The Review Game
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Narc

This is a topic to discuss the craft of writing in general, rather than specific stories. For instance, if you had a question or an opinion to present about dialogue, pacing, sentences-structure, or characterization, this would be the place to post it.

Friendly debates are welcome, as many different sources will say different things about what works best in fiction.

1/24/2008 . Edited by Fractured Illusion, 11/7/2008 #1
Narc
So, since I made the topic, I guess I should start it off. I thought I'd bring up the Turkey City Lexicon. For anyone who has never read it, it basically sums up many of the major problems in science-fiction in fantasy and gives them nifty titles (you can google 'Turkey City Lexicon' to find it). For all you sci-fi/fantasy writers out there, which do you find yourself guilty of? Which do you not agree with?

Going through the list, I would say these are my faults:

Pushbutton words

Bathos

Hand Waving (Oh yeah ... I use that all the time to cover up fuzzy logic)

You Can't Fire Me, I Quit (Totally guilty of that)

Edges of Ideas (A little bit)

Nowhere Nowhen Story (Roanoke had this problem in the first chapter, which I'm working to fix)

Funny-hat Characterization (Not so much in Roanoke, had a character named 'greasy-hair' in Somewhere Home, though)

A lot of the stuff on there pertains more to sci-fi than fantasy, but there's still some good generalizations for all fiction, even literary fiction. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, please go check it out. It's a great read.

1/24/2008 #2
KnittingKneedle
Wow...that's a really useful site. I'm actually plainning going down science fiction road after Last Summer (bad me for not keeping my mind on a story, bad, bad me!)

Now I know what to avoid thanks Narc!

1/24/2008 #3
Esther Jade
What a helpful thing to read! I am learning so much since I actually started engaging in the "fictionpress" process properly. On the other hand, it is totally killing some of the books I read!
1/24/2008 #4
concerto49
If I had to start writing down all my plot/story theories, it'd probably be a long time before I stop and then I rather write a story instead, so it hasn't really happened.

Though, here's a few common mistakes I've found whilst reviewing these few days.

- scenes and scenes only - no connection - people tend to write say a chapter about something and that's it. If the story doesn't connect, you might as well post it separately. There has to be some link, say about what will happen or how things relate.

- they present an idea, but not what's going to happen. Like, e.g. there's this totally different world, or new theory in our world and that's that. So what's the story about? The other one is they introduce characters - they do some talking and that's it. Come on. Tell me the story - they travel somewhere or what? I don't care if there's a plot or not - try tell me that.

- in Anime there's fillers - in writing people go on about unrelated things for the next century. At least good Anime fillers are funny and smart, which is alright. If you make it long winded and boring then no. Like I mean some people good have a pretty good story (perhaps) and it suddenly just goes off about some inspiration they thought of.

- doing things at the wrong time and wrong place - people seem to like 'chucking' description here and there for fun. You know, like new character is introduced - they have to spend a few paragraphs on what clothes they wear and everything out in detail. Is it even necessary? Introduce things when the reader needs to know, not when you want to write it down. Practically, if I was reading, I'd skip that paragraph first thing. Look, I want to know what's going on next. If it's important, put it there, if not shove it aside. Same goes for other things like some building in mars when we're talking about earth.

1/25/2008 #5
Esther Jade
I've been trying to think of something more useful to contribute. Things that irritate me are:

- retrospectives (just my word). What I'm talking about is when there's something like "years later, so-and-so would think x, y and z". On a macro scale, this is when the main character is writing their story from after it happened (I mean I know first person is always in the past tense but you don't have to throw in reflective bits). I absolutely got so irritated with this in Robin Hobb's first and in her/his final trilogies. The middle trilogy, where she didn't do this, was just so good that I felt so frustrated with the other two.

- destinies or prophecies that control everything. I am reading a series by Fiona McIntosh (why did I buy these books?) where she has a character called Lys who is an absolute puppet-master. She appears in dreams and tells all the characters what to do and they just do it. It is hugely annoying. I want to burn the books but I have nothing else to read! (I'm not saying I don't enjoy stories with prophecies because I do. It's just when they determine absolutely everything that it drives me nutty)

1/25/2008 #6
KnittingKneedle
I hate the chapters that read;

This happened

And then this

And then this.

All technically sound and blah, blah.

I like to see that little something more from a writer, a little break in narrative, an interesting metaphor or character annecdote. Anything that gives it that little bit more flair...in short, a nice bit of raw talent that a reviewer can simultaneously fault and enjoy.I'm not bothered about major technique really, or even professionalism I just love it when an author gives you something that makes you feel like you've just read something original.

1/25/2008 #7
Otseis Ragnarok
retrospectives (just my word). What I'm talking about is when there's something like "years later, so-and-so would think x, y and z". On a macro scale, this is when the main character is writing their story from after it happened (I mean I know first person is always in the past tense but you don't have to throw in reflective bits).

That's not always true! In one of my more recent stories, I wrote in present tense (It's unposted as of now), and for action scenes, it is simply amazing!

And puppet masters are a wonderful concept when done properly. I was thinking more of an 'armchair villan' in this situation, however... (The ki9nd of villan which never gets his hands dirty, etc.)

1/29/2008 #8
concerto49
Yeah I agree - retro isn't necessarily bad. It all depends on how it's implemented.

Present tense can be good - again just depends on how you write it. All these are specific to the story. Depends on situation.

Not getting hands dirty? Mastermind maybe?

My current story is a hero that's a villian and vice versa.

1/29/2008 #9
Otseis Ragnarok
My current story is a hero that's a villian and vice versa.

It seems to be done quite often of late...

Mastermind villans? My personal favourite. The person who controls everything behind the scenes. So great for conspiracy buffs...

1/29/2008 #10
Esther Jade
The puppetmaster I was talking about was not a villain (though she may turn out to be one if I ever bother to read the last book). Rather, she is the instrument of prophecy. It's like in David Eddings where each prophecy has an identity, sort of, anyway. Except that there's just one prophecy and this woman, Lys, runs around in people's dreams giving them magic when they need it and making sure they're always in the right place at the right time to rescue one of the two heroes. It just feels like the whole story is unravelling without anyone exercising any free will or actually having to engage with the process. They just assume Lys is great and wonderful and knows everything and just does what she tells them. For me, it's likely an over-the-top prophecy where no-one has control except the prophecy itself. I think it's nifty when no matter what you do the prophecy always comes true; but when everyone just obeys it that it seems really unreal.
1/29/2008 . Edited 1/29/2008 #11
KnittingKneedle
God I hate prophecies...it's just an easy way of establishing a character as super special, and anything that they actually achieve is undermined because it was *supposed* to happen all along.

Saying that, I wouldn't mind it if there was a prophecy- only it didn't turn out the way you first expected it to (can't think of a written example but it worked out quite well in Lady in the Water)

1/29/2008 #12
Imalefty
okay, question... how fast should a story go? there are some stories that work really well with the introduction in the beginning and action later. but then there are those that have the action first and slowly have the intro. i think both can work, but how do you know which one to use?

(i'm asking because on many of my stories, i tend to "rush." so uh... i guess this could be considered "help," too... XD)

-Lefty

1/29/2008 #13
concerto49
Lefty, doesn't that depend on your story? How fast should it go? Depends on the plot and what's going on. Go at the pace it's meant to. Can't really say out of no context.
1/29/2008 #14
Otseis Ragnarok
Well, I agree, rushing depends on what your story is about. If you re-read it, and it feels rushed, then it most likely is... I tend to do the same, and if anone will look at my most recent post, "The Last Angel" (Shameless advertising) you'd see what rushing looks like... It's not my best work, but definitley a good start...(God, why caan't I stop whoring myself?)
1/30/2008 #15
Narc
I can only stand present tense for so long (as in a short story) and I remember reading somewhere why that is.

When we tell stories to each other, whether it be a tale or just a recounting of an experience to another person, they're told in the past tense. That's what our brains are used to for that kind of thing. So when reading a story, it's not as natural to read it in present tense. It doesn't feel right.

To me, that makes a lot of sense.

1/30/2008 #16
Otseis Ragnarok
Well for present tense, I started something like that, but it was rather hard to write with beautiful eloquence, which I love, but annoys many of my readers...

Instead, I decided to find a balance between past and present: Descriptions and flowery text would be in the past, but with combat/suspense in the present tense. I did that once, and my beta loved it.

1/30/2008 #17
KnittingKneedle
You rarely see present tense in published works, except for prologues or funny little interludes...and I can see why, because it doesn't flow as well, to me...

But I think with the fictionpress format you generally have to move quicker, draw a reader in faster, than you would with a book just because the internet has encouraged people to have butt-short attention spans.

1/30/2008 #18
Narc
Onar, that would have driven me crazy.
1/30/2008 #19
concerto49
I haven't really wrote much in present tense - except in the pass of school essays - must use present tense in a stern voice. That's more of the reason why I haven't really used it. Trying to get past right is hard enough.

Easiest is to mix them both - means you get tense issues!

1/30/2008 #20
Narc
I hate writing technical papers because you're supposed to use passive voice for pretty much everything. "The pressure was measured.", "The lift to drag ratio was calculated." Ugh. But it's the way it's supposed to be.
1/30/2008 #21
Otseis Ragnarok
Easiest is to mix them both - means you get tense issues!

Oh, yeah... That's probably why I haven't posted it yet... I still need to work on the transitioning elements so that it doesn't hit like a ton of bricks(Who says that anymore?) when I suddenly switch between the two.

1/31/2008 #22
unemployed-joy
I hate writing technical papers because you're supposed to use passive voice for pretty much everything. "The pressure was measured.", "The lift to drag ratio was calculated." Ugh. But it's the way it's supposed to be.

Oh, my gosh, yes! My Chem teacher was saying that in our lab write ups, we weren't allowed to use personal pronouns. So, the only way I've managed to get around that is to write in passive tense, which I personally don't care for. Why can't I take the credit for being active and doing the calculating and measuring? It didn't just happen; I made it happen!!

"Said" Bookism:

So, I'm so mad about this. It's seems to be a secret that I've only recently been let in on: said is an invisible word and much less distracting than all the descriptive synonyms for talking: (e.g. chattered, reiterated, questioned...etc). I'm taking a creative writing course right now, and the text book says basically the same thing. And I was perusing a different book that claimed to hold all the answers for the well-written word, and it said the same as well.

But, I *distinctly* remember in 7th grade, my English teacher made us make a list of 75 synonyms for "said" and wanting us to use them frequently. She told us that the word "said" repeated over and over was boring and that we should get creative. So, for the next five years, I've done just that! Urgh.

But, I do agree. Either go with the basics of "said", "asked", and other minimally invasive words. Or, use the tags in moderation, like a well-placed one here and there. And most of the time, you can forgo the identifying tags if it's obvious who is speaking. Plus, my textbook for creative writing brought up a good point: why would you need words like "bellowed" "interjected", etc.? Why doesn't your dialogue express the tone clearly?

. I wish I would've known this sooner...

2/5/2008 #23
concerto49
Well yes unless it's a 2 person conversation or that it's pretty obvious from what they say you shouldn't really skip it - or else how would you know? Variations for said is important in that case, as for variations for anything.

At 7th grade, no one tries to teach you something hard. I remember a math teacher teaching something but quickly said it's wrong. So I asked why. The teacher said it's what we teach you for now because if we have to go into the details it'd be too much for you. So it's in a later course that I do learn the truth, but that's the point.

As to why you would need those words like 'bellowed' - sure you can write it so you don't need it, but if the situation requires you to tag, you might as well use them to give maybe 'slow' users that have missed it a better hint. It's like saying if you know the way, why carry a map? Just in case.

2/5/2008 #24
Narc
It's funny. When I critique someone and jump on their use of said-bookisms, the biggest defense I get is 'My tenth/seventh/whatever english teacher said they were much better'. I don't know if it's just ignorance on the teacher's part, or an attempt to get the creative juices flowing of creative students who have very little to no writing experience at all. I think maybe said-bookisms can be good in that sense. You teach them to think about different ways in which people can say things and what their emotions are. Then, later, you can start to teach them about showing that same information instead of relying on the said-bookism.

The problem there is that the student then has to get it beat into them later on that said-bookisms aren't all that good after all.

2/5/2008 #25
Imalefty
i don't know why these "said-bookisms" are so bad... i use "said" all the time, but mostly for an effect (mostly intrusive narrator style... XD i guess that's not that popular now, though) i really have to work on getting rid of those adverbs. though i'm not exactly sure why they're so bad... O.o?

oh well, beats me.

-Lefty

2/5/2008 #26
Esther Jade
I always used to use said-bookisms until someone on this site pointed out that it wasn't a good idea. I hadn't really thought about it before but that's when I remembered that my favourite type of dialogue to read is when there is virtually no commentary except where necessary to tell whose talking. I thought about why that is and I think, for me anyway, I hate it when I've already imagined how someone said something and I have to go back and re-imagine it.

I did, though, find one of the many guides on this site about "how to write" advocated said-bookisms. The same guide also said that there were seven different sentence openers (starting with a noun, starting with a preposition etc.) and one should use each of them in equal proportion. I don't know if I agreed with this point either. While a completely unvarying sentence structure feels boring and amateurish, constantly mixing it up seems to make reading a bit laborious. I find something with constantly changing syntax very difficult to read quickly. How important do you think it is to change one's sentence structure and how frequently should one do this?

2/5/2008 . Edited 2/5/2008 #27
concerto49
You remind me of something. I think I got used to writing like how I do at this moment. It's like just absorbed.

If I was to write and begin considering every technic or ever little problem, I don't think I'll progress anywhere. A lot of the times authors don't take that much care about the way they're writing - it's more just a natural thing. Like maybe they'd fix it a bit on examination.

And to those 'how to write' guides - they're not necessarily written by people that actually know how to write. They just wanted to write a guide. There can be good and bad guides.

2/5/2008 #28
Esther Jade
I mostly just read the guides because I find it interesting to see what different people have to say - sometimes it's quite amusing and sometimes it's helpful.

The person who suggested changing syntax was talking about it an editorial context rather than a conscious part of the first draft. I was wondering how important it is to spend time messing with syntax when editing. Should one consciously make sure that one isn't using pronouns to start a sentence more than x% of the time?

2/6/2008 #29
concerto49
More like conscious of using nouns to start sentences. Need to start with verbs too. Well balance between when to use titles for a person or name as to pronoun and at the right times too of course.
2/6/2008 #30
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