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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Some good advice...

   
Author Topic: Some good advice...
skadder
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Here is some good writing advice...

http://www.ericjamesstone.com/blog/2005/08/14/writers_of_the_future_workshop_notes_day_1/


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Owasm
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Good article.
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Merlion-Emrys
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Hmm very interesting. A lot of good stuff to think about, though a little narrowminded and absolute for my taste, and of course its based more or less entirely from the point of view of standard heavy character immersion goal/obstacle/resolution type stories. Not a lot in there...and some factual statements I don't feel are true...for idea or setting or event based stories.

Still always nice to see what the big names have to say, thanks for posting.


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tchernabyelo
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I'd love you to expand on some of the factual statements in there that you don't think are true.
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dee_boncci
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Thanks, Skadder
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Merlion-Emrys
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This one, in a general sense:

quote:
Fiction has to make sense! Real life does not.


People both real and imagined do things that don't make sense all the time. And if you're writting a surreal or dream-like story, things don't necessarily need to make sense (of course one could say they need to make sense in their own context which may or may not be "real world sense" but again in a surreal story there may be no such context.)


quote:
People donít see themselves as a bad guy


Plenty of people fully realize they do bad/wrong/evil things and simply don't care.

quote:
Avoid passive characters


Passivity is to some extent a subjective thing. That aside, I some times write characters that some consider "passive" because they are lost, confused, searching, apathetic and unsure of themselves...but its part of the nature of the story. It would not fit or make sense in context for them to be agressive and certain and highly confident given the world they come from and the nature of their lives.
This whole concept is basically a matter of taste and context, not an automatic good/bad dichotomy.


quote:
Donít use thesaurus for obscure words.


Why, because you might actually teach your readers a new word? Like thats a bad thing?

It was probably not good word choice to call them "factual statements" since I suppose we're just to take them as opinions or ideas. Theres just a good deal of what feel like "always"'s and "never"'s and I dont generally care for those. Also like I said its mostly coming from the perspective of writing straightforward character centered goal/obstacle/resolution stories and some of whats said very strongly may not really apply to other types.

like this for instance:

quote:
Each scene Ė goal, conflict, disaster.

I just find myself reading these articles and seeing a lot of stuff that just doesnt apply to some (note I say some meaning a part of not all or even necessarily most) of what I write.


On the other hand some stuff I really liked such as...


quote:
Sometimes the key is not to hook the reader, but to keep from pushing the reader out.


And...


quote:
Avoid the hunt for magic secrets or secret handshake.


And...

quote:
You have to get the editor part of your mind to shut up, because the editor hates everything.

Also...


quote:
Donít go overboard on first sentence. We are supposed to believe it. (After I fished Albert Einsteinís eyeball out of my martini,?.Ē)


It's a good article and a good resource. I'd just like to see some that give more advice for other types and styles of stories is all.

Edit: Yeah I see theres a nice disclaimer on it too so definitely "factual statements" wasn't good wording on my part. I'd still like to see these folks address the issues of and offer tips for setting/event/idea based stories more however.

[This message has been edited by Merlion-Emrys (edited November 09, 2009).]


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rich
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Pick some better ones to disagree with, ME. Numbers 3 and 18 stand out for me as being unusually rigid.

(By the way, when I say, "Pick some better ones...", I have my tongue firmly in cheek. It's just the way I am. I can't remove my tongue from my cheek.)

In all seriousness, I have to question your responses, specifically about passive characters and the bad guys not seeing themselves as bad guys.

Those are biggies, and spot on. No one cares about passive characters since most people are passive. They want to see the main character doing things, not having things done to them. I'm in a movie frame of mind at the moment so NORTH BY NORTHWEST is a good example. On the surface, Roger Thornhill is a passive character and is having things done to him, but he's actually a very aggressive character.

The bad guys may KNOW that they do bad things, but every single bad guy thinks he's doing what he should be doing for very valid reasons. Whether it's killing someone, robbing a bank, or just being a complete a** (wait; the last is just me and I have no excuse other than I'm a complete a**).

It's all about character.


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Kitti
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I always thought the "bad guy is the hero of his own story" had more to do with motivation than morality. He (or she) has his own motives for every action he takes, and a justification for each and every action (whether or not we feel that justification is valid). I especially interpreted this advice as a warning to figure out what the bad guy wants, and why specific actions he takes would lead to those goals, so that the bad guy doesn't end up as a stick figure who only exists to vex my main characters.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Fiction having to make sense where real life doesn't also has to do with motivation. OSC has pointed out that one of the great advantages of stories told in print over stories told on film is that motivations can be made clear in books but have to be guessed at in movies (just as they have to be guessed at in real life).

So what Eric James Stone is saying, among other things there, is that you need to provide motivation for your characters that no one provides for you in real life.

Also, I suspect that Eric James Stone would chuckle to hear you call him a "big name."


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Andrew_McGown
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does he still hang out here?
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tchernabyelo
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I'd assumed that the "big names" reference was more to those who were giving the talk - names like Algis Budrys and Tim Powers being tossed around.

But hey, Eric James Stone is a big name. Made of three little names, sure, but little things added together can be big!

So, to some of your points, Merlion-Emrys:

Fiction having to make sense - even surrealist fiction has an internal logic of sorts to it. Alice in Wonderland has bizarre things happening all the time but it still makes sense in and of its own construction. People in fiction DO do "things that don't make sense" and it's usually a sign of poor writing (particularly in movies: my answer to someone saying "why did he do that?" is usually "because the plot demanded it!"). In general, fiction has to follow its own internal rules; you break the "suspension of disbelief" at your own peril. No deus ex machinae, no astonishing coincidences, no matter that they DO happen in real life. Fiction IS artifice and the more it SEEMS like artifice, the less convincing it will be.

People seeing themselves as a bad guy - even the people who "do bad things and don't care" do not think of themselves as evil. They will justify why they did something, or didn't do something. VERY few people will actually admit to themselves (let alone to others) that they are "bad people". Rapists blame their victims (she was asking for it). Muggers blame society (cf. the wonderful scene in Repo Man - dying thief gasps out "society made me do it!"). They are not RIGHT to do this but people justify bad things ALL THE TIME - whether "little white lies" or mass murder.

Passive character - none of the traits you mention as examples, except possibly apathetic, are passivity. Even apparently passive characters have a clear desire for something, and the thwarting of that desire is what makes the story. Take The Big Lebowski - the Dude is arguably the ultimate in passive, but he is driven either by a chance of easy money or by the desire for friendship/companionship that override his own wish not to be involved. In other words, he actively has reasons to take the course of actions that he does, even as he complains about it.

Don't use thesaurus for obscure words - that is exceptinally good advice. A thesaurus is a dangerous beast, as words have shades of meaning. If you don't know how to use a word properly, you almost certainly won't. Just thinking that X is a synonym for Y because a thesaurus says so is no way to write. Use obscure or precise words by all means, but NOT because you find them in a thesaurus.


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rich
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Slightly off-topic, but I'd argue that the Dude, or His Dudeness, or Duder, or el Duderino if you're not into the whole brevity thing, is not a passive character. The Dude is driven to seek out those who fouled his rug. He's constantly doing and working. Not in a coherent way sometimes, but...he's like Roger Thornhill, working to clear his name. Or, in this case, getting his rug back 'cause it really tied the room together.

Actually, I wonder if I can write a paper on how Roger Thornhill and the Dude are really the same person?

And Donny was indeed out of his element.


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satate
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I enjoyed the article. My favorite piece of advice that I'd like to use is when stuck make a list of fifteen things that could happen and then make the list longer.

As for passive characters, is there anyone who has no drive? I don't believe so.

Dkngssk woke up, remembered that was cliche and went back to sleep. ~the end~


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BenM
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As for passive characters, is there anyone who has no drive? I don't believe so.

It can be plausible as a symptom of depression, but the point is who would want to read about someone to whom the whole of existence seems pointless?


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skadder
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Besides, a character is not a person. While a person usually has some drives functioning--there are psychiatric conditions where it may prove difficult to identify functioning drives from an external perspective (apart from the breathing etc.)--a character is a work of fiction and therefore may appear to have no drives if the author is not paying attention.

[This message has been edited by skadder (edited November 10, 2009).]


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satate
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I agree compeletly Skadder and that is what I meant in a round about sort of way. You can write a character that has a passive personality and that is different from writing a passive character.
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Zero
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I think as general-rule-of-thumb type advice, it's excellent.
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Zero
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I especially like this one:

Sometimes the key is not to hook the reader, but to keep from pushing the reader out.

I think this is good medicine for a lot of us here who seem to try and trick our readers into "taking the bait" through gimmicks and obsessing over the first thirteen to the point where they come across as completely contrived and insincere.

[This message has been edited by Zero (edited November 12, 2009).]


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