Sharing writing strategies and tips

Discussion in 'Writing Workshop' started by S.J. Faerlind, Aug 5, 2012.

  1. S.J. Faerlind

    S.J. Faerlind Flashlight Shadowhunter

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    The scribe's house seems so empty right now..... all of its occupants gone......WHY?????

    I thought we scribes could share tips for writing and maybe resurrect the scribe's house a bit....

    I'll post first and maybe others will join in?

    Try giving your characters a unique "voice" by choosing the words they use carefully... not just what they say, but how they say it. For example: earthy / practical types might use gruff accents while immortal characters might use a more formal, archaic way of speaking.
     
  2. Hater`

    Hater` headless hater

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    not to be impolite, but that`a logical.
    when i scribe ( I`m not calling it writing, lol, because I`m lame and I suck ) i imagine every character differently, and it`s hard to write all charaters same way.

    Top Tip, is do not make ripoffs.

    And if you can`t make your own world, create it in someones else universe, I`m sure he/she/they would`nt mind.
     
  3. S.J. Faerlind

    S.J. Faerlind Flashlight Shadowhunter

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    My tip is definitely logical, but it's not as simple to incorporate into writing as you might think and in my experience is sometimes not consciously considered by writers. Here are some examples of different character "voices" from the same book to illustrate the complexity of what I'm referring to more clearly:

    Example 1: This character "Mandoral" is extremely old (probably over 1000 years of age), is a non-human Gryffin (a predatory race of fierce hunters), is very intelligent and highly educated:

    “Possibly,” Mandoral agreed. “But I think there is a far more likely reason he is here. I know of only one reason why we might find one of the Brotherhood dead without some major wounds to show for it. They do not age as other men do; they simply die when their time is up and they live much longer than ordinary humans. Just before they die they do one final thing.”

    Note the archaic style of Mandoral's speech - the use of "do not" instead of "don't" and "there is" instead of "there's" for example. Even his choice of words and grammatical style is very formal: for example he says "possibly" instead of "maybe". If I was to rewrite this line of dialogue in a more modern style it would sound like this: "Maybe," Mandoral agreed. "But there's a another reason for him to be dead without some major wounds to show for it. The Brotherhood don't age, they just die when it's their time to and they live much longer than ordinary humans. Just before they die they do one last thing."

    Example 2: This character comes from a shy, reserved race of pacifists with some pretty strict ideas on manners and formality. He's responding to Mandoral's statement from the excerpt above ("Just before they die they do one final thing.”):

    “It would please me if you would tell me what that is,” Sauren said politely.

    Anyone else might have simply asked "What's that?" in response to that statement. Note that Sauren does not ask a question when he requests information from Mandoral..... he merely mentions that he would like to know the information. I happen to know this is a cultural characteristic of his race: they consider it rude to demand information by asking a direct question of anyone. That fact is reflected by Sauren's choice of words and unique "voice".... a deliberate construction on the part of the author to illustrate something about that race.

    Example 3: A younger Gryffin just coming into adulthood: his speech is more modern than Mandoral's (note the use of "thanks" rather than "thank you" and "I'm" instead of "I am":

    “Thanks,” Teryl’s wry thought interrupted his own. “You’re not so bad yourself, for one of the wingless!” His thoughts turned speculative then. “I’m going to need your help soon,” he noted.

    Example 4: An uneducated peasant child: note the distinctive accent and poor grammar:

    “’e talks too!” the child whispered, his eyes shining in delight, though his face became utterly repentant. “Ah’m sorry,” he told Teryl. “Ah didn’t mean to be disrespectful or nuthin’. It’s just that ah never seen nuthin’ like you before! How could Ah ‘ave known you were smarter than any stupid ‘orse?” he asked his eyes pleading for forgiveness.

    Manipulating grammar, style, use of an accent (or not), word choice and how dialogue can be used to reflect other things you want readers to know about characters.... in my humble opinion that's a lot to consider whenever you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard...whatever the case may be).
     
  4. S.J. Faerlind

    S.J. Faerlind Flashlight Shadowhunter

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    Haven't posted here in awhile and trying to keep the scribe's house alive so...

    Another strategy: know the difference between showing and telling and use them appropriately. 'Telling' is giving the reader basic information they need for the story while showing is allowing them to figure it out.
    Example: Xanax was a gruff, practical type and Dena had learned to put up with him.
    showing: "C'mon Dena, get up off your butt and get moving! We've got work to do," Xanax announced, getting to his feet and striding off.

    Telling is used to convey important stuff that the reader needs to know, but it might also be boring to read about if it was presented in too much detail. For example, you might summarize a long, uneventful hike in a sentence or two to show the reader that the characters got where they needed to go without incident.
    Showing is for the interesting stuff that you want the reader to experience firsthand. Some examples of stuff you might want to show: a fight scene, an important conversation between 2 characters, a battle or other significant event.
     
  5. Sparrow

    Sparrow Well-Known Member

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    What you're talking about is also referred to as "info-dumps"... and the best writers almost never use them... and when they do, it's usually poorly done.

    Since I read Science Fiction at about a 3:1 ratio to Fantasy I'm the recipient of more than my fair share of info-dumps. Honestly, I think most expositions are done out of sheer laziness; they tend to be clumsy, obvious interludes that jolt the reader out of the moment... and I also find them to be rather patronizing.

    I recently read a novel wherein the protagonist makes his way to an orbiting space station via a space needle. As the writer was quite clever calling it "the beanstalk", which in the context of the story was instantly recognizable as a space elevator, there was no need to expand on the technology of it... however, that didn't stop him from abruptly shoehorning a long paragraph on just how a space elevator works and how it came to be in common use. It's sort of like if you were going through life and every time something interesting and unexpected popped up you were given a convenient footnote to explain it all for you. Since the space elevator was commonplace to the character it needs no further commentary. It would be like reading Detective Noir fiction and when the private eye jumps into his beat up sedan on his way to a clandestine rendezvous the writer suddenly explains how an internal combustion engine works.

    In my opinion, no info-dumps, no expositions... just give us a good story we can figure out along the way.
     
  6. S.J. Faerlind

    S.J. Faerlind Flashlight Shadowhunter

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    Great post Sparrow (and thank you for posting...I feel like I can almost hear crickets when I visit the scribe's house). I think a lot of writers might use the "info-dump" to sort things out in their own heads and sometimes put that in to make things easier for readers to figure out. There's a fine line between spelling things out for people and making them put it together for themselves. The story I posted for Firiath in this folder is the perfect example of that... she didn't understand it because I didn't make it obvious enough and the clues must have been too subtle. Since I had to explain it, it didn't work.
     
  7. Druid of Lûhn

    Druid of Lûhn The Little Lamb.

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    Although that is a start, I believe that by doing thus you are only conforming with the rule. To truly surprise people, you would do the complete opposite, which is Terry Pratchett and Monty Python's style.

    I find that dialog is really important, and that it needs to seem real. It is the only part in a book that has to be realistic, so a lot of work should be put into it, especially seeing as it's what people will not skip if they're speed-reading.
     
  8. S.J. Faerlind

    S.J. Faerlind Flashlight Shadowhunter

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    Ah, Monty Python... the Tolkein of modern humour! A point well made Druid.. well made indeed. That strategy surely works well for Monty Python and Pratchett is known for his quirky humour (so I'm told - never read his stuff). Can you give us some examples of using it in non-humourous situations too?
     
  9. Druid of Lûhn

    Druid of Lûhn The Little Lamb.

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    In non-humorous situations it could bring an interesting history to a character. People would want to know why that peasant is so learnèd, or why that magician has a strong accent and speaks like a sailor.
     
  10. Sparrow

    Sparrow Well-Known Member

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    Not only does the dialog between characters need to seem real, it should also be allowed to move the story and show how the cast of characters are evolving over time. Too much narrative and relying on action to define the story is what get young writers in trouble.

    All aspiring writers should read a short story or novel by Isaac Asimov... he moves the plot almost entirely by conversations between the characters, almost no action and very little in the way of description. That's how real life takes place.
     
  11. Sparrow

    Sparrow Well-Known Member

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    I'm currently just past the halfway point reading Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh.

    Ms. Cherryh knows how to write, and she knows how to build a character through dialog; never giving you all the person at once, letting circumstances and events change the character over time... and as Druid says, surprising you that the person she originally introduced as one thing turns out to be quite another as the plot progresses... and as it's unfortunate that far too much of the modern fiction I read today gives the reader everything on a silver platter, it's nice to read a story that slowly develops as monumental events catch up with real life characters... Ms. Cherryh brings the story to a slow boil, and when all hell breaks loose the characters behave in a way that seems authetic.
     
  12. olivia_the_lamb

    olivia_the_lamb Moderator Staff Member

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    I love Isaac Asimov

    I daresay I'm not secure enough in my writing style to give tips to other people... but for me character development comes naturally, as it should. I also think that if you sit and try to create a character, it won't happen. The characters already have to exist in a way. They're already a part of a world that you are writing about. I treat my characters of my writings (that almost no one has ever seen -.-) as if they're people whose stories need to be told... which, I think is where the most believable characters come from. It's really easy to tell when someone sat down and forced out a character instead of letting it just flow freely out from them.
     
  13. S.J. Faerlind

    S.J. Faerlind Flashlight Shadowhunter

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    That's called "discovery writing" your characters Liv: putting your feet in their shoes and walking them through the story, discovering who they're becoming as they react to what's going on around them.
    Don't be insecure about posting writing tips! If something worked well for you in your writing, we want to hear about it. The point of posting in this thread is to generate discussion so we can all improve. If you choose to remain silent.. the rest of us lose out :(
     
  14. olivia_the_lamb

    olivia_the_lamb Moderator Staff Member

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    I've only shown a very few people my actual writing, so I don't know if it works or not :)
     
  15. S.J. Faerlind

    S.J. Faerlind Flashlight Shadowhunter

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    If it works for you then it doesn't matter what anybody else thinks :)
     
  16. S.J. Faerlind

    S.J. Faerlind Flashlight Shadowhunter

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    I hear crickets again so.......

    How about including "layers" in your writing? The background layer might include the cultures and geography of the world for example, while the superficial layer is the day-to-day happenings of the plot. This is where you include all the entertainment value: humour and action being good examples. The depth layers are what make your characters come to life. Examples: What's their history? What kind of temperament do they have and how are their experiences changing them through the story? Depth layers might also reveal some history of the conflict the story is based around. Some of the best stories I've ever read had what I call an "underlying message" layer. Those stories caused me to think about my own existence, beliefs or perceptions, challenging me perhaps to change them. Alternatively, some of them caused me to wonder "what if.....?". I think every good story deserves an underlying message layer!
     
  17. Dreamscaper

    Dreamscaper Royal Hamster Wrangler

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    I can't really contribute much... but I do appreciate the tips that have been posted here!
     
  18. S.J. Faerlind

    S.J. Faerlind Flashlight Shadowhunter

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    Oh come on! Sure you can!
     
  19. Dreamscaper

    Dreamscaper Royal Hamster Wrangler

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    Um.. hmm..

    Maybe start stories with an outline instead of rambling along at random so that the story stays focused instead of going too far off track. I did my first fanfic completely at the spur of the moment and ended up with a big question mark on what to write next because the characters put themselves waaaay out of where they needed to be. I suppose that would work for different people though.
     
  20. S.J. Faerlind

    S.J. Faerlind Flashlight Shadowhunter

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    Actually, there are two basic types of writers: "Outliners" who plot everything out ahead of time and "Discovery Writers" who discover their story as they go along, only having the most basic idea of where they want to go with it. There are supposed to be strengths and weaknesses to both techniques. Outliners tend to be too rigid. If something goes awry in their story, they have to reconstruct the whole thing from the ground up just to include a new idea. Discovery writers are prone to rambling plots and wishy-washy endings but they are more flexible, easily incorporating inspiration when it strikes.
    I tend to discovery writing for example, and I have to chop stuff out mercilessly in endless edits because of it. Since I'm figuring the story out as I go along I tend to include a lot of extra stuff in it simply because I needed to figure it out. Sorting out what the reader needs to know and what they don't in editing is the tough part. There's some really good creative writing lectures by a well-known fantasy author (Brandon Sanderson) at writeaboutdragons.com that talks about different writing techniques. One of his students got permission to tape his creative writing class at Brigham Young University and post it on the net. Some great stuff can be found there if you want to check it out....