What Did You Learn?

September 2, 2012

General Writing: Easy Mistakes to Make

Filed under: General Writing — Tags: , , — ax20 @ 9:16 pm

There are a lot of mistakes that a writer can make and sometimes even the best and most experienced writers fall into these traps.

For example, as I read the entire Sword of Truth series, I noticed a major distraction that only seemed to grow as the series continued: it felt like the author had started preaching his theme rather than incorporating it. I slogged through the books thinking “I get it, people must take control of their future. No need to beat me over the head with it.” The author, Terry Goodkind, had written over a dozen books, but despite many NY Times Bestsellers, he still made this mistake, which turned off a number of readers and distracted from the otherwise great story.

Here are 5 Story Mistakes Even Good Writers Make.

August 10, 2012

General Writing: Storytelling Tips

Filed under: General Writing — Tags: , , , — ax20 @ 9:08 pm

Anyone who has ever watched a Pixar film knows that they are fantastic. They should be–the studio has a general policy of only doing a movie if they truly believe in the story they have come up with (none of that “it will make money just because it is a sequel” nonsense). Here are some rules of storytelling from Pixar:

The 22 Rules of Storytelling, According to Pixar

June 14, 2012

General Writing: Getting Started with Fantasy and Science Fiction

Filed under: Genre — Tags: , , , — ax20 @ 8:07 am

Writing science fiction and fantasy are particularly difficult because you need to create an believable, realistic new world. Here are some thoughts on the basics:

August 28, 2011

General Writing: Quotes About Writing/Books 2

“We’re all made of stories. When they finally put us underground, the stories are what will go on. Not forever, perhaps, but for a time. It’s a kind of immortality, I suppose, bounded by limits, it’s true, but then so’s everything.”
— Charles de Lint

“There’s stories and then there’s stories. The ones with any worth change your life forever, perhaps only in a small way, but once you’ve heard them, they are forever a part of you. You nurture them and pass them on, and the giving only makes you feel better. The others are just words on a page.”
— Charles de Lint

“There is no friend as loyal as a book.”
— Ernest Hemingway

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened.”
— Ernest Hemingway

“After writing a story I was always empty and both sad and happy, as though I made love.”
— Ernest Hemingway

June 23, 2011

General Writing: Memorable Characters

Filed under: Character, General Writing — Tags: , — ax20 @ 2:28 pm

How do you make your characters memorable? Especially in a world where you create tons of characters, how do you make sure the reader can keep them straight? Check out this post for a really good way to think of it:
Hooking Your Characters

June 21, 2011

General Writing: Drama

Filed under: General Writing — Tags: , , , — ax20 @ 11:46 am

An important element of writing is the conflict, drama, tension, and stakes of the story. What is keeping the main characters from their goals? Here is a good post discussing some of the ways to add these things into your story:
Where to find drama in your writing

March 2, 2011

General Writing: Quotes About Writing/Books

Filed under: General Writing — Tags: , — ax20 @ 6:05 pm

Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any. ~Orson Scott Card

The concrete is better than the abstract. The detail is better than the commonplace. The sensual is better than the intellectual. The visual is better than the mental. ~Ellen Hunnicutt

A novel is a chance to try on a different life for size. ~Marion C. Garretty

We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, ’cause it was, you know. It was the best. ~Doctor Who

Books may well be the only true magic. ~Alice Hoffman

Only bad writers think that their work is really good. ~Anne Enright

General Writing: Names

Filed under: General Writing — Tags: , , — ax20 @ 5:41 pm

Choosing your characters’ names can be an important part of your story. Some things to think about:

  • the meaning of your character’s name
  • the gender of your character’s name whether it is gender appropriate, opposite gender, or gender neutral
  • the sound of your character’s name (does it sound rich, poor, common, unusual)
  • the origins of a name (where it comes from, time period)
  • religious associations of a name
  • other associations with the name (famous actors, movie characters, etc)
  • possible nicknames
  • how common a name it is (is it a popular name that many people have or an unusual, rare one?)

A character’s name/nickname can say a lot about their personality, their lifestyle, their parents, their origins. Think carefully before you choose a name, you will be stuck with it for a long time.

General Writing: How Long Should Your Manuscript Be?

This isn’t a question that can really be answered in a short, concise answer, as much as you would like that. For one thing, there are varying opinions on the matter, and for another, you will often get the answer “write as much as you need to tell your story.” Plus, each genre has varying standard lengths. But there are some things to consider.

The downside to very long books:

  • At least until publishing becomes completely digital, longer books cost more money to print. This also means the book will have to be sold for a higher price to compensate, which ultimately means you will be losing your audience to other, shorter, less expensive books.
  • Longer books also require more time and effort to prepare.
  • A bigger book takes up more space on the shelves and so bookstores are likely to stock less of them (unless you are already a well known writer–note, this is why series tend to get longer from one book to the next)
  • Oftentimes (particularly with first time authors), a long book can signify that a writer does not know how to edit themselves and their story. They include every little detail. In memoirs especially, they say “but it really happened!” Publishing Houses don’t want to have to sift through your work to find the good parts and when the book gets too long, often the bad outweighs the good.

The downside to very short books:

  • If a book is too short, a publisher might think there simply isn’t enough substance for a full story (this isn’t always true, there are novellas obviously, but when it is intended to be a novel not a novella…)
  • A much shorter book will require a lower price tag so that people will feel they are not being overcharged and this will mean a comparatively smaller profit for the publishing house.

Now that I have explained some of what the publishers are thinking, for the length suggestions themselves:

Standard fiction
Typically ranging from 70,000-90,000 (some publishers will occasionally allow for as short as 50,000 and as long as 110,000)

Memoir
Same as fiction, 70,000-90,000 (a memoir is not meant to give a play by play of your entire life it should be focused on a particular journey, in many ways, a memoir is essentially a true novel)

Science Fiction and Fantasy
Typically ranging from 85,000-125,000 (the word length is more flexible here because you have to take time to actual build an entire world with new rules instead of the ones that we already know and are familiar with–note that if you write a story set in today’s world with some added elements, it should be shorter than if you create an entirely different reality)

Middle Grade
Typically 30,000-45,000 words

Young Adult
Typically 40,000-80,000 words (the sci-fi/fantasy ones are on the longer side while general fiction is shorter)

Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but this is the standard. Make sure to check the guidelines for places you are submitting to in order to be sure.

September 2, 2010

General Writing: Standalone vs Series

Filed under: General Writing — Tags: , , — ax20 @ 2:58 pm

I was just reading an article about the trend for books to be parts of a series rather than standalone books. In the article, the writer complained about the trend (which I think Harry Potter bolstered, though did not create), preferring standalone books instead. His reasons:

  • If it’s a new book, he forgets the details by the time the next book comes out
  • If it’s an old book, then there are so many books out in the series that he feels too behind to catch up
  • Each book tends to feel drawn out and filled with “fluff”

I see his reasons, though I don’t agree completely. I personally prefer a series (assuming it is well executed), because I like being invested in characters and following them for a long time as they grow. If I like the characters and the story created, I love to stay there for longer. But for me, it comes down to how complete the stories are. I’m not a fan of series where one book doesn’t impact the next (think Babysitter’s Club or Nancy Drew), I prefer there to be a bigger storyline (like Harry Potter or Percy Jackson). I like the bigger mythology and mystery. Even better if I discover an already completed series that I have not read because then I can sit down and read them and not worrying about finding something else to interest me (I’ve recently discovered Tamora Pierce, who has multiple series out and many of them are connected to the the others by taking place in the same world and carrying over some of the main characters as side characters). For me reading (and writing) is a chance to see a new world, experience new things, so I like hearing all about the world and lives of the characters.

Clearly, there are pluses and minuses. You as the author have to consider the struggles involved (as the publisher has to consider the risks for themselves, which I won’t discuss here but will write a Getting Published post about at some point). So, when you’re thinking about whether or not to write a series, there are a number of things to consider:
1. Have you figured out how the entire will series will work? (plotting them out helps the publishers see where it is going)
2. Do you love your characters enough to invest that much time in them?
3. Is there enough to the story to stretch it out into multiple books (without “fluff”)?
4. Can you write a book in a year or two? (usually after the first book, the books are wanted out within a year or two so that readers don’t forget about it and move on)
5. How well can you keep track of all the details and facts? (readers notice when things don’t match up or make sense)

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