Being a Better Writer: Applying Writing Advice and Feedback

Welcome back readers! Another Monday is upon us, and I’m diving right in today. by picking up a request topic from Topic List X!

So, you’ve done it at last and found a like-minded group of people who’ve come together in a pleasantly pleasing—yet still critical—writing group (more on that topic another time). You’ve met, discussed one another’s work, and as expected, they’ve found some areas you can polish with your work. But then, as you sit down the next day to look over what the group had discussed and the fixes you want to make, you come to a sobering realization.

You have no idea how to actually apply the advice they gave you. You know where the problems lie, sure, and what didn’t work. You’ve even got a few suggestions that they gave you. But as to how to put that advice to work in your writing? Suddenly, you’re drawing a blank.

And to be fair, this isn’t easy. Sands, that’s why the question was asked! Getting feedback on what needs to be fixed and then figuring out how? It’s a challenge, especially if it’s your first time having received such. You might even feel a little overwhelmed!

But first step—and this is key—is not to worry. Feeling overwhelmed is often one of the first reactions when faced with the thought of apply writing advice or sticking it into your story. And once you’re overwhelmed, it’s hard not to focus on that feeling.

So first, let’s break things down, shall we?

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Being a Better Writer: Characters with Handicaps

Welcome back readers, to Being a Better Writer! Tuesday edition, because … reasons. It happens.

Anyway, today I’ll be tackling a topic that’s been requested once or twice, but I never got around to addressing until today: How to write a character with a handicap, and write them well.

You ready for this? The short answer is … carefully and with care, but ultimately, like any other character.

But of course, that answer isn’t good enough. Not by a long shot. Though if it is, well … that wasn’t going to stop you from clicking away anyway. For the rest of us, however, let’s hit the jump.

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Being a Better Writer: The Value of Fiction

First of all, I apologize for the lateness of this post. I had a shift at work Monday(I’m still playing catch-up on a small pile of debt incurred during my knee injury and trying to be able to make rent this month, so I’m working more shifts than normal) which, as expected, put this post behind the clock. Thankfully, looking at my daily views, it seems that many of you don’t mind—a large number of you have just been checking on Tuesday rather than on Monday, which is sad as far as my ability to get these posts up on Monday is concerned, but otherwise isn’t a bother.

So … today’s topic … This is one that I’ve wanted to do for quite a while. Years, actually. But I wasn’t positive if I wanted it to be a Being a Better Writer post or just a random post until recently. I can’t recall quite what the context of it was, but there was a forum post on a site I was browsing that made me immediately turn to my topic list and write down “Learning by Example – Value of Fiction.”

Now, for some, this post is going to seem somewhat … Well, perhaps obvious is the best way to put it. But the odd thing is, for some it won’t.

See, I once had a fellow student in one of my creative writing classes who could not understand why we were bothering to read stories that ‘hadn’t happened.’ They were incredibly incensed by it (for the record, none of us, including the professor, could determine what they had expected otherwise from a course in creative writing), constantly complained about the books we read, and even, if memory serves, flat-out refused to do the writing assignments because ‘it wasn’t real, therefore it was of no worth.’

The thing is, as I’ve gotten older, wiser, and seen more of the world, I’ve come to find that this student was not alone in sharing this opinion. There are a lot of people out there that do not see the value of reading anything that is a work of fiction and hold it to be of no merit. Why? The answer is, when boiled and distilled down, because a work of fiction isn’t something “real.” Therefore, not being “real,” it has no place in the real world.

Now, obviously I disagree. But, naturally, this disagreement doesn’t start or end with “Well, you’re wrong.” Crud, there’s a reason I put “real” in the last paragraph in quotes. Because fiction isn’t simply something that’s “not real.” In fact, simply thinking of it as such shows a lack of understanding of what fiction is.

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Being a Better Writer: Comedy – Good, Not Cheap

Oh boy.

You know, I think if I were to sit down and list all the topic requests I’ve received since I started Being a Better Writer, and probably even some of the requests I received before starting it, comedy would likely be at the top of the heap. This is a constantly asked-after topic. And yet, for four-plus years, I’ve steadily declined. Why?

Simple: I don’t write comedy. Sure, I have funny moments here and there in my stories, and may write a short or a chapter every once in a while that prompts quite a bit of snickering, but I don’t see that as being a comedy writer. I write adventures, reflective pieces, etc, etc, but almost never have I sat down and told myself “I’m going to write a really funny story.” Those moments of comedy in my stories? Those are the characters being funny. And sure, the characters are an extension of myself and my intent, but at the same time, I don’t see that as “comedic writing.” That’s characters and situations I have taking advantage of the moment to be funny, rather than me writing a story with the express purpose of delivering laugh after laugh. This doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy writing characters or scenarios that produce a good laugh—to the contrary, I welcome it—but that the comedy is never the sole goal of the story … save perhaps with one exception, that being the short story Kitchen Creature from Unusual Events. Comedy is a side dish, yes, like fries to go with the burger, but it’s never the main course in my works.

Why? Well, I’ll go back and repeat the old adage once more: Dying is easy, comedy is hard. You might recognize that in variance from my post on tragedy, but the fact is that it keeps coming up because comedy is hard. Crud, Battletoads-slash-classic-Nintendo-hard.

Actually, let me rephrase that a bit as we finally begin to circle inwards towards today’s topic: Good comedy is hard. Cheap comedy? Fairly easy … but, well, cheap. Low-cost, really. And, on that note, fairly low-brow as well.

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Being a Better Writer: Going Vertical

I’m back! No longer diseased! Well, not fully. And still with a recovering knee injury, but those things take time, or so I’m told by the doctors. But I am well enough to write write write at last! My mind is clear! And so after a long, unwelcome delay, we’re finally getting back to a follow-up post I alluded to some time ago.

That’s right, remember that post I wrote on Horizontal and Vertical storytelling a few weeks back? Because today’s post was originally, before I came down with disease that made me cough my lungs into a bowl, going to be the follow-up. Lousy timing, but what it means for readers today is that I suggest going back and reading that first post if you don’t remember the details behind it. Because I’ll give a quick, one-sentence recap related to today’s topic at hand, but after that I’m diving right into the thick of things, so if you’re not caught up on what horizontal and vertical storytelling are, you’ll want to read that link up above first, and then come back for this post.

Right, the preamble is out of the way, so let’s dive into it. Let’s go vertical and give our stories some depth!

Now, what some of you are probably thinking at this point, or were even thinking after that post a few weeks ago, is why I wanted to do a post on exactly this topic. After all, explaining to someone what horizontal writing is and how to do it? That’s pretty straightforward, since almost every story we’ve even been exposed to growing up (especially Hollywood action-blockbuster style stories) are horizontal focused. Point A to point D. Action beat to action beat.

We’re familiar with this kind of approach, and it’s what most think of when discussing stories. Hit the point, move to the next point, then the next, and so on and so forth. While not technically correct to call it such, for many this is essentially how they think of storytelling. Again, it’s not correct, but for a layman it’s pretty accurate.

My point is, explaining horizontal storytelling to someone is fairly easy and straightforward because most people understand how to tell a horizontal story. It’s familiar and easy to grasp. Vertical storytelling, on the other hand, is something that a lot of people aren’t familiar with up front. It’s not nearly as often talked about, nor as often recognized, though it can be present in many entertainment items you may have enjoyed.

So, with that as our backing, how does one go about building a story that has vertical elements?

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Being a Better Writer: Imitation … or Copying?

This’ll be a short one today, guys. I’m actually still sick, but I really feel bad about missing last week’s post (in truth, my whole week went by in a blur of “ack, bleck, cough cough cough, can’t think, play Sonic Mania/X-Com 2). So you’re getting a post today. Not the one I’d planned (my brain’s not quite functional enough for the more in-depth companion piece to Horizontal and Vertical Storytelling), but a post nonetheless that instead serves as a sort of semi-follow-up piece to this one, instead.

You’ll note the similarity of the titles if you click the link. That’s intentional.

Oh, and really quick: Patreon Supporters, there will still be an August reward. I just … need to stop being sick first.

Okay, so today’s short topic. This was brought on by a post I ran across on a forum the other day that was directed as “advice” for new writers.

It was … poor advice. I’ll give you the quick summary. It postulated that in order to become good, what one should do was find an author whose writing that they wanted to emulate, pick a story or excerpt of theirs that you wanted to emulate, and then just … copy it. Type out the same words, massaged slightly with your characters and the details changed so that it wasn’t outright word-for-word plagiarism. Their reasoning was that this would help you ‘create’ something very much like the author’s you idolized, but still your own.

No.

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Being a Better Writer: Horizontal and Vertical Storytelling

Welcome back readers! I apologize for the lateness of this post, but I had a physical therapy appointment this morning, and that took up the early part of the day when I normally would have been writing this post.

Physical therapy? Yup, you read that right. Those of you who’ve been keeping tabs on all my posts will know that several months ago I twisted my knee at work and tore my meniscus. Since then, it’s been a slow recovery (aided only with gnashing of teeth by my employer, who let me sit for 30 days without medical treatment or work, one day short of the maximum allowed by law) that has been greatly aided by physical therapy. My knee isn’t back to full ability yet, though it’s definitely getting better (thankfully, as knee injuries suck). And physical therapy will wreck you! Or at least, it’s wrecking me. I am sore afterwards. But, like I said, getting better. It’s a good sore.

Good thing, too, because the amount of money my employer is spending to avoid spending money on medical care is, quite frankly, insane. Later this week I have to go back to a different doctor for another check-up. Now, physical therapy is under the guidance of a doctor. Why are they sending me to another doctor? For independent confirmation that I need physical therapy and am still injured.

That’s right. They’re so suspicious of doctors that they’re paying other doctors to confirm that the first and second doctors aren’t trying to cheat them. Personally, I think that says more about the company than it does about the doctors, but that’s just me.

Anyway,  you’re not here to read about that, so let’s get things moving. Starting with the announcement that this is the first topic off Topic List X! The big 1-0! We’re here at last! And I’m glad, because there are some good topics ahead!

Starting with today’s. Today, we’re going to discuss horizontal and vertical storytelling: what they are, what they mean, how they work, how they differ, and of course most importantly how you can use them in your work.

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