AMP's General Writing Tips v.2.0 or How I am Retouching the Target Painted on my Back Introduction Last year, I wrote something similar and it was met with general positive remarks. Yes, there were some minor presentation issues but this new version was made in hopes of rectifying them. The advice gathered here is of what I found to be a general consensus across the many writing groups I've partaken in over the years. None of this is law or concrete facts but points and ideas that many experienced writers seem to generally agree on. With this in mind, feel free to only read sections you're interested in and please read on with a shaker of salt at the ready. Have a critical mind, as this is general advise and in no way the only way to do things. Categories Wordsmithing Rules of Writing How Do I Learn To Write Better? I've Never Really Written Before... An Author is his own King I want to be the next Tolkien or Danielle Steele! Wait... It's not lucrative? I Difficults Gots With; The Gramerr.. My Writing is Amazing, Why Can Only I See It? I keep Getting Criticism.... How can I Critic? I Wrote THIS Many Words! This Will Be My Epic Trilogy of 600 Pages Each! When Should I Start Writing? Common Errors Occur Commonly Chapters How to Start and End a Scene I know my Beginning/Ending Hey Guys, will my Idea Work? World & Character Building Mary Sue and John Stu Female vs. Male Characters Bechdel Test Magic Systems Exposition & Masturbation Show, Don't Tell Double Imagery Am I Really Good Enough? Wordsmithing Rules of Writing Once more, let us begin by reviewing the rules of writing fiction. Grammar, See #1, Anything but these are thumb rules. Now, I still do not change my stance when it comes to the most important aspect of fiction writing. New writers oft look for a how-to guide or set of rules that make writing seem like a science. Why? Because they don't have a sliver of a clue on what they're attempting. It's normal, no one is born into this world a writer. Writing is man-made and therefore it has to be learned. Every experienced writer, published or non-published, will have their own rules they picked up and made up along the way. The leper bell here is a writer who says that his rules are the laws of all fiction. Odds are, he is either full of it, ignorant, or doesn't realize there are other authors in the world. Now, how can there not be a definite set of rules? Because fiction is both science and art. The science itself is understanding how to tell a story with written words. You need to understand scene, narrative, dialogue, plot, intrigue, hooks, and so on. There's no art to understanding structure and this structure exists because it is how we captivate an audience. An author builds his stories in a way that trigger responses from their readers. Imagine a magician performing his act. We all know it's smoke and mirrors, yet we go in, watch, and when the magic happens say: “Ooh! How did he do it?”. PRESENTATION! He lulls us and draws us into the act. With the lights, the sounds, the imagery, the way he presents the trick, and how he directs our attention to little things to hide his sleight of hands. All that keeps the audience engaged and think on what they are witnessing. When the trick is performed, we all clap because for a moment we thought it was real or he fooled us without even us realizing it. The same can be said for motivational speakers, performance artists such as actors, or even documentaries. It's all how the audience is drawn in and becomes attached to it. That emotional response, that genuine interest to see how it all comes together is what makes good writing. The art itself is more relative. The art generally come from genre, style, and prose. For genre, the art itself is in what you write. The plot, the setting, the characters, and the moral or point of the story. The latter isn't a necessity when it comes to fiction but more than often there is some sort of philosophy or an author's personal beliefs embedded somewhere in the work. As always, writers tend to write about what they know or believe in. If you write a Tolkienesque plot and world, you are going into the cliche or even expected direction adventure and fantasy novels go in. Not very artful, is it? Readers may want something new and exciting, especially if they are avid readers of the fantasy genre and find themselves often presented with similar situation. The young farm boy finds a helpless girl. He helps her escape evil pursuers. He gets wrapped up in an epic quest to save the world. He meets an old and wise wizard. Seemingly defeated, he strikes against all odds and saves the world. He turns out to be some lost brother or prince or whatever. That's fantasy in a generic nutshell from the common tree. If you do go the usual route, remember that many succeeded with it because they made it fresh and unique. The art in genre is creating familiar situations but advancing and resolving them in ways that are new and exciting to the reader. It is about creating dialogue and decisions that might be taboo, unorthodox, or simply taking events in a whole new direction. If the reader read something similar, he will be less interested than in something new. It's why high fantasy is still much in demand as authors keep coming up with new things and ideas that inspire and amaze their readers. Style is all about how you display your story. A writer will generally write about things that are important to them and believe in. Not the actual story elements but the situations and the dilemmas a character faces and how they react to them. If the author had a hard life as a pregnant teen, their stories might reflect situations of great distress and overcoming them with personal growth. Writer's write what they know and excel at it more than on subjects they've never dealt with in any way. Lastly is prose which is all about the words a writer uses. It can be metaphors and similes, the way characters speak, or the way narrative flows. It is what makes the writing unique, what makes it stand out, and what makes it personal. It even touches on, what I like to call, optional grammar. Now, yes, my number one rule is grammar but all rules can be broken in the right way. Some famous and non-famous writers have eccentricities in their works that most could never dream of getting away with. An author can omit all paragraphs, dialogue tags, metaphors and similes, or refuse to use any dialogue in a story that obviously needs dialogue. Often they find a way around it or have such a strong understanding of what they're doing they can bend general expectations to something interesting and well done. Odds are, that won't be you, Mr. New-writer. However, it is noteworthy to know it exists and ties in nicely to this segment. Don't be scared of trying new things but in general it's best to stick with the standard. This is why there are no rules that a new writer can follow to achieve success. It doesn't come from science or art but both. It takes work, understanding, learning, and simply playing around with it. As long as you have a strong command of the language you are writing in, you can expect, with work and research, to eventually create something that reflects what you put into it. If you want to break a rule, whether it be grammar, a general conception, or whatever; remember to learn why the rule exists and how you can break it cleverly. No one likes a broken rule for its own sake. How do I Learn to Write Better?Odds are, you know how to write in the most basic sense in one language; typically the one you are native to. I, personally, learned English as my third language and I learned it from the streets and TV. Oddly enough, my English is now better than any other language I know. So, first and foremost, to learn to write you HAVE to write. Theory is all well and good, but without real experience in remains theory. This goes for any subject matter; you gotta do it yourself to really understand what you learned. It gives substance a book cannot give in real world applications. So, write and write and write. That's step one. It also gives you an indication whether you even like writing. It takes discipline and desire to sit in front of a screen or a typewriter all day and click keys. If you absolutely hate it, writing may not be possible for you as it requires that. Step two is about research. Unless you are some virtuoso with a pen, which odds are you are not, then you need to learn how to write fiction. It's more than stringing grammatically correct sentences together and it's more than having a good guy, an obstacle, and surmounting it. That's the basic idea but fiction itself is more of a craft than that. I strongly suggest picking up books at a bookstore, library, or even Amazon on the subject of fiction writing. They will be the best resource of pro-advice and information you can get and will greatly benefit you in the shortest amount of time. Step three is to read, read, and critique. Reading critically the work of others and books themselves can be a fountain of information. This is the step where reading stops being fun and you get a red marker and you slash someone's work. Odds are, you won't be able to find flaws in high quality and published material but there are forums, much like this one, and writing websites where writers actively seek criticism. Why? So they can learn where their flaws are and how to fix them. You would also learn as you'd be spotting mistakes and then proactively instructing your mind to notice them in your own work. The only way to get worse by writing is to not listen to critiques and to not learn. As I said, you are not the Mozart of the wordsmithing world, you are more like everyone else. So start learning how to rise above the masses! I've Never Really Written Before...Nothing wrong with this whether you are young or old. We all find our interests at different times. The younger the better but even an old dog can learn new trick. Your first trick is to write fan fiction. I always recommend this to people who never wrote a story before and more so if they have absolutely zero ideas on starting their own original story. Fan fiction gives new writers the building blocks, I find. You have pre-made characters, worlds, settings, and odds are you already have ideas on how the story of this world could go or could have went. We all fantasize about the worlds we see on the screen or read in a book, no shame in it. Not at all. With those major parts out of the way, the new writer has three things to focus on, instead of the whole deal at once. They need to create a good narrative, dialogue, and a plausible story. The latter being the easiest. Funnily enough, narrative and dialogue is what most writers struggle with more than anything as it is the meat on the bone. If it's dry, bland, or plain wrong, it won't pass any taste buds without a curdling grimace. Another step is to borrow from a library, find online, or buy a book about fiction writing. There are many good ones out there and a cursory search on amazon should give you some nice examples. Now with that book, what I recommend, is to write a short piece first. After, read the book and learn from it what you can and then return to your writing and see how it holds up to your how-to-fiction book. This will give you a strong indication on what is wrong and what is right and how to fix it or why it's right. Lastly, once you are ready to dip your big toe in the pool, find a place where you can submit your work for critiquing. Many sites and forums for that and WF.org has a great community that knows how to give strong and constructive criticism. Odds are it will be ripped apart and perhaps even a few mean reviews. However, this is the part that separates the writers from the wanna-be. Learn from more experienced writers and apply yourself. Odds are your next piece will not be a work of art either, but it will be that much better for having tried, researched, and learned from critique. An Author is his own King I want to be the next Tolkien or Danielle Steele!For some odd reason, aspirants always equate success to the top of the food chain. Musicians want to be stars, actors want to be immortal and yet so few of them ever hit the peak of the pyramid. Many fail to realize that success isn't standardized on who is at the very top. Yes, it's cushier up there, but that doesn't make strong or even moderate success any less of an accomplishment or important. Odds are, most who read this won't be multimillionaires from fiction writing. It's a poor field for it and the possibility is even scarcer. A writer is a storyteller and he immediately succeeds by publishing and developing his own personal fan base who ask for more books. It may be just enough to pay the bills, maybe a bit more, and maybe you'd have been better off working full time while developing other skills. However, success is in succeeding and not in reaching some sort of pinnacle. As they say, sometimes the best gifts come in small packages. Wait... It's not lucrative?It can be. Odds are you can live off comfortably your sales and royalties if you publish a lot and keep readers coming back for more. However, it takes probably more work than simply being under someones employ. As an author, you are literally the machine that makes the product and depends on others to purchase it. There's benefits to it, but there's just as much downside. For the young, or the restless, do not quit your day jobs. One day, you will be able to as your publishing contracts and royalties will be enough to keep you afloat, but until then you need to dedicate your free time into writing time. As a fiction author, your limitation is not to making more and more books. Eventually, with enough proven skill, you will be able to be considered for other works when it comes to the written word however you would still be in competition against others with shiny degrees. Don't let yourself be a one trick horse. Learn as much as you can and show them you're better and maybe you'll be given the chance to prove yourself. I Difficults Gots With; The Gramerr..Now, I know many would-be authors who want to write in English to reach a wider audience. I highly do not recommend this as there are other ways to have your work in English and still write in the tongue you know the best. Ghostwriting and translation rights come to mind, some publishers even buy language rights with intent of marketing it to a broader audience if the sales are good. I know how to construct basic sentences in Dothraki, the made up language of A Song of Ice and Fire. I'll never attempt writing a novel with it because my understanding of how to play with the words and grammar is phantasmagorical compared to English. Also, I don't know how many people could even begin to read and understand the title let alone the work itself. Same goes for any real world language. Write in the language you excel in. There is already a hundred barriers preventing you from succeeding in being a published writer; why add more just to reach a broader audience? There is professional help to do that and it generally is the better route. Most grammar basics can be easily Googled. Don't be afraid to learn how to use a semicolon ( or when to capitalize a letter. Not all of us were brought up in English (I learned it on the streets) so don't be embarrassed if you never learned something yet. It's simple enough to research it. The nuances in most languages can only be obtained by extensive studying or by simply being native. An author can easily lose all style and prose just because of his lack of experience with another language. Yes, English is awesome when it comes to reaching a broad audience. However, there are other ways to have your work in English other than doing it yourself. If you write in a tongue you know the ins and outs of, you fiction will benefit from it and publishers will notice. It's great you're learning a new language, but it probably isn't the best idea to try to sell something that isn't your best. If you want to try your hand at it, try it in workshops instead of pouring sweat over a real piece of work you intend on publishing when it's quite possible that the language barrier shows up and ruins everything. In workshops, you can get real advice as you're learning the language. My Writing is Amazing, Why Can Only I See It? Because it's just you. No really. Watch me as I steady my needle in the general vicinity of your bubble of delusions. Let me give you a general example you must have heard about or seen yourself on TV's American Idol. Girl auditions, sings horribly, judges stare in disbelief and let her know the cold hard truth. Girl becomes hysterical and storms off, yells obscenities in the camera and how everyone tells her how amazing she is and we will be hearing from her soon. No, we never do hear from those sorry sods again. However, is that how you want to be perceived? Because if you think you are God's gift to fiction, you're one of them. Probably anyways. Writing is a skill and it takes learning to get it right. You must mature and learn to accept critique so you can better yourself. If something doesn't work once, don't try to sell the same thing again when you know it didn't work. Rework it, see what went wrong and how it can be improved. That's what critiques are generally used for. Perfection is not a skill, it's a reflex. You'll get there, eventually. I keep Getting Criticism.. Odds you put up something in a workshop or perhaps whatever site you post on has a comment section. That would be why. Now, there's constructive criticism and then there's negative criticism. Negative criticism is something like: “This was terrible. It sucked. I can't believe you posted this. Please stop. You fail. @#%!%” "Gee, thanks," is all you can say. You don't know why they're being douches and you don't know what was wrong with what you showcased. Positive criticism, on the other hand, is more like this: “This was pretty bad. The dialogue was stiff during the reunion and everyone sounded the same. The narration couldn't stick to a point of view and kept going on tangents that had nothing to do with the dialogue. It kept breaking the discussion up.” Nothing nice was said but it was respectful and it explained to you what didn't work for that reader. Even better is when the critic goes into detail you can get a much clearer picture of why it didn't work and sometimes they even give suggestions. This doesn't mean to take everything to heart and apply every critique that's suggested. Have some integrity. However, remember the previous segment? Don't discount what others say as there is generally a kernel of truth in a criticism and even more in one that many others agreed on. There will be critiques who are about as good meaning as can be but their substance is less than good or even factual. Some people just don't know what they're talking about (Look at me writing general tips for new writers, hah!). It's up to you, as a writer, to eventually learn who to listen to, what advice to take, and how to distinguish the good advice from the well-meaning one. Typically, staff and highly respected members of the community you're partaking in can be trusted in general. Even more if they have credentials (which there is many at WF.org). How can I Critic? Now, you might want to learn how to critique someone's work. Noble ideal and quite healthy for yourself as well. The idea, as previously mentioned, is to give advice that both points out flaws and says why it didn't work or what effect it gave off that you don't believe was positive. Yes, new writers might not be able to distinguish every flaw and might not in general know if their own advice is correct. So, my advice, is to start small. Nitpick things you understand or simpler things like grammar or how a sentence sounds when you read it. It's valuable in its own right and it increases your chances of being taken seriously as you are talking about something you know or is more relative than subjective. One day, as you learn, you can tackle bigger issues with a clearer understand of them and of how to explain what you perceive. No one will be upset if you praise them or give them positive criticism that isn't pulled from your baby-soft behind. Giving criticism is as much a learning process as fiction writing. Don't feel scared to dip your toe into it as it is a valuable resource even if all you do is read the criticism given by authors and try to identify why they say the things they do. I Wrote THIS Many Words!Mazel tov. Now, edit it and see how much is left. I learned, long ago, that defining your personal success or goals in terms of the word count is counterproductive. However, just like me, many new writers feel the same stress of meeting some random quota. Now, it's good to have a goal of writing everyday and maybe setting up a word/page count to achieve. It's good to push yourself. However, do not let it define today's work. A famous author said during an interview he doesn't care how much he writes in a day or a week but how well he writes. He admitted to having spent a week on a single sentence. A week. For a sentence of about a dozen or so words. I read his work and I can tell you it wouldn't have made or broken the book. However, he was more concerned about the quality he put into the book rather than the output of words. If it takes you a week per chapter, writing five hours a day, you will most likely have a much more solid and polished piece of work than someone who wrote ten thousand words in a week and will most likely scrap much of it. So, don't define your commitment to writing by how much you do but by the effort you put into it. This Will Be My Epic Trilogy of 600 Pages Each!I'm pretty sure this whole trilogy idolization started with the Lord of the Rings books. I could very well damn be wrong but I would be surprised if this hadn't influenced some would-be writers. What's so magical about a series of three? It's no better than a single volume. First thing most writers should think about is whether they are even ready to begin physically working on their magnum opus. Do you really have the skill, the talent, the drive, dedication, perseverance, style, knowledge, or the full fledged idea to create something so big? Most would-be writers struggle enough with just writing a short story completely free of any issue (Which alone is a rather subjective and impossible feat) never mind working on something monumental. Start with short stories, work your way up to a full sized novel. Maybe a novella first? You're still learning, don't ruin your dream work with sub par writing. Heck, your trilogy might end up being just two books. Odds are, you don't have every scene planned out to the last word and we all know things change with time. Do you even know what will be in the first book that will carry over to the second or what should/could be omitted until the second? Just start writing and see where it goes. Don't put more stress on yourself to create three books when you barely got the first one out. When Should I Start Writing?Now, this question can be taken two ways. First, in general, you are never too old or too young to learn to write fiction and gain experience. Never. If you have a desire for it, try it out, see if you have a knack or liking for it. From my earlier advice, read a book on the subject and see how your own work compares to what you just learned. Then, keep writing. Don't stop. Secondly, it can mean are you ready to start writing your story? It depends on the writer. Some writers need planning, some need to know every detail, and some write by hem of their skirts. If you feel confident in what you want to create, go ahead. The white page is only intimidating until the first word. There's nothing wrong with having no real idea on where your story is going and nothing wrong with planning it out as carefully as an architect. Both have their advantages but both can yield excellent results. Find your writing rituals and get into the groove of it. Eventually, even the person with no planning at all winds up with a whole schematic for what they want. Common Errors Occur Commonly ChaptersNow, how could you possibly mess up adding chapters to your fiction? I'm not sure either but I've seen it both from amateurs and professionals. There is no rules when it comes where to put chapter breaks. Generally, after any major scene you switch to the next chapter. A book can have only a few chapters, over a hundred, and maybe even instead be broken up by parts instead of just chapters. The issue is that some writers switch chapters and continue the same exact scene. The scene does not get resolved or move on but repeats itself or just drags on even more. Why bother having a chapter break if nothing changes from what I just read? In some cases it works, as something major changed, and the chapter switches at the reveal. The dynamics change, it gives the reader a reason to read on. However, if nothing changes, it just feels like a commercial break. Books don't have commercial breaks. Commercial breaks are when people flip the channel to something else. As an author, you can't afford that. Another time you can break is when switching PoVs. Some authors I've read did it rather successfully, chapters being short or long, and then change perspectives as the break to examine the scene from another point of view. Odds are, you don't have this issue. It's pretty rare, as far as I noticed, but it happens. Just switch chapters when there is a call for it, not because it's getting long. How to Start and End a Scene I see this question pop up everyone on the internet. A writer doesn't know how or where to start their story. It's common but there's a few pointers I can give to smooth the issue out. First, a reader wants to be entertained. They picked up a fiction book to read a story and not be educated or taken down a peaceful autumn stroll. They want intrigue and interest. With that in mind, that's how your story should start. It should hook them, make them want to read on. If they don't want to read on, they'll put the book back on the shelf and check out another book. That's right, they didn't even buy it yet. No royalties for you. Using the first point as a jumping point, I recommend starting your story as late as possible. No one cares about Bob's mundane waking up routine and his morning zit popping in the mirror. Unless there's something important or peculiar, you can gloss and skip those parts. The scene should start at the closest point of interest. Is Bob going on a forest hike to find his lost baby sister? Then yeah, a few minutes before that is the earliest you can start as you build up to the journey. Somewhere after breakfast. Now, the reader uses his imagination one-hundred percent of the time while reading unless you have pictures which generally pale in comparison to his mind. So, the reader needs to know three things: who, what, and where. Do not state “Bob was out in the woods in the middle of Maine on a hot summer day in search of his sister who had been lost two days now.” that's boring and you're telling, not showing. This is a part that can better be shown. “Bob's brow beaded with new sweat by the second, his kerchief soaked through and through. Last weekend, he would have laughed at anyone who got lost in this thicket. Now, he eyed every rock and tree trunk in hope of finding a clue as to where his sister went. It's been a whole two days and Bob's fears were getting the best of him.” That alone said just about everything a reader needs to know without being overly telling and giving them a good notion of what's going on, where he is, and who's perspective the story is taking. Now, it doesn't have to all be in one paragraph but anything past page one is getting rather late. You don't have to get in super detailed specifics, you can work with general details that still give the reader a good idea and maybe reveal them later if necessary for an impact. However, the reader must always be able to situate himself well enough to begin the imaginative process. If there's too many uncertain variable, the reader won't be able to be drawn in. As long as you're easing you reader into the situation and giving them interest and immersion, odds are you're on the right track to hooking them. To end a scene, it's pretty similar. You need to end it at a part that keeps the reader reading. Generally, after a twist, a reveal, or an advancement in the story or a character's personal business is when you'd end it. The first scene could be Bob searching for his sister, looking for clues, and ending with him finding dried blood. That' would be a dun dun dun! Moment and keep the ball rolling for the next scene or chapter. Of course, you'd need to flesh it out with details, feelings, memories, and whatever else to have us relate to Bob but that's another issue. Ending a scene is basically when you, the author, said everything that you wanted said for that particular part and then move on to the next. Something had to change, story had to move along, a character had to learn, lose, gain something. If nothing happens, then cut the scene plain and simple. That's the basic gist of it, always keep the ball going when starting and ending a scene. I know my Beginning/EndingThis is more common than you'd think and I, personally, am a writer who work's backwards. First, I get inspired by whatever and then I then the last few parts of the story pop into my head. Generally there's a message I'm trying to present and I know how the character will triumph over the bad guy and how it will all play out. Now, from a subtext point, I gather what I'm trying to say and build a theme around it. For the characters, I think where they came from and what their motivations are and how it they all came together. Yes, that's a very general example but, for me, this is the best way to develop a story and plot backwards. Finding out where you want to go and filling out the details on how to get there. Kind of like cooking when you have no idea how to do it. You want Chicken Noodle Soup? Add water, chicken, noodles. Not completely accurate but it gives you a sense of what to do. Now, for those who know what they want to start with but don't know how to end. I advise to keep plotting and working out the details until you start getting somewhere in your head. As you do need a sense of where you want to go. You don't need full details but you should know more or less what the character has to experience and overcome or you'll end up writing scenes that have nothing to do with anything and a lot of your work will be for the scrapheap. There is a lot of ways to plan and write a story; as a writer, just find the one that works for you. Hey Guys, will my Idea Work?Pro-tip: don't ask questions that are answered by “yes, I like it” or “no” and avoid enquiring how to put everything together. Another person cannot answer them logically. Sure, they can give you a random answer that may or may not fit your view but they'll never have the real answer. For example: “Hey everyone, in my story my character gets this thing that repels evil but also is used to kill the evil demon. It shoots fire that doesn't burn anything. I don't know where he'd get it or how it would work. Any ideas?” This is a question that's really up to the author. I mean, we don't know ANYTHING about your story so how possibly could we answer where he got it or why/how it would work on the demon. Another example: “My story is about X and Y. Is it a good idea? Has it been overdone? Do you like it?” One of the worst, in my opinion. A story is just that, a story. The plot is far more interesting by definition. All ideas are good ideas. It's the presentation that's the issue. Everything has also been done many times, so you need to make it fresh and interesting. We all like your idea, since it can work and probably we could roll with it. Once again, however, it's all up the presentation. So, avoid asking general questions where the answer is you gotta make it work. I saw high fashion dresses made out of literally only candy. They looked amazing. Some not so much. Why? One designer made it work, the other failed. Same goes for writing, it's all wild and crazy until someone makes it look good or makes a mess out of it. World & Character BuildingWhy is this segment in this section? Well, you'd think there would be little issue with people making their own universes. However, this can easily cause more problems that a new writer might realize. All stories have a point to them and most likely a moral. The author may not be doing it consciously but it always ends up saying something. It is a good thing because it means it attempted to make an impact on the reader which will remain with them as they reflect over on what they read. Sometimes, it can be as silly as love triumphs over all, evil never prevails, or not being a douche has strong merits in most social situations. The general problem is that new writers, especially the young ones... okay, almost exclusively the young ones, have strong video game and anime influences oozing out of every creative pore. Yes, it's as disgusting as it sounds: vile, sickly secretions ready to drip and stain their attempts at fan fiction. The issue here is that often the most captivating parts of those genres is over the top and hard to pull off in writing where an author is much more constricted. A visual can say a hundred things in a single frame but a single page can only contain so much and only remains interesting for so long when nothing interesting is being done. Half-vampires with demon and angel ancestry, red eyes, wings, super powers and caught up in a conflict to end the world in super battles with at least three major transformation is a lot of information to go in a single scene or even a whole book. Whenever you build your world, remember that it is a living and breathing place. If you write it stagnant, the reader will feel it. Remember that it doesn't matter where it takes place either; no reader, I assume, picks up a book and tosses it because it's set in a city, small town, jungle, or Neverland. They'll toss it because it's badly written or the world feels like a contrived joke built just to push the characters along. A tip to remember is that a character is a product of his environment and time. In the real modern world, you raise an Asian baby to be a zealous Jew with a love of dreadlocks and insatiable appetite for Indian food. Why? Because the world is so connected and so many cultures have migrated all over the world that a child can pick up all of these things. In a world where everyone is separate and the population small, hatred and bigotry abound, odds are you will be more like your parents and your immediate community. In other words, your character won't be this ideal filled man or woman with dreams about a bright future of love and equality. Yes, not everyone is going to be racist or a bigot but odds are they won't be this futuristic personality. Many books that portrayed strong females not that long ago were considered futuristic as the females were independent and did not adhere to the stereotypes or typical roles woman were given. However, they were still deadlock bound by their environment and had to deal with it the best they could. That was the realism and the interest in the character that kept a reader going. So, when you're building your world, remember to think as to why it exists in the world and how it affected the world. If you have dwarves, they better have a reason to be in the book such as reforging an ancient blade for the hero. Don't just show them once in your book when the character walks into a tavern and say “He saw some dwarves and elves.” and never mention them again. They might as well not be there. Same goes for anything else you want in your story. Mary Sue and John Stu There's quite a bit to go here as the Sue/Stu dilemma spans many archetypes. However, we will focus on the most general one as it covers the more common issues and leads into the others. First, what is it? Odds are, you learned about the infamous Mary Sue, or the less well-known Gary Stu, from various sources across the internet. If you have not: a Mary Sue is a character who is perfect and can deal with every situation perfectly. Generally, they are smart, funny, beautiful, witty, knowledgeable, competent, independent, and whatever other positive adjective you can smash in there. These characters are one-dimensional and the bane of every wanna-be writer. No one likes Mary Sue unless she's in some satire. Why? Because there's no flaws, there's no risk to her as she is more than well equipped to triumph over everything, there's little for the reader to relate to. Readers want flaws and they want the protagonist to struggle to win. Why? It's entertaining. Also, it gives a reader a sense of triumph, hope, and a few other good feelings. Evoking emotions is the strongest tool an author can use to make a reader love his work. The idea is to give flaws to a character, not because you can, but because it makes sense and it makes them ill-equipped to deal with situations that we, as readers, are familiar with or can empathize with. That empathy is what makes us cheer them on and turn the page to experience that moment when triumph is as hand. A character who constantly scratches his beard is not a personality. It's quirk. A personality is how they react to the world around them. Not how they speak, or move, or dress but how they deal with others and events. That's how you develop a unique multi-dimensional character or a character with depth. Female vs. Male Characters This is an issue that comes up now and then. The author generally wants to write from a female's perspective but has no understanding of how. I, personally, write them like men but with boobs. I doubt it's the only way and even more so the right way, but it gives me the best results. Yes, females and males are equals on many things and they aren't that difference from one another but there are small difference in the cognitive processes that due cause discrepancies. For example: a male is more likely to look around himself when he sees an abandoned baby on the road while the female will go for it almost immediately. It's not a fail proof fact but it's a tendency than can be commonly observed. Some males and females will react inversely or have completely different responses but it only shows how varied individuals are. So, with that logic, you could say you can write either sex however you want but that's a trap many fall to. Women are more likely to notice the female characters feel more like male characters than a male noticing a man acting more like a woman unless it's beyond unsubtle. My advice, a dash of research, and not forgetting that females are individuals just like males and are just as varied as males. There may be some way to get it spot on but I personally never encountered it so I just stick to writing females that are strong unless their environment completely shot them down and made it impossible for personal growth. What's a strong female character? One who has a mind and wants something other than boys. It's a common error, mostly due to social exposure, that women are hiding behind a man or constantly fighting for their equality. Unless you've never spoken to a female, then odds are you have some notion of who they are and therefore an idea on how to make them feel real. Bechdel TestTest: do your female characters, at any point, talk about anything other than boys? Yes: Congratulations, you passed! No: F- This test was a simple but effective notice for the movie era where females were often portrayed as having a one-track mind concerning men. Men came in all shapes, colors, and personalities but women wanted a pretty rock and having a handsome man to give them cute little babies. This probably isn't the biggest issue anymore, as far as I noticed, as I see more and more female characters that have so much more to them than just wanting a man. Yes, they still want men, but who can blame them? Even I want them. Magic Systems For fantasy writers, I cannot stress this next part enough. Magic is not a vacuum. It exists and influences your world. It cannot just be used willy-nilly and everyone skips along all fascinated by your ever-powerful protagonist. They've seen it before, they've dealt with it before, and your protagonist isn't more interesting or cool because he's a wizard. Your magical world is magical, there will be others who use it for good and for evil. Odds are it somehow got caught in the middle of religion or even certain groups might think magic is proprietary. There's lots you can do as long as you remember that the world you're building has grown alongside magic and therefore it has become a valid everyday tool. Worlds who suddenly acquire magic are of course exempt to this but then there is a lot more issues to deal with. There will be prejudice, self-doubt, fear, control, and a plethora of bad things. Logic is key here. There is three sorts of popular magic in books these days, as far as I know: Deus Ex Machina – This form is when magic, or anything mundane, happens for no reason but on the whim of the writer to get the protagonist out of a situation. Often this is used under guise of God or some other unfathomable power that aids the protagonist out of nowhere. This is generally frowned upon by readers as it's not satisfactory. It's like if Gandalf casts a teleport spell on the Ring to instantly drop it into Mt. Doom. Yay... we won. Old-Fashioned – Magic here is often seen in old-timey stories like the Grimm fables. Generally, it's exclusive to a select few, it's mysterious and works in even more mysterious ways yet the whole story hinges on its inner workings. Basically, the reader never learns the magic but still fully understands why it's an obstacle the protagonist must overcome or lose. Convenient – I always use the Potterverse for this example. In the Harry Potter universe by J. K. Rowling, magic is about loose as a goose can get. Magic is said to be in need of a wand yet people always cast without wands. Why don't the characters use more of those disabling spells later on in the series to save themselves when they used to shoot and pray them earlier? Why are all the adults incompetent when it comes to dealing with their own school filled with murderous monsters and why do the parents allow their children to keep going? In this series, magic is often used without rhyme nor reason. Sometimes they can use it, sometimes not, and sometimes they simply can't come up with a magical based solution even though the reader has an idea as he's seen something in the series that's awfully similar. Rule Based – These kind of systems are very elaborated and my personal favourite. You can find them in series such as the Black Prism where magic is based upon the sun and colors. He calls it Chromaturgy The reader gradually learns the rules, typically alongside the protagonist, and situations where magic can help are identifiable while others where the character is without his powers are more gripping because you understand exactly why and what he lost. In this sort, a strong, bulletproof system is necessary. All of these are valid systems, except for the deus ex machina, and it's ultimately up to the writer to choose which one suits their story. A story based heavily on the magical side of the world would probably benefit from a strong rule based system while one more focused on adventure or the journey can easily used the old-fashioned system. The cardinal rule of magic: it's a tool – not a solution. Exposition & MasturbationA lot of new writers don't realize the vast cornucopia of information they gathered from novels hasn't been laid to out for them in a single giant paragraph. It just seems that way because all throughout the novel they were absorbing the world the author built. So, through their misconception, they expose their world, their magic, their histories like a factual biography in neat little paragraphs. However, this doesn't work. Why? As mentioned previously, a writer must be drawn into the story. Presenting your idea in a textbook fashion will negate that feeling of immersion and won't do you any favors. Generally, the knowledge is gained gradually and piece by piece. The reader then puts it all together in his head as he reads on and learns more. Generally, situations and events will inform the reader about how things work but there's a few tricks that can be used to facilitate this. First, you can have a protagonist who learns alongside the reader. Typically, other characters will educate him as he asks question and deals with this new thing he is learning and experiencing. Secondly, you have a know-it-all such as Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series. They know everything and won't miss a chance to educate those around them. They can be annoying, obvious, and overplayed but it's a legitimate way of exposing without exposing. Now, masturbation. No, not the physical act but the emotional kind. There is such a thing as self-glorification or going to your “happy place”. This generally involves the writer to create perfect situations for the character. Generally, they are beautiful, have an amazing partner with witty dialogue, all their friends are super cool, and their life is perfection. How many can relate to that? Yes, the grass does seem greener for some and it probably actually is but it's never all green. Yellow and faded patches are always lurking somewhere. This is called masturbation because the protagonist can feel like an author self-inserting themselves into a story and putting himself in ideal situations. Basically, letting anyone who reads it know how awesome they are and how perfect their life is. It isn't always the case of self-glorification but it also doesn't make for very interesting plot and story building. Have you ever wanted to be a part of some fantastical universe and experience the adventure with the characters? Probably, successful authors tend to create that desire. However, as a writer yourself, do not insert yourself into a story. It's a major faux-pas as it typically ends up being obvious, or seeming like a Mary Sue, or the author being unable to remove himself from his work. Show, Don't TellThis is most likely something you've been told a million times by every writer ever. It's old advice but not accurate to the proverbial T. Yes, fiction is about making the reader experience the story by showing it rather than telling it as a report. However, there are parts that you can tell and parts you can show. For instance, my general rule is that short and unimportant things can be told so long as they're not reported. Usually, a time jump can be told in a single short sentence. A major scene or anything that needs emotion and power has to be shown. IE: We crossed the field only to find more fields even further beyond. Sarah turned toward me, her eyes unable to settle in one spot as they searched furtively for any escape from the open ground. The first sentence is all tell and the second goes back to being more show. You have to be careful as to not overdo it or accidentally keep telling but it's a skill and it takes practice. Just be mindful that your story is from someone's perspective and that you have to keep it tight. Double Imagery Despite this section being about common issues, this one is rather rare. I've seen it only a handful of times. Double imagery is when you write the same moment twice. IE: Sarah came up for breath, breaking out the water. As she broke out of the ocean, she gasped for breath. Do you see it? Sarah came up for air twice for breath without ever going back under. This is called double imagery and is a major no-no as it loops the imagery in the readers mind and breaks them out of the reading as they try to figure out what just happened. As I mentioned, it doesn't happen to many writers to do that. However, it does sometimes. So just be careful. Am I Really Good Enough?Don't ever begin doubting yourself. Why? Because once it sets in, it is hard to shake it off. Cheer yourself up by forcing yourself to jump back on the horse or even read interviews by authors that you admire. They admit to their own difficulties and short comings and you can learn valuable things about being a real author. They struggle as much as anyone. Sure, their experience probably makes it easier for them, but they were in your shoes once and now you have to fit into theirs. Also, go read terrible fan fiction or even fiction and critique it. Nothing gives you an ego boost than tearing someones work up and actually having a clue on what you're talking about. Just stay positive, and keep writing, and never stop learning.