I’m actually glad for this thread since I was literally just thinking about a topic like this earlier today.
See, recently I’ve been trying writing classes to improve my skills. And after my first day, I realized…,this is a complete waste of time. Understandably, everyone has different styles. As such, I hold the impression that everything the teacher says is wrong.
Namely, because I already have my own style. It’s not perfect, but it is what works for me. It doesn’t make other styles better or worse, but I do hold some beliefs about good writing.
1: I don’t think that more complex words actually improve quality. I think while we all bear such a capacity in which we could potentially enunciate the realities in which a speaker explains the circumstances of the situation. Yet, if we did such a thing, it just sounds pretentious and given that most of us aren’t attempting to make a recreation of a Victorian period novel, it sounds silly in modern English.
2. I don’t agree that settings needs to be detailed. Focus on characters and actions. That’s what people are reading. I understand that some see this as a need to create a better picture of the layout in the audience’s mind, but it just isn’t how I do things.
3. Contrary to popular opinion, character dialogue doesn’t actually need to be grammatically correct. Not every character is a linguistic professor or a polished and proper dapper gentlemen. My issues with this are twofold. Not everyone talks the same and it’s not realistic to have it that way. Having everyone have the same language habits, makes them more or less the same as other characters. You don’t need six versions of the same person in one story. There SHOULD be variety. You should be able to tell whose talking just be reading their dialogue instead of needing it pointed out to you.
I realize some might not be in total agreement here, but I’m not talking about what works for everybody. It’s what works for me. It’s not everyone’s style, but it is mine.
This may not sound helpful, but how I start most stories is by thinking of something randomly in my head and then expanding on it. I think “What if there was a secret fairy society?” and eventually it expands into “What if there was a secret fairy society that works for the government and is a secret unit used as reconnaissance or even as a lethal unit since they wield wicked magic?” If I like the way a thought pans out, I’ll keep it close to my heart and write the concept down. If it kind of falls flat or just sounds pretentious or uninspiring, I drop it completely and think of something else.
I struggle with writer’s block when it comes to getting the words down more than coming up with ideas. My personal problem is I have many ideas but I can’t form them through typing or writing at all. The best I can do is write the concept down and hope the day will come where I can communicate my idea effectively. Sure, it may be due to stress, but it’s still frustrating.
A lot of characters I make are based on the traits or personalities of people I’ve met and mashing them together into a whole new person. Or, sometimes even characters in fiction, though I prefer to use personal experiences. I also take into account what setting and story the character is being thrown into. A feel-good slice of life story isn’t going to go very well if I throw in a morally grey, corrupted character with a messed up backstory and an edge so sharp you could cut yourself just by looking at them. Characters are my favorite part of a story so I put a lot of love and care into them especially.
Backstory creates complex characters and helps you get past writers block. Writer’s block isn’t the problem dig deeper and find out what’s holding you back.
Random advice. Avoid making action scenes tent pole moments in your story as this leads to railroading. There are exceptions to this rule so take it with a grain of salt.
Pay attention to the second acts structure. If you sort out the middle the beginning and ending will easily fall into place. Most writers block comes down to messy middle syndrome and not enough backstory.
Style is huge and it does allow a writer to “break the rules”/“push the boundaries” of grammar and such, much to a copyeditor’s displeasure. But there are fundamentals when it comes to writing prose and to story structure that will make you better understood no matter what. You can absolutely judge good writing from bad by it’s clarity and how well it conveys the author’s style, tone and intended feelings to the reader.
Using complex words for complexity’s sake, overwhelming readers with unnecessary exposition, and writing unrealistic-sounding dialogue are all legitimate writing mistakes as you point out. But that’s what they are–fundamental mistakes in prose and story structure. That’s different than style.
There’s definitely an academic part of writing, and being able to not just identify bad writing but know why it’s bad can be a huge game changer. “Fundamentally sound” writing will allow your style to come out more, not less.
Here’s a random one.
To properly get into my own prose I like to read books from authors with the style I enjoy most.
I’m not sure as to how this facilitates my writing ability but its great for self-immersion and breaks me out of my internet/casual writing style.
For some obscure reason I’m able to adapt from it and insert my own style as well. So not necessarily copying.
(Trust me trying to copy a writing style will only stifle your own)
Not sure about you guys.
Sit down and write somewhere else in the story. Stuck in the middle? Write the end. Stuck at the climax? Rewrite the beginning.
If all else fails, write something else and then carry that momentum into your blocked story.
Creating deadlines for yourself is a good way to go if you’re method based e.g. “I have to have 5K words by X deadline so that so-and-so can give me feedback,”
Build a skeleton, fill out a character profile (likes, dislike, etc.), and then take a look around me or take a look at myself.
Maybe start out small. Try to make them a hypocrite about a tiny thing and then make them hypocritical about a big thing, then make that come back to bite them later.
I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but make a Pinterest board! Get inside your character’s head and add quotes, sayings, nicknacks, and padiwacks to it. I’ve got a few and it’s a really fun way to explore your characters, what they might say, what they might do, and did I mention it’s just all-around fun?
Another tip - one that I haven’t had a chance to really explore just yet - is put your characters into AUs. If they’re based in an Urban Fantasy setting, briefly plop them into a futuristic Alien sci-fi setting and brainstorm how’d they react to that. Or maybe throw them back into the Wild West or toss them into a soul mate/bond setting. If you think, ‘well X probably wouldn’t like having a soul mate because Y’, then you’ve discovered a character trait and can use that in your main story about them.
I just wanted to expand on this because it’s very important in a story. I think it’s something that can be easily overlooked. It can come off stilted, unrealistic, and can easily throw a reader off. It’s an aspect (not the only or even the biggest, but, still a major player) that can make or break a story.
You wouldn’t expect working man Joe who’s grown up in a trailer and only has an eighth-grade education to say “Contrary to popular belief, blood is not blue- turning red only when it meets oxygen.”
Or an elf from a high fantasy novel wouldn’t realistically say something like “What the freaking fudge nuggets?!”
Those are a bit extremes of course, but the idea is there. When you write dialogue, sound it out. Consider if it’s appropriate for the character speaking.
Little boy Johnny might say something like, “Hey, mister! Watcha got over there?” Rather than just “What are you doing?”
Even in simpler terms- Plain Jane might say “I wouldn’t do that if I were you!” rather than, “I would not do that, if I were you.”
Pay attention to how people speak. Most speak with contractions. Some speak differently (Can you like, just like, not do that?) Some are monotonous. Some are bubbly. Again, read it back to yourself, sound it out. Don’t get ahead of yourself and think you’re the next Stephen King and you need to drop in a fifty cent word every other sentence.
In my opinion, there are two critical pieces of writing advice that must be remembered above all else:
One: This is not a science; we do not have a sufficently systematic understanding of writing to precisely define a ruleset such that following the rules will always produce the best writing. Ultimately the only criteria that actually matters is the overall quality of the final product.
Two: We do have some idea about what makes for good writing.
So there are guidelines for good writing and you should generally follow them unless breaking them makes your story better. Also, if writing isn’t your actual job it is you who decides what “better” means. Generally that will mean your intended audience likes it better; since your readers aren’t paying you there’s no need to cater to a particular person’s tastes. Just don’t take this too far; if you’re publishing your work you want someone to read and enjoy it, and an external perspective can provide new insight.
As for the initial points:
In most cases, narration should only use a complex word rather than a simple one if it actually means something different. Complex words often have more precise meanings than a simpler analogue. Dialogue should sound like the speaker; word choice implies a great deal about characters. Spock uses different words from Kirk, and his use of complex words as well as context and demeanor reflects the precision of his thoughts. Kirk uses the simplest words necessary to clearly communicate his meaning, because he is quite intelligent but only values information for its practical value.
Write the way you write. If you don’t think settings need to be detailed, your personal style will probably not result in a better story by increasing the detail. But in defense of detailed settings, if properly handled they can heavily inform readers’ understanding of character interaction as well as being interesting in their own right. However, it is very difficult to cleanly and effectively communicate the details to the reader, and it’s better to not do it than to do it badly.
Yes, absolutely. Dialogue reveals character. But don’t be too loose with grammar; if it weren’t for our reasonably consistent shared understanding of the rules of English grammar we would not be able to understand each other’s posts. Bayle Doman do be conjugating verbs strangely, but he would no put them in the wrong order.
Oh man, this is so true. It’s easier to be faithful in actual marriage than it is to avoid straying from a story in progress. The 20,000 Word Itch sets in, and all you can think about is how sexy that hot new story would be. Even though deep down you know once you start it you’ll find an even more exciting idea you’d rather pursue.
The only advice I have is to write. Use pomodoros, schedule blocks of time, bribe yourself, be mean to yourself. Whatever it takes to make sure you get some words on the page (physical or virtual). Put yourself in a situation where you’re so bored you have to write just to stay sane.
If you have writer’s block, it’s like a drain clog. Just keep pushing a bunch of crappy writing through until you force it out and the good writing starts again*.
The 20,000 word itch needs a different strategy. Focus on the small picture, the stories within your stories. The subplots in your next chapter for instance. Is there an interesting story there you want to explore? If not make one up. Are your backstories interesting to you? If not work on them or make up new ones.
The trick is to focus your “making up new stories” energy to your existing WIP not elsewhere.
I absolutely agree to this. For instance I got stuck on my initial WIP and started a new story based on the lives of four of my characters that had history before my initial story started. The back story of my characters is so complex that I am able to write a story on that alone (which I also hope to publish one day).
I am on board with this being the best way to get stuff written; the main limitation is that if you’re focusing on the plot in front of you then you’re not thinking ahead about the next plot.
I’m pretty sure all good authors solve that problem in their own way; outlining is common, as is writing and then going back to revise once you hit a point where you realize you needed to set something up in advance. I don’t do either of those myself because I can’t keep focus without intermediate milestones so I just do short bits and then if I continue the story I work out a way to progress the setup I have; usually I’d have a vague idea of where I want to go and dangle hooks. I’m dissatisfied with the resulting quality, but I also don’t sell writing. If people were paying me I’d figure something out, but since it’s for fun I write as the urge strikes me and take it 1-3K words at a time.
I’ve been planning ahead on my game so I could have a rough idea of what I would want to write and I ran into a problem.
I have this certain ending in my mind for The Outsider and I have plans for a sequel to it if people likes it so I had plans to call the final event/chapter in The Outsider called “Paramount War” but the problem with that is It’s also the English name for the war that happened in Marineford in this manga called One Piece. So obviously I’m afraid that if I do go with that name, that’d be copyright infringement so what would I do? Just come up with a different name for it? Because the only idea I have for that is pretty lame and I want it to be called something pretty epic for an ending.
Two words shouldn’t be a problem–to my knowledge, copyright protection doesn’t cover names and short phrases (they’d be trademarked if anything, and One Piece has no case for that). So unless the war and the events leading into it are functionally identical to the events in One Piece, you’ll be fine.
Note: not actual lawyer, just read them on internet. If you really need a definite answer put up the money for an IP lawyer.
Technically nothing is too short to be covered by copyright, but generally common English words aren’t going to be covered and even unique names aren’t something they’d go to court over even if they can.
It’d theoretically be trademarkable, but if it’s not on the cover it probably isn’t. If it is a registered trademark, though, avoid it; the trademark may or may not cover videogames but part of keeping a trademark is taking action when other people use it so companies are more than a bit trigger-happy.