Writing fiction is hard, frustrating, fun, and rewarding, and
it is awesome that you are doing it (or thinking of doing it)!
This thread is the place for you to ask and answer all sorts
of questions regarding fiction writing. Also to post all your
successes and (if you feel like it) failures, and get appropriately
enthusiastic and encouraging responses. Also possibly appropriate and
enthusiastic critiques. It’s a good place to engage in dialogue with
other people who are writing fiction, at all levels of “accomplishment”
Chances are good that by the time you are reading this thread, it will
be very long and you just won’t have the time to read the entire thing.
That is fine! No one really expects you to. Please do us all the favor
of reading AT LEAST THIS FIRST FUCKING POST FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.
Meta-Advice, AKA How to get the most out of this thread
First off, I have tried to summarize both my own experiences with writing
and advice from the former thread in these first posts, BUT these are not
complete or absolute answers. We went into much greater detail (and had
lots of fun discussions) about most of these topics in the last thread.
Despite the length and volume of these next few posts, there is much, much
more to talk about. Even if your question or thought is discussed in these
OPs, please do post it! As you will see me say in the rest of these summary
posts (if you read them), most writing advice is subjective, nothing is an
bsolute, and the more approaches you learn about, the more you can adapt
them into a system that works for you. This thread will grow and prosper to
the extent that people use it to discuss the wonderful, devastating thing
that is writing fiction.
That said, please read and consider the following guidelines:
1) Read this entire post and (hopefully) the post below addressing your
substantive question (see list at the end of this post) (Hey! Come back here!
I said to read this post, too!)
2) Good Questions (i.e. likely to get useful responses):
What are your opinions on__________?
What are your experiences with ______?
How do you _____?
Can you recommend_______?
Everyone loves talking about themselves and their opinions!
Seriously though, there aren’t any 100% true answers in writing. The benefit of
having a forum is that you can get ideas/opinions from other real people. Not
universal super advice. There are no absolutes in writing. Okay, maybe don’t
replace every instance of the word ‘the’ with ‘walrus’ or something, but
other than that...
Everyone has their own ways of approaching various parts of writing, and
learning how other people think and do can lead you to finding your own
way, that works for you.
3) Less Good Questions
Some people say that no question is a bad question, but some questions
are more bad than others:
Is my idea good?
a) Yes, it is great!
c) It doesn’t matter because an idea doesn’t make a story.
Can I do x?
Can I punctuate my dialogue in this totally neat, unconventional way
like Cormac McCarthy? Yes you can!
Can I replace every instance of the word “the” with “walrus” instead?
For sure! You can.
Can I leave all the pages of my book blank and rely on telepathy to
directly communicate the words into readers’ brains? Indeedely-doo you may!
These are “bad” questions because we cannot give you useful answers.
It comes down to will your book be better if you do it? A lot of times,
only writing the book will answer this question, and even then,
different people will have different opinions. Not everyone likes
Cormac McCarthy and his neat, unconventional dialogue. You probably
think this is a stupid, unhelpful, flippant answer to your burning question,
but guess what — it’s not. This is the only answer to “can I do X” that
is possible to give without reading your entire manuscript, and even if
someone does that, they’ve probably only got a 50/50 chance of giving you
the right answer.
Punctuation and Grammar
If your question has a correct answer, do everyone a favor and type your
question directly into the search bar instead of going through the extra
steps of posting it here and having someone else type it into a search bar
and then write a post.
For punctuation questions, learning how to look bothersome little questions
up is a skill worth developing, though it does require learning the correct
vocabulary. There are plenty of good punctuation guides in print and for free online.
Strunk & White’s Elements of Style
Eats, Shoots and Leaves
https://www.thepunctuationguide.com — has a more visual interface
(NB: If you want to have an argument over whether or not Elements of Style is too
prescriptive, please read back a few pages and make sure we haven’t had it in the
past month or so).
ON THE OTHER HAND. Some punctuation and grammar questions are subjective, especially
in fiction, and please do feel free to ask them.
a. Do you think this neat, unconventional punctuation of dialogue too distracting?
(See how this is different from Can I use neat, unconventional punctuation?)
b. How do you think I should punctuate this:
God, she probably would have told me eventually, just to rub my nose in it.
That’s Ada. Never misses the chance to lord it over someone. Me especially.
God. She probably would have told me eventually—just to rub my nose in it.
That’s Ada: never miss the chance to lord it over someone, me especially.
These questions can be super fun so post away!
4) IF YOU WANT FEEDBACK:
If you want advice on specific things you are writing, you have a couple
options. If it’s just a few sentences, you can post it in here. If it’s
longer than that, check out Fiction Farm. Never ever ever post something
that you haven’t already read and revised yourself.
PLEASE. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. NEVER EVER POST SOMETHING THAT YOU HAVEN’T
READ AND REVISED YOURSELF. IF YOU CAN’T BE BOTHERED TO READ SOMETHING,
DON’T ASK ANYONE ELSE TO.
5) Giving Advice: This is for me, as much as for anyone else: Remember
that being helpful is way more important than totally sick burns.
(If you refuse to read a book, I’m gonna lay down some hella sick burns on you)
THE ABSOLUTE BASICS: READ MORE, WRITE MORE, CLOSE THREAD GET FEEDBACK
The best advice I can give you is this:
There is no such thing as “being as a writer.” There is only writing,
what you have written, and writing more. You will have to figure out
what works for you. There is no absolute always-true advice
Except for this:
1) Read more: Reading good books is the best education you can get in how
to write good books. It is also a delightful, moving, and potentially
transcendent experience. The right book at the right time can profoundly
change your life. Hell, the wrong book at the wrong time can change your
life. Comprehension of the power of the written word, and by extension,
the power to wield it, begins with reading. READ MORE.
2) Write more: There is nothing written except that which has been
written. You cannot improve except through dedicated practice. Thinking
about writing does not constitute practice. Writing more serves two
basic purposes: First, it gets easier to actually put words (any words)
on the page. You develop the writing habit, figure out what works for
you, etc. Second, it gets easier (or possible) to put better words on
the page. Figuring out a story, what has to happen, what has to be said
about what happens, what words to be used, and in what order, all that
takes a lot of practice. You can read about painting, look at paintings,
but you still have to do a lot of painting. You can’t skip the
“doing a lot of painting” step. You have to do a lot of writing. Start now.
3) Get feedback: Here’s the thing: It’s super difficult to see the
difference between what you think you are writing and what you are
actually writing. Chances are, even if you happen to be a child prodigy
savant genius, that your writing could benefit from some good, old fashioned
critique from other writers. That’s why you are asking other people for
critiques, right? Definitely not just to hear other people tell you how
great you are? Find a way to get honest feedback from strangers. This
forum is a good start. See the post on feedback, below. Do not under
any circumstances post something you just wrote off the top of your
head without ever looking back. I will fucking murder you.
3a) Give feedback: Giving feedback is part reciprocity and part
building your own skill set. By thoughtfully reading and responding
to other people’s writing, you will learn how to think more clearly about your own writing.
DON’T FORGET TO BACK UP YOUR WORK!
- Save regularly -
- Drop box -
- Google docs -
- Auto-backup stuff on your home wireless network -
- Figure something out or you will be sad -
1) Intro (this post!)
2) Read More
3) Write More (Writing Process, Ideas, World Building, Editing)
5) Elements of a Story: Plot, Character, Dialogue, Action, Perspective
6) Misc. (Tools, publishing, Book Recommendations, Mental Health
7) Reading exercises/examples
8) Extremely good posts from the last thread, also authors
9) Saving this b/c I’ll probably think of something else I want to say
Learning to write is a life-long process
It can be heartbreaking, but don't give up. I kind of know this guy,
barely—okay, we met once at a party, and now we’re Facebook friends.
He’s a published novelist, Big Five, working on his purchased second
novel, over a dozen pro-market sci-fi/fantasy stories, yada-yada. Successful, right?
He just posted about how he got his 1400th rejection letter from a magazine.
Writing requires bravery bordering on recklessness.
YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE.
YOU HAVEN’T EVEN GOTTEN STARTED.
(Go get started, god damn it, what are you waiting for?)