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July 2, 2013
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This started because of fanfiction, but it has other roots. Sometimes I really enjoy the story. But...but

"Description begins in the writer's imagination, but should finish in the reader's."
― Stephen King, On Writing

Okay, do you guys know what this means?

Here's the first paragraph of fifty shades of grey.

"I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror. Damn my hair it just won't behave, and damn Katherine Kavanagh for being ill and subjecting me to this ordeal. I should be studying for my final exams, which are next week, yet here I am trying to brush my hair into submission. I must not sleep with it wet. I must not sleep with it wet. Reciting this mantra several times, I attempt, once more, to bring it under control with the brush. I roll my eyes in exasperation and gaze at the pale, brown-haired girl with blue eyes too big for her face staring back at me, and give up. My only option is to restrain my wayward hair in a ponytail and hope that I look semi-presentable."


Without the superfluous information:

"I scowl at myself in the mirror. I should be studying for my final exams, yet here I am brushing my hair into submission. I roll my eyes in exasperation and give up. My only option is to restrain my wayward hair in a ponytail and hope that I look semi-presentable."

It stills makes sense and it gets to the point, which is what a lot of writers believe is the most important thing.

It means that more than 3/4 of that entire paragraph is pointless. It's not necessary and terrible. Obviously this is an extreme example, but guy, You don't need to hammer in what every single little thing looks like. Wouldn't you get tired of someone holding your hand and pointing out every little thing. You'd be thinking, '"Get on with it? What this story even about anyways?"

I'm not trying to say I know everything. I'm saying that when you get in there to write fanfiction, a personal story, I don't care, you don't have to change every "said" to a synonym of said. I had a professor that despised this with a fiery passion, and I'm not quite as passionate about it, but I understand his point.Steven Kin expands on that in On Writing.

He said, "I can't be here anymore."
She said, "But, John."
"Stop."

as opposed to :

He shouted, "I can't be here anymore."
She cried, "But, John."
He replied quietly, "Stop."

Obviously isn't not terrible to use 'shouted' or 'cried' every once in awhile or to show emphasis, but it disrupts the readers flow because your telling them exactly what to hear instead of them hearing it themselves. Your narrowing the emotion in the word by putting a label on it, so to speak. Just keep that in mind and use them wisely.

"The road to hell is paved with adverbs."
― Stephen King, On Writing

In case you're like me and don't remember what adverbs are. Most adverbs end in "-ly"

"The woman busily brushed her surprisingly short hair into a bun savagely."
(Thanks :iconsycamoresea:) Unless it's important to the story, don't worry about it.

Another thing I've noticed, and a lot of bad anime will do this. I didn't think anyone did it in real life, but after sitting through several writing classes I've discovered I'm wrong.

Exposition in dialogue.

"No! My sister whom I haven't seen in ten years since our parents were killed!"

It sounds stupid and it's shoving information down the readers throat.

Show don't tell.

That's something that every creative field tells you to do. Film making, story boarding, writing, Illustration, it's important to all of them.

I'm not pulling this out of my ass. This is information that's been taught to me, and things I've noticed in my reading adventures. If you do these things, I'm not telling you you're terrible. I'm telling you this to share what I know. You can choose to ignore it and keep writing how you've been writing. There is no wrong way.

I just wanted to share, because it seriously helped me. Looking back at my writing from 8 years ago, I've definitely improved and the reason is because of these guidelines.

I just needed to get that out there. Sometimes I find a story that's actually really interesting, but they do the thing. One or not all of what I mentioned above.




---
:iconcharlie-mcgee:
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:iconterhunelass:
TerhuneLass Featured By Owner Jul 8, 2013  Hobbyist
:icononionbowplz:

THANK YOU FOR POSTING THIS. As in incoming creative writing major, I cannot think you enough for educating people about how to write more effectively. I'm looking forward to being able to find these kinds of mistakes in my own writing - new or old - and completely fixing it. :)
Reply
:iconblackpassion777:
Blackpassion777 Featured By Owner Jul 8, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Same same lol In the middle of fixing things sometimes I go back and read some old shit and it actually has some parts that make me jealous of past me. Learnin, learnin, learnin, even from ourselves lol
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:iconterhunelass:
TerhuneLass Featured By Owner Jul 8, 2013  Hobbyist
So true. :) There's always something about yourself that can be improved and educated, haha!
Reply
:iconnebulousbeast:
nebulousbeast Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2013  Hobbyist
This is exactly why I bought the Eragon novels from used bins. They're terrible and insipid, but when I want to read a book of "what not to write, ever" I just have to bust them out and amuse myself over such gems as:

"Get ready," he whispered, his whole body vibrating.

:iconsnapedisbeliefplz:

If I had less patience I would've stopped reading fanfiction by now, but I just can't bring myself to. The 10% of amazing fics that exist out there are worth every page of overindulgent physical descriptions and horrid, choppy characterizations that the other 90% display.
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:iconblackpassion777:
Blackpassion777 Featured By Owner Jul 8, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
haha that's exactly right. I remember thinking that I was pretty sure he watched anime because some of the plot devices were just like anime. Like trying to say your special weapon attack and you keep being interrupted. It was hilarious.

And I agree with you on the fanfiction. At least you can usually tell if it's going to suck by the first two or three paragraphs.
Reply
:iconnebulousbeast:
nebulousbeast Featured By Owner Jul 8, 2013  Hobbyist
I always thought he was just a big LotR/Star Wars fan and couldn't seem to stop borrowing from them since he was such a sheltered kid, but you're right, there are a lot of anime parallels.

Exactly! I usually only have to gage a fic's quality by the first descriptions that come up. If an author uses the word "orbs" to talk about eyes I usually just hit the back button reflexively and look for something else.
Reply
:iconlyrak:
Lyrak Featured By Owner Jul 5, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Honestly I feel like many people just try too hard, as it were. Just... write. Let it flow instead of obsessing. If you read it over and it flows, you should be good.

I'm getting myself back into writing a bit and some pieces are rougher than others (I am debating yet on whether I will ever upload any of the old fanfics here LOL) but I'm getting there. My biggest complaint about my own works are that some parts feel too dialogue-driven. But then, my writing is usually all about the characters more than anything else. I'm a sucker for character development. It's why I freaking love Snape so much in the Harry Potter books. You just uncover more about him as the books go along. I mean, I still want to punch him in the face for being such an ass, like "dude I know you have some issues and all but that's no excuse to take it out on EVERYONE holy crap". But you at least find out that he DOES have stuff in his history that drove him to be the way he is.
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:iconmadame-bellatrix:
madame-bellatrix Featured By Owner Jul 4, 2013
-I actually own and read that book and it helps.I believe only important details should be described. I try yo keep said descriptions no more than a paragraph. Show not tell is a very important rule and the adverb advice oz gospel, excessive use makes your writing obnoxious.
-now as far as show, don't tell, a lot of people don't realize the importance of body language.
Reply
:iconlucern7:
Lucern7 Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2013  Student General Artist
Eh I don't pay attention to fanart but I've read "On Writing" it was a nice read even though I'm not planning to be a writer, I use the tips however, to keep internet comments to the point~!
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:iconkanirou:
Kanirou Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2013
All excellent points. I probably couldn't even calculate how many words of fanfiction I've read over the years, and as much as I love it, it is unfortunately the textbook example of Sturgeon's Law: 90% of it sucks (but the 10% is worth dying for). It's just finding that 10% that can be trying haha. Ignoring "show, don't tell", is a *huge* mistake I see a lot. I think much of this stems from people obsessing over designing a character but not fleshing one out. They've spent hours on her hair style, hair color, the way her bangs fall, her two-toned eyes, her shirt, her jacket, her pants, her scarf, her accessories, ETC that when it comes to introducing the character, that's all they can talk about. So you get a 50 word physical description that tells you absolutely nothing. That is what that horrific "pale, brown-haired girl with blue eyes too big for her face" line just screams all over to me. I literally cringed when I read that. Resisting the urge to tell can be hard, but it really is so important.

And yes, adverbs can be great--when used with discretion. Otherwise they can become downright obnoxious. However, I will admit to falling into the "use synonyms!" trap when writing myself, as in your example with replacing "said" with "shout." Unfortunately, once I've read a word a few times within close proximity to each other, I just lose a taste for it and have to replace it. This is often necessary when in prosy areas of writing, but when dealing with back-and-forth exchanges that are expected to sound similar (such as dialogue) it really can become jarring, and of course creates unnecessary work for the writer.

Just goes to show that everyone can stand to hear the basic tips again. We're always learning, and can always be reminded ;)
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:iconestafina:
Estafina Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2013  Student Writer
Exposition in dialog! I"m finally not the only one who noticed this...it's done all the time in comics. I mean you're telling a story with pictures too, you don't have to do that!
I really need to get off my butt and read On Writing...
Reply
:iconzvynuota:
Zvynuota Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
:0 thanks for writing this! Somehow after reading it I feel more confidence in my own writting :) So you made at least one persons day better :)
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:iconsilver786:
Silver786 Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2013  Student Writer
I see your point :D Interesting !

Personaly I try to find the good balance in my descriptions, but I still have to work on that _ Sometimes description is really enjoyable but sometimes this shit is so annoying, like describing a "difficult" place, so f*cking hard sometimes @_@
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:iconandmyshadow:
AndMyShadow Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This is a really useful little guide, thanks for posting it.

About that 'no over-using said synonyms' thing, though: You're completely right about English literature, good English literature can do without these synonyms most of the time, but in some other languages (e.g. my native language: German) if you didn't use synonyms for 'said' you'd get your butt kicked by anyone reading your work because in German it would sound awful. I'm just mentioning this since many fanfic writers (that I know) who write in English are second language speakers, who may be transferring something they learned in their own language to English without thinking about it (and who would profit from someone telling them 'by the way you're overdoing it a little ;)'.
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:iconblackpassion777:
Blackpassion777 Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
That's actually really interesting, I never knew that. I'm terrible and I only know a little spanish, and by a little I mean I understand, I don't make sentences. I just really don't know anything complicated and it still weird me out that there won't be a new word for somethings, like toes. It's basically, "fingers on your feet." So i can totally see translating becoming an issue lol

And no problem C:>  I should make an RP guide next. When both characters are male or both are female and people forget to specify which character belongs to the word "he" and it gets to be like some kind of puzzle challenge to understand them.
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:iconandmyshadow:
AndMyShadow Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
It's funny how languages differ on rules like that. "Fingers on the toes" that is weird!

lol, I've had that problem ("she" ... wait a minute.. who?) in story telling, so I'd love to see a guide on fixing it.
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:iconjzlobo:
JZLobo Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Speaking of 50 Shades!
www.youtube.com/watch?v=5K1RcK...
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:iconblackpassion777:
Blackpassion777 Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
lol seen it.  I opened it to the middle in a barnes and noble before I saw that and I still ended up reading it almost exactly like that.
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:iconjzlobo:
JZLobo Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Hahaha
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:iconsarcasm-thesickness:
Sarcasm-theSickness Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
I agree with some, but not all of these points. The first one, particularly, I disagree with. I love to see detail in writing. The paragraph didn't describe ever hair that was out of place, but gave me a stronger mental image. As a writer, I prefer to have my readers see what I see. They'll never see it in perfect detail (I mean, that's what visual art is for), but describing characters like that helps people visualize them and also cues them in to what the character finds important. I much more enjoyed the first paragraph to the "trimmed" version.

The second, yes and no. If a character is experiencing an emotion, especially a strong one, it should be apparent. I shouldn't have to wonder whether he's telling her goodbye because she annoys him or if he himself is actually lamenting the choice he had to make. The way a person says a thing matters because it shows how they really feel about it, OR it can be used to show how good a liar they are. If many things is simply "said" then the character seems bland and one dimensional. They should feel and have a right to it. The reader should feel it to as they observe from the outside. But, not every "said" has to be changed into a synonym for it. It's a way of expression just as "cried" or "murmured" is. Sometimes a character doesn't have much emotion behind what they're saying. I mean, who whimpers, "The clock tower is two blocks down from here." It's absurd to obsessively alter every "said" whenever a character speaks, but it is necessary if the speaker is doing more than simply speaking the words.

The third, yeah. I don't see it often, but that is annoying. It's like they're assuming that their viewers are stupid and can't make the inference themselves. A lot of mainstream movies are kinda like that. Like, when a character sees someone they encountered earlier in the film, they have a flashback to that exact moment to remind US that they saw them. It's insulting. If I've been watching your movie for an hour and a half I haven't forgotten who friggin appeared half an hour ago. (That, and in horror movies when something moves behind the character and they have to zoom in on it. It's like they're trying to hand you the scary, but then accidentally shove it down your throat in the process.)


Sorry to barge in on your rant!
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:iconblackpassion777:
Blackpassion777 Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
For the first part, I completely agree. Imagery should be used as a fine wine though, like swear words. (Unless the point of the character is that they swear nonstop) Too much imagery and it loses it's meaning. I don't think the first paragraph of shades of grey did it in an interesting way. The part that infuriated me was this line:

"gaze at the pale, brown-haired girl with blue eyes too big for her face staring back at me"

If imagery was going to go into describing her, that's almost exposition in dialogue bad. But back to the point of imagery. It's usually to invoke a feeling or feelings from the reader. If you're going through so much trouble to emphasize it, it must be important. Either exposition, a setting, or an emotion a character is dealing with, etc. But too much of it, and you might start to lose the reader. If it's a fantasy universe and the reader would be lost without it, by all means, write away. But if you're in the middle of a fight and you sidetrack and start describing the color of her nail polish (I'm being extreme) it  dissolves the flow of the scene. But that's a whole different monster; pacing. So no, I'm not anti imagery, I just think it should be used in moderation.

For your second point, a good example of why they're not always necessary was pointed out to me when I was given an assignment to make the reader feel the emotion we drew with nothing but dialogue between two characters. Nothing but dialogue. Only 'he said, she said' was allowed, and then I started to realize that if the words are powerful enough, it reads. Of course, there's nothing wrong with using them and it's going to differ according to situation and if the writer wants to be sure they aren't misunderstood.

And yes, exposition in dialogue is at it's best, annoying and at it's worst, hilarious, and both are not what the writer intended. In mainstream movies I understand from a storyboarders perspective why they do that, but I still hate it every time I see it.

And barge right in, I love discussions. Especially when the people I usually talk about this with aren't around.
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:iconsarcasm-thesickness:
Sarcasm-theSickness Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
I get what you're saying better now. Yeah, that line was too much (and frankly made me think she might have been an anime character). I understand. If detail is being poured into it, it should be important to either the story or character in general.

That's a neat assignment! I wish my teachers would have thought of something like that...

In movies, I appreciate subtlety. I watched a couple old movies in a film class, and realized how much the writers actually trusted their audience to pay attention to details. And, frankly, it made me feel like more recent movies think we're too stupid to catch on to the little things. I guess, in some more serious genres, I'd like to be challenged and trusted with the information they provide. Comedy or other more lighthearted movies don't really offend so much when they use obvious exposition. mainly because that's more the flow of the whole thing.
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:iconblackpassion777:
Blackpassion777 Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
haha I think that's why comedies and I don't get along. They shout their feelings at each other, there's no subtext. At least, in a poorly written one. And I get you on old films, they're amazing. There's a new one actually, a Spanish film called Truth in their Eyes, I think. And there's a scene where they're standing in the same elevator with the killer, and no words are said, and it had more impact that any dialogue in the entire rest of the movie. Proving that there are an infinite number of ways to do things, and sometimes silence is more important than words. Actually something I learned in orchestra; You treat rests with the same respect you treat the leading line of a melody, because they're just as important.

And that's why none of these are rules, cause there are some truly amazing people that can do whatever they want, and it's gold. But on a whole, I've noticed that some people really don't see what they could do to impriove, and when you don't have a benefit of a class, these are a nice set of questions to ask yourself. I actually still ask myself What would Van Cleave do? (Scariest professor name ever, but he was a really smart guy, and I can respect that.) Probably burn it lol

   Also it gave me an option to 'add media' and I've never done it, so let's see what happens.
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:iconsycamoresea:
SycamoreSea Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I'm not going to disagree with any of the information here - actually, as someone who's been through several creative writing classes filled with people who just thought 'it would be an easy A,' I wish more people actually /took/ this advice when they read it - but I just have to point out that lovely is not an adverb. >> It's an adjective that confuses people by taking the adverb form.
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:iconblackpassion777:
Blackpassion777 Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
haha omg what's hilarious is that I actually know that, my brain didn't stop me anyways. I scrolled back up to put an example but I forgot it was for adverbs. That's embarrassing lol
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:iconsycamoresea:
SycamoreSea Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Haha, yeah, I figured you were likely to know that and just weren't thinking, but I thought I'd catch it for you before it was too late. xD
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:iconblackpassion777:
Blackpassion777 Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Thanks for the catch C;
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:iconsycamoresea:
SycamoreSea Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
But of course. c:
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:iconinsomniacflaaffy:
InsomniacFlaaffy Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Man, I should have you critique my fanfictions. You seem to know what you're doing.
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:iconblackpassion777:
Blackpassion777 Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
lol I'm not an expert, but I have stood in the presence of greatness and some of it might have rubbed off XD What kind of fanfics do you write? I dabble in the cartoon network and DC area lol
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:iconinsomniacflaaffy:
InsomniacFlaaffy Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I write Pokemon fanfics with fan characters, kinda wish I could leave that comfort zone.
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:iconblackpassion777:
Blackpassion777 Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
That's sick. I tried to write a pokefic once, but I realized I'd need to do some research and it didn't quite flow for me as well as writing a Jak fic, for example. I wish I could finally sit down and write an Inuyasha story, because I love that show to pieces, but I'm stuck with Static Shock.
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:iconinsomniacflaaffy:
InsomniacFlaaffy Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Sounds awesome, I think I'll take the time to read your writing.
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:iconblackpassion777:
Blackpassion777 Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
aww thanks - Link me if you wanna share!
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:iconinsomniacflaaffy:
InsomniacFlaaffy Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Alrighty
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