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=Education= "Things All Writers Should Know" by Coyote

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1/2/2013 14:33:19   
Eukara Vox
Legendary AdventureGuide!

In honour of a great L&Ler who was stolen by Real Life, part of this guide has been resurrected for all writers to see.

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Things All Writers Should Know
This isn't stuff that'll make sense only for advanced writers or will only be of interest to newer authors. No, this bit of advice is for everybody. Whether you've written for two months or four years, this stuff can and will help.

However, I'll have you know this. This is how I write my stories. Me. You don't have to do everything I do. This is just here to help. If you like how I write, then pay attention. If you want any sort of advice, pay attention. If you believe yourself an expert writer, at least look over it. There is always room for improvement and room for a second opinion. Always. Whether you've never seen a book in your life or whether you've been writing them for seventy years, you always have room for improvement. Nobody's perfect. Sound familiar?

Before Writing a Story

Decide what kind of a story you want. Get a neat story idea? Do you have something that you just have to write about? That's called inspiration. That is the original spark that compels a writer to write something. Inspiration grants a motive to start. It's that little nudge that will send a snowball crashing downhill.

Before you write a story, you need to know what kind of a story you want. Decide on the basics and make sure you have them firm in your mind. What sort of characters do you want as your main characters? What will this story be about? What do you want to tell the reader?

Decide what you want to tell the reader by writing this story. I want to put stress on that last one. What will you tell the reader? Every story, and I repeat, every story has a message. Think back to sixth grade. Do you remember how your English teacher taught you about the theme of a work? Y'know, what the author was trying to teach by writing the story? This is exactly it. In sixth grade, you probably dismissed it as crap that the teacher was feeding you just to make you work. I know that I did.

But it's all true. You want, no, you need to have a theme. If you don't have some underlying message throughout the whole work, it has no soul. When I say a message, I'm not talking about Aesop's Fables where there is always a set moral. I mean that there must be an underlying motive. You want to tell the reader something, anything. This message will not only make a story that much better, it will make it easier to write. Trust me.

Still confused? Read this. Or, better yet, read this. The first one's a poem, so it shouldn't take you forever. The latter, however, is long, so you might just want to skim through it and get some of the main ideas. Now, think about both of them. The message is pretty obvious, isn't it? If you don't get the message in the poem, reference my commentary. As for the story, the message is that friendship is eternal. Do you see what I'm talking about?

As a side note, when I say message, no, for the love of God or whatever other deity you might happen to worship, do not think up a set-in-stone, written sentence. No. This 'message' should be an impression. It should be just an idea. To put it into words just makes things worse.

As yet another side note, while you have to have a theme, you don't always have to know exactly what it is. You don't need to know exactly what you are trying to convey to the reader. However, you do need to know that you have a message to convey.

Plan it out. Do you have all of that done? Figure out what you want your story to be about and what sorts of things you want in it? Now is the time to plan it. Anybody that has any experience in writing will tell you that the beginning is easy. The ending is easy. But what about the middle? This isn't anything complex. Just bullet down what you want. Just summarize the whole story into maybe a page's worth of information. This is the big stuff you want a reader to get if he or she is just skimming over. If you get this stuff done and concrete beforehand, it'll save you the trouble in the long run. Organization really does help. Once again, trust me on this one.

Now, by no means should you stay absolutely to what you plan out. No, there is always room for editing. Suppose you begin writing your story and think, "Nah, I think it'd be cooler if Jake did this instead of this." By all means, edit it. You aren't chiseling this into a great stone obelisk to be eternalized for future generations. This is on paper. And it's written with a pencil. Pencil can be erased.

Think about a title. This is about the time you should think about what to title your work. Don't worry if you can't think of one right now. But at least give it a shot.
A title is what will catch the reader's attention. It should pique a reader's interest and make them wonder about what's inside that cover. Not only that, it should be of some significance to the story. Make sure it has some significance. This is why, unless you already have a title idea, you should think about the title right now. After planning all of that out, it shouldn't be too hard to come up with one.

A summary of the above: No, just like Spark Notes or Cliff Notes, you should not use this summary to just get the gist of what is going on. If you have any questions, this is an attempt to answer them by making things clearer.

Take my story, A Fallen Sun, for example. Nice and short so it shouldn't take you too long to read. When I wrote this, I first decided that I was going to write a story about the Igneus clan in AQ. I thought, "Hey, a volcano might look like the sun. They're both bright and they both give off heat." That was the original theme. Then, I thought more, plot-wise, this time. "I might want an outcast," I told myself. "This outcast would see the Igneus clan as his salvation." That guy in the story, lamenting about his unfortunate past and his getting kicked out of another clan, is that outcast. Why did I want an outcast? The idea of hope. The concept of hope is what drives this guy forward to seek his salvation in the Igneus clan.

What message did I want to convey? Not hard. Hope is eternal. It's as simple as that.

Okay. So far, I've got the plot, characters, and theme of this story figured out. I have the what, who, and why. This is the skeleton. Now, the how is the story itself.

When I wrote about it, I thought about fallen angels and the concept of falling from Heaven. An angel, an angelic being, whatever, is divine and looked up upon. However, a fallen angel is an outcast and has fallen from grace. A fallen angel. A fallen sun.

That also influenced the motif about the shooting star throughout the story. I'll get onto motifs later.

So, I had all of that written down. I had the whole thing planned. And, I had a neat title to wrap it all up. I had the story preparation finished, and then proceeded to actually write the thing.

While Writing the Story

For the love of God, make sure the story is interesting. First off, define interesting. Does it interest you? In that case, it'll probably interest other people as well.

When you start writing a story, you want to have an attention-getter at the very beginning. You want to hook the reader and drag him into your story. Does that sound familiar? Perhaps more stuff English teachers lecture boringly about in middle school. I look back at all of that. Yes, all of that actually is important in writing.

Try to stay the hell away from starting with simple, bland description. "She has lovely blue eyes and loose, smooth blond hair. When she smiles, she looks like an angel sent down from heaven to reward the good." How interesting is that? Honestly. Tell me, will that attract attention? No. Start with action. Start with suspense. Start with anything that will catch any sort of interest. This is important. Very, very important.

If you absolutely must begin with description, make it visually stimulating. Does "imagery" ring a bell? If you use colors and smells and stuff that our physical senses can put feelings and sensations to, it'll be more interesting than concepts and objects that your brain has ideas about. The chair. Boring. The brown chair. Getting a little closer. The light-brown chair cast a shadow on the bedroom floor, the finish reflecting light and giving the grainy wood a glossy appearance. Much better.

GRAMMAR IS NOT AN ENEMY. This is the big one. Grammar is extremely important when writing prose. Extremely important. I cannot stress that enough. Spelling is also important. Do you have any idea how much a good story can be slaughtered by bad spelling? After writing a story, run it through a spellchecker. Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, and other word processors should have spellcheckers in them. The Google Toolbar also has a spellchecker. This is extremely important.

Use figurative language to your heart's content. Similes, metaphors, and all of that good stuff. Use them. Use them a lot. They will make a story better and will help a reader picture the story. Another big one is personification. People have an easier time picturing humans do things than picturing something else doing things. (If you don't know what any of this stuff is, look it up. I'll provide a small dictionary later.) When you write, you want to make sure a reader can picture exactly what is going on. This brings us to the next topic.

Imagery is a must. Imagery, as a dictionary definition, is when a story appeals to the senses. When you read a story, can you picture exactly what is going on? When you read, can you imagine what is going on? If you can, that person used imagery correctly. If the picture is blurred or vague, then that person did not. Use adjectives and adverbs to describe everything. Describe the setting, how people do things and how things happen. Describe all the little things about what happens. Does your thief have a smirk on his face and a mischievous glint in his eye when he is about to steal something? Stuff like that. Do people say you need to be more detailed? By all means, go all-out. It will help, not only with making a story better, but also with making a story longer to intimidate other writers and readers when they read your work. ;)

To help with imagery, can you imagine everything happening? My trumpet instructor told me that when I play anything, whether it's an etude or an orchestral score, I have to play with style. He proceeded to explain how. When I play, I should think about what the music says to me. When I play, what sorts of things does this music bring to mind? And then, I should think about those things, and then play the music so that everybody else can think about that, too.

How does this connect to imagery, do you ask? Why, this has everything to do with imagery. That is imagery. When you write, picture exactly what is going on. Think, and imagine in your mind what your characters do, what other characters do, what the setting looks like, and everything else you can possibly think of. Think of it, like a movie. No, not like a movie. Think of it as if you were actually there where the character was and are now telling the rest of us exactly how things looked, sounded, and felt. You want us to think exactly what you are thinking when you write this. Read Chapter 1 of Prince of Thieves. When Ry is breaking into the house, can you see the moonlight streaming down and illuminating certain things? Can you see this black-cloaked figure stealing (forgive the pun) into the house to take the poor victim's belongings? You should be able to. That is imagery.

Always use transitions. Transitions can help you very much. Yes, they can. Say things that lead from one idea to the next. Otherwise, it sounds choppy. However. Meanwhile. And the list goes on.

Transitions aren't only limited to those words, however. See that sentence you just read? That, too, was a transition. It was transitioning from the idea in the first paragraph, that you should transition with words, to the idea in this paragraph, that transitions aren't just only single words. Do you see what I'm talking about?

Regarding the use of thesauruses: There are only two reasons you should EVER use a thesaurus. The first one is forgivable, but the second one is dangerously close to the largest mistake people make with these things.

Reason #1: Forgetting a word. Have you ever been writing something, and you know you have the perfect word for something, you know you've seen it before, but you don't remember what the word itself was? The thesaurus can help.

Reason #2: Repetition. Now while repetition can be powerful, in times where you find that you're using the same word multiple times in the same paragraph, you can pull out a thesaurus and try to find something else that works.

Always keep in mind, when using a thesaurus, MAKE SURE you know and are familiar with the word you pull out. If you have to look it up in a dictionary, don't use it. Which brings me to the number one reason you shouldn't use a thesaurus: random word "upgrading". Christopher Paulini, author of the bestselling Eragon series, has been called out many times on this desecration of word use. NEVER use a thesaurus to make yourself sound fancier, because chances are, you're going to end up making yourself sound like a fool. Why use "pulchritudinous" when you can just use "beautiful"? It'd certainly help your reader understand what's going on.

A summary of the above: Re-read A Fallen Sun. Does it make more sense to you? You see that motif now about the shooting star? The mountain seemed to radiate warmth like a hearth fire. Simile alert! Man approaches lake. Can you see the Igneus mountain lying off to the distance like a setting sun? (Another simile!) I used figurative language and literary jumbo to make this story a good one, or, at least, the best I could. This, obviously, isn't my best work. If you want to see all of this stuff in action, read A Blaze of Glory or my novel-to-be Prince of Thieves. That should be a bit more clear than A Fallen Sun.

After Writing the Story

PROOFREAD. Proofread, proofread, proofread, and proofread again. I cannot stress it enough: PROOFREAD. I don't care how awesome you think your story is or how terrible you think it is, proofread it. It might seem like a waste of time, but you'll be surprised. Things look much different when you write it and when you read it. When you read it, you will catch mistakes you won't remember making. When you read it, you'll see things that can be done better. Awkward sentences, perhaps. Lack of description in some place or another. Anything.

When I read any of my stories after initially writing them, I see tons and tons of mistakes that I made. When I re-read something I wrote a year ago, I disagree with how I wrote stuff. When I read A Fallen Sun, I realize that I could have made that story so very much better than it is.

Guess what else will help? Go away and do something else for about half an hour. Don't write. Do something else. When you get back, read your own writing. This will help you start fresh. When you write, you have your writing firmly in mind. And guess what? Your brain, if it already knows what to expect, will automatically correct things for you. When you read, you might notice some of your mistakes, but others will look correct. Take your mind off of writing and read it later. You'll notice things you wouldn't've noticed otherwise.

My trumpet instructor told me, "You are your own worst critic." You know why? Because you know your own strengths and weaknesses. You know what you have to work on. You, and only you know what you wanted to do in the story. You and only you know exactly what the theme of your story was. You and only you know exactly what everything should look like. You and only you know how to make that story perfect. Yes, other people, more experienced writers, perhaps, know how to make a story better. However, you and only you know exactly what you wanted when writing that story. That is why you have to proofread.

Accept help. Constructive criticism is there to help you. If someone points out all the bad things in the story, it is meant to make you a better writer, not to say that you can't write. A good critic will not only tell you what is wrong, he or she will tell you why it is wrong. If you can pick up on the 'why', you can pick up on the 'what' whenever you proofread.

But always question what the critic says. Not everyone is perfect. If you disagree with what the critic says, then tell that to him or her. Then seek a second opinion. Second opinions are always good. And if you disagree with someone, it always helps to have a mediator there that can either tell you what is right and wrong or help you keep the debate civilized.

On the Subject of Plot

Yes, plot is extremely important. But people get carried away with plot. If all we wanted was plot, we'd have plays. Read down to the FAQ. I warn against writing in a 'guy does this guy says that' sort of way. You know why? It's because all that does is plot. Plot is not all-important. Think of it as the skin of the sausage. Yes, it does hold the whole darn thing together. But really, does it taste that great all by itself?

Don't let the storyline become stagnant. Have you ever read those annoying stories where there is a beginning plot, and just one good thing happens after another? It's fortunate event after fortunate event, and that can become very boring very quickly. Keep some twist in the plot. Action stories in particular. You want to keep the reader alert. Suspense is an excellent example of this. When you use suspense, you keep the reader hooked. Yes, you need a hook at the beginning. That's the initial attention-getter, but you don't want this fish to get away. Can anybody say "cliffhanger"?

Do you have sub-plots? Little, minor plots that keep the main plot interesting? Make sure all the events tie together. Make sure the sub-plots have some relevance to the main plot. This will help greatly from following a too predictable storyline.
Dramatic irony is a different matter altogether. I won't even touch it.

Every action has a reason. Every effect has a cause. If you recall the cause and effect they teach you in history class, that's what we're going after to keep a plotline reasonable. Everything has a motive, whether it is hidden or expressed openly. Doesn't it get annoying when you ask someone why they did something and he or she responds by just saying "Because"? That is what we want to avoid. Keep all characters' actions reasonable. Every little thing in the character's mind is influenced by something else. Characters have their own personalities and tendencies. If you make him do something because you want him to, that's great. However, if your character does that "just because", you've got a problem.


A very vital part of the story that's often overlooked. If you ever look at history, it is never a hundred percent accurate. Never. The thing is, history is always told in one perspective, usually that of the 'winners'. Nothing comes through entirely unbiased. People interpret the world differently. The same applies to your characters. If my character, Rychaeth, was attacked, he'd make a witty remark and fight back. If I was attacked, I might fight back. Or I might panic and run. Ry sees life as a game. I see life as something precious and that should be guarded. It's all a matter of perspective.

Think for a moment. Let's suppose you tell the story from the villain's point of view. Do they know that they're doing the wrong thing, or do they see themselves as the heroes? The villains in one perspective are heroes in the other. The heroes are the villains that threaten to kill the 'real' villain and slaughter all that he or she has worked for. You see how things can be turned around like that?

Keep that in mind as you write the story. How do you want everything to be portrayed? Should things appear evil? Does something not make sense? Is something unknown and to be feared? There are tons of stuff you can do with this. It's up to you to figure them all out. ;)


Ack! Commas! People tell me that I don't use commas correctly and I don't know what I'm doing wrong!
Commas. Ack indeed.

How do I make my story longer and/or better?
Imagery. One word. Imagery. Description will make your story longer and better. You always want to use description, even in fast-paced action stories. You know how a play is written? Guy does this. Guy says this. Guy does this. Guy's friend does this. Guy says this to friend. It's infuriating when you write a story like that. This is prose! Not playwriting! That is the big difference between prose and playwriting. In prose, you use imagery. In prose, you describe everything that happens. In a play, all of that is null.

What are line breaks?
Do you see that space between the question and last question's answer? That is a line break. You never use them in a novel unless you are separating different points. Do you see how lots of people use three *'s (* * *) whenever there's a scene change or the implied passage of time? That is the only time you should use line breaks in a novel.
However, writing on the internet is an entirely different matter. On the internet, there is no tab or indented paragraphs. So instead, people hit enter twice when starting a new paragraph. This helps put some sort of a break in the endless stream of words that tends to hurt the eyes.

I have writer's block and it's driving me crazy!
Take time off. Maybe you'll get your inspiration and your motive back. However, if you will never be able to continue again, ditch the project.
Now, writing through writer's block is an essential skill. You should think. Think about exactly what you wanted to accomplish. Remember the theme of your story? It should help push you forward. Remember that I had you plan your entire story out at the very beginning? Writer's block is one of the main reasons why I have you do that. If you have writer's block, then you can keep writing. You know what you wanted to write. You know what you have to write next. So it makes it easier to write. It's a handrail for you to hold on to in case you fall.

Clichés are horrible! Right?
Actually quite a touchy subject. But I'll give you my own opinion on it.
Wrong. Clichés are overused. But they aren't all-bad. Yes, you should refrain from using them. However, when you do use them, use them artfully. "A blaze of glory" is actually a somewhat common phrase. However, I took the time to use that phrase metaphorically in A Blaze of Glory. I have seen plenty of works titled after cliché and overused phrases. Why? It gives something to connect to. I don't know whether it's a genuine metaphor, but we are all familiar with that phrase. Because of this familiarity, we are able to see things in a new light. Do you see what I'm getting at?
If you don't, never fear. If you find yourself using a cliché phrase, then don't mind. However, if you find yourself overusing them (the difference between using and overusing is at your own discretion), then it might be an idea to find another phrase to use. However, there is much more freedom in a cliché plot than there is in individual phrases. When you use a cliché plot or plot device, then take it and twist it. Essentially, there is that cliché at its core. But you twist it, move things around, add bits to it, and voila, no longer a cliché. Take a cliché and add your own bits and pieces to make it yours.
I have an inability to come up with what people would consider a truly original plot. But what do I do to those familiar scenarios and themes that pop up a bit too much throughout literature? I twist it. I give it my own edge. You see, it's not the cliché itself that matters. It's how you write it. If you write it cliché, then, yes, there is a problem. But if you write it in your own, individual fashion, then, no, you're perfectly okay.

Is there anything else I should know?
Yes. When you write, just write. If you like what you write or are writing, then keep writing it until it's over. What if people hate it? Screw them. This is your work. This is your story. This is your playground. Not theirs. (Though, if they have advice for you, it might be a good idea to heed it.)
When you write, you are improving. Period. Regardless of what you are writing, you always improve when you write. What if you have writer's block? Keep writing. Writing through writer's block is an essential skill in writing.
And finally, have fun. Write because you like writing. Write because you think your story is cool. Do what your heart tells you to do.

Edited for broken links by Master Samak

< Message edited by Master Samak -- 8/20/2018 17:33:04 >
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