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superpsycho

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Basics of Writing
« on: 05/03-09:24 »

Basics of Writing

I decided to do this thread to layout what little I know about writing, so youíll have some where to start. If something doesnít make sense or you have a different view, feel free to say so. The object here is to improve everyoneís writing skills, including my own and not to boost egos. If youíre going to learn how to do it right, you canít let your ego get in the way and thatís true for almost anything.

This might be of some help Jim Butcherís Online Writerís Forum


What is writing?

Writing is nothing more then putting words to paper. The key is learning how to communicate to other people ideas and concepts in your writing. This is true, whether youíre telling a story or explaining something. Your goal is to make what youíre saying both interesting and understandable. Even when writing the driest technical manual, your goal is the same. As a matter of fact, the drier the material the more important it becomes to make it interesting, so people will be willing to wade through it. Unfortunately many writers of reference material fail to take readability into consideration.

Creative writing.

One of the most difficult forms of writing is creative writing. The main reason for this is because it requires the creation of the material out of youíre own imagination as you write. Once someone gets a hang of creating writing, itís usually not that hard to transition to other types. The main thing to remember is just ďTell the StoryĒ. That is to say, once youíve done your prep work and you actually start the writing, donít try to teach a lesson, make a point or anything; just tell the story as best you can. Tell it as if youíre there describing what is happening. Often you'll come across the phrase 'Show Not Tell'.

The key to good writing is telling a story that flows forward without stopping or veering in all directions to explain things. This means you have to make the development of characters and backgrounds part of the story, and not as side notes. It also means keeping the character and background information to just what is needed to tell the story, plot line or motivation of the characters.

Most people who sit down to write never finish or what they end up with is unreadable. Creative writing is a multitask exercise. Youíre developing an environment, characters, motivations and plot line at the same time. What helps in the effort, is to map it all out before the writing begins, so youíre not trying to do everything at once. After giving you the basic components of the prep work, Iíll try to provide some examples of what Iím talking about.

Synopsis

The synopsis is nothing more then a summary of the story or aspects of the book. There is no set rule as to what should be in this summary and many times itís dependent on what the story is about. Itís whatever helps you layout your general thoughts on the subject youíre writing about. You may want to break your synopsis into sections to reflect different aspects of the story; the basic story theme or premise, the setting or locations, time frame, etc. These things provide a sketch of the world youíre going to fill in as you write. A lot of it may not even be used, but it provides the texture and color youíll paint your story with, so the more you have, the more you can draw from to paint that picture.

For those whose purpose is to teach a lesson or make a statement, it is here in the synopsis that it should be done. Not by trying to layout the message itself but by embedding the message in the background as part of the situation, the characters, their motivation, etc. That way you can tell the story, as a story, and not have the reader feel like theyíre being beat over the head with some lesson.

Ayn Rand, who I do enjoy, is an example of such bad habits. In her fictional work she uses the device of long winded oratory by some characters that can be difficult to get through. If youíre interested in her philosophical viewpoint youíll usually be just fine with it, but for those that are just interested in the story, theyíre more likely just to skip over those parts. In the end it limits your audience and will not likely get youíre message across even if they do read the book. Itís better to have the reader see the lesson or message come out naturally from the over all essence of the story rather they long winded explanations, regardless of the device you use to put it out.

Outlines

Outlines are perfect for establishing characters and key points of the plot line. Outlines are highlights of what you want to portray that are easy, visually to reference. An outline of the characters can be grouped by region, good guys, bad guys or whatever is convenient for you. For characters itís a good way to organize and layout in your mind your resources in telling the story. Many times it can give you some relationship among the characters or point out gaps in the story. The plot outline can provide a level of continuity to the story, as well as how the plot relates to the characterís motivation or thinking. Another good use of an outline is for the questions or things you have to research to make sure the story is believable or relates to the real world.

Perspective

One thing youíll need to determine is the perspective or viewpoint of the story. The third person perspective is when youíre telling the story from the outside looking in or as a narrator. First person is as if youíre that person and the reader is seeing things from their eyes and listening in on their thoughts. This perspective is common in detective stories because it allows the solution to the mystery to unfold as the detective sees it and allows for a lot of character development of him. Third person works well when you have things occurring outside the view of your lead that are important to the story line. It also works well if you want to shift the story to different characters that are central to the action at any given point in the story. Moving the focus from character to character can provide greater texture to the story, as it provides more insight for the reader about the characters. It also means you canít give as much depth for each character.

What works for you?
Again there is not a fixed set of rules because people are different. The goal is to discover and develop what works for you within the context of the type of writing you plan to do. If youíre just going to write a short story consisting of 3 or 4 days work you donít want to do twice that in prep work. If itís a series of short stories on the same subject then prep can provide continuity.

Even if youíre not doing creative writing, a variation of the same process would still be valid. If youíre doing a family history or life story youíd still want to layout the key points that shaped you. You still would want to decide on the people you want to include and list the things about them that were important to you. Whether fiction, history or technical reference documents, laying out the flow of the material and the key points you want to cover help make the process easier once the actual writing begins.

The only one that can determine what works for you, is you, and only by doing it. You can try just writing, or doing all the prep, then work from there. In most cases if you just start writing youíll likely be spending many hours just staring at a screen or having to stop every time you get started to get some bit of information you donít have. Itís better to be able to just write once you get started.
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superpsycho

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Re: Basics of Writing
« Reply #1 on: 05/18-10:56 »

A promised to add more as time went on. Well here's more.

How Much Detail

Often the first question is how much detail to give about characters or scenes. The answer is only the amount needed to tell the story, as itís needed. The best way to think of it is leading a blind person across a room. You wouldnít try to give them a description of everything in the room, it would only confuse them. You wouldnít tell them everything about their path all at once before they even set out, again that would only confuse things. What you would do is tell them exactly what they need, to take each step, as they take them.

To give him a feel for the room you can add descriptions of the things they encounter. ďThere is a round stool before you. It is a deep rich mahogany with warm leather padding on top.Ē Providing brief touches of descriptions that will give a sense of the characters, emotions and atmosphere of the story can help to provide a richer and more enjoyable experience for the reader. Donít try to sound like a writer using flowery language filled with adverbs and adjectives. This distracts from the story and can make it difficult to read. Often itís better to just tell the basic story first then go back and punch it up as needed, providing the basic texture to the readers own imagination.
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superpsycho

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Re: Basics of Writing
« Reply #2 on: 05/19-13:48 »

First Steps to Writing

Write, write and then write some more. The old saying ďpractice makes perfectĒ is not the whole story. If you have no way to know if youíre doing it wrong, then you can practice all you want and never get it any better. You start be writing as much as you can. You want to build good habits from the start or youíll spend hours looking at a screen accomplishing nothing.

If you canít work on your own short story or novel, then write a book review. Book and movie reviews are one of the best ways to get in the habit of writing. Youíre only dealing with a paragraph or two at the most and itís on something often fresh in your mind, so youíre not creating something from scratch. Learn to do it right, by looking at other book reviews then develop your own style. Another good subject to write on is yourself, by writing at the end of everyday about what you did. A subject fresh in your mind you don't have to create out of nothing.

The object is to be able to write something each day, regardless of what it is. The main requirement is trying to do it the best you can, and figuring out ways to improve, each time you do it. Whether a review, a blog, a thread on a forum, a journal, the key is writing and then trying to make it better. Youíll find over time the habit of writing will spill over into your larger work, making it easier and reduce the periods of writerís block.

Once you have a habit of writing, then getting honest critiques from someone, helps provide a less biased critic then yourself. You also have to receive the critique with the idea itís going to help and not intended to criticize you personally. Your focus has to be towards improving you skills. Once youíve committed yourself to it, then youíre on your way to becoming a writer. That doesnít mean it will be an easy road but youíll have a better chance of sticking with it long enough to succeed.
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superpsycho

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Re: Basics of Writing
« Reply #3 on: 05/22-10:46 »

Developing Characters

Iíve heard many say, you need to have your characters fleshed out to the point they drive the story. While others argue you want the bare minimum in a character profile, so the story can develop them. The truth is itís up to you. You need to find what works for you. What works for them may or may not help you. If one method doesnít work then try another. Iíd try various combinations, just to see what seems best and remember, what works for one story could be a stumbling block in another.

How much do you want to know about the mysterious stranger ahead of time? On the other hand, if youíve got a character whose emotional state is intended to driving part of the story, you'd better have a well formed background that would create those emotions. As a general rule of thumb you want enough information on the character, for them to do their job. After all how much do you really need to know about a waiter who serves one beer in the entire story.

I think youíll find the balance is somewhere in the middle for main characters most of the time but there will be stories and characters that will be unique, in that you have to know every detail or nothing at all. The main focus gets back to the story itself and what the character needs, to tell the story effectively. From the little experience I have, Iíd say you're better off having more information than you need. Often the more the character is developed the more realistic it becomes. The exception is when writers try to write stories with some overriding social message. There they end up forcing some form of artificial shell around the character that becomes obvious to the reader.

When developing characters, often itís their backgrounds that create the emotions, or lack of them, within the story. If they have no history, how are you going know how theyíll react in different situations? Yes, you can try to play it by ear but you could also end up with inconsistencies in their reactions that would be obvious to the reader. Initially, as you learn how to write, it will be a matter of trail and error. Itís better to do it, aware of the situation, rather than do it haphazardly, without understanding whatís going on.

Like everything else in life, if you are aware of what needs to be done and the steps needed to accomplish your goal, then youíve got a much better chance of being successful. Donít just stumble around in the dark. Realize there are things you need to learn yourself. Do a little bit of planning, even if itís just in your head. Taking a methodical approach could save you a lot of time and frustration.

Start by developing a basic template for your characters. Fill in the information as best you can. Add to it as the character develops or changes as you write the story itself. If you arenít sure how a character will react then you havenít got enough information. Think about what works and doesnít so you can make improvements. Over a period of time youíll realize what you need and what you donít for you and for the types of characters you have. Adjust as needed for the story. The goal is to make a story interesting which more often than not includes bringing the characters to life.
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superpsycho

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Re: Basics of Writing - Outline Example
« Reply #4 on: 07/09-22:48 »

Outlines - Example of the use of an outline. In this case it's a book chapter outline intended to provide the components an author might want to cover in each chapter. Included are the main characters, the setting of where the scenes take place, the basic scenes, and then the plot points or what needs to be established in each chapter. An average book is 200-400 pages. The number of chapters may be anywhere from 10 to 30+.

1.   Chapter 1
            A. Characters
                     a. Mrs. Hargrove
                     b. William Moore - Solicitor
                     c. Captain Stark - Adventurer
            B. Settings
                     a. Hotel Paradise - Lobby
                     b. Hotel Paradise - Lounge
                     c. Hotel Paradise - Restaurant veranda
            C. Scenes
                     a. Moore has come to review Mrs. Hargrove late husbandís accounts
                         Ė first meeting in lobby
                     b. Adjoining to the lounge Moore gives the years accounting.
                         Captain Stark overhears the conversation.
                     c. Captain stark having heard facts he knows not to be true,
                         introduces himself to Mrs. Hargrove.
                         Explaining his concerns, he asks her to dinner.
                     d. Captain stark and Mrs. Hargrove have dinner.
                          He explains his concerns to her and offers to help.
                          She is impressed and a bit intrigued by him.
            D. Plot points
                     a. Establish who Mrs. Hargrove is.
                     b. Establish Mrs. Hargrove is likely being cheated
                     c. Establish some mystery to who Captain Stark is?
                     d. Put out hints that Moore may not be trust worthy. And that he is
                         spying on Mrs. Hargrove and the captain.
 2.   Chapter 2
            A. Characters
            B. Setting
            C. Scenes
            D. Plot
3.   Chapter 3
            A. Characters
            B. Setting
            C. Scenes
            D. Plot
4.   Chapter 4
            A. Characters
            B. Setting
            C. Scenes
            D. Plot
5.   Chapter 5
            A. Characters
            B. Setting
            C. Scenes
            D. Plot
6.   Chapter 6
            A. Characters
            B. Setting
            C. Scenes
            D. Plot
7.   Chapter 7
            A. Characters
            B. Setting
            C. Scenes
            D. Plot
8.   Chapter 8
            A. Characters
            B. Setting
            C. Scenes
            D. Plot
9.   Chapter 9
            A. Characters
            B. Setting
            C. Scenes
            D. Plot
10. Chapter 10
            A. Characters
            B. Setting
            C. Scenes
            D. Plot

This is just one example of how an outline can be used. There are any number of variations that can be developed or utilized. You might not find this useful for your methodology, but consider something like it when you are stuck as to where a story should go next. Laying a story out can provide some insight into how a story should flow.
 
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superpsycho

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Re: Basics of Writing
« Reply #5 on: 08/09-13:05 »

Show Not Tell - This a phrase that you'll often hear in literary circles and creative writing classes. What it means is, when telling a story the goal is to create an image in the mind of the reader so it has depth, impact and makes the scenes vivid. It makes a big difference in the entertainment value for the reader.

Consider a scene where a couple guys are sitting at a table in a restaurant. One sees a beautiful girl walk in and falls in love. 

Tell - He fell in love from the first moment he caught sight of her.

Show 1 -
Quote
When she entered the room, time stopped and he forgot how to breath as her image imprinted indelibly in his mind. She was stunning but there was more to her then just sultry curves, long legs, and the jet black hair that flowed all the way down to the arc of her thigh. There was a presence about her, an undeniable magnetism that drew him into the depths of those haunting light blue eyes where he'd happily be lost forever. There was no doubt he was in love, beyond any point he thought possible.

Show 2 -
Quote
For Michael time stopped when she entered the room.

Steven seeing his friend transfixed on something, turned to see what it was. "God she's hot," the words escaping without volition.

"Hot doesn't even come close," Michael muttered, as he took in her sultry curves, long legs, and the jet black hair that flowed all the way down to the arc of her thigh. "I don't think there's a word that could ever do her justice. Those blue eyes are hypnotic, I could get lost in their depths easily."

"I know, somehow you can't help but be drawn to them. God, I'm going to need a cold shower."

"Hell, I may need a cigarette in a moment and I don't even smoke," Michael breathed, then gathering every once of courage he had, he stood up.

Steven looked at his friend aghast, "What are you doing?"

"The only thing I can do, introduce myself then ask her to marry me."

"What if she's already married?"

"Not possible, fate could never be so cruel."

Can you over do it? Of course you can, just like anything else, you can have to much of a good thing. If every situation has an extensive description then the story will move at a snails pace and exhaust the reader. There a key points in every story where such descriptions are important in communicating the quality and depth of the situation. But you can't do it for everything. You don't want brushing your teeth to become an erotic moment that takes two paragraphs to describe.

The goal is not adverbs and adjectives but imagery, preferably with feeling and emotion through someones eyes rather than dry narrative. Don't try and sound like what you think a writer should sound like. Put yourself in the mind of the character then describe what you feel about the scene you have in your mind. Try and find real honest emotion rather than flowery sentences.

Show doesn't mean physical descriptions but personal perceptions and emotions of the characters. Don''t try and describe a movie scene or sequence. I often find myself doing that very thing, than end up deleting whole paragraphs that added nothing to the story. Things like, where people are seated, hand gestures, how someone gets from one room to another. Those things are part of the imaginary, and sequence of events, of the story in your head but they are often pointless details that have no actual value to the story itself. 

And remember at times a well chosen short flat statement can have a lot more impact than a lot of imagery or words. The goal is communicating the story and knowing what has the most impact at key points, is part of it.  'Showing' at key points gives the reader an understanding of how those points affect the characters state of mind, motivation and emotions. Revelations to the reader are more often the places you want to Ďtellí since a short quick reveal often has more impact.
 
Show is even better when it's part of the natural dialog and interplay of the characters. It can animate a scene and give it life.

here you'll find some good examples

A more detailed discussion of when to 'show' and when to 'tell' here
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