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: 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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Classic Being a Better Writer: Breathing Life into Characters

Welcome back to another Classic Being a Better Writer post! Really quickly, a quick update for Patreon Supporters: Still playing catch up for last month, but look for something (hopefully) this weekend. That’s all.

So, Classic BaBW post? That’s right. If you’re new here, Classic posts dig into a four-year archive of weekly BaBW articles to dig up a couple that are relevant to one another, delivering a triple or sometimes quadruple whammy of writing advice! Great for those who haven’t yet had a chance to archive binge or that are looking for help on a particular topic!

Today’s selection? A series of posts on ways to help our characters become more alive for the reader and feel more tangible. So sit back, grab a snack, and hit up those links!


Showing Character Through Dialogue—
Now let’s put this in a scene. We have a grizzled FBI man, undercover on a train, sitting in his seat and pretending to be a newspaper. His passenger, a woman who has no idea who he is, turns towards him and asks “Would you like some gum?”

Now, let’s look at his response. The grammatically correct response is “No, thanks.” However, what differences does this imply about his character over “No thanks,” without any pause? One is timely, implies a pause and perhaps some thought. The other is brusque, pre-determined, almost dismissive, and can be more so based on what action he couples with his statement.

Whoa. Did we really just read all that out based on whether or not a single comma was present in the dialogue?


Body Language—
How important are these social cues? Incredibly important. We can build entire opinions of individuals before they even open their mouths to speak, based simply on things like stance, hand and arm position, and facial cues. Much of our interaction with those around us is as much physical as it is spoken, based off of these cues. To give you an idea of how much, look at animated features—especially modern, CG animations over the last ten years. I recently came across a group of animators and dedicated animation fans discussing the movie Zootopia‘s use of facial animation compared to prior CG films, and they were talking about the close attention to detail the film provided. It was all little things, small stuff like character’s noses or ears twitching (these are anthropomorphic animal characters, after all) or tiny, subtle movements of their eyes or lips. But the point of this comparing to earlier films by even the same studio (Disney) and pointing out how these very small social cues made for a much better experience: Despite being anthropomorphic animal characters, the cast from Zootopia felt more human than ever … in part because of the ability to animate all these small social cues that we’ve come to expect in the real world. It made the characters feel more human.

And yet … despite how important these cues are, despite how valuable body language is to many of us on an hourly basis … many young writers miss it entirely. They fall into the trap of simple presentation, of telling a reader rather than showing them.


Giving Characters a Leitmotif—
Well, perhaps I should start out explaining what a leitmotif is, for those of you who don’t know, just so that we’re all on the same page. A leitmotif is, essentially, a recurring musical theme in a piece of music that is associated with an idea, emotion, or—more often—a character or a situation. Which to some of you probably sounds like nonsense unless I point out some of the more well-known leitmotifs out there: Those in film. Specifically, leitmotifs found in films like Indiana Jones, Star Wars, or The Lord of the Rings. Sit back for a moment, if you will, and picture one of those films. Now picture a character or a scene from them and see if your mind calls a bit of fanfare forward.

Which is pretty cool, to be honest. But it probably doesn’t answer the question most of you have on your minds now that we’ve discussed all this; likely some form of “What does this have to do with writing?” Again, as I already said, we don’t havemusical cues in literature. At least, not yet. Outside of a few experimental online pieces, music does not feature prominently (or really, at all) inside fiction. So, what am I talking about?

Actually, I’m talking about cues that make your character recognizable.


Like what you read? Want to support more? There’s a Patreon for that!

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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Being a Better Writer: When Characters Fail

Welcome back, readers, to another Monday Being a Better Writer post! Today we’ve got a request topic, one that hopefully I’ll be able to do justice to the satisfaction of the one who asked. In addition, it’s also one of the last topics left on Topic List IX! We’re close to Topic List X, and I’m glad, because I’ve already got some pretty neat topics on there to go over.

But that’s in the future. For the now, let’s get going on today’s topic: When Characters Fail.

I’ll admit, I bounced around a bit on topic titles for this one, and not without good reason. For a moment it was “Failing to Succeed,” and then almost became “Letting Characters Fail.” But finally, I settled on When Characters Fail, rather than on letting, and I think that distinction is important.

See, if we go into our characters failing with the mindset that we’re “letting” them fail (and in fact, are), then we might be approaching our story in the wrong way. Sure, we’re giving our characters the “try/fail” cycle that they need, and they’re going through it, but here’s the thing about “letting” them fail. When we “let” our characters fail, then they’re not the ones acting on the try/fail cycle. We as authors are. We’re looking at our story and going “Okay, you can fail here, this is a good spot for it,” and letting the failure happen where we decide it works, rather than simply letting the characters be free to fail when their own choices drop it on them.

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