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  1. #1
    Senior Tybby's Avatar
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    Jul 2012
    Land of Emotions and Photons

    "Why am I stuck in ELO hell?" - Tips and tricks for improving your writing

    So some of you don't feel so confident about your writing. I'm just going to come out and say that's a good thing; a lack of confidence inspires improvement. Some of you may have plateaued as writers and some of you might still be way down at the bottom getting started. Regardless of where you are, there are always ways that you could improve as writers, so I've decided out of the goodness of my heart that I'm going to compile a list of general tips to improve your writing. I've divided this list into three sections: Drafting, Editing and Post-Production. As more people create threads asking for advice, I'll update this list to reflect the answers given.

    The process of drafting covers the initial stages of the production, from the first idea to the final written draft. These points will help to smooth out your creative process.

    - Before you draft, make an outline. This is so important and a lot of writers forget to do this. Before you begin writing out your drafts, write a simple summary of the events you'd like to happen in this short story / chapter. You should never, ever, face the problem of "what should happen next" while you are drafting. Instead your problem when drafting should be "how do I get there".

    - Write more than one draft. I personally write out my first drafts in a notebook and then type them up later. This isn't required, but it's a good way to force yourself to actually write separate drafts. The important thing is that you start over from the ground up, take your first (rough) copy and then rewrite it, adding sentences or paragraphs or taking some out, moving events around into a more cohesive order. These are what I call "macro edits", which are edits that change the flow of the story, and are much easier to develop in the process of rewriting.

    - If you're having trouble feeling motivated to write, don't stress yourself. It's okay to go a week without writing, if things aren't going well for you. If you haven't written since Tuesday and you're beating yourself up about it, then the stress will work against your creative process. Take time to rest and relax yourself, refresh your creativity and get back into it.

    - If you feel chronically apathetic towards writing, but still want to be a writer, no one on the internet can help you. All we can say is "just fucking write". Remember, if you're not having fun writing there's no obligation to be a writer. It's just a hobby.

    - Writers block. This happens because of poor planning. You're half way through your first draft and then you say "wait, what happens next?". You've painted yourself into a corner, as now you don't have the freedom to lay out plot events that you had before you wrote half the story down. This is why I so heavily stress writing down an outline first before you draft, if you just jump straight into drafting you have to figure out "what is point A through M" and also the lines connecting them. Take these problems one at a time and I guarantee you will never run into writers block.

    - Character flaws are an important part of your major characters. Without a character flaw, your major characters are just... perfect. This doesn't make for interesting writing. Give your characters a flaw that actually means something to the plot, and ties into their personal arc. For instance, perhaps your character is a sexual abuse survivor who feels guilty for murdering her abusers in self defense. This would fit nicely in a work that is thematically about the juxtaposition of lust and guilt. In this work she would have a clear character arc which relates to the themes of the story: she is going to grapple with her flaw (her guilt) until she either finds a way to get over it or tragically succumbs.

    - Your setting is an extension of your characters. The world your character comes from will always have a cultural effect on your character. Understand what kind of person would grow up in the world you've described and you'll have a good place to start molding characters. Understanding the connection between your setting and your characters will help you improve greatly

    - Try to think of your writing through the eyes of your reader. For instance, think about the amount of detail you're giving things. The more you write about a certain concept in your work, your reader will spend more time reading it. Try to think of things in terms of how important they are; the important things should logically receive more attention from you (and the reader) than the unimportant things

    - The amount of detail you give something isn't just what's important to YOU as the author though. Using free indirect style we can use the level of detail to indicate your character's interests and point of view. For instance, an agoraphobe might be so disconnected from other people that the narration describes other characters minimally (to later begin to look deeper into other people as she warms up), someone who is being physically assaulted might be frightened, activating the sympathetic system and becoming hyper aware (multiple paragraphs going into every detail of this assaulter, and then the details of what he does. The latter example can be found in a Satoshi Kon film called "Perfect Blue". A young actress is filming a rape scene for a TV drama, and to film in free indirect style the initial attack is dragged on quite a bit. We see her on a stage, we see hands pulling her down and we see a man come up from the crowd and climb on top of her. She's shouting "please, no, stop" and then finally the director yells "cut!" and says they have to film it again (much to the audiences increasing discomfort). We see the scripted events played out again, seeing more of these details in a second showing before the actress finally lays her head back, eyes glazed over. She retreats into herself (something victims of assault do sometimes during) and the audience retreats away from the graphic act being performed off camera, instead we get dizzy shots of the set lights above her, the club music becomes muddled, and we (like her) fall out of reality

    - Objects and concepts are not just the sum of their base properties; they can be defined also by their relationship with one another. Juxtaposition (or "montage") is an important literary device in defining your concepts. When a writer presents two concepts at once, they are comparing the two and seeking to say more about them both than if they were on their own. for instance, consider the following passage:

    "I was standing afront the mirror and I saw it there. A spider was setting in the corner, its legs stretching out along its webs and rotating at the knee. It was watching me in my reflection, taking in my scarred chest, the lumps of bone jutting from my skin and my harsh angles. He held his spot there and I closed my eyes, breathed, and felt the sighing wash across my hollow chest."

    Here we have two concepts being presented: the narrator's body and a spider resting in a corner behind him. The spider on its own is an anxious symbol, described as sitting there and feeling the air from its web. It aids an uncomfortable tonality, which is reflected in our authors word choice (the dual meaning of "afront", for example) and what they chose to describe (our narrator has surgery scars, and is so skinny that his bones make a visible outline). There is no doubt from this passage that our narrator is anxious about his body, he feels he is ugly and it's a point of stress.

    This is the process of taking a finished draft and refining it until it reaches a standard you are comfortable with

    - The editing process is home to what I call "micro edits". Unlike marco edits, these are focused less on the flow of the story as a whole and are more confined to their respective paragraphs. At this point you should already have the events of your story in a comfortable place, no more "maybe this scene should come first". As I mentioned before, take your problems out one by one from biggest to smallest to keep a proper creative flow.

    - Micro edits are basically just your spelling, punctuation and syntax. These are so important and I recommend you have at least one resource on hand for each. A dictionary, a book of grammar and a book of style. Know your words, the proper way to lay them out, and the ways in which your laying them out will reflect your tone. Always have your resources handy.

    - Spelling: Basically you need a dictionary. Wiktionary will do, but I like to pull out my huge lexicon and browse words sometimes. Having red squiggles is like 100% the worst way to make a good impression on your readers.

    - Grammar: This is harder, I personally use Strunk and White. If spelling is your numbers, then grammar is your equations; a proper order exists which needs to be followed in order to properly convey meaning. You might not NEED to remember what cosine law is, but if ever you run across a point where you'll need it, it's good to have a resource around that can explain it to you.

    - As an aside related to the above, it's completely fine to "break the rules of grammar" (see "style" below), however if it's needless you will distract your readers. The difference between the broken grammar of an amateur and a professional is purpose.

    - Style: This is how you order your words, within and outside the rules of proper grammar. You'll want some resources on this that go over general principles (Figures of Speech by Arthur Quinn is a good example) and books on specific concepts (such as How Fiction Works by James Wood, which devotes its length to explaining free indirect style). It's important to understand how the way you speak and write affects the readers perception of what you present them.

    - on the above front: Alliteration, rhyming, repetition, omission, etc are all very good tools to enhance the meaning of your work. Make sure this always happens in a purposeful way. If you start every sentence on a page with "the", your reader will notice, and the repetition will break their flow.

    - And as an addition to the above: understanding the "flow of the reader" is one of the most important aspects of the editing process. You want your work to be projected on the reader. You want them to be smoothly reading along as your character dips his foot from his raft and lays his toes in the cool river water, and you want them to be jostled as your character runs through a field, breathing, not turning around as men shout words he can't hear, the tall grasses whipping him in the face as lashes sound behind him.

    - A good general tip is to read your work out loud at this point. Hearing your work spoken instead of read will help to give you a new perspective on your words, and will help greatly in smoothing out the final kinks in your piece.

    - Formatting is a bitch, but it's important to go over the typography of your work. How you present your ideas can have an effect on how they come across to your reader. In the very least, make your work look nice, especially if you want to look appealing for a publisher. Butterick's Practical Typography is an excellent primer for formatting and typography, most of which can be done in MS word even.

    - An important aspect of formatting is understanding the mediums you're creating for. An e-book is going to be formatted very differently from a print publication. Understand what you want to do with this work and format accordingly. If you're making a print book, you're going to want to adjust the page size from "8 1/2 by 11", change the margins, your typography etc to reflect that. Web pages and e-books are different because they're presented to us through computer screens instead of paper. It's generally a good idea to look over some of your favourite works in whichever medium you're going for and see what works and looks nice.

    Of course, it's perfectly fine to publish something as both an e-book and as a print publication, it's just important that both of these documents are formatted in a way that is optimized to their medium.

    Post Production
    This is the process of getting your work out there. You're done working on it, but now you have to sell / post it.

    - You are going to have to spoil your work a little in the synopsis. A good summary for the back of your book, or for the Weasyl "info" box goes over the main points of the first act, and finishes with the complication of your story. "James Sunderland's life is shattered when his young wife Mary suffers a tragic death. Three years later, a mysterious letter arrives from Mary, beckoning him to return to their sanctuary of memories, the dark realm of Silent Hill. Now James must go to that special place to uncover the truth, unaware that the answers he seeks require the ultimate sacrifice." Finally going to Silent Hill might be as late as 1/3 of the way through this story, but it's the first driven complication of this story, established by the details of the first act included in this synopsis. The consumer is drawn in with the promise of an interesting story.

    - Additionally, try not to describe your piece on the technical level. People very choose their reading based on technical terms. The above description is a lot more enticing than "a three character study using the visual juxtaposition of gore and sexuality to explore a dual theme of lust and guilt"

    - Different publishers want different things. Foremost, do everything your publisher asks in their submission guidelines. They receive so many submissions, it's very likely they only look at the ones that fit their criteria. Further, certain publishers only want specific kinds of work (for instance, a publisher may prefer to publish western novels). Make sure your work cleaves to what they want, without stretching ("well, there's a scene inspired by spaghetti western in chapter 3, does that count?").

    - If you're self publishing ( is a good site for this), you need to worry about marketing yourself (usually a publisher covers this for you). If you don't advertise in any way, don't be surprised if you don't sell many units.

    - Don't take it personally if a publisher rejects you. While I will say you can ALWAYS improve yourself as a writer, I should also note that there is sometimes a difference between what is "good" and what will sell. A publisher cares about the latter before the former; they are business people, not artists.

    - If you're rejected, don't give up. Different publishers want different things, there will always be a publisher who is interested in your brand of writing. Keep searching and you'll find them eventually.

    - - - Updated - - -

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    Last updated: Feb 22, 2014
    Last edited by Tybby; 02-22-2014 at 04:22 AM.

  2. #2
    Regular TheLexicon's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2014
    I love this thread. Absolutely fantastic, and extremely helpful.

    I'd like to point out as general advice to participate in online role-plays for writing practice, and also to worry about what will sell last (i.e. write what you want to read). Read a ton of books for inspiration, and it does help you understand how to write something awesome immensely, and that you shouldn't be overly worried about all these guidelines, as they are guidelines. But then again, I'm absolutely terrible at writing because my understanding of the finer points of it are unrefined and I haven't been writing for a decade, so take those tips with a grain of salt.

    I myself struggle with making a decent plot, as well as making a long story. Actually, I'm just terrible at writing all around. Oh well, I guess that's for the best.
    Last edited by TheLexicon; 02-01-2014 at 09:04 PM.

  3. #3
    Pretty nice thread. It explains everything very nicely and in detail so you can do a good writing work. I΄ve considered doing some reading cause I find quite easy to imagine plots and characters but obviously I can΄t put every detail of a character in my head, then there are the headaches.

    Sweet stuff, this will certainly be helpful.

  4. #4
    Senior Zeitzbach's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2013
    Not here, obv.
    Very helpful thread indeed. After reading this, I went back and revised certain part, fixed some character issues and redrafted again. It really made everything smoother.

    One thing I have been doing to go along with this when writing is to try and visualize what exactly was happened from every character perspective. Certain plan sounded nice and all but it might actually not be possible. Distracting a team and has someone snipe from afar is good but how could the snipe be possible if the field of vision was blocked? The setting really is that important and if visualizing while writing was too hard, might as well just sketch the whole place before you continue.

  5. #5
    Premium User FishNChips's Avatar

    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Hella magical tips right here, thx OP



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