DRILL SERGEANT DOGWOOD IS BACK
AND SHE IS HERE TO TEACH YOU THE BASICS AND SOME HELPFUL TRICKS ABOUT GRAMMAR, WRITING, CHARACTERS, PLOT, AND ALL THE FUN STUFF
THIS IS YOUR NOT-SO-SHORT BUT VERY VIGOROUS WRITING WORKOUT, HAVE A BLAST
(work in progress)
An awesome video to check out is Trope Talk: Mary Sue by Overly Sarcastic Productions. Don't be fooled by the channel's name; this video is really, really helpful, and repictures the Mary Sue in a way that's a thousand times more accurate than most people's interpretations.
THE CONTRAST OF EMOTION
The typical way to make a reader cry is to buttering up a character and then shipping them off to the chopping block. Look at all your examples (spoilers): Rue from the Hunger Games, Metias from Legend, and all classics involving dogs (Where the Red Pine Grows, Old Yeller, Shiloh, etc.) (end spoilers)
Now the key to making a reader cry or feel sad is more basic than "butter up character then kill." It's to contrast the positivity and the negativity. It doesn't need to be sequential. Maybe your character is wandering through the wreckage of a disaster and spots the remains of a man huddling over three other figures- two small ones and one big one. What does this tell the reader? In those moments before death, the man was trying to protect his family. This is the glimmer of positivity serves to highlight the negativity and make the reader feel even more depressed. Conversely, let's say there's a character in a situation very dark and sad, yet they still make light of it not in a cliche way, but an inspiring way. This positivity outshines the negativity, and establishes the character as a ray of light, a symbol of hope.
You can even use colors to explain this. Ever put neon against a dark background? Doesn't the neon look brighter? But if you put the neon against a white background, it doesn't show up well. Same goes for writing.
ANONYMOUS NARRATORS AND THE WRONG WAY TO USE "YOU"
The second-person "You" is often used in situations where the reader is in the story.
Frankly? Those stories suck.
The right way to use you is to think of it differently. You is anonymous; it doesn't specify. Use that to your advantage when you want to use you. I am in no way self-advertising right now (that story sucks anyways eheh) but I'm going to use my story Shaded as an example, since I can't find anything else with a good use of you. In the prologue, second person is used to show how the person experiencing this is anonymous, but it doesn't matter. They're just one of the many souls Shade collects. I don't need to bring to the table a new character, this one is just an example. The same goes for my story Plagued; the narrator is just another one of those suffering the effects of the plague.
Next, be careful when using second person as the main POV for the story. Don't. It's annoying and overbearing. HOWEVER, it can be done properly, like in The Snake That Rattles, a great story you should really really read. The exception to this story is that the real narrator is in first person, but the main story is in second person. This real narrator is telling our main character, the "you", what is going on. Retelling the main character's experiences. This use of second person isn't anonymous, unlike most uses of second person.
Both of the other POVs (first and third person) work well with anonymity; second person is just the only one that can and should be used only for anonymous narrators. For example, take the prologue to Singularity (a great story by Blazey, go check it out!). It's in third person, but we don't know who the cat is. And then first-person can do the same- again, sorry to use my own stories as an example, but I can't find any others. Burn Them All has an unknown narrator in the prologue who doesn't matter to the plot at all, but they're still anonymous and that part uses first person.
One thing to note: When using anonymous narrators, separate the part that is anonymous with the part that is, well, not anonymous. I will go ahead and critique my own story and say that it is kinda confusing for the reader to go from the first-person prologue in Burn Them All to the same first-person first chapter, and the reader has no idea they're separate characters. It would have been better to change the "persons" so that they differed, and would confuse the reader less. In Singularity, who the tom is is cleared up in the first chapter. The third-person doesn't change, but the prologue was told with "the cat" and "he," not telling us who "the cat" and "he" are. The rest of the story says "Sagekit" and "Sagepaw," so the anonymity is gone and thus the reader isn't confused.
Anonymous narrators are a beautiful writing effect that I can't really explain, but read a prologue with them (they're usually used in a prologue, have you noticed?) and you'll understand just how wonderful they are and you'll know what I'm talking about.
In conclusion, don't write a whole story in only second person unless you're really comfortable with it, use a "you" narrator for an anonymous effect, this anonymity can be achieved with all POVs, and stories that use "you" to represent the reader are lame as fork.
Okay, so a common mistake is to describe a character in the beginning of the story like a checklist. For example, "Vera stepped down, her glossy chocolate-colored hair flowing down her shoulders. Her green eyes swept over me, and for a moment our gazes locked. I found myself staring at her heart-shaped face and pinkish lips, heat rushing to my cheeks."
Checklist? Obviously. Hair- check. Eyes- check. Other details- check. And this is made all the more worse if this is Vera's first appearance in the story.
Slip description in where it belongs. When a moment is big and important, it's perfectly fine to say "Her jet-black hair whipped in the wind wildly, a disgruntled raven straining to fly, and her eyes blazed with such a deep hatred that Gary took a step back in fright."
Oh look! Character description! That chick's got black hair! But it didn't feel that awkward, did it? Use the description of physical appearances when any description is needed in a story (ex. climax, action scene, etc.), and never make it sound like a checklist.
HOWEVER, let me note that when you describe a character as soon as they appear/soon after they appear, that's a red flag for shipping, which can be beneficial to your story. Use this description weapon wisely, young padawan, and get your readers on their toes screaming ship till their voices are hoarse.
I also want to clarify that describing a character appearing isn't bad, you just don't blatantly checklist it. Or you can checklist it if there's a point; for example, in Equinox, Ayla describes Luna, and along the way describes a little bit of herself and Solis. But it's not bad. Ayla says "You should remember Luna", and then goes off describing her. That's fine. It actually works really well. Describe a character when it appears only if this has a place in the story. In Equinox, it serves to paint Luna's picture.
Show AND Tell
Most of you have heard of "Show; Don't Tell". I'm kind of here to tell you about show and tell. "Show; Don't Tell" applies mainly to a climax, or where description is needed. Show and Tell applies to your entire story.
When teachers teach "Show; Don't Tell" they usually give exaggerated versions of show and exaggerated versions of tell. Those are just that- exaggerations. Most stories aren't that exaggerated.
Tell (Exaggerated Example): The princess was locked up, the prince found her, he fought off the evil dragon, they fell in love and lived happily ever after.
Show (Exaggerated Example): Between her thick, meaty fingers she crushed the rich golden cracker. It splintered into pieces, fragments and crumbs falling and littering the ground with cracker dust. She lifted her horrified gold-flecked green eyes up, the blood draining from her head and leaving her face a pale, frosty white.
Now, with the exaggerated tell- who in the world is going to write a single sentence and say it's a story? Only a troll. And this guide isn't meant for trolls, it's meant for people who honestly want to improve their stories. With the exaggerated show, we're using the intense adjectives that should be saved for a climax, or any other dramatic part of the story. Not for every moment, especially for just breaking a cracker.
Let's clarify what show is and what tell is.
SHOW isn't just adjectives, metaphors, and similes. Show can also be a verb, but it must carry emotion. Here's what I'm going to call a "dead verb"- walked, talked, ate, and other words that just tell. A "living verb" would be something like screeched, stroked, and heck, even spoke is a living verb. Listen "I spoke with her yesterday night." Now listen to "I talked to her last night." Spoke summons a feeling of fanciness that talked just doesn't have. Stroked implies gentleness, and screeched implies severity. Living verbs bring all the subtle emotion into a sentence that telling just doesn't.
TELL is all about dead verbs and simply not going into details. But tell isn't a bad thing, like I said before. Tell is a necessity. Stories with too many adjectives are an awkward read. It's too repetitious and unnerving. Many of us show too much because we think the reader needs to know everything. We think it's like a movie, where everything is told.
That might be true, but let me challenge that way of thinking- seen all those easter eggs inside of a movie? All those references you might've missed? How you didn't even notice the scar on his face until the camera was zoomed up right against it?
Even the mind processes at a tell rate. There's only so much that can be noticed. Show comes in to direct the flow of attention. Tell is there to narrate the story when show isn't there. In a great story, show and tell work together harmoniously to make for a smooth read.
So where should show be used? And where should tell be used?
WHERE TO TELL:
I'm searching for the right word to describe this. At first I was going to say "the unimportant parts of a story", but that's wrong. Everything in a story must be important. But it can't be the "important parts" of a story either- that's where you show. So I suppose it's any part of the story that isn't of high importance is where you would tell. Avoid "purple prose"- way too many adjectives and metaphors where they shouldn't be. We don't need to know that strawberry banana mango coconut tropical breeze Queen's Glass is your main character's favorite type of drink, unless that strawberry banana mango coconut tropical breeze Queen's Glass is going to play a major role. If it is, then go ahead- foreshadow away! If it isn't, then try to avoid it.
Describing your characters is also a place where you should tell. Many budding authors, in the first line where the character is introduced, describe their hair color, eye color, skin tone, et cetera. And I understand- I was doing it just last year, so I remember what it's like. But this is show, and, as much as many of us would like to disagree, a character's appearance doesn't affect the plot. This doesn't mean you can't describe your characters, it simply means don't do it when you're in a "telling" scene. You can easily slip a character's looks into a show scene seamlessly. Something like this:
"No!" she screamed, hollering at the top of her lungs til her voice was raw. Green eyes burning with hatred, she turned to the nearest noble and pointed the dagger at his throat. Her thick black hair lashed wildly in the wind, making her look more and more like a demon sent from hell. "I will kill you!" she screeched. "I will kill you all!"
See how well that description fit?
WHERE TO SHOW:
Repeating what I said above, show is used to direct the flow of attention, and to make the reader feel an emotion. While a teacher might tell you that show should only be used at the climax, that's not true. The climax isn't the only important part of a story. There could be a little cute romantic moment that might need some show to drive home its point, or the fight scene that leads up to the climax. Maybe a peaceful moment in nature could use some show to make the reader as relaxed as the character.
Show paints a picture and depicts a single moment. That's why too much show makes a story boring and even tedious to read. Imagine reading moment...by moment...by moment. Pretty bothersome.
To sum it all up, use show and tell together. Don't limit yourself to "Show; Don't Tell". While your teachers have a point- an only tell story is extremely boring- that doesn't mean an only show story isn't either.
GROWING AND TRIMMING
Okay first off what I gotta say- chapters from a beginning writer are typically 1,000 words at most. A proper chapter should be around 3,000-6,000+ words. Train yourself to write longer, with more events. A six-paragraphed chapter is most definitely not a chapter, it's a scene. I know it can be hard to write longer chapters, but just. Do it. Get yourself used to that, and your story will benefit immensely.
And remember that every chapter must drive the story forward. There can be "filler", but even correct "filler" should move the story on. For example, it can be a break from the action that brings out the sweet, childish side of the characters. If a scene doesn't do anything for the plot, doesn't grow characterization, doesn't set up the scene, doesn't relieve tension, kill it.
Everything in a book needs a role, even the scenes. It has to do something. Otherwise it's just junk that really shouldn't be there.
(REMEMBER: Cliches are NEVER limitations, they are WARNINGS that you should be gentle with something when writing!)
-Medicine cat falling in love
-Kittypet becoming a warrior
-one evil Clan, one good Clan
-evil leaders taking over
Non Warriors-specific Cliches
-unrealistic animal-human bond in a realistic setting
-popular girl stole my bff drama
-Parent A died, Parent B took a new spouse, and Child C feels like Parent B doesn't care about Parent A anymore
To properly write, be aware of the character's personality and let that flow into the character's actions and words. Let's use the movie Up as an example (side note: Up is a great movie and you should watch it. It has a great plot, storytelling, and dialogue- super super awesome overall.)
SPOILERS (but come on guys this movie came out eight years ago)
When the people break Carl and Ellie's mailbox, Carl says "Get away from our mailbox!" (I've pulled up the whole movie's script btw). But Ellie's dead, so why is Carl saying our? Just a single sentence lets you, as a reader, know how Carl is taking her death; he hasn't seen it as "Ellie's gone," but "Ellie's still with me, just dead." This enforces how much he loved and still loves Ellie.
As for Carl's actions, take a look at how he reacted with the construction workers. The man who broke the mailbox tried to help and fix it, but Carl rejected his help and said "I don't want you to touch it!" and even hit the man. Many viewers can connect with Carl through that; how many times have you screwed up that someone just wants you to stop trying to help, or vice versa? It also shows a lot about Carl- he's irritable enough to hurt a stranger, he cherishes Ellie so much that he hits a man over his and Ellie's mailbox, and he had reached a "You've done enough, don't do any more" stage.
Look at how much we got out of two sentences Carl said and a few seconds of action. Look at how much volume this speaks about Carl. Use this as an example for yourself. If you don't know much about your character, take out a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. Label one side "Internal" and the other "External" and list all the traits of your character. It might be hard if you're not much of a "character writer." Make up stuff if you need to until you have a well-rounded, believable character.
What would count as "not knowing much about your character"? Do you know what the character likes to eat for breakfast? Do you know what color their hair is? How do they get along with their siblings? It doesn't matter whether this stuff affects the plot or not; get down as many details as you can for your character so you have a reference to look at later on. Your planned story is rarely ever your final story, so if anything at all you know about your character can be used in the ever-changing plot, use it.
THE BALANCE OF FOCUS
Alternate title: Portraying IRL Minorities
Example: I've noticed a few things about LGBT on this wiki. It's been written in a way that kinda shoves it down the reader's throat. It screams as loud as it can to be noticed, as if the author's intention was "NOTICE THIS LGBT STORY!!! NOTICE IT NOTICE IT!" Which, yeah, is fine. I'm all for LGBT- this is in absolutely no way at all homophobic.
But there's a balance. Yes, I get it if you're trying to speak up for the minority. Yes, I get that you might only want to write gays. But don't be hyperfocused on the subject. Don't be hyperfocused on anything in a story. I'll delve deeper into that later, but let's stick to the LGBT example for now. Now, as I don't have a specific way to fix this, I suggest you read over your story. Does it sound like you're bombing the reader with your topic, force-feeding them a certain aspect of your story? It might also help to get a second pair of eyes to read your story and see what they think of it; do they feel off-putted as a reader by the amount of focus a subject is getting?
Now, moving past that example and onto writing in general. Hyperfocus will tear down your story, no matter where it applies. Hyperfocusedness is usually the downfall of a character with a tragic backstory. It's what makes them so infamous. The writer is so focused on that tragic backstory that everything the character does is connected to it- and that's bad, bad, bad. It's unrealistic; there is no one in real life who only focuses on one thing in life, even if it was tragic, no matter how much they might seem to to you.
Let's first cover quotes and capitalization and punctuation. When you combine these three- hooo boy, it gets confusing.
A usual quote goes like this: "There were dragons everywhere, setting the forest on fire, and I couldn't breathe through all the smoke," she said.
A split quote would be like: "There were dragons everywhere, setting the forest on fire," she said, "and I couldn't breathe through all the smoke."
OKAY so this whole thing of what to capitalize in these quote thingamajigs takes wayyyy too long to explain and it's hard to understand. It'd be a lot easier if I gave you examples. Your job is to observe them- it's not that hard, really. Take note of what parts are capitalized, what parts have commas or periods, etc.
A) "I was scouting around," he said, "and I found this pin."
B) "I was scouting around, and I found this pin." He held up the pin. "Isn't it pretty?"
C) "I was looking around, and I spotted a yellow bird," he said.
D) "I really like cookies," she said. "Oh, and cakes."
E) "My job," she said, digging her claws into his scales and shaking him violently, "is to keep you safe. So at least try not to get into trouble."
Moving on to punctuating not-dialogue quotes and parentheses. For example, (this is in parentheses and it's the end of the sentence so the period is inside.) "Same goes for quotation marks." (Or, "with commas," the comma is inside the quotation marks/parentheses.) Personally, I don't follow this rule unless it's for skool, but I really should get into the habit.
But, unless it's dialogue, this does not apply to exclamation marks and question marks. It would just make no sense. Ex. Why did you say "I don't like cake"?
If you put the question mark inside the parentheses, it would make the character who said "I don't like cake" ask "I don't like cake?". See, makes no sense.
ACTUALLY GOOD LOVE TRIANGLES
I actually picked this up from browsing through the lovely land of the internet, but it's really worth sharing.
Love triangles, in real life, aren't as they appear in stories. It's not A is in love with B, then C comes in and A needs to make a choice. Sure, that's possible, but it's been beaten to death and isn't the only form of a love triangle. Now here's a copy-and-paste of the original tumblr blog: "Let’s be honest: how many of you dated someone in high school but still had a crush on someone else? Or dated one guy and watched him drift out of the picture, only to have him drift back in once you moved on to someone else? Creating situations that are realistic and less obvious is the key to a love triangle that doesn’t feel cliché."
Well that's the end to this ridiculously short part xP
My most important thought on characters is that You're not committing a crime by modeling a character after a person.
This doesn't cheapen the character at all; you, as a writer, have observed an interesting aspect of someone, and thought it would make a good character.
OH MY GOD YOU'VE JUST MODELED A CHARACTER AFTER SOMEONE REAL
No. No. Using this example from a video I watched from Overly Sarcastic Productions, an animator sees people move and animates that. An artist finds references and draws from that, even studying, which is directly copying someone's art. A graphic artist sees light and dark and can simplify an image to just white and black. A painter sees the colors and shapes and simplifies it to a painting that still looks like the image. An actor observes the body language and tones of someone in a certain situation and emulates it.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with understanding a human and then creating a character from that. Don't shy away from it. The only problem with this arises if you don't understand humans. But that can happen anyways, even if you build a character from scratch.
Now what is a human like? It's hard to explain; I think I could spout out a whole lecture about humanity and you might not understand, but let's just go with this for now.
Humans live by "Perception is Projection." This means that the view of the world from the eye of a human (perception) is nothing more than them projecting their past out onto the world. Everyone has had a different past, different experiences, and these all collect into who a person is.
This concept of the past affecting a character is often made kinda bad. Sometimes a writer will make a character who has had a bad past and use it to excuse their character's bad actions. "Oh, he's killing everybody, but but but his momma abused him when he was a baby, empathize and pity this poor poor guy."
No. Look at Queen Scarlet from Wings of Fire. (spoilers) Her mind has been messed up to the point that she might seem like a cliche villain, but her abuse of Peril is so, so realistic. She has built Peril to believe that she is the only one who loves her, even though we as the reader can tell that Scarlet most definitely does not love Peril. Not only that, but Scarlet can't see beyond herself. She thinks she deserves a "happy ending" like the DoD.
Is this any excuse for Scarlet's behavior? Absolutely not. Is Scarlet a precious sweet little baby who just wants her happy ending? No. If you think that- all I got to say is well. Rethink your thinking. But does this make Scarlet more believable? Totally. (end spoilers)
Quick lesson on purple prose. Expanding on what I said before about how the mind processes at a "tell" rate, basically you don't need to describe every little thing. Do we need to know that the blankets have a flowery design of purple petals alternating with red roses? No, unless that's some kind of secret code. Do we need to know our main character is wearing a red dress that cinches at the waist and then flows down in elegant folds and swishes across the floor with stitched gold edges? No, you can shorten that to "She stood in a rich, flowing red dress accented by gold, sure to stun any man." Even that's pushing it, unless you're bent on how she needs to be very pretty so that she can extract information from some guy while he's boggled by her beauty.Purple prose can include melodrama, see Equinox for an example. Now, melodrama isn't bad, unless it's bogging down the whole story. In Equinox, it does a pretty good job. But purple prose isn't necessarily melodramatic writing, it's the example I showed above. You don't need to know that much, it honestly doesn't matter. When you read something like that, you can just feel the writer fangirling over her own stuff. Sure, of course, everyone does that, but it's not good when you shove it down your reader's throat.