Becoming a Better Writer - Advice and Suggestions
A common concern of new writers is whether or not they can write well, and whether they will get any response. The latter - gaining popularity - can be a matter of luck, and there always have been mysteries over why some stories are more popular than others. If it's popularity you seek, then the answers needed might not lie here.
However, if you are looking for suggestions to improve your writing, or if you want to compare your writing strategies to others, then this should be a useful start. Here, board members speak of what they feel will help you become a better writer. Also, in many of the suggestions is advice on curing writer's block.
Be forewarned, though - this is a list of suggestions, not rules or guarantees. It is up to you to decide which are applicable, and which you want to follow. Some of the suggestions may be more geared towards creating a more aesthetic piece of fiction, others towards creating a more popular piece of fiction, and others to still other types of fiction. Some may be more suited to fan fiction, others may be suited more to original universe fiction. You must choose what you want to follow - or you can reject everything entirely.
You are the writer. It is up to you to write the story or poem or literary work; these are just suggestions. Follow them all, follow some, or discard them all - but they are here for you to examine, and for you to decide upon.
The suggestions are grouped by the member who posted them.
An older thread from the UBB Relic Boards that sort of served as the inspiration for this post is What makes a good story started by Mr. Man (also available in the Archive).
You might want to check other threads in the Archive to get ideas, to see other discussions, and to read case examples (other stories). For more examples, you might want to go to Kiith Iopia and the Homeworld Universe Fiction Center. Also, if you are more interested in creating a work that will be popular, you may or may not be interested in the Relic Board Awards threads (First and Second) to give you an idea of where to start.
If you have other relevant links, PM a moderator of the Lounge and we will post it.
If you yourself have a suggestion or an essay suitable for this thread, PM me and I will place it in your own section here. Similarly, if you want to edit something you put up here, PM me and I will edit it.
At the moment only moderators (bluevorlon,IonFish,The Reflection) can post in this subforum (The Garden), so you will need to contact one of us to put up material here.
Grouped by the member who posted it.
the keys to success
- individual style.
- individual ideas.
- sheer bullheaded persistence.
- knowing that there are no keys and I'm just full of it.
curing writer's block
- get too much sleep.
- get too little sleep.
- don't eat.
- get out of the house.
- stay in all the time.
- write utter nonsense.
- read utter nonsense.
- WAIT - the ideas will come.
the writing process
- first draft - get all the ideas out.
- second draft - get even more ideas.
- third draft - squeeze out every last idea you have.
- first revision - correct your spelling/grammar/puncuation errors.
- first edit - cut the story in half.
- second edit - remove anything that doesn't make sense (read: cut that in half too)
- second revision - add some sentence variety.
- third edit - cut out anything that you don't like.
- edit/revise some more until you really like it.
- don't pay attention to me.
- write however you want to.
As I heard somewhere or another: "Screw style. Write what seems natural, write the truth, and you'll get your style in due time."
Helix /DB/'s extremist guide:
These are pretty much the rules I live by*, in short. They seem to work pretty well.
Curing Writer's block:
1. Don't Panic.
2. Watch 80's movies for 20 hours.
3. Walk along the edge of something. (Ex. Caldera, building, world.)
4. Eat sugar, raw if necessary.
The Writing Process:
1. First draft: Write the thing.
2. Revise: purge heinous errors.
When writing, follow the Loremasters' Way: Can you imagine someone reading the tale crouched around a fire? Do the words flow such that they can shape a world with their cadence and emotional flavor?
If you can, and it sounds good in your mind, write it.
Writer's Block: Draw or at least envision where you are in your story. Sketch out characters and locations, and you'll almost certainly get more ideas. Perhaps more than you can use. But more is better than none, right?
Someone recently sent me a PM asking the following question:
"I really want to be able to write good (read as: great/loved) stuff. What would you recommend for someone like me?"
Needless to say I was flattered that someone had come to me to ask this (although for all I know they may have asked twenty other people first ), and so I decided to give them as full a response as possible (within the bounds of sanity). What emerged was a reasonably lengthy list of suggestions, laced with cynicism and a modicum of experience.
Once I’d finished, I thought that since I’d written it, it would be a little unfair to allow only one person to have the benefit(?) of my bitter rantings, and so I decided to edit it into a slightly more coherent form and post it here. Needless to say, my boundless ego was also a factor in this decision... it’s my hope that this will help someone (more than one would also be nice, but I don’t want to get my hopes up too much) to become a better writer than they were.
Despite the fact that it’s to an extent aimed at helping people become more popular writers, if you ignore the bits muttering obscenities about Hollywood pap and the brain-dead modern audience you should hopefully be able to glean some stuff that’ll help you to simply become better.
[Disclaimer: this is meant to be a guide for writers, not a politically-correct hymnal to how wonderful people here are. I hope no one’s offended by the content; if you are, please feel free to PM me and let me know how I can make this guide less abrasive without losing its effectiveness. All feedback is welcomed, whether you’re telling me how this guide is utter rubbish or full of very obvious statements that everyone knows already, letting me know that it helped you, or suggestions about how to improve it.
Please bear in mind I'm still learning myself, like everyone, so this is hardly a definitive guide, but the more you write the better you are able to express yourself. Don’t take any of these things as being laid down in stone; they’re intended as helpful guidelines, not the be-all and end-all of writing.]
How to Write Good/Popular Fiction for publication in the Officers’ Lounge - A Short Guide
1) The basics: knowing grammar and using correct spellings and punctuation is essential. Language is all about communication; if your readers don't understand what you're trying to say, then it doesn't matter how great your ideas are, you're never going to succeed. If a sentence, paragraph, scene or chapter doesn’t work, change it - don’t be afraid to edit your work. Writing is often a matter of playing around with ideas, characters, and situations until they work: if at first you don’t succeed...
2) Style: don’t worry about developing a unique or distinctive writing style, or to stand out from the crowd in some way - this will happen on its own without any conscious input. Merely through the process of expressing yourself you’ll find the ways that work best for you, so don’t try too hard; it’ll happen completely naturally and of its own accord.
3) Characters: human beings don’t tend to identify too well with vast space battles or nifty guns; you need characters to bring situations to life. It doesn’t matter how clever your plot is, or how beautifully described your scenes are, without characters they remain essentially meaningless. Characters can make or break a story; interesting, three-dimensional characters are what you want. However, bear in mind while it would be nice to have a story populated only by rounded individuals with a wide range of strengths and weakness, that isn’t always possible - time and space constraints mean that sometimes it’s necessary to resort to archetypes and ‘flat’ characters. There are some good essays around on this very subject; I’ve got a great book entitled Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, which is a compilation of twenty essays by science fiction writers and editors, and there are some good points about characters in those.
4) Perspective: choose how you’re going to tell the story. Is it a first-person narrative? If so, who is telling the story - the protagonist (central character), or someone else? The same applies if you’re writing in the third person, and/or from multiple perspectives. Don’t switch the viewpoint character halfway through a scene - make it clear whose view you’re telling the scene from, and stick with it. I should probably have got crobato to write this bit, as he’s always going on about it.
5) Plot: if you want something to go down well with the denizens of the Lounge (an audience of teenage males brought up on Star Wars and Hollywood action movies), then a dynamic, heavily structured plot is desirable; the more art-house works that some people occasionally produce don’t tend to be massively popular. I suspect people just go "wtfs?" and pass them by, which is unfortunate, but this is not a terribly ‘mature’ audience as far as fiction readers go (i.e. as stated previously the audience is one dominated by teenage males, not professional literary critics or highly experienced published authors).
6) Subject matter. Again, complex psychodramas are probably not going to be a winner, if popularity is what you’re aiming for; however, you’d do well to remember that if you’re not inspired by your subject matter then it’s doubtful that you’ll ever finish what you start, so write about things that interest you. The stories that have become most popular here have been space operas of various kinds, for example The Reflection’s Outside, crobato’s Kadeshi Crusade and Star Trek: Athena series as well as Don Armageddon’s Angel Squadron. Note that these stories were not necessarily the best stories, merely the ones that garnered the most popular acclaim.
Hope this helps someone, somewhere
Persistence, patience, determination: the power to be able to plod on is key, and necessary. In my opinion, if you lack these three qualities, you're already lost: you shouldn't be posting here.
Persistence - You have to keep chipping away at the story or whatever it is you're writing. When an idea comes and you feel like writing, try to write for as long as possible. This will help maintain the style of the text and help towards the development of that idea.
Patience - But ideas won't come to you when you want them. More often than not, you have to wait for them to come to you. If you don't, if you try to force the ideas, you'll only mess things up. The ideas, if they are to be viewed as entities, will become discouraged: they'll leave you alone. Just letting the ideas come as they please may not be what you want initially, but you should learn to grow accustomed to waiting for them to appear. Once they do arrive, you've had time to speculate, which allows (if you're used to the process) you to see where the idea should go. Balance and timing then enter the text (more later. Maybe).
Determination - I can't think of an application for this during the writing stages, but this is definitely one skill you must have if you want to get your works published. When you send off what you think are the final drafts of your works, people are going to tell you to go away. If you ask them nicely, they might tell you where you're going wrong. Maybe they don't deal with works of your nature; maybe there are errors in your work that need to be resolved. However, determination and diplomacy will get you published. Getting published will get you money. Money can get you anything.
Balance and timing within a story are fundamental skills that need to be learnt; they are also the most difficult. The trick is trying to work out how you think your audience (i.e. the reader) will react to what you've written. You want to make your story memorable, you want to have it discussed. So timing is integral: knowing when to drop names, when to reveal wider parts of the story. Good timing can get you discussed.
Balance is so important that it might as well be the foundation of your work, whether that be stories, scripts - whatever. Balance comes in many shapes and sizes: environment, character, the ratio of descriptive text to dialogue - all are subfactors, and skills which must be honed in order to gain a textual perfection. (I am a perfectionist, so to me this is obvious.)
"Balance of environment?" I hear you cry. At this time, it is most necessary that I smile and nod. There are several sub-subfactors of environment. The environment in which you are setting your characters: how far does it go to control them? Does the very nature of their environment effect how they react to certain situations that you pose for them in novel? Does the environment have a flexibility, an almost flaccid nature, that allows the characters to gain something? What about the environment in which you are actually writing? How inspiring is it? I myself prefer particularly bleak writing spots, so long as I'm reasonably warm and comfortable: resting my book on the lower corner of the bed and pinning myself between the bed and the wardrobe usually does it. But how does your writing environment affect the subject - even the quality - of your work?
'Balance of character' is something I'm sure you all understand the meaning of. Characters will be the most important part of your stories. If description, structure and narrative are the bones, muscle and skin of stories, then characters are the nerves; the brain. Without them, you have no story. Because of this, the reader has to be able to understand them; has to be able to know their needs, what drives them. All characters have drives. They may be subtle, you may not realise them at first, but they're there.
Characters which are easy to understand allow the reader to relate themselves to your characters, to their situations. If the reader keeps asking, "Why does she do that?" when you don't expect her to, your characters aren't understandable. If the characters are not understandable, there is more chance the reader will put the book down without finishing.
Although I think I've been very brief, I will move on.
Balance in terms of descriptive text to dialogue is an essential also. Knowing when to place speech where is necessary, but only comes with writing.
For example, consider this extract from Donaldson's Forbidden Knowledge (SPOILER)-
END OF SPOILERLike a mantra, she murmured her son's name to herself.
Davies. Davies Hyland.
If any part of her was worth saving, this was it.
'Now,' Nick rasped, 'the baby.'
The doctor was speaking again. 'The efficacy and safety of the procedure is established. All Amnion offspring are matured in this fashion. Certainly the human female is not Amnion. Yet even with a human the efficacy of the procedure has been established. Her blood will provide the computers with the information for the necessary adjustments. The genetic identity of her offspring will not be altered.
'What are your wishes concerning her body? Will you trade for it? Suitable recompense will be offered. Or do you wish to dispose of it in your won fashion?'
Morn heard the words as if they were in a code she couldn't decipher.
At her side, Nick went rigid.
'What do you mean,' he demanded dangerously, '"dispose of it"? What are you talking about? I want to take her with me as a live and healthy as she is right now.'
'That is impossible,' replied the doctor without discernible inflection. 'You were aware of this. It is presumed that our requirement contains the knowledge of its outcome. Among Amnion, the efficacy and safety of the procedure is established. Among humans, only the efficacy is established.
'The difficulty involves' - the Amnion cocked its head, listening - 'translation suggests the words "human psychology". The procedure necessitates' - the doctor listened again - '"a transfer of mind". Of what use is a physically mature offspring with the knowledge and perceptions of a foetus? Therefore the offspring is given the mind of its parent. Among Amnion, this procedure is without difficulty. Among humans, it produces' - another cock of the head - '"insanity". A total and irreparable loss of reason and function. Speculation suggests that in humans the procedure instils and intense fear which overwhelms the mind. The female will be of no further use to you. Therefore the offer is made to trade for her.'
Total and irreparable loss - Morn did her best to concentrate on the danger, but her attention drifted sideways. Trade for her. No doubt the Amnion still wanted her because her sanity or madness was irrelevant to the mutagens. She should have been terrified.
But she was far too gone for that.
A transfer of mind. Little Davies would have her mind. He would be truly and wholly her son. There would be nothing of Angus Thermopyle in him.
If you haven't already, read the Gap series by Stephen Donaldson; this is an excerpt from one of the five books. In my opinion, text can gain no higher level of perfection as these five he has written. Some of you may have heard of or read the Thomas Covenant series - this is nothing like them.
The quotation above displays many of the things I have mentioned here, including balance of text to dialogue, characterisation (though admittedly it's difficult to get the full picture from this short extract), identification/relativity (Morn's fear). Environment was described before this extract, so therefore it does not appear. However, it shows where the focus is: on the characters, on the nerves. In order to understand this scene more, however, you have to read the books. Which explain why it's so damned perfect, though I won't expostulate...
...What I meant to add was that no matter what befalls you, no matter what time of day or night, keep on writing. And be receptive to those ideas: write them down no matter what, and ignoring the guy in the raincoat who's giving you funny looks as you stare out the window of the Underground train, looking at a crowd that has inspired you with its shape and colour; the man watching you write notes down in a small black book...
Embarrasment is a small factor when put alongside genius. Or fame. The former will probaby have you a highly respected, low-paid writer; the latter will bring little self-esteem, little respect from the people who matter, but lots of money.
Play it whichever way you like, but remember to keep writing. It is the crux. If you want to call yourself a writer, writing must become your catalyst.
(And I hopeI got that last bit in the right context.)
If it's to be good at writing that's your goal, then what you are basically doing is chipping away bad habits over time... so I'm gonna give a few basic ones out to watch for, just in case
Grammar - Very important. Keep a sibling, child or grandchild under the age of 13 around. If they can't understand anything you're unsure about, reword the sentence.
Depth - New writers generally loose their depth immediately in one of two ways-
Either they overdevelop their description and underdevelop their plot, characters, and the character's actions, or...
They pay full attention to actions and characters, like you'd expect for say... a movie, or a play. They don't describe thoughts, small things, characters often loose emotional depth due to loss of facial expression. Places loose character due to loss of interesting observations. etc.
Presentation - Paragraphs! Until you're quite experienced, to be on the safe side, keep your paragraphs under... say, 10 lines in the message box. Try and make a new paragraph for each new idea.
Each time a new person speaks start a new line, but don't leave a blank line like you would for paragraphs... This makes reading a lot easier.
Capitals, spelling, and punctuation help greatly as well
Distraction - Make sure you're awake, or alert, while you write. Watch what you write, not the keyboard. (if you can help it that is) This is a good way to catch small mistakes like typoes, (tpyoes) missed out letters or punctuation, (you'r left!) accidentally changing tense, (I am a good boy. I have chopped wood. I bring the wood to the fireplace...) or typing the completely wrong word or name altogether, with your thoughts elsewhere. (Elson punched Elson in the face...)
Hope these help
(I plan to edit and expand this later - this is from the older thread What makes a good story on the ancient UBB boards)
Here is my little guide to good writing. I'm not sure how much it will help you, but maybe it will be of some assistance to someone.
Four main things to keep in mind when writing a story: plot, characters, presentation, and patience.
- Creativity - If you are going to write something that might be cliche, show it in a very unique way or perspective so it is, in fact, not really cliche.
- Know where the plot is going
- Length - Longer stories are usually better, mainly because there is more to respond to and more room to develop plot & characters.
- Broadness of Consequences - Show how your story fits into the big picture, and how it changes everything. Probably one of the biggest reasons for Outside's popularity is that it solved so many mysteries in the Homeworld universe. However, be prepared to defend your claims.
- Consistency - Both within your story and with the game. Optionally, with other stories. If you include a reference to other fiction works, it might grab the attention of the writers and readers of those stories. Of course, be subtle with references. Don't try to force them too much, but rather find a natural place for them.
- Plot twists - Every few chapters, be sure to do something that will really grab the reader's attention. An unexpected battle, solving a mystery in the Homeworld universe, or having a major character development is good for this.
- Foreshadowing - Again be a little subtle, so the reader does not guess the ending or plot twist. However, foreshadowing gives the impression that you know where you are going and draws in the reader to find out more.
- Beginning and Ending - Of course a good beginning grabs the reader's attention. A good ending should give a feeling of closure. Anticlimaxes are bad. The ending should have much emotion and action which leads to some form of conclusion.
- Coolness - I cannot really think of a better term at present. Some topics are naturally more interesting than others. For example the Bentusi and the T-Mat (both of which are an integral part of Outside) are very interesting, and everyone loves to see them. An interesting plot will also make it fun to write the story, which is good.
Because this is a piece of fiction, there is far more to tell than "The destroyer fired on the frigate. The frigate exploded. The destroyer had saved the day." You must show the people involved in these events in action.
- Characterization - People have feelings. Do not be afraid to show the feelings your characters have. Also, the more human the characters are, the better.
Take a look at the ending of the Xellos' Fleet Intelligence Logs. Although Xellos might not think they form a complete story, if you look at the last entries, when everyone is under so much stress because the final battles were coming, you can really see Colonel Kaalel's personality shining through them. Xellos did not change the story because of that, but it did make the characters seem real.
- Colorfullness - The characters should be interesting. They should show the story through a unique persepctive. Perhaps they have a dark past, or a personality trait that really influences them.
- Everybody is a person - Even the background characters and the enemies have reasons for what they are doing.
- When writing, remain in character - For example, if you are writing about the Bentusi, the Bentusi are not going to say "Hey, wanna trade?" or "Die, you unforgiving scum of the universe!" The Bentusi have a mystique about them and "regret" battle. Similarly, your own characters should not be casually doing something that is 180° opposite of what their personality without a transition.
- The little things - Your characters did exist before your story began (in most cases). Refer back to something from before the story, perhaps something personal. Also, there are thousands of little things you do or say or think about that make up who you are. You can refer to those to. Again, subtlety counts.
- Good grammer, spelling, and punctuation - You can get away with a few errors, but more than that start to detract from the story.
- Pace yourself - I find that posting a chapter per few days works best. This gives enough time for people to read and think about what I have posted. Pacing also lets suspense build up. And, of course, each time you post a chapter, your topic is bumped up to the top of the board.
- Good formatting - A sentence with misplaced UBB tags in them can be embarrasing. Look for them and eliminate them. Don't be discouraged - good formatting can be used to underscore or distinguish something, and can lead to a dramatic effect.
This alone can make or break your story...or you. During the first few chapters, you are not going to get much, if any response. (Go back and look at the first few chapters of Outside. There would often be several chapters in a row without response). Even if you do recieve no replies, keep going and keep posting. People may not be replying, but they are reading. Eventually, if your story is good, people will start responding to it.
How to Cure Writer's Block (real).
1) Walk away from the projekt and play your favourite computer game/relax/meditate/just have fun for a while, but don't get carried away; you'll just forget about it and never finish it (I know, I've done this before).
research research research
cure 4 writers block (do any 1 or all of the following);
don't think about it - come back later
go 4 a walk
do something that makes u stupid like heavy drinking
ok, the last 2 were def not true. although u could try it. do tell me if it does work cos then i am the best writer the world has ever seen (i have hay fever and can't handle alcohol if u didn't get the allusion).
Cure for writer's block: There is none. All will die.
Way to write better: Write.
Well, let's see...
-Know your diction. Any story, regardless of whatever kind of properties it has, will not be as regardled as highly if you do not pay attention to the rules. An allegory: take any article from the newpaper or a magazine of choice, and read it to someone using a clear, calm, measured tone of voice, then reread it in a muddled, inconsistent, and confusing tone. Chances are, the former will be more likely to get the point across. Writing works in the same way, but with the written, as opposed to the spoken, word.
-Pace, in several capacities. Most people don't tend to approach the short, simplistic style of Hemingway, but rather try to explain too much, and get themselves into confusing, run-on sentences. Don't be afraid to divide that bundle of things up, and approach things in a slightly more gradual fashion. More can too easily be less. Same applies to paragraphs.
-On Writer's Block: It's okay to step back from the issue, just don't try to force creativity, or else it'll simply become worse.
Do something else to let your mind find direction. Hang out with some friends at the movies, or have an honest talk to your family(for once!), just live for a while, and whatever will come, shall come.
If you can't be arsed to do that, try thinking about things during or after doing something that inspires you, such as watching a favorite movie, or listening to a song, or any of a variety of media(currently on a Simon and Garfunkel trip ^^). If everyone's Homeworld favorite, Agnus Dei, makes you emotive and/or weep like a ninny(if weeping/awe fits what you feel about the story, characters, etc), then think about things in that context(Tool's "H." makes we do that, Big Smiting Asshole in the Sky knows why).
Failing that, just start typing out how the situation is on your processor in the best capacity you can. Nothing helps like mental decompression, and simply doing the act of getting those thoughts, ridiculous, stagnant, or what have you, is a good thing.
But, you don't have to take my word for it.
1. K.I.S.S always works
2. Write from the middle of the story, not from the start.
3. Write from within the story, and not from above it.
4. Do not explain---live it instead.
5. Write your stories like a series of images, a set of powerful experiences, rather than a string of causal events.
6. Do not overdo the adjectives and the adverbs. Demonstrate rather than describe.
7. The verb is the most powerful word of all.
8. And if you have not heard it well enough, "the best may not be simple but simple is always best"---Albert Speer.
Another way to write better: Read. A lot.
"If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write." - Stephen King