Common Questions About Writing, and Great Advice for Them

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

  1. Stormsong07

    Stormsong07 Living in my own little world Contributor

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    I'm no professional writer but I am an avid reader, reading an average of 80-100 books per year (per my Goodreads account for the past few years). I can still tell when an author is writing more for the reviews than for the character. I'm not saying it's a prominent thing amongst published authors, you tend to see it more in the self published area, but there is a significant difference in how the author treats their characters.
     
  2. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    But this seems to suggest that the average writer is way, way better than the market, and they dumb themselves down to fit the market.

    But I don't think it works that way. I think that writing to a publishable standard is, for the vast majority of writers, going to demand that they substantially increase the quality of their writing--not just their wordsmanship, but their characters, emotions, plots, all of it, including, yes, passion, I don't think it's "just" writing for the market, any more than it's "just" training for the championship or "just" striving for a Michelin star.

    I'm sure that there are all kinds of rules that a writer can blindly follow, to the detriment of their writing. But I think that following advice that actually makes them more publishable, rather than advice that they mistakenly think will make them more publishable, is likely to increase, not decrease, the quality of their writing.
     
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  3. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    Fifty Shades was originally a Twilight fan fic and was posted online before it was published, so you can go see what it was like before an editor got to it if you know where to look. I really don't enjoy either Fifty Shades or Twilight, but did have to read them in Uni, and they're not as horribly written as people would have you believe. They're not great by any means, but they're competent in what they are.
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2019
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  4. XRD_author

    XRD_author Banned

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    Pro writer or not, once you start learning how to write, it changes how you read.
    You start triggering every time an author uses "explained Ross eloquently" as a speech tag.
     
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  5. Fallow

    Fallow Banned

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    So if you write a story that has important events and realistic relationships and the natural reactions that go with those, there will be emotional content without you having to impose it like an added ingredient.
     
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  6. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Contributor Contributor

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    1. Characters need to matter. They need to be authentic. They need to have selfish desires and flaws, just like the author.
    2. The setting needs to be more than an empty stage. When real characters inhabit a real world, the audience accepts the plot.
    3. The sentences can't get in the way of the story. In the words of Elmore Leonard: "If it seems like writing, rewrite it." For his voice that means one thing; for your voice it means another.
    4. Writing is a science and an art. It has to be studied and it has to be felt.
    5. The first draft is unpublishable. Don't be afraid to erase. Even God needed a Flood.
    6. Read a lot, and not just for story. Notice the details because they hold the prose together.
    7. Don't have a teenage attitude. None of us knows it all, and we all need help from others. A one-on-one professional tutor would be best, but training, books, and master works will have to do.
    8. Don't let a censor decide your plot. They are not trying to help. If they think a certain story needs to be told, then they should write it themselves.
    9. Save everything you write. Stash it away. No word is wasted.
    10. You'll never be as good as you want to be, and that's fine.
     
  7. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Exactly.
     
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  8. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Well, most of that emotional stuff usually happens (though I'm a bit puzzled about the disaster at the end of every scene...?). But I don't plan it or list it out or anything.
     
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  9. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think it might look that way, but if you substitute 'tone' for 'emotion' you might be able to work with this model.

    Tone (emotional subtext within the scene.)
    Followed by bullet points like: tone at the start of the scene, the middle, the end, etc—if these evolve.

    I agree about 'emotional soup.' Concentrating on the word 'emotion' can sound a bit hysterical. To be honest, though, subliminal 'feelings' usually need to be established for a scene to command attention. Does the scene evoke dread, anger, contentment, puzzlement, satisfaction, inferiority, disgruntlement, impatience, anticipation? In either the POV character, or in the reader (if the POV is omniscient?) It's important, in a story, not to be too neutral. You probably don't want your story to read like a textbook.

    I certainly agree with the first four points, @Malisky. It annoys me no end when these things are skipped over, leaving me wondering what the heck is going on. I'm a huge fan of orienting the reader :

    Setting:
    1. Where we are
    2. What is the occasion
    3. Who is is present
    4. What happens, or what is the plot event
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2019
  10. XRD_author

    XRD_author Banned

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    @Malisky seems to be referring to the "scene-sequel (repeat until done)" structure some people advocate for novels: a scene where the tension escalates, followed by a lower-tension sequel where the reader is given a chance to process the stuff that happened in the scene, and then into another scene.

    Some noted writing craft authors, such as Donald Maass, advocate against that structure. Maass says readers are smart enough to process scenes pretty much as they happen, and often view low-tension sequels as things to be skimmed.

    I don't care for scene-sequel myself. And at least in cinema, it's becoming rare, replaced by non-stop scene-scene-scene...
     
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  11. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well said, in my opinion.
     
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  12. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I certainly have read books that I felt were written to a skillfully-executed formula, rather than from enthusiasm for the story itself. And while they might be okay, for many different reasons, yeah, I think that lack of enthusiasm can show.

    I certainly don't want to read badly-written enthusiastic books (drives me skunky,) but I'm also not fond of the other extreme. I can get through any perfectly-executed book, but some of them leave me feeling ...dunno ...disappointed? Uninvolved? A little bit cheated. As if the author just phoned it in—been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. That kind of book goes on the 'give to charity' pile, rather than the 'must read again someday' bookshelf. And I am unlikely to buy anything else written by that author.

    I guess what I want is an enthusiastically unique book, written with incredible expertise.

    The expertise can be taught, but I don't think the enthusiasm can. By enthusiasm, I mean the kind of story that MUST be told, at least as far as the writer is concerned. The kind of story that made that writer sit down and write every day, simply because they needed to tell that particular story. If they are good writers, that enthusiasm is catching.
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2019
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  13. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with this completely. Which is why I think it's important, at least when doing the initial writing of a story, to pay less attention to 'technique' and more attention to getting down exactly what is happening to your characters, and to let relationships and events evolve naturally. Maybe take the time beforehand to visualise the story vividly, so it's more than just 'plot' and people to carry the plot.
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2019
  14. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    But how do you know how enthusiastic/passionate the author was? You sense something missing from some finished projects, and find something present in other finished projects, but you're just hypothesizing about what that something is, aren't you? Have you read books by authors who've admitted they don't particularly care for the project? Without that sort of self-reporting, I don't think we have any way to know how enthusiastic an author was.
     
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  15. Azuresun

    Azuresun Senior Member

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    "How do I avoid using tropes and cliches?"

    Answer: You don't, and it would probably be impossible to do so anyway.

    "Tropes" are simply storytelling devices that pop up often (and can include concepts as basic as "Hero" and "Villain"). Cliches are popular storytelling devices that are often regarded as overused. Neither of those things is inherently bad.

    Avoiding them can be good, but doing so is not a shortcut that will give you a good novel. Originality can be very good, but being different just for the sake of being different is less likely to be satisfying. I think the best way is to analyse and break down a trope / cliche. Understand why it gets used so often, and why audiences like to see it so much. Then rather than either using or avoiding them unthinkingly, put some effort into making them your own. Execution trumps both originality and the lack of originality.
     
  16. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    No, we don't, do we? You're right. But if I feel let down by what I've read, because it just feels churned-out, I'm not inclined to keep reading that author any more. Unless I've already read things by them that I did feel were more engaged. I'll be inclined to give them at least one more chance.

    One example is Joe Abercrombie's The First Law Trilogy. I LOVED that trilogy. I though it had everything—inventive enthusiasm, humour, unpredictibility, the kind of complicated plot that requires a trilogy to complete, and characters I won't ever forget. And yes, I've read it a few times.

    However, some of his subsequent books just didn't do it for me. They were okay, but they seemed to be simply spinoffs of the original idea, and they seemed to be coming out awfully fast. I wonder if he was pressured into producing them too quickly, after the success of The First Law. I kept reading them, and I will probably keep reading his books, but I have never felt he had the same enthusiasm for the subsequent ones. They were much more predictible, and the characters and situations got a bit same-y. Maybe until very recently, when he started writing for a younger readership. The spark picked back up a bit.
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2019
  17. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Oh, yeah, if you don't like a book, you likely won't read more by that author. I think that's totally legit! I'd just say it's a question of you finding the book engaging, not whether the author was engaged.
     
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  18. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Of course I added to my post after posting it, so we've crossed in the ether! I gave an example of a favourite author of mine, whom I feel may have lost his enthusiasm after his first trilogy came out.
     
  19. Malisky

    Malisky Sirocco Contributor

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    Oh, I think I now understand your displeasure with the word emotion. You take it to mean that the writer must impose emotionality. Since I can't remember where I got this from (whether it was in written form or verbal from which I took notes), I can't be certain if the word "Emotion" was in place or if it was my choice to bullet it as such. If we take the wikipedia definition of emotion:

    Emotion is a mental state [1][2][3] variously associated with thoughts, feelings, behavioural responses, and a degree of pleasure or displeasure.[4][5] There is currently no scientific consensus on a definition. Emotion is often intertwined with mood, temperament, personality, disposition, and motivation.[6]

    I believe that it makes much more sense. That's the definition at least I understand within the context of this tip I noted down. It's quite general. Maybe tone is the right word? Idk. The thing is that if you wish to build tension progressively (from scene to scene) and not lose track of your pacing, this "formula" breaks it down to you, so you can have a guide at the back of your head. I see it as a pattern in every good writing I read.

    So, yes. I meant that the "emotion" is one with the plot, with what is going on and the action. Not separate from it as an added ingredient.

    @jannert , thanks for the explanation.

    @XRD_author I also got some Donald Mass notes in my notebook. I collect writing tips from a variety of sources, which resonate with me. I think it's quite impossible though not to have a contradiction within a story upon high action/tension scenes and lower key scenes. You can't have everything over the top. I mean, how do you build tension? And no, in cinema, which I study, you first have to write down a script, which pretty much follows the same storytelling techniques and structures, as the ones novels do. Well crafted scenes and sequels are a must in cinema! Most probably, I've misunderstood what you are saying. Would you care to explain? What did Donald Mass say? I've only noted down his tip upon Chapter 1/ Larger than life protagonist.

    A well put definition upon the matter at hand: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scene_and_sequel
     
  20. XRD_author

    XRD_author Banned

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    Maass's most recent books advocate micro-tension, which seems to be having a billion little story questions that pull the reader from one sentence to the next-- getting pulled from one scene to the next appears as a byproduct of that, apparently.

    If I understand Maass correctly, you can keep a reader on the hook with a "story question" as small and short-lived as a two-paragraph "conflict" over which shoes the MC will wear, if the reader cares about the answer (and the reader can care if the character does.) Just make sure you have a new story question opened by the time the MC picks the shoes.
     

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