Monday, July 11, 2011

Today, I am going to come at you with some basic writing tips and see what happens. Since I haven’t really got a readership at this point, I can’t say if it will help anyone or not, but here goes, in handy list-form:

  1. Avoid word over-use. This is a problem I myself recognize and struggle with in my own work. That’s the first step, right? Admitting you have a problem? In any event, this obviously doesn’t apply to basic words like ‘the’, ‘a’, and ‘and’, although two ands in a sentence is often a little awkward. I’m talking more like nouns or verbs, ‘forest’, ‘intellect’, ‘gun’, etc. This tends to create repetition, and might cause readers to get confused, especially if its in the middle of a big paragraph. Fortunately, we have thesauruses(thesauri?) to help with this problem by just basically giving you a nice, handy word-list of things that mean the same thing as the word you’re trying to write.

But perhaps more importantly, as this is less of a novice mistake, pay attention to the words or combinations of words you use frequently and try not to over-use them. I, for example, tend to use ‘had’ and ‘of course’ entirely too often. When I look at my older work, it seems that I used the word ‘seem’ just entirely too often.

  1. Add tons of description. This one is so basic it should probably go without saying. Personally, I learned this trick from Terry Goodkind, author of the Sword of Truth series. The guy knew almost perfectly when and how to use massive volumes of description. Obviously you do not always use a whole ton, but you have to work at it and learn where and when to put it in. In one particularly poignant scene from the first book, the main character jumps off a small rise and hits a guy with his sword. The author uses about two and a half pages to describe this. Why? Because it is a very major, sort of pinnacle scene to the story. In other parts of the book, he cuts down bad guys like blades of grass, with hardly a mention. Its all about knowing where, and how much detail to add.

Since books are largely character-driven, this is the first place to look. Are you attempting to communicate something about your character’s emotional state? Conversely, drippingly-detailed descriptions can be very useful for creating suspense. You can drag something like the sword-chop scene mentioned above out for pages and pages, merely by describing every last detail.

Finally, it just helps the reader get a clear picture of who, and exactly what they are reading about, and why they should care. You want your readers to bond with your characters, to identify. You want them to laugh together, cry together. When something as simple as a peach is incredibly important to the character, you want the reader to understand why.

  1. Pick a tense, and go with it. Again, this one doesn’t sound like it deserves mention, but it is one of those things a lot of people(again, including myself) struggle with. Most of the time, your story is probably happening in real-time, the events are occurring as they are being described to your reader. However, you’ve also got flashbacks. Sometimes the entire story is told as a flashback; I was watching a movie recently in which the main character had a running internal monologue that was really him describing the events of the film as though they had already happened. The movie was happening in real-time, but we were getting his commentary from after it was over. This effect can be replicated in writing, but it is very difficult and can be confusing if not done properly.

Most of the time, you just need to pick a tense and run with it. Past, present, future, tesseract. If you want to include a flashback, do something to clarify that you are indeed flashing backwards to something older.

Tenses get especially difficult when you are working in a first-person POV. When you are expressing thoughts and emotions, it gets much easier to use past-tense, but if you are supposed to be working in the present, it can be hard. This is really just the sort of thing you have to watch for in editing.

And with that, I bid you farewell, as I have run out of things to say that no one will read.

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