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Author Topic: User Submission: Writing Well Part Five  (Read 2705 times)

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Offline Rob

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User Submission: Writing Well Part Five
« on: May 24, 2010, 06:19:12 AM »
Today's tutorial post was submitted by Gibson Twist, creator of Pictures of You. You can check out more of his work at Sinister Squid. Where this article and successive entries were originally published. Part one of this series can be found here. Part two can be found here. Part three can be found here. Part four can be found here.

The following is the fifth in a series of six tutorials designed to help novice writers build a better story.

You have all of your parts laid out before you. Your Concept is solid, your Tableau is set, you've worked out your Plot and you know the Technique you're going to use. Now comes the hard part... Composition. Oh boy, now you actually have the write this thing! Well, believe it or not, this is the simplest part of the process.
You know what you have to say and how you're going to say it, you know who does what and when, you know how long you want it to be... if you've done a good job with the first four parts, then all you have to do now is put the words on the page. In this tutorial, I'll talk a little about the actual mechanics of writing, how to view the various stages of writing your story, and I'll also look at Writer's Block and some ways to avoid it.

First, let's look at the more mechanical side of Composition with Spelling and Grammar, Vocabulary, Word Choices, Chapters and Things To Avoid... Generally.

Spelling and Grammar

Never lie to yourself, Spelling and Grammar are important. I can't describe how important these are. If you take nothing else from these tutorials, please believe that these proper skills can make or break you. Pour Spelling is perhaps the best way to make yourself seem unprofessional. The best example I can give is the mistake in the last sentence. Did you notice it? Spellcheckers don't notice when you use the wrong word if you’ve used an actual word, and no one should ever rely on them. Likewise with Grammar, people will notice if yours is poor. This isn't to say your Grammar has to be flawless, there is a marked difference between proper Grammar and the kind of grammar that is acceptable in conversation, and ending your sentence with a preposition isn't the end of the world. In fact, sometimes using perfect Grammar can hurt the story depending on how you've chosen to tell it. Still, the better your Grammar (including punctuation) is, the better your writing will be.

Vocabulary

As with Spelling and Grammar, Vocabulary is also very important and for many of the same reasons, but also for another. If your story takes place on a boat, how many times do you think you can use the word boat before the reader gets tired of it? Having a broader vocabulary will help you find alternatives... ship, vessel, seafarer, or more specific terms like yacht, catamaran or sloop. In addition to this are word choices, the words you use will have a great impact on how the reader takes the story, and they should always reflect the choices you've already made as to your story's Voice. If your story is light, then the words you choose should reflect this, while if your story is dark and grave, the Vocabulary should be part of what demonstrates it.

Word Choices

It’s hard to know what rules to follow when dealing with something so subjective as actually writing your sentences, but this is the meat of what you're doing, so it deserves attention. The first thing is that one sentence should lead into another with a certain fluidity, much like your Scenes. Each one should build on the last and progress the ideas you're trying to relay.

Things To Avoid... Generally

The following is a list of things that are not rules you can't break, but if you do them you should be sure that they're done with purpose and to make a point.

  • The infamous Run-on Sentence can be difficult to spot as a writer. I know I have been guilty of it more times than I'd care to admit, probably in these tutorials. A sentence isn't a Run-on Sentence just because it's long, though, as some would have you believe. A Run-on Sentence is one that offers one thought and then fails to end, instead making a protracted and awkward stretch into a second idea, one with at least a cursory connection to the first idea but which should indeed be in its own sentence, and a Run-on Sentence could be made into two or more sentences just by changing a comma to a period, and often could serve as their own paragraph. Yes, like that.
  • The not so infamous Run-on Paragraph is another danger, though I'm not going to bother exemplifying it... I don't have the room. Paragraph should be like a sentences, each one offering an idea and creating a flow from one to the next, and they should end when that idea is complete. Run-on Paragraphs are exactly what you'd think, paragraphs that go on too long and have too much going on in them. Again, not all long paragraphs are Run-on Paragraphs, and in fact I have seen paragraphs that were more than a page long and were right to be so.
  • This sentence is a Non-sequitur. Actually, it's not. A Non-sequitur is a break in the literary or conversational flow, a sudden and unheralded change of topic or idea, usually before a thought is complete. Spelling is very, very important! Alright, that one was a Non-sequitur. They can be used very effectively, but they should be used with equal rarity.

Next, once you begin writing longhand, let's look at the various components that make up your story... Chapters, Introduction, Story Flow, Climax and Denouement... and how you should confront them.

Chapters

In the same way you look at sentences and paragraphs and paragraphs as conveying an individual idea in each one, Chapters should be divided into small stories that contain an individual thematic nature. You should already have spent some time evaluating these sequences while constructing your Episodes during the Plotting, and you should have a sense of how your Chapters will be structured while evaluating your Technique. Be careful, though, not to break a scene's tension by ending them too soon, too early or in a wholly inappropriate place in the narrative. It's generally good to end a Chapter with either a new twist in the story, a resolution to an ongoing idea or, even better, both. Refer back to your notes on Episodes often as you write, these are your most effective tools in setting the framework for your Chapters.

Introduction

This is a simple one, right? Wrong. Most writers will tell you that the beginning of a story is the hardest to write, and the reason is not hard to understand. The Introduction has a lot of jobs to perform and not long to do it. First and foremost, you have to begin the story, which begs the question how and where does the story begin? If you've done a good job constructing your Concept and Tableau, you'll know more of the story than you're actually going to tell, so at what point in the lives of the characters do you let the reader start watching? Does it begin with the Rebels stealing the secret plans or will you skip straight to The Empire chasing them down? This then begs the question of what characters do we get to meet when the story opens, and how long until we've met them all? The story's beginning is also your chance to catch a reader's attention and let them know there is something in the work that makes them want to keep going. While this doesn't have to be dynamic or action-packed, it should be an indicator of what's to come, be it through foreshadowing or just plain old excitement.

Story Flow

Once the story is moving along, it's important to set a pace and keep it. This harkens back to the Progression I talked about in the Technique tutorial, but here you need to maintain it in words as well as sequence. Having an even and consistent pace is vital to keeping the reader interested as you begin to unfold the events that bridge Introduction and Climax. There's going to be a lot of information and activity to come, and you need to make sure you're not doling out too much exposition and not enough activity at any given time, or vice versa. You don't want the story moving too slowly and the reader growing bored, nor too fast and the reader getting confused. Even the most action-packed story needs to pause for a breath now and then.

Climax

Ooh, the good part. This is the pay off of the story, the reason you've written it and the reason people are reading it, so don't sell it short. The same rules of Story Flow apply, you need to keep the pace steady and consistent, but here you're going to want to step it up a bit, build the tension... but be careful not to throw it into overdrive. A sudden shift in the pace will jar the reader, and while they won't put the story down necessarily, they might not enjoy the ride. Think about a piece of music that rises to a crescendo versus one that just blasts loud noise at you suddenly. As you get closer to the Climax, you should be increasing the energy with which you write, signalling more and more what's to come without giving it away. Most importantly, though, make it clear what's happening. There is a level at which you can allow the reader to infer, but you should never be vague at this point.

There is a type of Climax that I want to address specifically, and that is something called deus ex machina, which means god out of the machine. This is when the Climax is brought about by an external force, like a god or an unexpected cavalry, and it happens without significant precursor or any kind of set-up.* Most of the time, though not all, this kind of Climax seems convenient and uninspired... usually because it is. Deus ex machina is very hard to pull off and is rarely an appropriate way to end a story. I recommend against it strongly.

*If you've laid the ground early in the story for an external force to show up, like sending a character off to find the cavalry or having a specific point of calling on a god to help, this is not deus ex machina.

Denouement

Okay, the story's over, let's all go home... hey, but wait! What happened to the guy with the hat? Did he get the girl and find his dog? The Denouement or Resolution is where everything slows down (including your pacing) and, usually, settles into the status quo. The reader has invested time into this story and these characters and they're going to want to know where their future will take them, so give it to them. Your Denouement can be short and slightly cryptic if you choose, or it can be longer and detailed, but be careful. Too little information can leave the reader dissatisfied (as with a certain boy wizard story I could name but won't) and too much can feel like you're starting a new story altogether.

Finally in this tutorial, I want to take a look at one more important element of writing your story. It's going to happen. I don't care who you are or what you're writing, at some point you'll catch this dreaded disease: Writer's Block. Your story is sitting there unfinished, perhaps unstarted, maybe even abandoned in the middle of a word. It's a crushing feeling when you can't/won't/don't want to write and it is the single biggest factor in failed writing. There are innumerable causes of Writer's Block but sadly fewer cures. Here, I'll talk a bit about tools you can use to prevent it, Patience, Determination and Writing Time, as well as How To Fight Writer's Block when it comes along.

Patience

One of the most important personal aspects of writing is Patience. Writing is not an art form that is accomplished quickly and the rewards of it take even longer, which is not to mention the intricacies of detail or possible research that will require countless hours of your life. There is very little instant gratification like there can be with visual art or music, and every writer must be aware of this and prepare themselves for the long haul. Writing can be boring and thankless sometimes, and working under those conditions can (and will) become tedious. This is the brutality of writing, and if you don't have Patience, chances are you're in for a rough time.

Dedication

When I say Dedication, I don't mean that page before the book begins with a pithy platitude that really just serves as an inside nod that nobody really cares about. I mean Dedication, devotion to your craft, the will, drive and determination to stick to the project and see it finished. I've already written in detail about Dedication in another essay (which I suggest reading) entitled Are You Serious? and as I've said there, I can't overstate its importance. Dedication is the difference between people who want to write and people who write.

Writing Time

This is the most common piece of advice I give, and I'm afraid that it's the least heeded. If you have trouble making time for writing, be it through time management or lack of inspiration, the solution is simple... schedule yourself time to write. However long and however often you decide, and be realistic, don't schedule so much that you can't meet it or so little that you're barely doing it, make that the time you devote to writing. You don't have to write during your Writing Time, but you can't do anything else. No television, no computer games, no eating, no cleaning your room, no talking on the phone or texting... nothing. If you're not writing during this time, you are staring at a blank wall.

How To Fight Writer's Block

Sadly, there is no truly reliable way to get past Writer's Block except time, and even that fails some authors. The best way to get back into the swing of the words, though, is to get the inspiration flowing again. Here are just a few ways to help you along, and each one of these methods has helped me many times.

  • Write The End First - It's not always a good idea to start out this way, but generally if you lose your way and referring to your notes isn't helping, I've found that writing the ending can help. It reminds you where you're going and you can figure out better how to get there.
  • Write Something Else – Our projects can overwhelm us sometimes. Now and then, we need to focus on something else for a bit to rinse the mental palate. Working on another project or even just scribbling down nonsense can act like a glass of refreshing water.
  • Back Up and Try Again – You've written yourself into a corner and you don't know how to go forward. Maybe somewhere along the way, you took a wrong turn and you need to retrace your steps, find the place where you went wrong and try moving ahead from that point.
  • Read What You Have – If you've lost the motivation to write, looking back at what you've written might jog your creative impulses.
  • Take A Break – The best way to fight Writer's Block is time, and sometimes nothing else is going to work. If you keep trying to get the words moving again and the ideas are still stalled somewhere between your brain and your fingers, maybe it's time to let it sit for a while. It happens that you get too wrapped up in the work and words bottleneck, or maybe you're just not happy with the way things are going but don't know how to fix it. Take A Break. Most of the time, stepping away from the project can clear your mind and when you look at it again, you look at it with fresh eyes. Before you do, though, you should set a time limit so that your short break doesn't become abandonment.

There you go! Now you should be well-armed to write your masterpiece and ready for some of the obstacles that will come along. Sound easy? Sound complicated? Well, it's both, and that's the beauty of working with words. Now that you're actually writing that brilliant idea that's been swimming in your head all this time, the only thing left is to undo it all when you begin your Review.
« Last Edit: May 24, 2010, 06:27:09 AM by Rob »

Offline Funderbunk

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Re: User Submission: Writing Well Part Five
« Reply #1 on: May 25, 2010, 02:28:06 PM »
This is a great post, but I disagree with one little thing:

"This is a simple one, right? Wrong. Most writers will tell you that the beginning of a story is the hardest to write, and the reason is not hard to understand."

Writers are a varied kind, and there are many who will easily pump out introductions only not to figure out where to go next. In fact, a lot of writers I've spoken with have usually expressed that the beginning and the end usually come out pretty well-formed from the get-go, but it's how to get from the former to the latter that they have problems with.

It's doesn't matter though, the point of that paragraph is clear and true.
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