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Writer's World

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Re: Writer's World

Postby Ithilwen » Feb 03, 2012 7:59 pm

I found a list of tips and rules on writing. I wanted to show it to you guys, to hear your thoughts. Personally, while reading, I've quite liked the use of a lot of the methods they say to avoid. I was wondering if their advice is sound, and if so, why?

The list advised:

- Never use parenthesis.
- Do use understatements.
- Never use comparisons.
- Never use analogies
- Never use adjectives or adverbs
- Never use words ending in -ly
- never write one word sentences
- never use the passive voice
- never use rhetorical questions
- Never use words like "don't" or "aren't". Always spell it out as "do not" and "are not".

Some of these rules seem strange to me. For example, not using one word sentences. From what I've seen, people use that as a sort of dramatic effect, and it usually works quite well. I see many books use one word sentences, in passages such as these --

The house would be empty tonight. Perfect.

and
Cold. All I feel is overwhelming cold every night and day.


Would the above examples be considered unacceptable, due to some of the sentences having only one word?

C.S. Lewis used parentheses quite a bit. The only books I've seen that used "are not" instead of "aren't" in every case were children's books.

What do they mean when they say we should use understatements?

Also, if we can't use adjectives, adverbs, -ly words, comparisons, or analogies, what is the proper way of writing a description? :-\

P.S. We talked about Twilight so much on this thread, ads for Breaking Dawn are now showing on the sidebar. ;))


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Re: Writer's World

Postby FencerforJesus » Feb 03, 2012 8:24 pm

It is my understanding that () describes the author's thoughts. I do that in my posts here. Usually when I have something in parenthesis, it is a little side note relevant to that immediate phrase, but doesn't fully merit full sentences. As for the rest of the list, I go with Barbossa's line from Pirates of the Caribbean. "The Code is more what you'd call 'guidelines than actual rules."

As with do's and don'ts (and contractions), we use contractions in speaking primarily. In writing, we use contractions because we tend to write the way we talk. I do agree with this, but with a modification. In narration, don't use contraction. In dialogue, a lack of contractions makes it seem too formal. Only skip the contractions in dialogue if the speaker has a very proper way of speaking. In dialogue, you get to break a lot of rules because you have to go with out the character speaks.
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Re: Writer's World

Postby Narnian_Badger » Feb 03, 2012 10:01 pm

Ithilwen wrote:I found a list of tips and rules on writing. I wanted to show it to you guys, to hear your thoughts. Personally, while reading, I've quite liked the use of a lot of the methods they say to avoid. I was wondering if their advice is sound, and if so, why?


Ack. o.o That is... really, really bad advice. :p Breaking it down...

- Never use parenthesis.

Parentheses are reserved for stories written in character voice third person (such as the works of C.S. Lewis or Lewis Carroll, though the latter wrote Literary Nonsense, so... :P). It's used for lighter works--including but not limited to stories written specifically for children. You're not likely to see it in very formal writing, but they're not bad per se.

- Do use understatements.

Not quite sure what they're getting at here, but we often have have the tendency to overstate (the eyes can never be just pretty, they must be stunning, enchanting, and completely alluring; the room is not only large, it is gigantic and enormous and huge). So I'd say this is not a bad rule--let the room be simply 'large,' and let the reader fill in the other details.

- Never use comparisons
- Never use analogies

These are questions of style. Often writers try to get too clever with these techniques, thus making their writing dull and overbearing. So, the rule is better stated as rarely use X instead of never.

- Never write one word sentences

Most grammar books agree that they should be avoided. That being said, on occasion, a one word sentence might be better--it's a bit like starting a sentence with "and." Whenever you want to use this, make absolutely certain that it's the only way to get across the feeling you're looking for.

- Never use adjectives or adverbs
- Never use words ending in -ly

The problem is not with adjectives or adverbs (and certainly not with the suffix -ly!), but rather a writer's dependency on them. If you are using these words because you want to inflate a count, or perhaps because you don't feel your noun/verb is strong enough, then get rid of them and think of a better root word. If, on the other hand, you're using them because it makes your initial word better, richer, more flowing--then by all means, describe away. Don't write "ran swiftly" if you can write "sprinted" or "dashed," but please do write that the dresser is "mahogany" or that he turned "slowly," if the narrative calls for it.

- Never use the passive voice

Again with this word "never." Yes, you should avoid it when you're able--it leads to some rather horrid writing. Take a peek at any legislation and you'll be bored within the first paragraph, and if you'll note, the majority of it is written in passive voice. Still, the passive voice does exist for a reason, and should not always be scorned. The passive is particularly useful, even recommended, in two situations (allow me to quote a grammar blog): 1, When it is more important to draw our attention to the person or thing acted upon: "The unidentified victim was apparently struck during the early morning hours", and 2, When the actor in the situation is not important: "The aurora borealis can be observed in the early morning hours."

- Never use rhetorical questions

Unless the rhetorical is coming from a character's thoughts, then from what I understand, this is probably a sound rule. I'd hesitate to say "never," though.

- Never use words like "don't" or "aren't". Always spell it out as "do not" and "are not".

I have never heard anyone suggest that this rule be used outside of essays or scientific reports. :P Just out of curiosity, I decided to look through a few books to see if they followed these rules--I grabbed seven from my literature shelf, and five of them (Alice in Wonderland, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Huckleberry Finn, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Murder on the Orient Express) had contractions (not in dialogue) within the first chapter; half by the end of the first page. The two that did not were The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Pride and Prejudice. So, take from that what you will--at any case, it's certainly not a hard and fast rule. ;)
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Re: Writer's World

Postby Arwenel » Feb 03, 2012 10:39 pm

How to Write Good

1 Avoid alliteration. Always.
2 Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
3 Avoid cliches like the plague. (They’re old hat.)
4 Employ the vernacular.
5 Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
6 Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
7 It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
8 Contractions aren’t necessary.
9 Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
10 One should never generalize.
11 Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”
12 Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
13 Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
14 Be more or less specific.
15 Understatement is always best.
16 Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
17 One word sentences? Eliminate.
18 Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
19 The passive voice is to be avoided.
20 Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
21 Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
22 Who needs rhetorical questions?
I have heard there are troubles of more than one kind
Some come from above, some come from behind
But I've bought a big bat, I'm all ready you see
Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!
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Re: Writer's World

Postby Menelve » Feb 03, 2012 11:52 pm

Nice, Arwenel! =)) Did you come up with those? Or is it a repost?

Ok, so I completely agree with badger, on the rules. What set off the red flag in my head when I saw the list was the extreme amount of 'never's. Basically I see writing rules as this, when you're still learning (perhaps about a certain style or situation) then follow them. However, once you are experienced you are perfectly allowed to break them. Some, like not using passive voice, should be followed most of the time because they are trying to strengthen the writing. However, something like the "don't use contractions" is really just a preference. (I mean, really, the only place I've seen it used as a hard and fast rule was for a certain prof at the college I went to. She'd flunk people on contractions and vague pronouns alone!)

So if you see a rule that you're not sure about, try it out and see if it works for you. If it doesn't, chuck it and make up your own rule. ;)

I'm constantly being surprised at how books break rules. For example, I just finished reading the book "The Calligrapher's Daughter" today. It broke a major rule. The book is written in 1st POV from the POV of 4 characters! And only one of those 4 is the MC. However, the book is brilliant and a really good read. And it was the farthest thing from confusing (though the beginning is a bit awkward since the first chapter is from the 1st POV of a 5 year-old girl). I consider 1st POV to be my favorite POV and the one I'm most experienced in. Yet, this book blew me completely out of the water and challenged presuppositions of mine about 1st POV.

I think the best advice I've heard is, if you're gonna break a rule, make sure you do it brilliantly because then no one will complain.

~Anna
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Re: Writer's World

Postby stargazer » Feb 04, 2012 12:16 am

Nice one, Arwenel! (I think I've seen that before).

I agree with Menelve regarding that list's continuous use of 'never.'

A few comments on those rules: Fencer makes a good point about contractions. Dialogue (especially set in modern times) would sound pretty stiff without them, in most cases. But narrative usually sounds better without them.

Narnian_Badger uses a perfect example regarding the passive voice (observing the aurora). Scientific papers and reports are largely written in the passive voice. It can make for dry reading, but it's expected in that setting. But most of us (I suspect) are writing fiction and thus should use the passive very carefully.

It's good to be aware of these guidelines; they'll help us write better. But enforcing them too strictly can be a straight jacket. As Menelve says, you can break a rule if you do it brilliantly.

A few comments on other topics recently raised...

Lady Haleth wrote:The thing about viewpoints, and why I could probably never do first person, is that I can't seem to tell a novel-length story from just one person's point of view.


My longer works (such as NaNo) tend to be in third person, at least partially for this reason (allowing multiple perpsectives or 'omniscience.'). I've written some short stories in first person. For NaNo 2010 I tried writing from several perspectives (third, and first person from several characters) and think it worked out all right.

My current project is novel length in first person. But I'm still finding I've had to switch to third for some narration. This may be a limitation in my writing skill, or maybe just laziness. ;))

Meltintalle wrote:...stardf, I quite like your idea of writing stories that are more slice of life than overcoming huge obstacles.


Ditto. It may not be 'epic' but it's more true to life. Some of my short stories and at least sections of my longer stories are slice of life, a look behind the scenes at my characters' lives.

wild rose wrote:...does any one have any idea how to keep a story more or less interesting, even when the amount of characters is shall we say, limited?


Mel offered some good advice. Focus on developing these characters. My NaNo this year was rather short on characters too; it was intended to be a study of how a couple of them (one in particular) respond to the death of a family member. (Not sure how well it turned out - it's not even finished yet - but it's a story I'm writing primarily for my own practice rather than being published).

Glad to see so much action in this thread!
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Re: Writer's World

Postby Jill » Feb 05, 2012 12:13 pm

OK this may be slightly controversial but writing, when you're still just writing for yourself and before you've even got to the end of the first draft should have no rules at all. Even against clichés which I absolutely HATE. No rules at all. When you read through you will go ugh that sounds awful there oh no that needs changing etc. etc. etc. writing is personal expression and nobody writes perfectly just write and mould it later. OK I've said my tuppence worth, if you just get one thing from this let it be keep writing!
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Re: Writer's World

Postby stargazer » Feb 05, 2012 1:23 pm

That's an excellent point, Jill, and one encouraged by NaNoWriMo - just WRITE, especially on that first draft. Get your thoughts down on paper (or monitor ;) ) and worry about rules, editing, even grammar, later on. Write while your muse inspires; the polishing and fine-tuning can wait.
But all night, Aslan and the Moon gazed upon each other with joyful and unblinking eyes.
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Re: Writer's World

Postby FencerforJesus » Feb 05, 2012 8:28 pm

Overall, it's best to just get the story out. If you let your initial thoughts get bogged down by the 'rules', you won't ever finish a draft. When I do my first drafts, I get into such a frenzy that I don't think about anything but what happens next in the story. The 'rules' are what you use in the editing process. As you get more experienced in writing overall, you can write in such a way that you can reduce the editing process, but that takes experience in both writing and editing. And most of us (if not all) are not at that stage. In my sequel I am on my second re-write (third draft). I hope it is my last (not including fine tuning). I was expecting my second draft to be the finalization of the main plot line but that didn't happen. That's part of the life of a writer. But the key thing is to write, write, write. Rules and polishing can be done later, no matter how tedious and how much there will be to do.
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Re: Writer's World

Postby Ithilwen » Feb 05, 2012 9:35 pm

I usually pay attention to the rules of grammar, rules of writing I want to implement, etc. while I write my first draft. With me, it hasn't ever made my thoughts get bogged down. I still go through and edit it afterwards, though, to make sure there's nothing I've missed.

And also, before I begin writing, I make an in-depth outline of all the things that happen in the chapter. Sometimes I'll write some one-sentence or one-paragraph passages ahead of time, if inspiration hits me. And I'll make a list of words I want to use in descriptions. So it helps me that I already have a lot of material to work with before I even begin the first draft.

This method has always worked well for me, and I have usually been able to write 50,000 words in one or two weeks while using it.

The main thing is this: if a method works for you, and helps your writing, use it. If it hinders you, toss it. Everyone thinks, and therefore writes, differently. Find out your way of doing it best, and go with that. :)


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Re: Writer's World

Postby Menelve » Feb 05, 2012 10:36 pm

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Re: Writer's World

Postby 7chronicles » Feb 09, 2012 2:32 am

@ Menelve: Thanks for posting your interviews! They have been fun to read. :)

Very excited because I should be able to get my computer in a month so I can start writing again!!! It's been a whole year since my computer broke and I've been going crazy without it! :p
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Re: Writer's World

Postby Menelve » Feb 10, 2012 8:45 pm

Glad you like them 7chronicles! They'll be ending next friday though. (Unless more interviews miraculously appear in my pm inbox before then. *nudges rosie*)

Interviewee #18: MountainFireflower! http://annamittower.blogspot.com/2012/02/interview-18-mountainfireflower.html

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Re: Writer's World

Postby FencerforJesus » Feb 10, 2012 9:37 pm

I've been so busy with my student teaching and on-line classes that I haven't had a chance to look at your blog, menelve. I want to see what you have there, but I'm even doubting that will happen this weekend. Sounds like it's been pretty neat to see how all our NWebbers have gotten into writing and what they do. And of course I am 'somewhat' surprised you didn't ask a published author to be part of it. My challenge would be not writing a novel in response to your questions.
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Re: Writer's World

Postby Ithilwen » Feb 10, 2012 10:04 pm

FencerforJesus wrote:I've been so busy with my student teaching and on-line classes that I haven't had a chance to look at your blog, menelve. I want to see what you have there, but I'm even doubting that will happen this weekend. Sounds like it's been pretty neat to see how all our NWebbers have gotten into writing and what they do. And of course I am 'somewhat' surprised you didn't ask a published author to be part of it. My challenge would be not writing a novel in response to your questions.

Her interviews were about NaNoWriMo, and not writing in general. The interviews were announced on this thread and said to PM her if you wanted to be interviewed. :)

Although, an interview about how we got involved in writing in the first place would be cool too. *coughs in the direction of Menelve and pretends she didn't say anything* ymwhisle


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Re: Writer's World

Postby FencerforJesus » Feb 11, 2012 5:45 am

I missed that then. I just moved my mobile home and was in a state of transition when she posted that and wasn't on NWeb much during the last three weeks. That's cool and I'm fine with that. I just missed the original post about it.
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