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thinking about writing

triflesandparsnips:

or, hey, look what I found when I went digging through my junk. here are some things that other people have said about writing that I thought were neat and/or have been useful to me in the past. all formative for me, though I bet I’d come up with a slightly different list now. but anyway:

The Turkey City Lexicon

Squid in the Mouth The failure of an author to realize that his/her own weird assumptions and personal in-jokes are simply not shared by the world-at-large. Instead of applauding the wit or insight of the author’s remarks, the world-at-large will stare in vague shock and alarm at such a writer, as if he or she had a live squid in the mouth.

The Evil Overlord’s Plot Generator

The important things are always simple. The enemy never takes notice until you make a mistake. Never tell the Platoon Sergeant you have nothing to do. The enemy invariably attacks on two occasions: (a.) When you’re ready for them; (b.) When you’re not ready for them.

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triflesandparsnips:

My friend Nadia over at nadiacreek asked the aether for some practical, straightforward writing advice, which I assume she meant to be nuts and bolts stuff.

So here is some writing advice. Feel free to add to it. I probably will.

(Caveat emptor: 1. The reason advice looks contradictory is because it literally is different for everyone – shit that works for one person won’t work for someone else. Just stick it in your toolbox and move along. 2. I will say obvious shit that you already know. Because it’s possible somebody else doesn’t. 3. You may totally disagree with anything/everything I say, oh my god, that’s fine.)

1. Use the word “said.” Throw in a “she declaimed” every once in a while if you like, but don’t do it all the time. Feel free to put in no dialogue tags at all, if it’s clear who’s speaking. But “said” is free and generally invisible to the reader (and the goal is to not remind the reader that they’re reading).

2. Writing advice for fanfic and writing advice for short fiction and writing advice for novels are all going to tell you slightly (or wildly) different things. So, you know, watch out for that. I suggest switching mediums entirely, and try reading up on screenplays or three-panel comics.

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triflesandparsnips:

vampireisabitstrong:

triflesandparsnips:

Similar to my previous post regarding straightforward, nuts-and-bolts writing advice, here is some practical advice about dialogue.

(Previous caveats apply. 1. The reason advice looks contradictory is because it literally is different for everyone — shit that works for one person won’t work for someone else. Just stick it in your toolbox and move along. 2. I will say obvious shit that you already know. Because it’s possible somebody else doesn’t. 3. You may totally disagree with anything/everything I say, oh my god, that’s fine.)

1. As I mentioned in my previous post, use the word “said”. It’s invisible. “She declaimed,” “he cried,” “she howled,” and the ever-popular “he ejaculated” are always fun, and can have their place (particularly in comedic writing) but “said” can be used as many times as you like and nobody will blink an eye. 

2. People use more contractions than you think they do. When they don’t, they sound angry or stiff or both.

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This is all good ju-ju, and that’s fine, except I’m just going to throw out there with number 4 that I always say goodbye on the phone. It’s how I double check that I’m safe to hang up, because the conversation is over. I realise mileage varies on that one (and when I’m writing, I tend to go with “the conversation drew to a close and they hung up” or some variation there of) but “goodbye” does happen in casual phone calls as well, and I won’t judge someone for writing it.

Mostly, though, I love these posts. I’m fascinated by the hows of other people’s writing. Literary nerd, it turns me on.

REBLOGGING YOUR POST TO TALK TO YOU, HIIIIII.

Oh, dude, for real, I say goodbye in real life on the phone all the time. I’m one of those people who say “bye” around forty times because I want to be really certain everybody’s okay with the conversation coming to a close (including myself). “Bye,” “goodbye,” and variants thereof happen all the time, and there’s no shame whatsoever. In real life.

My point is more that you gotta think about why you’re doing it in dialogue. Everything you put into a story has to have a purpose, or it’s wasted space. Farewells are already costly in terms of reader attention span – they’re a call and response by nature, so that’s two lines of dialogue that are essentially doing just one thing: ending a conversation. Make it do double-duty, and then you’ve got a reason to keep it.

Some examples:

“I’m not sure I can meet you,” she said, holding the phone close.

“Just try. I’ll be in the park. You know where.”

“Okay.” She let out a shaky breath. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Maybe. Bye.”

“Bye.”

I’m not loving it. I think it takes away from (presumably) the tension in the call. So what happens if I try to gracefully remove the farewells:

“I’m not sure I can meet you,” she said, holding the phone close.

“Just try. I’ll be in the park. You know where.”

She let out a shaky breath. “Okay. I’ll– I’ll see you tomorrow.” They hung up, and she stared at the phone in her hands for a long time.

So there’s that. You’ll notice, as with point 10 in the original post, that I ended up recasting the last paragraph even though I technically could’ve just removed the “bye"s and moved on. But it would’ve sounded weird, so I changed it. It also changed the meaning somewhat, but not so much that I mind.

Now here’s what happens if I do want to have them exchanging farewells, but I want the “bye"s to pull their weight:

"I’m not sure I can meet you,” Anna said, holding the phone close.

“Just try. I’ll be in the park. You know where.”

“Okay.” She let out a shaky breath. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Maybe.” She hesitated, uncertain what to say, how to say it.

“Goodnight,” the woman on the other end whispered, barely there.

Anna pressed the phone closer, like it was a hand she could hold. “Goodnight,” she said back, just as quiet, a word that almost said too much.

Whoops, that went long. As you can see, I still don’t really like saying “goodbye” or “bye,” but I stuck farewells in there that ended the conversation and added something to the characters and the presumptive story going on with them. It also hopefully sounded pretty, which I generally go for (“pretty” being shorthand for “rhythmically satisfying”).

At its best, “bye” is as powerful a tool as any other piece of dialogue. At its worst, using it doesn’t tell us anything about the characters, the plot, or the theme – it just stops the reader from getting to the next interesting thing as fast as they ought.

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triflesandparsnips:

The real problem with my really specific writing advice (she says parenthetically) is that it tells you, really specifically, how to write the kind of stuff I write. Or at least, what I want to write. Or what I want to read.

Now, I’ve been paid actual money for writing and for giving my opinion of what I’ve read, so there’s that. But so’ve other people who write and read completely different things, and they’d give you completely different advice, which potentially would be much more useful to you.

Which is why, I think, most writing advice comes down to trying to help new authors figure out their own style and other vague soul-searching type things. It’s accessible to a greater portion of the population and it doesn’t stifle styles that may be inclined to do things entirely differently.

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triflesandparsnips:

Because I just did this, here you go: Some simple ways to start a story, particularly if you don’t know what you want to write about, but you know you need to write something. (For money, for practice, for mental health, for whatever.)

Previous writing!meta caveats apply.

1. A line of dialogue. Particularly one that makes no sense, so you have to then have a second character explain it.

“You said what to the Queen?”

–Instantly you have to answer who said it, what was said, why it was scandalous, who the queen is, what she’s queen of, and who actually spoke the dialogue. Getting all that exposition in gracefully is at least 150 words right there.

2. (All of my points are going to boil down to variants of point 1, so, you know, grab a soda or something.)

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triflesandparsnips:

Writing funny things: Nuts and bolts edition.

Previous caveats apply. Further caveat: I seriously have no idea with this stuff, people have informed me that I occasionally write funny things, so this is the junk I do when I’m trying to be amusing.

1. Having a “straight man” and a “comic”, a’la the traditional double act, actually works. Feel free to switch who’s who as need requires.

2. Having a good rhythm – and strategically breaking that rhythm – is important. Listening to a good stand-up comic’s monologue will demonstrate that, or reading any good comic writer’s work. The rhythm catches the reader, and the break makes them laugh.

3. Having mostly funny stuff and then tossing in a dollop of real-life consequences or angst will make the funny stuff funnier and the real stuff realer.

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