I want to learn some good ways to improve my writing if you guys know any books, websites, or methods you’ve learned that would be greatly appreciated! I’ve got a story I want to work on but I would like to know how to develop a better plot, characters (how to make them seem more real), and just how to spice up my story to be overall more enjoyable
Personally I’ve found some help via ‘the Snowflake method’:
I only use part of the Snowflake method - but that is also what the author himself suggests; if it works for you, great, if only parts work, use those and if nothing works, you will want to look for another method that works for you.
Subscribing to his newsletter also has helped me quite a bit as he talks about a wide variety of things an aspiring author faces, from planning and plotting to publishing and getting organised (this last being my Arch Enemy, ha!).
There’s also an optional programme to use to help keep track of plot turns, characters and more. It costs money (bought it years ago) but it has helped me to some degree. Most of all it is handy for me to keep track of my characters and their background, driving force etc. One day I hope to write a novel or more (or many CoG games) and this will help keep things consistent since it allows you to keep tabs on things. I am not quite there yet, though, ehehe.
Well I can’t claim to be anything all that special, I suppose I have a few tips when it comes to ideas and refining them.
Firstly, most (all) of what I do is genre fiction (sci-fi/fantasy) so this may not be immediately applicable to your work, but nevertheless I’m gonna try anyway.
When establishing a plot, you should try and have a vague notion of where the plot is going, maybe a sentence or two per chapter that tells you roughly what’s going to happen to your characters, who lives and who dies etc. That way you have a vague idea where the plot is going but you haven’t bogged yourself down and can change things up as inspiration strikes.
When you need to add something unusual to your story (magic, new technology, strangeness) you need to know how it works. Too many people are fine with just saying ‘it was magic’ without knowing the logic of how it works. The logic of how something works is not the same as the science of how things work, I will endeavour to explain. You can go ahead and skip this section if your writing lacks any fantastical elements.
Basically, to ensure the logic of a plot point is sound, you have to figure out what it would be for even without the plot. If a man can shoot fireballs from his hands, figure out the how and the why for these abilities. Perhaps he can only use this particular ability because his hands have been coated in fireproof oils? Perhaps it is an evolutionary response rather than a magical one? Perhaps he has naturally occurring napalm glands embedded in his palms like Tobey Maguire Spiderman? Don’t just say ‘he shoots fireballs’ and call it a day. Explain it, even if you only have to explain it to yourself. Even if you don’t add the explanation to the narrative, the way you talk about and describe the act itself will become more interesting and distinctive.
Following on from that, you must make sure that you’re not just lifting cliches from other sources without adding anything to them. If your story has vampires, you need to work out every segment of their biology and culture and figure out why they are different from Count Dracula or those creepy vegans from Twilight. You need to change the backstory, and make it your own. Why? Because somebody already wrote about those kinds of vampires. You need to add to the legend, not merely take away from it.
Once again, most of this is specific to genre fiction, but it basically applies to other genres. Don’t just take something from someone else’s story and paste it into your own. The difference between plagiarism and homage is the amount of work you put into expanding the significance of what you’re interested in.
The only advice I can offer when it comes to characterization is to once again try and wander off the beaten path. Lots of people try to write characters that can loosely be described as ‘anti-heroes’. In theory, an anti-hero can be a hugely varied character palette capable of creating nuanced portrayals of people forced to the edges of society by various means. What it usually translates to is a sort of sullen, humourless trudge through the life of some aggressively unfriendly person who advocates mass-murder for even the smallest transgressions. If you want to write anti-heroes, the first thing you should do (to steer yourself away from the urge to make them The Crow without make-up) is think about the things that make them happy.
Maybe your anti-hero is difficult to spend time around because of their lack of social graces, but they can light up when talking about their hobbies. Imagine a tough-as-nails Mob Enforcer who deals with the roughest of the rough, then goes to a little cinema on the edge of town to watch Grace Kelly movies because he or she just feels this deep kinship with long dead Hollywood royalty.
See how a dull, by-the-numbers character just got an interesting upgrade? What does that imply about their innermost being? What soul does it give the character?
In conclusion though, the best way to make your stories more interesting and better is to show them to people. Feedback is the first and last place to start, and you should look for places where you’re going to get opinions you trust. Find forums where people seem to know what they’re talking about, and that have a friendly community, and then put your work out there.
I can only speak for this forum, but nobody expects your first drafts to be War and Peace, so any criticism you receive will only be constructive. The only way to become a great writer is to write. Constantly. And to rewrite and critique and then write some more. Your sensibilities will grow naturally out of that constant process until one day (and you will not see that day coming) suddenly you’re one of the greats, pumping out the best work you’ve ever done and people will be hanging off of it.
Unfortunately one cannot cheat the process though, much as I would love to start collecting sweet royalty checks without having to go through the drama of writing and pitching a book to publishers…
I always felt that the best way to learn how to write was to imitate others.
If you want to learn how to write a good plot, read books that put you on the edge of your seat and find what they did to set you off. If you want to make ‘real’ characters, study the people in your life, and try to piece together their strengths and weaknesses. One of my favorite things to do when I was little was reciting poetry or prose out loud so that I could understand what made it resonate.
I think it’s also a good idea to read essays that explain why things work in fiction, or read reviews to understand why things didn’t.
And, of course, the best way to improve your writing is to practice. There’s really no substitute
Thank you! The snowflake method will definitely help me out . Im going to check out his newsletter too
This was really good advice I was worrying that one of my stories was going to be too cliche but I think you just helped me solve my problem! And the whole thinking it through and working it out is something I’m only slightly doing, but now it’s something definitely something I want to do a lot more of. Thank you so much!
You are more than welcome, if you ever want to bounce ideas off of the people here, or maybe ask for help making a character or concept ‘pop’, feel free to PM me, or to ask on the forum generally.
i haven’t tried some of those methods, I definitely will now! I have several books that I already have in mind, and also I kind of want to try your reading out loud method. Plus seeking reviews and explanations is something that will go well with Moreau’s advice!
Read all kind of books, even bad ones - the bad ones teaches you how not to write, as long as you spot what makes them bad any way.
My old writer’s craft teacher always said the best way to learn how to write better was to read more books and write something everyday. She also always told us that the best way to widen our vocabularies was to do crosswords, but I was never any good at those! I think the idea is that writing, like any form of artistic expression, can be improved by researching (in this case reading) and then putting what you’ve learned into practice.
I second @Taylor_Enean’s advice to read bad books too. But don’t go looking for them. They will find you.
Writing good characters:
Try Eliezer Yudowsky’s Intelligent Character series on his tumblr. Really short. Good common sense stuff that a lot of writers don’t do. I wish I had more on writing good characters.
Writing good Choicescript games:
Check out the game design archive on the COG blog, including how to write good choices and Ben Serviss’s six-step method for writing interactive fiction. I can’t personally speak for the efficacy of the six-step method, but I will probably try it.
There is also Extra Credits, a fun little video series about the gaming industry in general, which occasionally has a video that can apply to choice games. A few examples:
- Choice and Conflict: What Does Choice Mean in Games?
- [The Feeling of Agency: What Makes Choice Meaningful?] (https://youtu.be/6Q7ECX5FaX0)
- Romantic Dilemmas: How Witcher 3 Builds Character Through Choice
- Playtesting: How to Get the Most Out of Your Games
Some tips that have worked for me:
When fleshing out a character, try changing that character’s gender or age. Sometimes that makes a character more compelling, and it can help avoid clichés or stereotypes. Boys can be empaths too. And wouldn’t an old computer genius know more than a young computer genius?
Write sentences in this order: subject, verb, direct object, indirect object. Don’t write every sentence that way, but it should be your default structure. Your writing will be clearer and easier to read.
Short sentences pack the most punch.
Longer sentences soften things up a bit, often taking more energy to follow while at the same time diluting the action with extra details, modifiers, commas, and occasionally some parenthetical asides (gotta love those parenthetical asides), all of which have their place but too much can try the reader’s patience as you risk losing focus on the point you were trying to make in the first place: longer sentences are weaker.
Don’t use adverbs unless you absolutely have to.
When writing dialogue, resist the urge to replace the word “says” with another word that means “says” (unless that word is “asks”). Do not follow says with an adverb. Break this rule as little as possible.
Work on your project every day, even if it is only for ten minutes, even if it is just to scribble a few notes. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day.
Write your rough draft, then correct your spelling and grammar. Don’t waste your time.
Do not talk about your project unless you have to. When you talk about it, don’t say more than you need to. I’ve noticed that the more time people spend talking about something, the less time they spend working on it.
Tips I’m trying out myself:
Show, don’t tell. Do, don’t show. Let the player drive the story.
Being clear and consistent is more important than being clever or impressive. A game may require more description or explanation than a regular story. Players need a solid understanding of the situation so they can feel confident in their choices.
Plot is overrated. Instead of asking yourself what happens next, ask yourself, “What are the characters doing?”
Sorry about the length. Hope some of this helps.
Tips for aspiring authors?
Some awesome suggestions here guys thanks. Another resource that should help budding writers is Stephen King’s book on writing.
Thank you I’ll make sure to buy some crossword puzzles next time I’m at the store! I have a few books set aside that I should be reading right now so I’ll be sure to start reading them soon!
These are all good! I haven’t thought bait even half of these and I commonly make the mistake of making long sentences! All of the books and the links you have me are going become extremely helpful, thank you!
There are way too many good books in this world to waste my time on bad ones. I think it should be enough to realize why you put the book down
I just finished a Brandon Sanderson book, and I think he’s a very good plotter. You should add him to your list if you haven’t already And definitely read your writing out loud! Especially the dialogue. It’s the best way to find out if it’s stilted.
Just read them, no need to finish them. Or buy them, goodness me - just raid a library for such books. There idea here is that like with all things in life you can learn a lot from watching others attempt something and fail, so there is no need to repeat every mistake yourself.
But yes, one cannot ever hope to read all the good books out there, for certain. If you try then you certainly never shall write a book yourself, good or bad.