market, there will be a basic understanding of character emotions that could go unobserved. I dunno, when I write my characters, they take me places I may not have imagined. I can(and have) planned a chapter from beginning to end, but when I start to write it, it sometimes takes me where the characters need to be vs where I imagined them to be. And if you’re writing without passion or drive other than the market, your characters might be more driven by “marketable traits” vs what they should have done based on character. And that, I think, creates lesser believability.
     
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  24. XRD_author

    XRD_author Banned

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    Unfortunately, there is no causal relationship between those two sentences, in either direction.

    Being good doesn't necessarily lead to high volume sales, and
    high-volume sales are an unreliable indicator of whether something is good.
     
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  25. XRD_author

    XRD_author Banned

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    Yeah, but you're a writer. You don't think like the vast majority of readers do. You won't necessarily like what they like.
    How many professional chefs eat at McDonalds?
     

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