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Thread: The Writing Advice Thread

  1. #1
    One Thousand Member Matt's Avatar
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    The Writing Advice Thread

    In this thread, we share little bits of our stories that are giving us trouble, ask for advice, give advice, discuss writing in general, and if Seefy and I aren't the only ones who know about it, we could also discuss Writing Excuses.

    Ideally, I'd have someone else post, but for now, I'll start it off with the beginning of a story I wrote about two months ago:

    SPOILER! :
    On Monday, September 6, 2004, the floodgate began to leak. Rain inundated the streets of Winterfield, Australia. Residents of the houses lining Winterfield's streets rushed back to their homes as the rain assaulted them harder and harder. A single lightning bolt flashed through the dark, cloudy sky. The clap of thunder following it drew gasps and cringes from various people. What drew yet more gasps was the mournful wailing of the siren from Winterfield's town hall.

    -

    Ten-year-old Ivy Wells heard the siren as well as anyone else. She sat under a tree half a kilometer from the city, staring over the field of flowers at the line of trees blocking her view of the city. Her parents were probably looking for her now, but they wouldn't know where to look. She'd neglected to tell them this time, and this wasn't a place she usually visited. Ironically, she had only come here to pick flowers for them.

    The siren didn't stop for another miserable five minutes. Ivy wanted to run home the whole time, but didn't want to leave the security of her tree. A jumble of large branches and leaves above her allowed only a few drips of water through, but the number of drips was steadily increasing. She looked up. The leaves were bending under the continuous barrage of rain. Still, Ivy savored the last dry moments she could before a bucket load of rain water splashed over her head. Her sleeveless, light blue dress did little to keep her dry. It was a summer outfit, after all. It had been so hot out just an hour ago.

    Now soaked and cold as she'd be anywhere else, Ivy got to her feet and walked out from under her tree. The wind had picked up since she'd taken cover. Now, it pushed against her, making running near impossible.


    Example story, but I have a legitimate concern with this that presses me to this day: my writing sounds choppy; less fluid than I want it to. This could be alleviated by not writing short, choppy sentences, but I feel there's something wrong with the way I structure my sentences and paragraphs that's making my stories come out wrong. Also feel free to point out other things I did wrong or right that you noticed. Mostly what I did wrong, though.

    -

    I'll answer any questions to the best of my ability. You don't have to have the same type of questions I do, either. You can post entire concepts you need help with--just refrain from posting entire novels.
    Last edited by Matt; 06-12-2012 at 12:30 PM.

  2. #2
    Super Senior Member Delphinus's Avatar
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    I think what makes your writing seem a bit choppy, particularly in the first paragraph, is the jumping between subjects. You have a different subject in each sentence, which means you're effectively focusing the 'camera' on a different subject each time. Think of a sentence as a shot in a film. A long, meandering sentence is the equivalent of the establishing shot; it wanders over the landscape of your scene, maybe suggesting or mentioning important features, but never being dominated by them. A short sentence is like a jump shot. It crashes. It booms. It explodes with life.

    Now, in the first paragraph of your scene, you're using a number of short sentences to set the scene through focusing on a number of seperate incidents. The technique you're using to set the scene (focusing on many incidents that paint a holistic picture) is fine, but the short sentences mean you're jumping between these relevant incidents extremely quickly. Imagine how that would look on camera - it would seem like something shocking was happening. Which, at least until the siren starts going, isn't the case. It's a heavy storm, but nothing more. In addition, putting the siren in with the rest of the paragraph, and having it fill one sentence of that paragraph, makes it seem of equal importance, when it's of far greater importance than the storm itself.

    It seems like the best solution is to write the description of the storm in one paragraph, using longer sentences, then write the siren in a seperate paragraph so as to highlight that the siren going off is more important - it's a single event that you're dedicating as much space to as the description of the multiple events that comprise the storm.

    EDIT: Just want to mention that the scene seems less choppy when we focus on Ivy herself, because we only have a single subject now, but that the consistently short sentences are still distracting. Variation in sentence length and type reflects on the emotion of the scene - you use only simple sentences and conjugated sentences. Complex sentences and fragments are acceptable too, despite what Microsoft Word says.
    Last edited by Delphinus; 06-11-2012 at 06:09 PM.
    Quote Originally Posted by Fenn
    You forgot your F in Modesty.

  3. #3
    Great idea for a thread.

    Del makes many good points on the structure of the short that you wrote, and I can't really add a huge amount more than that other than my pet peeves. In the first two sentances, you set the scene completely. That may seem like a wise thing to do to some, but in my opinion, and with all due respect, I find this quite a lazy way of giving information to your reader. I feel a location and a time period of your story should something that is unfolded to the reader as oppose to just given off-the-bat. There are exceptions to this rule, ofcourse, but 9/10 of the time, it applies. You're not giving your reader the chance to figure out where they are, or when they are and if you can subtly mix this information in with some good character prose, then you have a really good beginning there. I once heard one of the truest statements I have ever from a writer whos name I now forget on this subject: 'I would rather be confused for 10 minutes, than bored for 5 seconds.'

    (Having said all of that, the extract of the story I am about to post does do exactly what I have just critisced, so don't bother pointing that out )

    Here is a story I started writing ages ago then got distracted and it got lost on the word processor saved files. I looked over it recently and decided there might be something there to work with, but I'm not liking the way its written and want a bit of advise about it.

    SPOILER! :
    ‘I knew it!’ Colin bellowed right in Michaels face ‘I knew you would pussy out! I’ve wasted my whole fucking afternoon to see you stand there in your underpants shaking your head like a god damned retard. What the hell, man?’

    Colin turned his attention over to Kayleigh, Jane and Markus who all stood there chuckling, all in obvious agreement. Colin threw up his hands in a questioning gesture, then turned back to Michael.

    ‘You’re a faggot. End of story.’

    ‘I’m not a faggot, you prick!’ Michael snapped back. ‘It’s just that now we’re out here and I’ve seen the size of this damn place, I know I ain’t gonna do it. Comprehend? I mean, come on man, a professional swimmer couldn’t do this.’

    ‘Then you should have kept you’re skinny Irish mouth shut then, shouldn’t you? I could be back in town right now watching the Cannack’s on that new big screen TV in Barry’s, but instead I’m standing here listening to you make shitty excuses.’ He rolled his eyes and shook his head as if to say ‘typical’. ‘You’re one big disappointment, Mickey. You really are.’

    ‘Fuck you.’

    ‘Fuck me? I don’t need to make bullshit daredevil-tri athlete promises, that I pussy out on anyway, to try to get laid. Do you honestly think any chick would be impressed with this? Do you honestly think Jane thinks your anything more than a cowardly douche?’

    Michael went bright red. Oh, Colin…You asshole.

    They’d been best buddies since grade school. Neither was particularly smart or funny or popular all the way through high school, but when they both got accepted into the University of British Colombia; Michael became Colin’s whipping boy. It wasn’t so much bullying, as such, but Colin would always put Michael down to make himself look better, normally in front of girls or the ‘cool kids’. Today being only one example. Colin knew Michael really liked Jane, naturally, most guys would. She looked like Jasmine Bleeth in her prime in the first series of Baywatch. She wasn’t pretty, she was beautiful. Naturally beautiful too, none of this two hundred tons of make up and a bad UV sun tan stuff. She was the real deal. Also, she was a really nice person too, funny and smart, but she was only human and having Colin ridicule and embarrass him like this was only going to compound the notion in her mind that he was indeed a loser. Which he was, he’d admit that openly. But not to Jane, he wanted Jane to think he was more than he was. Michael knew what he was about to do was stupid, dangerous, damned near suicidal, but he needed to do this. A guy does strange things when he’s trying to impress a girl.

    ‘Alright. I’m gonna do it.’ Michael announced proudly.

    ‘You’re gonna what?’ Colin questioned, squinting slightly.

    ‘I said I’m gonna do it. Are you deaf as well as tiny dicked?’

    Colin blushed slightly, and the quick witted put-down bought a smile to the face of Jane. He had to do it now.

    ‘Well, maybe you’re not such a pansy after all, but I’ll believe it when I see it.’ Colin opened his arms towards the edge of the lake and gave Michael a sarcastic grin. ‘The stage is yours.’

    Michael gazed over to the faces of the other three. Kayleigh was chewing her gum at that annoyingly high volume like she always did, and twiddling with her blonde shoulder length hair, in some poor attempt to look seductive, like some Detroit city whore at the start of her evening shift. God, he hated that girl, but he had to put up with her constant presence because Colin wanted to get in her panties. That fact that he had been working on that task for 2 months proved how useless the guy was with women.

    Markus. Typical, pale, boring, emo Markus. The guy could make a funeral look like a party. He wasn’t a particularly bad guy, just a dull one. The sort of guy you try your best not to stand next too at a party, or else you will have to listen to him talk about his parents cat or some other utterly uninteresting crap for two hours, before you gave up the need to be civil and just walked away from him, leaving him to talk to an empty space. That was probably what pissed him off the most about Markus, he didn’t care if you were listening to him, and he just liked to talk at you for hours on end. Some people just have no social skills.

    And then there was Jane. The wind caught her long brown hair and carried it high enough to reveal the beauty of her face. He wanted her more than air to breath. He thought about her a lot in the shower and just before he went to bed at night, normally concentrating on the memory of when Kayleigh dropped ice cream cone down her back one day on the soccer field in campus, making her jump up and her right tit popped out of her skimpy top. That memory had been called upon numerous times when he was alone, and it never seemed to lose its appeal.

    Micheal smiled at all three of them, but focused the longest on Jane, before turning to Colin and saying; ‘You’re about to see something really special.’ And with that, he leapt into the water.

    It was one of those random suggestions that you think at the time is really stupid, but for some reason everyone else seems to think will be an awesome way to spend a Sunday afternoon. It was Michael’s idea, of course. Only he would have the lack of common sense needed to even contemplate something so half-baked. But everyone else was up for it. Really up for it. So it was up to shit-scared-of-everything little Mickey to put his money where his mouth was and drive everyone up towards Lake Aparen, about 40 or 50 miles north of Vancouver, in a region of Mount Seymour Provincial Park that almost nobody had been before. It took about two and a half hours, including the lunch stop, where Markus, uncharacteristically for him, lead the conversation. He explained an entire episode of ‘CSI: Miami’. A whole episode. A bacon double cheeseburger had never felt so long to eat.

  4. #4
    One Thousand Member Matt's Avatar
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    @Clock - Oh, I see. I can assign importance to events by giving them their own paragraphs. Actually, that's really obvious, but the film analogy is good. In truth, I'm not really planning on writing that story yet, as I have a much bigger project going, but your critique really helps with said project.

    @HoS - That's an excellent quote, and yes, very true. Like you said, opening with description of the time and place is a mistake, because honestly, who cares? Is the exact time and place important enough to deserve its own paragraph, or even sentence? Again, like you said, weaving it in with Ivy's experiences would make for a much stronger narrative.

    HoS, about 90% of what I was going to critique your story about was personal preference, and that eliminated, this is a fairly strong start to a story. The infodump at the end threw me off, but you warned me of that in advance.

    This edges on personal preference, but you've got quite a bit of character background infodumps. For example:

    They’d been best buddies since grade school. Neither was particularly smart or funny or popular all the way through high school, but when they both got accepted into the University of British Colombia; Michael became Colin’s whipping boy. It wasn’t so much bullying, as such, but Colin would always put Michael down to make himself look better, normally in front of girls or the ‘cool kids’. Today being only one example. Colin knew Michael really liked Jane, naturally, most guys would. She looked like Jasmine Bleeth in her prime in the first series of Baywatch. She wasn’t pretty, she was beautiful. Naturally beautiful too, none of this two hundred tons of make up and a bad UV sun tan stuff. She was the real deal. Also, she was a really nice person too, funny and smart, but she was only human and having Colin ridicule and embarrass him like this was only going to compound the notion in her mind that he was indeed a loser. Which he was, he’d admit that openly. But not to Jane, he wanted Jane to think he was more than he was. Michael knew what he was about to do was stupid, dangerous, damned near suicidal, but he needed to do this. A guy does strange things when he’s trying to impress a girl.
    Couldn't that entire paragraph, like the setting description, be spread around in the characters' actions, words, and behaviors?

    "You're just as much of a pussy as you were in grade school," Colin said, spitting out every other word like the insults they were. The others chuckled awkwardly, staring lasers into Michael's bare back as he, in turn, stared down at the waves taunting him below. He didn't give a shit about any of them but Jane. He loved hearing her laugh, but much preferred she be laughing with him. Not at him.

    "Fine," he said, swiveling around to face Colin and the others, letting his eyes linger on Jane's. "I'm gonna do it."

    "You're gonna do what?"

    "You heard me. Or are you deaf and a prick?"
    Something kinda like that. Only much better than my example, of course. And I do perceive the directness of the description and dialogue as a part of your style, and am still a bit hesitant to mention all this.

    This:

    Colin knew Michael really liked Jane, naturally, most guys would. She looked like Jasmine Bleeth in her prime in the first series of Baywatch. She wasn’t pretty, she was beautiful. Naturally beautiful too, none of this two hundred tons of make up and a bad UV sun tan stuff. She was the real deal. Also, she was a really nice person too, funny and smart, but she was only human and having Colin ridicule and embarrass him like this was only going to compound the notion in her mind that he was indeed a loser.
    1. It's generally discouraged to describe a character's appearance by drawing parallels between them and somebody famous, especially when you draw a parallel to a show your target audience (college, judging by the age and behavior of the characters?) probably isn't old enough to have seen.
    2. This could change depending on where you go with the story, but I've always noticed when a character describes his crush's appearance first. This is a really small, possibly stylistic thing. That said, you know how the camera panning from a woman's feet to her face, in cinema, actually portrays that her face doesn't matter as much as what's being shown first? It's the same principle here. It feels like Michael tacked on Jane's internal aspects after lusting after her and is currently trying to pass that off as love. Now, this isn't good or bad inherently. It's just a little thing I noticed, and what you do with it is entirely up to you.
    Last edited by Matt; 06-14-2012 at 01:35 PM.

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