Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Writing - Frequently Asked Questions

Writing.

There are no stupid questions. Only lazy authors 😎

The same questions show up time and time again, on Discord and in Fora. So, I'm compiling the ones I ran into, and I'll add some of the answers I could find...

Hard to answer!

Unfortunately, some questions are very hard to answer, even when most of the ones below are rather obvious... If you think you have a better answer or link to answer  any of the questions below drop me a line!

There's no real order or structure to this page. You might want to search it (Ctrl+F)...

For a more structured approach, try this page: Writing Essentials


1. It's your story!


Q. Can I...

A. It's your story. You decide.

It is! Stop doubting yourself, and stop asking questions like 'can I do <something> in my story', because you can. YOU'RE the writer, so YOU decide.

I keep saying the same thing, and it's getting a bit of an 'answer to everything'.

However...

Put yourself in the shoes of the average reader. Do they understand what you're trying to tell them? The answer to that will cover 99% of your questions.

Also, never assume a reader is stupid, never assume a reader can read your thoughts, and never assume the reader likes everything you say, do, or write.


Q. What is the biggest problem for every new writer?

A. Overthinking!

Stop it! As in, right now!

You can ask any question, spent countless hours pondering plotlines, creating beautiful maps and character sheets, and study follow any and all online courses on writing... and yet the biggest problem is the person who looks back at you in the mirror.

Yes, you can ask those questions -- and maybe you should -- but once you're found the answers you just might find out that common sense prevails most of the time.

So stop endlessly debating that single point, that once concept. Throw yourself into your chair and start working on your bestseller. Think up a great plot, and start banging away on your keyboard. But don't worry all the time. You can't make everyone happy anyway, so why even try.

Just give it your best shot.


2. GoogleFu


Q. Can you help me with...

A. Stop. Right. Now.

You did read the part 'It's Your Story', didn't you?

Good. That didn't answer it? Okay, no problem, time for step two. Do some GoogleFu before releasing your question onto an unsuspecting world. And when that doesn't work, then ask.

Some typically overlooked GoogleFu combos...

  • Meaning of a word - Google 'webster < word >'
  • Synonym for a word - Google 'synonym' <word>'
  • Explanation of a term - Google 'wikipedia <word>'



3. Ideas


Q. I don't know what to write about.

' I have no ideas, no clues, don't know the genre, I can't write, and I'm too anxious / busy to write. '

' I though this up in the shower and I'm never going to sue it, so I throw it into this Discord channel '

... And many variations on the above.

A. Find another hobby.

I mean, let's get serious, if you don't want to write, then stop bothering other people. You can look around for ideas, but don't play the victim, that act is getting boring.

Please remember that writing takes some effort. If you can always find excuses not to write, then don't write. You can't blame it on 'anxiety' or 'the weather'. YOU are the writer.

Don't blame the world for your troubles, that's an easy-out. Writing is hard, hard, hard.

Also, don't give up too easily, because becoming a better writer is worth it, maybe not financially, but the feeling of accomplishment is 'the best thing evah'.


Q. I have a great idea. Can you write it for me?

A. No. No F****** way.

Go and insult someone else.


Q. Should I let 'X' or 'Y' happen in my story?

I have two ideas, but I do't know which one is better.

A. You're... You know the drill by know 😇

But! Both ideas must have some merit, so how do you decide between the two?

1. Dump the one that doesn't work for your story.

2. Pick the one that is most fun to write.

3. Pick the one that gives the reader the biggest WTF moment.


Q. What should I write?

A. What sells well. What you want. What you're best at.

Pick two.


4. Money


Q. Can I make a living as a writer?

A. Of course you can, but it won't be easy.

Very, very, very, very few writers make a living on writing. Once you look into the numbers they're scary. Still, some people make it, so don't let that discourage you. But maybe, perhaps maybe, you shouldn't give up on your school or daytime job yet...


Q. How much does it cost to publish a book?

A. Reedsy has a good article on that.

(Those numbers seem about right.)



5. Chapters, Size and Format


Q. Do I need chapter titles?

A. Of course not!

It's your own choice if you use chapter titles or not. Some like them, some don't. I just love 'm because as a writer you can have so much fun with them.


Q. What's a good chapter size?

A. Whatever you think it is.


Q. Should I write a book, a novel, a novella, a script, a comic, an anime...

A. YOU decide!

1. Pick the medium first. TV / Film, OR Animated OR Comic / Light Novel OR Book.

2. Each of those genres has different ways of telling a story. Google for the expected format.

Now, I assume you take BOOK for one hundred 😁.

3. Consider your story. What and why are you writing? Do you have something to tell the world, do you just enjoy writing, or do you want to become a best-selling author? 

4. If it's a book think carefully about the format. There are certain standards to make it easier for readers (and writers, actually).

A script is NOT a book. Period.


6. Font


Q. Are ALL CAPS BAD?

Are bigger fonts bad? Are bold letters bad?

A. Yes and no. If you have no intention to publish your work, do whatever you like!

In regular published works you will rarely find other fonts or bold versions. You will find italics though. I've NEVER seen ALL CAPS in any regular fiction book thus far (except for chapter titles, special names, etc.) but hey, maybe some day...

The reason for that is two-fold:

1. Old printing presses couldn't do anything non-standard, but they could do italics, and 

2. Different fonts, sizes, and other gizmos may severely tire the reader, and

3. You CAN'T narrate those fonts and gizmos.

In more recent online, non-commercial work (mostly fan fiction) you'll find more ALL CAPS sentences. They are often used to indicate someone screaming.

Personally, I find ALL CAPS tiresome, and almost offensive. They are okay to bring a specific word to the foreground in an email, but in a (fictional) story? I think there are better ways to express emotions. 

I like to approach it this way: think like a narrator of an audiobook. How would you read your text out to other people? Is SCREAMING ALL THE TIME the best way to do it? And how would you differentiate between 'sarcasm' and CAPS and bold and italics?

On top of that, who likes characters that scream all the time?

Like 90% of the media i consume has characters yelling at each other all the time. To be fair i was exaggerating initially since my characters aren't always yelling they're just loud people in general.

Some, apparently 😎


Q. Published author XYZ uses different fonts!

A. Yes. So can you.

But ask yourself, would the story essentially change if everything was in the same font? Probably not. So if the font isn't essential to the reader, then it might be smarter to write in one simple boring font first, and make sure the writing is good enough to carry the story.

Adding gizmos is then just an extra, something to make an incredible story even more incrediblerderderst (TM NineLizards).


Q. Why did Terry Pratchett use ALL CAPS?

A. Because it's DEATH that's talking!

Actually, I'm not sure why he does it, but it certainly isn't because Death is screaming. Death never screams. Also, PTerry doesn't use ALL CAPS, he uses SMALL CAPS.


Q. What's the difference between Italics, Cursive, and Oblique?

A. They're the same thing.

No, they're not, bot for all practical purposes they are. That's all I'm going to say right now (because in my mind I can't keep them separated either 😁).


7. Editing


Q. Why can't people adjust to my style of editing?

A. Because people's minds are used to a certain format.

It's as simple as that. Our minds are used to specific formats, and have trouble understanding other formats.

Of course you can deviate, and introduce your own punctuation, spelling and grammar. I'm sure some readers will appreciate it. But you know what? Most won't. So, if you don't like your readers, then go ahead!

Think about it... if a reader has thousand books to choose from, why would he / she pick a book that is hard(er) to read?

Also, there's another, often overlooked advantage to proper formatting: it's easier to find any mistakes in your writing.

By the way, did you know that different parts of the world follow different formats?


Q. What should I look for when editing?

A. All the common and uncommon mistakes.

😇 The answer became too long, try this page:

8. Descriptions


Q. What is show-don't-tell?

A. Describe the scene by taking out the observer.

Examples:

Jan heard the birds sing.

The birds were singing.

I could hear the engine roar.

The engine roared.

It's just more fun for the reader. (Hey, and as a bonus it typically saves you typing, so win-win!)

Seriously though, there are situations in which you want to use tell.

There's so much written about the subject a little GoogleFu will serve you well...


Q. Can you help me to describe XYZ?

A. Close your eyes. What do you see? Write that down.

Close your eyes and imagine the scene. Imagine yourself in the place of the observer, or the character itself. What does he / she see? Feel? Smell? Hear?

If someone's angry, then how would other characters notice that person's anger? Note that the way people express anger is different from person to person. The same thing applies to other emotions.

Your mind is an incredible tool. You're the writer who holds that tool in your hands... not literally, of course (unless you're a zombie) but if you have that tool then wield it. Close those eyes. What do you see?

Note: don't fall in the ' I hear I see I feel ' trap. Sometimes you want to use 'tell' but most of the times you're better off using 'show'. (Google for 'show don't tell'.)


Q. What's a good method to describe a character's appearance without info-dumping?

A. Two or three words aren't an info dump.

Is this an info dump?

And so I leave the girl and the car behind to check out the men's room. Before I enter I pull the dagger out of my boot and hide it behind my back. There's another man inside, a wannabe cowboy who looks at my reflection in the stained mirror before turning around and offering me his crooked smile. The cowboy's wearing a Stetson and high-heeled, cow-print boots with actual spurs, and his cheeks sport a deliberate two-days stubble. I bet the Volkswagen outside is his.

I smile back. He's a hundred pounds and twenty years short on the fat bloke I was expecting. The groaning and moaning from one of the stalls tell me where my real target is getting reacquainted with yesterday's dinner.

It includes details, but it's not a dump as such.


Q. How much detail does a scene need?

The original question:

What is the consensus on too much description for scenes, characters? I know lots of authors that pour adjectives into their exposition, but I also know authors that prefer more to the point writing

A. That varies and depends.

Adjectives <> description <> exposition.

Adjectives and adverbs should be kept firmly under control so they don't breed and produce too much offspring 😉 

You add description in the form of details to give the reader a feeling for the location / environment / situation / need etc. It can help increase flavor and tension, but it can also be overdone.

Exposition is a bit genre specific. In SF two lines or one or two paragraphs or even half a page are accepted, but in other genres not always. It's one of the downfalls of writing because we want to explain everything (and readers sometimes want us to, especially in LitRPG). 

(Tom) There's a point on where there's absolutely too much description (e.g. 10 pages on a table for example), but what one person considers too much description might be perfect for someone else.

Here's another way to think of it:

1. When the reader gets bored, there's too much detail 😉

2. Events that should speed by need no detail.


Q. What is purple prose?

A. Superfluous text

How much is superfluous depends on your definition and style. Also Google for purple prose.

Purple prose is overly ornate text that distracts from the narrative, i.e. too much.

But, how much is right? That depends on your writing style...

1. When writing 'Flowery' - remove everything that reduces readability

2. When writing 'Tight' - remove everything that isn't required

When you think about it, there's a lot of difference between those last two.

I still don't understand the quest for difficult words lake amethyst, difficult words don't make a text any better. You'll end up with stuff like:

The poorly clad begger looked at the mezmerising colorful sky, admiring the irregular shards of ruby floating over spun-suger like clouds of amathyst. He felt a slight incline to begin his search for a suitable and decent place where he would be able to distance himself from the world to release the bodily fluids required by poor fellow and noblemen alike.

Seriously? The beggar's probably going like:

The begger looked up and thought, "Man, those clouds look crappy green with some awful red splotches. And hell do I need to piss!" 


9. Structure and Plot


Q. Beginnings and endings are easy, but the middle parts are so hard and boring!

How do you go from A to B?

A. Write a bridge by playing the Why-game

Writing a bridge is never fun, ie. something that takes you from one scene to the next. But you need to write it, because you want to write how you got from here, to there.

The practical, boring part is play the Why-game, and work out the fastest way to get from situation A to situation B. Reason it through, identify key events, and work those out in more detail. Then work out the less important scenes that sit between the key events.

In other words, make the problem smaller.

Writing a bridge is a bit like writing a short story, with similar challenges. Essential work, yes. But a little boring, not just for you but also for the reader. Stories are supposed to surprise, they're not supposed to be logical extrapolations.

Let's add some fun by adding one simple ingredient: imagine a completely ludicrous, or dramatic scene, or a few key events that make no sense, or that will shock your reader. Things that are simply fun to write.

In other words, make the problem smaller, and find some fun on the way. It's more fun for you to write (no endless slog) and the same applies for the reader to read (no endless slog 😉).

That way, writing bridges can be fun!


Q. Should I plan or plot?

A. See answer no. 1. You're the writer, you decide.

Some people plot (the plotters), some people make up things on the fly (the pantsers) and some sit in the middle (the plantsers).

Pick what works best for you.


Q. How do I end a scene?

A. Anything that gives the reader a reason to read on.

Okay, here's what I try to do: I write in relative short chapters, trying to give it a kind of 'short episodic' feeling, to allow the reader a quick nibble now and again (if that makes sense). My chapters are on average only 2k words. Each chapter should do something for the story, and ends with either an accomplishment, a wrap-up, new information, a 'what the...' moment, a surprise, a funny observation. Despair or sadness will work as well.

I believe the reader should feel some satisfaction or sense of progress, combined with curiosity about what happens next. That doesn't mean every chapter / scene should end with a cliffhanger, that gets tiring after a while.


Q. I wrote one page and now I don't know how to continue?

A. Are you sure writing is the right hobby for you?

Okay. That's harsh. But be honest, writing is a lonely experience, if you're looking for friendly feedback  and confirmation on every little ditty you write, then maybe, just maybe, you might consider another hobby.

There. I've said it.


10. Feedback


Q. How do I get feedback?

A. Nobody knows.

If it was easy, then nobody would be asking, but this is probably one of the most asked questions of all time, so plain and simple: it's hard to get feedback, especially on writing related Discord channels and fora. Why? Because other writers hanging out there are also looking for feedback on their works.

Let's be honest: you want feedback, but you're not as interested in giving feedback to others (way too much work).

So, the only way to get feedback is pretty much giving it. Some fora have feedback exchanges, but they often die after a while. Perhaps the best, structural option to get feedback, both on editing and on writing is either use a (paid) editor, or use a free platform such as Scribophile.

If it's a short snippet, then you could try some other places, such as Discord channels. Your mileage may vary.

I strongly, strongly, strongly suggest to get your paragraphing and dialogue under control before bothering other writers. The responses you will get will then be way more useful!


Q. I need feedback on my English!

A. Yoda you ask not.

Seriously, if you're a non-native writer things can be hard. I suggest teaching yourself or picking up some online or face-to-face courses.

Sometimes a Discord channel can help for testing out a simple line. I'm not a native speaker either, and now and again I've been checking myself that way. (Note that not all participants in such places are native speakers themselves.)


Q. One reader says this, the other says that. What's the right answer?

A. The right answer is... it's your story!

However...

I keep saying the same thing, and it's getting a bit of an 'answer to everything'. Put yourself in the shoes of the average reader. Do they UNDERSTAND what you're trying to tell them? The answer to that will cover 99% of your questions.

Also, never assume a reader is stupid, never assume a reader can read your thoughts, and never assume the reader likes everything you say, do, or write.

Nasty things, those readers... 😅


11. Tense and Point of View


    Q. Should I use first or third person?

    A. Whatever suits you best!

    Everything goes, if done well enough. But if you're planning to write from the perspective of multiple characters, then it may be easier to use third person.

    The one genre where I've sen 1st person with more than one character is romance, where the chapters and characters alternate. Alternating first persons are more rare in other genres. And even then, most romances are in third person when switching POVs like that.

    Also the style of book has impact.
    • If you write a space opera 3rd person is common.
    • If it's a detective noir it's mostly 1st person past tense.
    • Epic fantasy is often 3rd person.
    • Contemporary fantasy with a large self-discovery element is often 1st person past tense, sometimes even present tense.
    • Adult is rarely present tense, though there are exceptions (like Neil Stepehnson Snow Crash), you'll find it more often in YA (Hunger Games).

    ... but there isn't an absolute rule. It's just that if you're starting as a writer go easy on yourself. It's hard enough as it is.

    A bit more on tense here (you may have to scroll down on the target page):



    12. Combat


    Q. How do I write a combat in third person omniscient?

    A. Same as any other form of combat, but you 'peek' into the minds of both participants.

    Example:

    Walter raises the tip of his sword, eying his opponent. Count DeWald was known to be a good duelist, if somewhat of a cheat.

    "I'm here to kill you," Walter said.

    DeWald smiled. He knew everything there was to know about this upstart of a son of a merchantman. He emulated his opponent's move, then just before his weapon reached its highest point he attacked. There was no use in playing fairly, this was combat. He lunged.

    Walter stepped to the right, his blade meeting DeWald's. He was lacking the reach and the experience of the older man, but with his heavier weapon he only had to get in a single strike. He completed the parry and stepped forward, inside the count's reach, and tried to knee his opponent.

    The count jumped back, his left hand suddenly holding a dagger, now red with Walter's blood. "You're going to die, son," he said.



    99. More!


    More 'essential' stuff here:




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