Discussion in 'Fluff and Stories' started by spawning of Bob, Apr 10, 2015.
Unless it is a discussion of Star Wars movies, eh Nightbringer?
Time for a new topic methinks.
I recently came across this lovely list over on Brainpickings which looked at the writing advice of Elmore Leonard.
As mentioned in the previous page, the conundrum of how much description you should give to your character is one that vexes me. On the one had, building a heavily detailed character (both in terms of traits and physical description, however I'm talking more about physical description in this topic) can make it iconic, effectively building an individual within the audiences mind which to identify with. Conversely, however, going too far may detract from the characterisation, preventing the audience from applying their own perspectives, restricting their imagination - overall a pretty image may be built up but it lacks any way for the audience to get get their teeth in.
On the other side you can barely mention anything at all, leading the audience to build their own unique image through traits, language and ideology applied. Specifically, the Leonard states:
How far should one go in creating 'good' characters?
I might further add to this my own musings on the list once thoroughly digested. Although seeing as I failed #2 with Lord Xhaltan, hopefully it won't cause indigestion.
I think it varies quite a lot from character to character, when I write myself. Although as a game master, too, I'll say that it's often pretty neat adding a short easy to remember description. That way it's not necessary for the players (in book term, reader) to remember the name, but just as good if they'll remember the description.
It tends to add a second dimension to the various character, that the players always can deduce who that character were, through my description of the character, rather then a name.
A third checklist? At least they are all different.
Fantasy Writer's Checklist (page three of this thread) was semi tongue in cheek, but it is helpful for making unaware writers become aware of their use of hack stereotypes - which is not to say that hack stereotypes are not a useful story writing tool.
A Fanfic Writer's Guide to Writing (page 5) has a far more technical discussion of writing techniques which I am trying to employ - I hope you agree that my current use of past perfect tense will make my stuff easier to read in the future. Lots of technical stuff about what actually works and what doesn't, and if it says something is annoying it actually explains why.
And now 10 Rules of Writing comes along. Fortunately the cosmic ray concentrating properties of my eggshell allows me do appreciate with what Elmore Fudd presents AND strenuously disagree with him at the same time.
Observations - 10 Rules is more of a work of opinion (very much expert opinion) than the other checklists. Mr Fudd lives inside a valid worldview which he is happy with, but the world is more complicated than that. It is a bit like this:
Actually, it is nothing like that, but any excuse to recycle a cartoon is a good enough excuse.
The stuff Elmore likes to read and write is set either in a contemporary western society or in a timeless western society. The setting will be familiar to his readers and not need exposition. The characters are just regular Joes (for a non-regular Joe, please read The 4th Emperor). He gets away with putting everything into the dialogue and letting the actors carry the story because he doesn't need a scenery, costume or special effects department.
Now, Welcome to my world, Elmore. Mwahahahaha!
I believe fantasy / Scifi writers need to work harder because they create a world, not just squat in the middle of the real one.
I also believe that if you write farce (which I do a lot) the humour relies on turning the world and expectations upside down. If you don't throw the reader a lifeline they will be utterly lost. By the rigidly using the whole "only use said and no adverbs, let the words convey how the lines should be read" thing you can end up putting a blindfold over the readers eyes and tying one arm behind your back in the process.
"I think there is a valid opportunity to press for change here," Roger said.
"I think there is a valid opportunity to press for change here," Roger whispered conspirationally.
Which Roger is about to slip poison into the king's cup? It might have annoyed someone, but 2 words can do a LOT of work.
Having said that - I agree that a largely dialogue driven story is a very good thing. Unless there is action, scenery, costumery, magical effects etc etc - but those can be glossed over quickly if they aren't the focus. Just to show that I can write a mostly dialogue story check out The Hazing. The setting (a committee meeting) is so universal that I don't need to explain it, therefore dialogue can carry the story - the difficult thing here was for me to give the large number of characters distinct voices. (Almost the next thing I wrote was The Betrayer, which had NO dialogue. You use the tools at your disposal to tell the story.)
Anyhow, Mr Fudd has further opened my eyes and I will aspire to write less clunkily. If I choose to use an adverb or describe a character it will be because I haven't got the skillz or because life outside middle class America is complicated.
I disagree with over half of these ten rules.
1. Never open a book with weather.
Unless Man Versus Nature is a major aspect of your story. Obviously you can bog down a story too much with weather description. Using weather to push the mood can come across as hack, but never is a very strong word. People tend to speak hyperbolically and overuse "always" and "never," and I tend to overlook it when people talk like that in conversation but a professional writers should know better. I guess "Avoid opening a book with weather" isn't strong enough for his ego. Well no, he used soft phrasing for number two, so he does know how to phrase something without an absolute.
2. Avoid prologues
No complaints here. He made a valid point without overselling it.
3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
There he goes using "never." He used an extreme example of “she asseverated.” I agree that asservating is not a good verb. But once in a while I want someone to "demand," "shout," or "whisper," Most of the time you should use "said," but never is a very strong word.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” …
This time Mr. Fudd isn't overselling a reasonable point. Now he is spewing something I consider false. I like characters to say things "sarcasticly" and "imperiously," "groggily," or "meekly." Obviously you can over do this, but I wouldn't even go as far to say "avoid using an adverb to modify 'said'".
5. Keep your exclamations under control.
He says a reasonable thing in a reasonable way. He didn't say "never use exclamation points."
6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
Again I dislike the word never. I would consider applying that word to "all hell broke loose." That should not appear outside of colloquial dialog. I don't have a problem with "suddenly." I don't see it as being more dangerous of overusing than any other word.
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
I agree with both the wording and intent. I don't want too many puddle brained colloquialisms making a mahrlect mess all over my pond.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
Invoking Hemmingway is a good way to give me a knee-jerk negative reaction. I would phrase this different. "Avoid detailed descriptions of characters with a single word dump." Slowly emerging character details are great.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
You know, unless you are creating an exotic fantasy or sci-fi setting...
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
I agree with this point, but I would like Mr. Fudd to describe it more. The problem is that it's very hard to identify this. Bob and I are disturbingly similar in many literary aspects but we still find different things interesting or boring. Elmore gives no guidelines for identifying "hooptedoodle" apart from telling us to read one of his favorite books. Also, he talks about the book in question having a memorable prologue. He just discredited rule two in his description of rule 10. That level of contradiction makes me question the wisdom in his literary guidelines and more like Elmore Leonards "10 Rants of a Grumpy Old Man".
Tying 10 and 2 together.
I never have skipped any of Slanputin's stuff but I did think Xhaltan was a bit too prologue heavy. Bob seems to eat it up with a spoon. I think the problem for me was fixed with a nice action chapter breaking up the long intro.
Lord Xhaltan's prologue was too flowery for my tastes - but I understand that Slanputin was doing that as a device to make things grandiose and mysterious. The fact that he can then write five chapters of reasonably tight prose afterwards makes me believe his explanation (or else his thesaurus broke)
My favourite part of Elmore's Ten Rules was in number 4 "Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”" when he used a quote from a character in one of his own books to back up the point he was making.
It's a bit like Scalenex quoting one of his characters who says "I would rather die than suffer endless anguish" to justify torturing them for a while before killing them.
I changed the thread title today, planning to write a short discussion on the use of verb tenses. 3 hours later, I have found out that I am not up to the task. I will try to drastically limit the scope (to what I actually know) and put something up tomorrow.
After that, Slanputin had put in a bookmark back a month ago:
Extremely boring new topic: spacing.
I was taught that any colon and any sentence ending period, question mark, or exclamation point warranted two spaces.
I brought this up at work and lots of people jumped down my throat. I found out that the Internet cannot agree on this. I found out there is no major demographic pattern for the one-space or two space groups. People favor what they were taught first.
I decided I probably ought to stop pushing two spaces when I proofread someone's work. I'm still going to use two spaces myself though.
If I were honest, it's mostly because that's how my high school English teachers taught me. Without their encouragement I would have long stopped writing for fun. However. I find the extra spacing useful even if not required. If I'm reading a book, I don't notice the spacing, but I think in a web article or forum post a lack of spacing makes things look like a block of letters to me which strains the eyes over time. Maybe that can't be helped with e-reading and spacing is a placebo effect for me, but I'll stick with it.
Also, I like paragraph spacing to split up ideas. I must admit that my way of spacing is not the only right way, but I like it.
My tradition was to double space just about any punctuation not in the middle of a phrase, a habit which i picked up for clarity porpoises in assignment and scientific writing back in the day
@Scalenex pointed out where this differed from his superior knowledge (@Scolenex never corrected anything, but he is a famously sloppy eater) and I follow Scaly's rules except when I don't.
When I don't, it is for utter clarity reasons or for comic timing reasons. I also break major fluff rules when they get in the way of a story or a joke.
And @Scalenex, please teach me the "inverted commas around the right way trick again.....". (I'll find a sample of the problem somewhere)
peroid = two spaces
anything else = one space
So I've been told
This is entirely an argument based on how to type, so there is is clearly no correct answer going back hundreds of years when English was formalised.
I have never in my life be taught to use a double space after any type of punctuation, by professors, teachers, or otherwise. For me it's single space all the time *except* for when I want to manipulate the audience's reading pace/inner voice, in which case it becomes a decent literary tool for pushing across my voice (when appropriate).
I feel like this subject is clouded by subjectivity (possibly a demographic/geographic influence?), but I wonder why you who do use double space think it's necessary? @Scalenex you've already mentioned about ease of reading on the internet, but what end does using such spacing actually serve beyond that? I imagine there's a justification for why it's taught to students.
I remember being taught the double space thing. Also, on my phone it doesn't auto capitalize the first letter of the next sentence unless I double space. I would assume professors or teachers teach this for the same reason though. Ease of reading. If you have to read 30 short stories or book reports quickly for grading purposes you will definitely want the easier reading experience. Though that is just myassumption.
Here it is @thedarkfourth If you wouldn't mind duplicating your preamble - you can remove the bits where you apologize for being a critical thinker. They will grant you no protection here in the Crypt. Mwahahahahahaha!
Indeed. I believe you refer to:
Lit Crit Theory
1. Short stories, like all stories, need goals, urgency, and stakes. (I'll just wait for Bob to supply the cartoon of a vampire going "vhat?!") They need these things to create tension and compel the reader to keep reading. To this end, there needs to be a core dilemma, or conflict, that animates the entire flow of the action, and this needs to be front and centre at all times.
2. Short stories, like all stories, need character development. This is often the same thing as the core dilemma - most good drama comes from a character confronting something difficult, making key decisions that define them, and then changing as a result. This isn't the only way to do it, but you need something that forces your characters to really get to the core of what they are.
3. A good way to think about this, in classic theory, is the difference between wants and needs. A character might feel they know what they want, but to the reader it should become clear that their conscious desire is different to the subconscious thing that they actually need to grow and improve. The tension between the two is usually the most fruitful place to build drama in a story.
4. One template for this is the so-called Harman circle:
1. a character is in a zone of comfort
2. but they want something.
3. they enter an unfamiliar situation
4. adapt to it
5. get what they want
6. pay a heavy price for it
7. then return to their familiar situation
8. having changed.
Some variation on this is present in basically everything that you read or watch - but don't feel you have to stick rigidly to it. It's there to be played around with. But also don't ignore it - you need a proper structure for your story to be the most effective it can be.
5. One of the main reasons to think about structure is because you should be trying to achieve economy. There should be nothing in your text that does not directly advance or inform the core elements of your story. Hemingway Waffle is the enemy of good writing. If you are clear in your mind what is the precise drama you're trying to convey, you can zero in on it and chop away anything superfluous. I can't stress enough how important this is.
6. Related: the story should be propulsive. By this I mean, it should continuously move onward with new purpose and interest in each scene or segment of action. It should never lag or stop advancing, or explore some subplot that doesn't directly contribute. This doesn't mean the pace has to be non-stop frantic, but even in the slower sections the key drama of the story should be moving forward.
7. Finally, have a theme. There should be some emotional resonance or philosophical point to the story, that animates the action and is particularly evident in the ending, speaking to some truth or idea you recognise in yourself or the world.
Hmm. How would a mediocre writer develop a character? Would he/she just occasionally stick the character in a situation in which development is needed? Or would it just be a subtle change in the way they talk to weaker characters/authority figures?
I was going to go for a bit of both, but I need some experienced help in the next bit of my story, as I dont see how to move a character on.
I spewed out a lot of stuff on meta-story planning on page 5 of this thread, and some about doing a character map on page 6 (probably more useful)
This is all very theoretical, but the truth is, I am an instinctive writer who justifies afterwards rather than applies any kind of solid theory from the beginning. A redeeming point is that I am still learning and another is that I can take a detached view while proof reading and actually spot errors and vagueness, and I am prepared to dump large amounts of intictaely written garbage to improve clarity.
IF you have got a good story that covers one critical event, don't sweat the chracter arcs too much - as long as you DEFINE the characters clearly. If you are planning to revisit the main character, please make sure they have a partial victory at best this time. "Crippled with doubt" is better.
"Dead" might be going too far, but Scalenex has never let that stop him from reanimating a sequel.
Give us the situation and we can advise on specifics.
In general this is excellent advice. The key drama of the story should be the same thing as the key aspect of character development.
Personally I try not to start a story without knowing - roughly - how it ends. This doesn't mean you plan out every detail, but I think if you don't have an idea of your characters' journeys before you begin, there's fair chance they won't have one. But really, this can be anything that interests you. How might a good character turn evil or vice versa? How might a character finally get over a psychological defect resulting from their backstory? These are classic examples, but there are a million other things you can do. Just make sure that the story is written with complete focus on achieving this transition in a dramatic way.
I guess what I'm saying is it's less about sticking a character in a certain situation in order to give them development - any development! - and more about deciding "what would be an interesting/cool journey or change for my character" and then crafting the situation/conflict to make sure this happens - but at a price!
Ok, i have an ending in mind (that may or may not change as I think of better ones) my tale is on a thread named Origins. Made by me.
I've read it...and look forward to reading future instalments! If you want specific feedback...well I'd say that so far it's mostly setup and exposition. Which is fine, if you're plotting a long saga and whetting the reader's appetite. But there hasn't really been any juicy action or conflict yet. Again - this is fine for the time being, but it makes it difficult to comment regarding your questions above, about character development and such. So far your main character has simply been imprisoned and transported. We still don't know his key motives or objectives or backstory. I look forward to discovering it, and seeing what the character does when he gets presented with tough decisions. Keep it up!
Hey, I only did that once, okay twice if you count Kayishen, but Kayishen was a very puny character when she was alive, she didn't actually emerge as a character until after she was dead. If I wanted to make bringing characters back from the dead a common occurrence I'd be writing for Marvel.
Though the urge to bring the nameless hunter back from the dead for @discomute 's series is strong. I'm picturing something along the lines of Marvel's Winter Soldier.
I think Lizardmen are good for extended story arcs. You can have tragic deaths but you can also have spawning pools create new characters whenever you need them. Nigh-immortal Slann and ancient Temple Cities provide continuity as framework for your changing cast of characters.