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Writing Help

Discussion in 'Art, Music and Writing' started by tdatapina, Nov 1, 2013.

  1. tdatapina

    tdatapina Hero of Time

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    Alright so I've a question. I really, really enjoy writing, but something occurred to me yesterday. I'm really bad at it. A lot of the time I will say "he" or "him" or "I" way too much. I'll have like 3 paragraphs in a row all repetitive like that.

    I'm also kind of bad at coming up with my own ideas. I have to get them from somewhere; such as following my character in Skyrim, twisting the plot in a movie, or from another book.

    I also have trouble developing characters. What I mean by that is, most people say they create a character and start of the story, and the character kinda drives the story. The writer doesn't necessarily say what they want to happen, but how the character will respond to an event.


    I need tips, tricks, guidelines, anything you guys can help with. I really enjoy writing and I'd like to get better as fast as I can. I already write pretty frequently because I am in roleplays, and I also write stories on my own (even though I scrap more than half of them by the time I finish and reread the prologue)

    Thanks in advance:)
     
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  2. Amaryllis

    Amaryllis New Member

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    Every idea is inspired by something else. How loose this inspiration is varies by idea (and person), but you can always trace the origin of an idea back to some outside source. Ideally, it will be barely -- if at all -- recognizable when you're done, because by the time the idea is fleshed out and/or written, you've added copious amounts of your own input and ideas to it. Innovation is an organic process, but it doesn't come from thin air.

    Running around in Skyrim and being inspired by your experiences is perfectly okay, because Skyrim does not have some kind of copyright on running through the wilderness of a fantasy world and having things happen. Now, if your character is called the Bovahkiin, and can steal the souls of dragons (which have just returned to the world), which he fights in the midst of a civil war between imperial loyalists and nationalistic rebels, then yeah, maybe you have a bit of a problem. If your experience is stumbling upon a corpse in a cave and wanting to write something based on that, it's not copying at all.

    There is no trick to developing characters. If you haven't planned the story down to the most minute detail, your character will eventually start establishing themselves as you write, and you'll realize certain things may not jive with the overall vision ('come to think of it, Captain Placeholder wouldn't charge into the enemy like that; he's too cautious'). If you HAVE planned it down to the most minute detail, you're still going to run into situations where you'll be able to see that a reaction makes no sense. This isn't something you glean from outlines or synopses. Even if you're absolutely terrible at creating characters (not saying you are), this will still happen. The only way it won't is if you're clinically and impassionately writing down things that happen like you're transcribing a court case. He opened the door and went in. He rifled through the satchel on the table until he found the letter.

    He, him, I. Without context, I can't even say whether or not this is a problem. If it is, it's probably a matter of too much attribution, or not enough description. What you DON'T want to do is start combing a thesaurus for different ways to say the same thing. If it's actually a problem, that isn't solving it. It's just dressing it up in an equally transparent outfit and turning it into something else.
     
  3. Jimmy_Smashwell

    Jimmy_Smashwell New Member

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    disclaimer: my grammar is crap sometimes cause im on an iphone and refuse the word correct setting :)

    i have been a song writer for like 12 years now. i had not done any creative writing (besides music) until i wanted a back story for one of my characters in skyrim. ill say that its not much different then song writing as far as process. the structure ofc is.

    i like to write on the fly as it feels more organic but this demands a substantial amount of creativity and lots of immersion. if you are having trouble getting the ball rolling for an original idea try a structured outline. the first rp story i did was on the fly. its titled "cynnica rp backstory."
    i only had an idea to start with. the second story im currently doing has a guideline. either way you do it, go slow. be as descriptive as possible. the texture of the wall as the character sneaks down the hallway of the keep. readers love to get stuck in the details. this is my outline for my next story:
     
  4. Jimmy_Smashwell

    Jimmy_Smashwell New Member

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    Faundá
    Breton (assassin)
    Legendary difficulty

    -Parents owned a mine which was passed down through the generations. Closest major city being Riften.
    -Her father (Deshik) had an understanding with a pair of hunters. They would be allowed to harvest as many pelts as they could carry out on the condition of protecting the land from bandits.
    -This went on without a hitch for many years. Faundá fell in love with the art of bow and arrow as she was permitted to go on hunts with the pair.
    -Maven Blackbriar made an offer to buy the mine and surrounding land as the profitability was undeniable.
    -The property wasn't for sale but Maven's greed filled tenacity turned in to envious wrath.
    -Maven sent the dark brotherhood to assassinate Deshik. She didn't use the thieves guild as they would draw too much attention and their reputation is flakey as of late. It had to be clean and it had to be done right...
    -Faundá now old enough to venture by herself goes out for a 3 day hunt only to come back to her parents slaughtered in their cabin.
    -After a day of grief Faundá goes on a month long hunt for her parents assailants. She heads south west to the very border of Skyrim.
    -She sees a group of what seemed like guards in blue armor fighting off a huge bear and starts unloading arrows and advancing her position but still many yards from the guards.
    -As the final arrow pierces the hide of their foe, Faundá is smashed on the back of the head and knocked out by a veteran Imperial scout. She wakes on a carriage, hands bound, and a bad headache...
     
  5. Cordelia

    Cordelia Global Moderator
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    [WARNING: Long post with hopefully helpful advice inside. Don't tl;dr. Stick it out if you really have the passion to improve.]

    I think you may not give yourself enough credit, Tdatapina. Writing isn't something that miraculously manifests itself as a publishable manuscript waiting to be poured out of your mind, through your fingertips and into the computer. Finding you repeat yourself, or use certain words too frequently doesn't make you a bad writer, because those things can be fixed with simple editing. Identifying them as points in need of improvement means you're already halfway there. A bad writer is someone who never bothers trying to improve. It's a skill that takes time to master, and can always be improved, but you can't get better if you give up before you try. Asking for help in this thread means you're not willing to give up on yourself or your writing, and that puts you ahead of those who would rather complain than work at it.

    I know it can be difficult to look at what you've managed to write and not feel some disappointment when it doesn't match what you felt while writing it. One of the first revolutionary pieces of advice I received that changed how I look at early drafts is "The first draft is crap. It's meant to be crap. Accept it and move on."

    I didn't want to hear that. I didn't want to think it of my writing, and it took a long time before I could understand the real wisdom behind it. A first draft is word vomit -- it's you exorcising the story from your mind, a purge of the initial creative juices. Purges aren't pretty, but they are important. The purge is the foundation of your story, without which you have nothing to clean up, and nothing to clean up means no story to share.

    This sets up my first two major points of observation and advice: Don't approach writing like a reader, and the writing is in the editing.

    To address the first, a reader picks up a book to experience the characters and story, and when they're done is often ready to move on to the next. Those who write like readers often express distaste for planning stories, and prefer to be surprised by the directions they take as they write it. They struggle with editing, because they've already lost interest in what they've experienced and uncovered, and feel disinterested in forcing themselves to read it all again just to make it pretty. They're more interested in pouring out the next thing that inspires them in order to see what happens next. Mixed into this is the displeasure of seeing the quality of early drafts fall short of their hopes or expectations. It's difficult to improve the writing if you refuse to fix what's wrong for lack of interest.

    Sometimes it helps to change how you view the process, though. Writing is in the editing. That is to say, what most people consider to be editing -- a task many writers find tedious and hard to work through--, is the true writing process, and what people call writing is just the word vomit of an outline. If sculpting was all in throwing a lump of clay at a table or taking a hammer to some marble, we wouldn't have things like Michelangelo's David, and the same is true of writing. Word vomit is an early draft -- it's your uncut stone, your pile of clay--. and what you currently call editing is how you clear away the metaphorical chunks of brain juice into the story you see in your mind, how you shape the clay or carve the stone to reveal the sculpture you see in your mind.

    With inspiration, Amaryllis has the right of it. Inspiration does come from all around us, and it is how we use that inspiration that separates an original work from a copy. You'll hear said to death "There are no original stories," or "Every story that will ever exist has already been told," and in many ways it's true. Some people take this to mean they shouldn't try telling stories anymore, but it's only meant to illustrate that originality has very little to do with success or creativity.

    To use a big budget example: Avatar is just a spacy retelling of Pocahontas. For some people, that was a major mark against it, but for many others, that truth never factored into their enjoyment of the movie, or lack thereof. Using something old or familiar doesn't make you derivative, unoriginal, or uncreative. Using familiar elements and inspirations often makes it easier for readers to connect with the characters or material, which is definitely something you want for them.

    For a good while I cleared away every body I killed in Skyrim, hiding them away for the sake of keeping my character's activities clandestine as possible. During one of these moments, I envisioned a conversation and scene between my character and a follower, but I hadn't yet gotten to the point where I felt I could write a fan fic. To me, this meant I had to translate it into terms I could use for my original works -- the concept, the conversation, the action, these were all things that came from me, not from Skyrim, not from Bethesda or Zenimax, or their writing teams. The setting, the name of the follower with my character, these things were theirs, but the story was something I dreamed up. Inspired by their work, set inside their work, yes, but still all mine. This meant all I had to do was change how I viewed them, where I viewed them. I dropped them into a fantasy world I'd been building for a long time, imagined it as a scene happening in the midst of a life I hadn't fully developed. It added a lot of color to a character I hadn't fully explored, and gave me a lot of new ideas to consider.

    You can find it here, being possibly reminiscent of Skyrim, but still entirely independent.

    Something we as writers can't avoid, no matter how well we consider our characters and plots, though, is putting a piece of ourselves inside them. Part of it involves the concept that no matter what you imagine, or how far you try to reach outside yourself when making a character, you're building it out of your ideas of what is contrary to who you are. That's still a piece of you. In many other cases, we build them out of challenges we face, obstacles we strive to overcome, victories we value, qualities we admire, because if we can't connect with our characters, we struggle to convey who they are -- their hopes and dreams, their goals and desires-- to the reader. Sneaking a piece of ourselves in there is our first foothold to understanding them so we can show others how to do the same.

    Knowing this, sometimes it can be easier to build a character by picking an aspect of ourselves -- an aspiration, a shortcoming or flaw, a fear-- and building a character around that trait. When I was in high school I built a character around my fear of appearing vulnerable to others, and desire to feel strong regardless of the situation. I have a character built around exorcising a sense of betrayal, feeling trapped between two opposing people, finding myself, my obsession with the pursuit and preservation of knowledge, my sense of loyalty, etc. Characters aren't just born from needing to fill a hole in your plot, but may spring from a part of you that resonates with something within that hole.

    Literary characters are meant to be simplified and slightly exaggerated so people can quickly understand and identify with them, to predict or understand the choices they make along the journey. This is not to say they can't be complex, or represent complexity, or that either of those is a bad thing, but that filling a character with as much complexity as resides within you can detract from the plot, and a character's complexity should not be more important than the plot or goal of your story.

    Ultimately, there is no single method I can show you to get better, because everyone needs something different, everyone uses writing for something different. Discovering what that is for you is part of what makes your writing yours and not a knockoff of someone else's.

    Some good exercises involve flash fiction, though. Limit yourself to telling a story in five hundred words. If you can't use five hundred words effectively all by themselves, how effectively do you suppose you can use several thousand? Given the freedom of no word limitations, we can wander, we can fill the void of the page with an endless parade of useless information and description that serves no better purpose than to take up space while we try to figure out what we really mean. View words as your currency; they're a limited resource, so spend them wisely to convey what you need without waste. Forcing yourself to be this sparse tightens the prose, it demands you think about what you mean, what you want to say in the space you have, and eliminates the unnecessary bits.

    Another exercise is to pick a prompt, like "Write from the perspective of an inanimate object", and write for fifteen minutes. I like to use nine or so to write the story, then the last six to edit, but even if you use the full fifteen to just write (the word vomit way), you still work toward telling that whole story in the time allotted, and it gets easier the more you try.

    Sometimes advice comes in bite-sized chunks, and other times it can't be so easily condensed. Writing is a pursuit, even when it's a hobby. I consider myself an accomplished writer -- it's been a life-long passion, and it is my career--, but there's always something to be improved, some way to make it better, something new to explore, and no matter how much I feel I've improved, I know there's still somewhere new to go.
     
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  6. DenmarkSelf

    DenmarkSelf If I wake up covered in cake batter again...

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    Two rules to get better at writing:
    1. Read every day.
    2. Write every day.

    Get into the habit of reading every day and you'll be surprised how quickly your writing will evolve.
     

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