Writing Well, a brief writing tutorial in six parts

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Writing Well, a brief writing tutorial in six parts

Postby Gibson Twist » June 25th, 2011, 7:50 pm

The following is the first in a series of six tutorials designed to help novice writers build a better story. This is being posted here after requests from others who can no longer find it on its original site. It is not intended as a comprehensive how-to of writing, please do not respond to it as such. It is simply meant as a guideline for those who are looking for a guideline. Anyone who follows the advice set out here should also seek to continue teaching themselves beyond what it written here, as these are simple basics to assist novices in finding their own voices.


Writing is pretty easy, when it comes right down to it. All you need is an implement of writing, be it digital or manual, and a fair grasp of the language in which you want to write...and even the latter is becoming more and more negotiable. Sounds simple enough. Those are the mechanics of writing, it really is just that easy to write. Anyone can do it. Now the trick is to do it well. Anyone can ride a bike, but standing on the handlebars and spinning the front wheel while 16 feet in the air is a little rarer. Writing an effective and interesting story is very much like that, taking something mundane and making it extraordinary, striking awe in your audience by doing something commonplace in an uncommon way. How do you do this? As someone who has been writing and publishing for 20 years, I'm still looking for the answer to that, but let's take a look at some very basic tips and tools to making your writing flow a little better and hopefully cause people to ooh and ah in the process..

Contrary to popular opinion, story writing is not just having an idea and putting words on paper, and too many people underestimate what is involved in doing it well. There must be a process. Now, this process can be bare bones or it can be painfully exact, but without following some essential rules, including a lot of preparation, you are doomed. To make this process more digestible, let's break it down into its base components, the major food groups, if you will, of how to write well. For lack of better terms, we'll call them Concept, Tableau, Plot, Technique, Composition and finally Review. In this first part, we'll concentrate on Concept.

Concept is a very broad subject and is hard to pinpoint into specifics. It deals with general ideas rather than fine details, and is therefor difficult to discuss in, ahem, detail, so let's talk in broader strokes. Also, a lot of the elements of Concept tend to overlap, making certain distinctions rather arbitrary. The important part isn't so much in a step-by-step during the conceptual phase, but in finding a satisfactory and complete whole, building a solid ground upon which to create the story. It's a good time to be wild and fanciful and let your mind wander into all manner of directions, since later phases need to be more definite. This is where you'll throw everything onto the table, no matter how foolish, and then pick away the things that don't belong until you have a functional direction. Think of it like establishing the ground rules of how you're going to write the story.

The purpose to this tutorial isn't to show you how to conceive of your story, no one can teach or tell someone how to develop their Concept, but it is intended to provide parameters you can follow while you do. As the writing process can be broken into basic elements, so can those elements, and Concept can be broken down, for our purposes here, as the following:

The premise of the story is usually simple...or as simple as you can make it. Using my comic Pictures of You as an example (because it's easier and because I'm an egomaniac,) the premise could be described succinctly as "the disintegration of a close circle of friends". A slightly more in-depth premise could be "Peter Morris reflects on his youth and how his old friendships fell apart". Whatever the premise of your story and however you choose to describe it, this is the first building block of a story. Few writers have a problem meeting this step, but many forget that this premise is at the core of what they are writing, and that everything in the story should serve this end. If a writer finds themselves losing this most central focus, the story often becomes meandering and pointless.

Theme is similar to premise, but goes deeper and there is often more than one. In Pictures of You, there are many themes...humour, drama, foreboding/foreshadowing, friendships, relationships, youth, coming of age, betrayal, drugs and alcohol, rock and roll...the list goes on. It's not always necessary to be so formal as to list your themes, but it is important to know what they are. Think of it like building a house with Lego.

Before you begin, you want to know what kind of Lego you'll be using. You can use many different kinds of Lego (Space Lego, yeah!) or you can use only one kind, but it's important to know how you're going to fit them all together. If you use too many kinds, or if you start adding new kinds later that you hadn't intended, the end result may be confusing and unwieldy. On the other hand, if you're only using the eight-pronged red blocks, you run the risk of being boring and predictable.

The thing to remember when you're starting out isn't as much what themes you want to use as it is how they are going to fit together. If you want to write a story with such elements as alien nanotechnology, religious intolerance and the colour green, you should be aware of how those will play together. Themes that are too distinct can clash without forethought. Theme is too often underestimated during the writing process, and always to the writer's detriment.

Tone is so closely related to Theme that it could be argued as a part of it, but it's such an important and overlooked factor that I thought it deserved special mention. Tone, put very simply, is the way a story feels. Too often a writer will assume that a comedy should be light or a drama should be dark, but it doesn't always have to be and breaking from that idea can bring a completely fresh angle to your story. In fact, presuming that any story element has an implicit tone attached to it is a mistake.

Tone is a remarkable tool and is used too rarely to its full potential. For example, if you were to think of a story set in a hospital, the first thought might be that it should have a somber and reverent tone, but I could point a number of remarkable instances where surrealist tone is used, or tedious monotony or fast-paced tension or even positive optimism. Another example, a story about a boy and his dog would usually be depicted with a light-hearted innocence, but imagine what kind of story would emerge with a tone of paranormal creepiness or suspense.

Tone is often influenced by the other story elements, but when used effectively the tone can also influence them. Using a fresh and innovative tone within your story can provide avenues that may not occur with a more traditional one, leading your writing in different directions than originally planned. Whatever tone (or tones if you use more than one) you choose, make sure it is the right one for you, and above all, never lose sight of it.

Main Characters and Setting
Before you start every writer's favourite activity of putting together your Character Profiles, all you need at this point is a basic knowledge of who or what your characters are going to be. You don't have to know how tall Jimmy is going to be, nor do you need to know where Enid went to school or why Alejandro doesn't like hats. All you need to know are the bare essentials. Will there be a single protagonist or many? Is the main character(s) male, female, other? Anything that is essential to know before beginning the story, you'll want to know it here. If you have a giant stack of detailed character profiles already, that's great and it will help, but it isn't necessary yet. Often characters will be defined by the needs of the story as much as the story will be defined by its characters, and the process of detailing this will happen in due course. For now, all you need to know is what is imperative to the initial idea.

Setting also should be very basic. You don't need to know that the story takes place at Vittorio's Pizza Bonanza, opened in 1938 on Restaurant Street decorated with old photographs of Italy and checkerboard tablecloths. All you need to know is that it happens in a pizza joint, and even that can be overlooked if it doesn't shape the story. Whatever city or town or even country is also not necessary unless it has specific bearing on the story. As with the characters, if you have these details, that's good, but it's fine if you don't. Those details will get fleshed out later.

What, if anything, are you trying to say with your story? Are you writing an analogy of western decadence set in the bunny cage at a local pet shop? If so, you should be careful to make sure that comes across. Messages, also known as the moral of the story, can be tricky. You want the message to be clear, but you don't want it to be so blatant that it overpowers or cheapens the story at large, or becomes preachy. Unless you're just out to write a manifesto, be sparing with how you dole out the turpitude, and let it be subtle enough that the reader has to think about it to get it without being so subtle that they miss it. Of all the elements of Concept, Message is the most difficult to manoeuvre and will often not be fully manageable until the final stage of the process, Review, when an outside opinion can tell you how effective your efforts have been.

Now, a story doesn't need to have a clearly defined message, but you should always know when you're starting out whether it will, intended or not. What I mean is that a writer should be aware not necessarily what a reader will take away from the story, but what a reader can take away from the story. For example, if you're going to write a story from the point of view of a paedophile, you should be aware that a message can be construed that paedophiles are actually okay dudes. This message doesn't have to be intended for it to be gleaned, and it simply a cop-out to shrug off the responsibility if it happens. Writers should always be aware of what they are writing, and while I'll never be the one to suggest that writers draw moral lines (I do so rarely), we should all be prepared for the repercussions.

A Summary is like a cheat-sheet for your story, encompassing all the basic elements of your conceptual phase in a short, concise burst. This is the clarity of your idea, the focus of what you're trying to do. You don't have to worry about the fine details here, but the broad strokes need to be addressed. Premise, Theme, Tone, Message and Main Characters should all be described here. And this, more than any other element of Concept, should actually be written down. It may seem unnecessary, you may feel that you have everything straight in your head, but any good writer will understand the difference between what makes sense in their head and what they can delineate on a page. You may know everything inside and out of what you want to do but still have trouble defining it with written words. There is also the benefit of being able to look at your ideas more objectively in a physical form, to look for glaring errors or just reassure yourself that you know what you're doing. It also helps serve as a quick reference when you get into more detailed revision.

I'm going to make a bold statement here, but if you can't summarize your story, don't bother writing it. Summary is a clear and concise depiction of your idea, and if this isn't something you can do, chances are your vision for the story isn't clear and you'll have no end of problems later. Whether you need to start from square one and better define the Concept or merely tweak what you have already can be discovered here.

Here is the tough one...is your story original? It's a hard question to answer, especially to yourself, and it requires a lot of honesty and open-mindedness, not to mention a healthy dose of subjectivity. There are stories which are done over and over again and still manage sometimes to be original. Zombies, for example, is one of the most prolific subjects in modern western culture, yet there are still fresh takes on it produced with surprising frequency. A story about toys coming to life, however, has been done relatively few times but would almost certainly been seen as a plundered idea. There is no benchmark to define originality, that's one of the worst things about it. You know it when you see it. Still, an author can be honest with his or herself about their ideas, and with the invaluable help of an outside opinion (which will be covered in detail in the Review tutorial), you can avoid looking like a talentless hack.

The point of all of this, the entire process of dealing with your Concept, is to make you think about the story you're writing. The more you think about the story, the clearer your ideas will become and the more illuminated potential problems will be. You'll know better what you want to do and what you don't want to do, you'll have the groundwork for the rest of the process and you'll be able to speak more clearly about your project, all of which are invaluable. No writer has ever been ill-served by examining the basic elements of their story before beginning the writing process, and your work will always be better after you've done it.
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Re: Writing Well, a brief writing tutorial in six parts

Postby Gibson Twist » June 25th, 2011, 7:56 pm

Jinkies, Scoob, it's time for everyone's favourite part of writing! Today we get to work on Character Profiles, right? Well, yes, but let's slow down a bit. Character Profiles are indeed an important step in the writing process, but too often new writers underestimate what is involved in doing this properly, and even more tend to overlook that characterization is but one part of building their story's Tableau. The term may be a little mystifying and it may sound a touch hoity, but it's appropriate to describe the next area of story development that I want to discuss. A story's Tableau is, put simply, the elements which provide a story's scenario...Setting, Characters, Backstory and Climate...not only the people involved in the story or where it takes place, but everything else that makes the story breathe. If we take an in-depth look at the story's players and examine their surroundings, you can bring your story to life in ways that a compelling story alone cannot do.

Creating a solid Tableau is not always about making your world believable, though. Your characters and settings can be outrageously unrealistic and still be solid and full, as long as they make sense to the story (see Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy). To the other end, your characters and environment don't always have to be full and rich if it suits your story better that they be simplistic (see Waiting For Godot). The point is to know how the story elements will serve the and propel the overall story. For the purposes of this tutorial, though, we're going to assume that the story requires a realistic, fully realized Tableau.

Where does your story take place? It's a simple question, usually with a simple answer, and it's fairly self-explanatory, but let's take a moment to examine the finer points. When thinking of Setting, you will imagine a city or town, possibly even the neighbourhood or even a single building, the more specific the better. If your Setting is fictional, like Middle Earth or Dagobah, then specificity is even more important because you'll be painting a world people don't already know. Even if your Setting is well known, such as Manhattan or London, it's important to take the time to describe it, even loosely. When you look closer at a neighbourhood or a specific street, be sure to know what's there...a drug store, a park, an antiques store with apartments over top. You don't need to know every brick, but what kind of neighbourhood it is. Can you get pad thai at 3am? Is there likely to be a mailbox on the corner? If your story requires someone to buy a bag of nails, be sure to know how far they have to go to get it.

Once you get down to individual buildings or rooms, the level of your description should be high. Describe the walls, the floor, what's on the walls, what furniture is there, what is sitting on the furniture, what colour is the paint, is there a flowery or a musty smell? Is it quiet or can you hear the cars outside? There is no detail too small to know...you may not have to describe it in your story, but knowing it in your head will help you bring it out on the page.

Be mindful of how your Setting adds or detracts from the effectiveness of your story. A whimsical farce may not be appropriate in a concentration camp, and scifi doesn't always work on a tropical beach. This doesn't mean you have to tailor your setting to the story, but it should always work for you, not against you. If you think your political drama is best set in a kindergarten, then set it there. If you think your high school drama isn't going to play well in a pizza joint, find somewhere else. No Setting is off limits as long as it adds to the story.

And there are other less tangible qualities such as weather, seasons or time of day. A rainy autumn night sets a much different scene than a sunny summer afternoon. Don't, however, make the mistake of thinking that these things define what sort of scenes can take place (people don't only hear about the death of a loved one in the rain) but know the power that the right kind of conditions can deliver (break-ups are always hardest on a cold winter morning).
Finally, Setting is not only where, but when. Modern day, Middle Ages, 1000 years in the future, whenever your story takes place will have an impact. Don't be afraid to play around with the time (how many Robin Hood stories have been set in alternate times?), as long as it moves the story forward and isn't just done for the sake of quirk.

Many times, a writer will have an idea about his or her characters even before having a clear idea of their premise, and most have a lot of fun designing them. Character Profiles are very popular, especially in amateur comics, and while I have nothing bad to say about this practise, I have to emphasize that a character's fullness is difficult to express in point form. Height, weight, eye colour, age...these are important things, but they are only peripheral in making a character what they need to be. Characters should be made of more than an at-a-glance checklist of attributes, there is a litany of elements and facets that go into making someone who they are and defining why they do what they do, and while your readers don't always have to know every detail, the author should.

Physical Appearance – This is where you would list all the regular things like hair and eye colour, height and weight, etc., but there are other things to consider too, such as facial features (shape of nose, lips, eyes, eyebrows, cheeks, chin, forehead...all of it), body type/shape (are they athletic? Overweight? Lanky? Stocky?), and of course hairstyle. Also, when you describe their clothing, focus more on what kind of clothes they would wear instead of individual items (punk, goth, hipster, normal, etc) unless it's something they wear all the time like jewelry, a hat or jacket. Even if you're going to be illustrating the comic yourself, it's a good idea to list their physical features well enough that someone else can draw them based on the written description.

Demeanour – Now you're getting into the meat of who the character is. What kind of attitude does the character have? Are they friendly or mean or shy? What do they act like when they're angry or scared? Is this person the life of the party who secretly wants to be left alone? Are they the miserly curmudgeon who is too afraid to ask for a hug? Do they act differently when they're around one group of people than they do with another? Demeanour is the way your character behaves and is probably the most important part of characterization to get right, and once you do, your characters almost write themselves.

Speech Pattern – If Demeanour is number one on your list of things to get right, how they speak is easily second, yet the most overlooked. Are they plain-spoken or is their language more flowery? Do they articulate or do they rush through their words? Do they ramble on or are they brief? Do they swear a lot or stammer? The pattern of how someone speaks is intrinsic to the person they are and is as much as anything a signature element.

Backstory, the events that not only lead to but also support the beginning of your story, is present in both your Setting and Characters. Perhaps your cop character was once in the military, or maybe the Human Resources Rep was once in the seminary. Has your protagonist killed anyone? Ever been married? Not completed high school? These all add to a richer character. Conversely, was the run-down neighbourhood where your characters live once a more affluent area? Maybe your shoe store was the first to employ African Americans, or is rumoured to be haunted, or won a Best Shoe Store award three years running. Knowing more about the people and places you're writing about adds depth and makes the reader more interested, or at the very least makes it easier for you to write about it.

In fictional Settings, you will need to know at least the basics about the history of your world. Not everyone has to be as exacting as Tolkein, but what happens in the past affects the present and should be addressed. This becomes less important in real-world Settings, but is still worth considering.

Backstory is very important in creating your Characters as well. When considering who a person is, you have to remember that we are all made up of our past experiences and how we react to them. If you have a very quiet character, it's important to know why. If your character never shuts up or doesn't make eye contact or runs everywhere they go, there is a reason for it. This applies also to why your characters will do the things they do in your story, and the choices they make. Even if your characters' pasts are never revealed in your story, it will help you immeasurably to know at least the surface details of how they grew up and came to be who and where they are and why they do what they do.

Rather than weather conditions, Climate deals with the atmosphere of your story, the day to day conditions that affect your world and the people who live there beyond the Setting. Is there an oppressive king or a corrupt mayor who allows crime to run rampant? This can create a sense of fear in your world. Is it an idyllic paradise filled with sunshine? Do your characters live under a shroud of paranoia that they will be taken by the government or aliens or monsters in the night? A story of political intrigue will demand a certain type of Climate where a cross-country car chase will demand another. Tension, whimsy, depression, peacefulness, xenophobia...religious indoctrination, social pressures, progressive scientific discovery, widespread disease infection, war...these are what wrap the reader up in your world and they provide the mindset with which your reader will experience the story you want to tell them. Climate is how your story feels, and if you can build it well, your reader will be captured before they have a chance to put the story down.

My final piece of advice on how to develop a proper Tableau is to first gain some insight by doing one for yourself. That's right, YOU! Get a sheet of paper or open a new document on your word processor and write down a full Tableau on your own Setting, your own Character (yourself), their Backstory and the Climate in which you live. It's harder to do than you might think, and it will help you more than you could imagine.
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Re: Writing Well, a brief writing tutorial in six parts

Postby Gibson Twist » June 25th, 2011, 8:02 pm

Now that you have your basic storyline down and you have a richer understanding of the people and places in it, it's time to start focusing on pulling the story into a clearer, more detailed picture as we look at writing an effective Plot. The importance of having a concise and fully realized Plot cannot be overstated; if Theme is the vehicle driving the story and Tableau is the driver, then Plot is the road on which it drives, from Point A to Point Z and all stops in between. If an author doesn't do a good job of mapping out where the story is going, how long it will take to get there and the markers it must hit on the way, then it becomes a meandering and directionless journey. Your readers don't have to know where it's going, in fact it's better if they don't. But they have to know that you do or they won't follow you for long.

In constructing your Plot, there's a lot to consider...so much that I could probably do another series of tutorials on that alone, but for now I'll try to cover the major points you'll need to know and the elements that many fledgling authors neglect. It's worth saying that there is no such thing as the right way to plot a story, but there are indeed many ways to avoid doing it the wrong way.

Every writer has their own method of plotting, but there are certain elements that are common among most if not all of them. For the purposes of this tutorial, I'll break it down into two sections. In the first, I'll address quickly the uniformity of Plot, and in the second I'll look more in depth at the process I use as a model of how the plotting process can be done.

First, let's address the basics: Inciting Force, Action, Climax, and Resolution.

Inciting Force
Why is all of this happening? It's all well and good to want to write a story about a great train-hopping trip across the country, but without an inciting reason for the characters deciding to hit the rails, the story is hollow. A bus driver becomes a doctor...why? Jimmy climbs a mountain...why would he do that? Everything needs a reason, whether it is detailed or not. You should always know why your story is happening. Otherwise no one will believe you and no one will care. Luke Skywalker didn't just hop the first ship to Dagobah, he had a reason. Your Inciting Force can be commonplace* or surreal, but it should always be important to the characters. Nothing should ever happen just because. Consider as well that there can be many Inciting Forces, but be cautious not to overwhelm the reader with them.
*While Inciting Forces can be commonplace, they should never be mundane.

This is the body of the story, the Point A, Point B, Point C, what happens and in what order. Whatever journey the characters are on as a result of the Inciting force takes place here. Action will be the bulk of your story and is the most variable element of plot. What you do and say here, along with the Climax, will largely define the story you are telling and is what will distinguish your work from every other written piece. I'll elaborate on this in a moment.

Often, this is the point in the story where all of the action comes to a head and the Inciting Force is answered, when the mission is accomplished, where goals are met...or not! The mark of good writing is in building suspense so the reader doesn't always know how the story will end, and a good writer will know when the story demands a happy ending or something else. In addition, your story can have more than one Climax, and can in fact contain many smaller ones along the way. In Tolkein's Lord of the Rings, we can see one definite Climax when the ring is destroyed, but consider along the way as the balrog is defeated, as Saruman is toppled and when Minas Tirith is saved. These are all small Climaxes to what I call Episodes, which I'll address further.

Also known as Denouement, Resolution is exactly that...the resolution of the story, what happens as a result of Action and Climax. Everything that happens along the course of your story will have consequences, and you must be careful to resolve them, or if not resolved then be mindful of why. Illustrate the world in which your characters will live after their journey is done. If the ending is happy, let's see the picket fence. If it isn't, show us how the characters react to their failure. Tie up your loose ends!

Now that you have the basic fundamentals of Plot, what is left is the nuance, the variables. As I've said, there are innumerable ways to plot your story, some authors choose to plot meticulously while others plot loosely and allow themselves freedom to construct the details during Composition. For new writers, I always recommend the former, meticulous plotting. This doesn't restrict you from constructing the details as you write, and in fact every writer should, and it provides a clearer path with which to work. The following is an approximation of the process I use*, Markers, Episodes, Chronology and The Story in Rough.
*This process works for me, but I advise all writers to explore their own .

Make a list of the major points you want to include in the story, be they specific acts or lines of dialogue you want to use or generic scenes. If you want one character to say “That's what apples cost these days!” while flinging a hammer at a guy in a monkey suit, jot it down. If you want someone to be wearing a fake moustache but don't know why, jot it down. From important elements in the storyline to trivial aspects in the background, make a list and keep adding to it. These are your Markers, like an artist will decide their colour pallate before they begin painting, you too will decide what ingredients your story will have. You're not limited to these, mind you, and you'll probably scratch more than a few of them off before you're done, but this list serves as a guideline of where you want to go.

After you have your list of Markers, you can begin grouping things that can happen together or consecutively. In this step, you don't need to pay attention to continuity or what causes what, but focus instead on building the individual Scenes. This is the scene where Jack finds the steel chest in the jungle. This is the scene where the squirrels run through the kitchen. This is the scene where old man Clements throws the hammers. They don't have to be in order as long as you have a clear picture of what's happening in each one.

Helpful hint: Write each of your Markers down on its own index card. You can add notes for each at the bottom to help keep track of how you want to use them, or if they are connected to other Markers. You can then organize the index cards into Episodes. You will probably find that you are thinking of more Markers as you organize them, and this way makes it easier to fit them in, and if you need to move Markers from one Episode to another, simply pull out the card. If you have cards left over when your Episodes are constructed, you can reconsider whether those story elements should be included.

Progression and Chronology
Every event in your story should always lead into or be led into by another event, it should have a smooth narrative. Once your Episodes are put together, you need to make sure there is a natural Progression, that the story you are telling builds on itself. This is especially true if the narrative style you choose includes flashbacks or follows more than one main character, or any other kind of split narrative. It's generally poor form to create a flow of suspense or anticipation and then diverge into a point of low suspense. Of course, this is not always true, and in fact doing this properly can heighten the suspense to great effect. To do it properly, however, you need to pay attention to how it fits in.

As an example, the big car chase is on and the hero is in hot pursuit of the villain over the countryside, knuckles are white and teeth are clenched! Cut to an old farm hand walking his cow to the barn on a lazy, sunny afternoon. He takes off his cap and wipes his forehead with his sleeve as he looks up at the clear blue sky. What's next? Does the farmer notice the two cars speeding down the road and watch as they pass his farmhouse? Or do the cars smash violently through his field, narrowly missing the farmer and his cow and sending debris and chaos into the scene? Be mindful of how your story flows.

The other side of this coin is the Chronology, or timeline of your story. This is not only a case of knowing what is historically accurate for your story (King Arthur never told his knights to git r dun), but also making sure the events in your story are in in order, and that the timeline within your story is appropriate. Again, this is especially important in stories with split narrative or where time is a variable. If your story is set in 2009 and your character has been a cop for 15 years, make sure you don't mention him going to see The Matrix in high school. When your band of ragtag WWII soldiers is done fighting the Japanese, they won't be shipping off to fight the Nazis. If Jimmy loses his pocket knife in the third chapter, he shouldn't have it again in chapter 12. More than one might ever realize, but these details can be the difference between an enjoyable read and the loss of the reader's suspension of disbelief.

The Story in Rough
This should be the last step in putting together your plot, assembling everything you've done in proper order. Once you've turned your Markers into Episodes and you have a good Progression and the Chronology is sound, it's time to assemble them all together and write out The Story in Rough. Some authors will believe that they can keep the episodes straight in their heads, or even refer to their notes when they progress to Composition, and this may even be true, but I will always always always advise people to make the effort to delineate their full Plot. Whether it be in point form or in longhand prose description, be it handwritten or typed, seeing how your story moves from start to finish will not only affix it in your head, but will also offer insight into how a reader will experience the finished product. I suggest doing it on a computer, as it lets you make changes easily as you need to...which you will. Having your Plot worked out in sequence will also help you focus on the next steps in the process.

Now you have the blueprint for how your story will look, you can refer to it as you compose and see where you're going, or going wrong.
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Re: Writing Well, a brief writing tutorial in six parts

Postby Gibson Twist » June 25th, 2011, 8:08 pm

Technique...this one might have some people scratching their heads. To be honest, I scratch my own when I think about it sometimes too. Consider your work so far, Concept, Tableau and Plot as a song that you've written, and consider the next step, Composition as the playing of that song, then Technique is the equipment through which you'll play it. The kind of instrument, the amplifier, your posture and so on. In writing an effective story, you'll want to pay attention to your choices in Media, Chapters, Voice, Language and Tense. Technique is a subtle influence that frames your story and defines how your story will be told. It's an important yet undervalued step that can help writing shine when done right or ruin it when done wrong.

As you read this tutorial in particular, it might help to remember something that might not occur to you...even this tutorial has been written with these things in mind.

Writing is the base model for many different kinds of artistic work, including but not limited to prose, comic books, webcomics, playwriting (for stage) and screenwriting (for television, video and/or film). Each of these Media has different strengths and weaknesses, as well as different rules and guidelines with its own Techniques for writing them*. As a result, how you write your story will be influenced dramatically by the Medium in which you decide to work. Prose, for example, is wildly different from a comic script...in prose you can depict much more detail and emotion while script allows you to get across information in a more concise structure. Many of these also allow (or demand) collaboration on varying levels, and therefor require you to write in a manner that is both informative of your intended story but provides for interpretation by your collaborators.

Another important aspect of Media is that a story which works in prose will not always work as a script. For that matter, stage plays will not always translate well to the screen. Have you ever read a fantastic book only to see it butchered by Hollywood? Or Dark Horse? Consider the story you have crafted and ensure that the Media you choose is appropriate to the story you're trying to tell. Understanding the unique needs of your chosen Medium is essential in telling your story well.

*I don't have the space here to discuss the finer points of the various writing Media and the distinctions between them, as they are myriad. Look for another tutorial on this subject in the future, or for more immediate information visit your local search engine.

For lack of a better term, this is the segments into which your story is divided. Are you writing a comic with 24 pages in each of four issues? Are you writing a graphic novel or a webcomic with more relaxed page counts? Are you writing a sitcom with a specific allowance for time and commercial breaks? Are you writing a series of tutorials on how to write a better story? It's good to know how long your story sections will be and how many of them you'll have before you start writing. It provides a stronger parameter for the Composition and gives you a good series of milestones to reach, and I'll discuss this more in the next tutorial. See? That's how Chapters work!

Essentially, this is the perspective from which your story is told. Whether it's a secondary character or a god-like other party or even a story comprised only of dialogue and no narration, someone is telling your story. No matter how you tell your story, you will choose a voice, even if you don't realize it. Most new authors tend to use a default Third Person narrative, or perhaps tell their tale from the view of the protagonist, but often it escapes us that there are other choices, and each of them has benefits and limitations.

First Person – This is the protagonist (or antagonist) of your story, someone who experiences the events firsthand. This narrative style provides a closer connection with the events and the players in the story, and can make the story seem more real, but it can also restrict the narrator's ability to relay certain information...if he or she didn't see it, how do they know it happened? First person is best used in a story of personal journey or experience.

Second Person – Second Person narration is rare and hard to write, but it is an option. Essentially, it relates the events in a story as happening to the reader. You move quickly up the stairs as the sound of footsteps follows behind you. Your heart races as you think “Where can I hide?” It's used chiefly in Choose-Your-Adventure stories and is very effective in certain works, but it requires characterization that is very generic (the reader will have difficulty reading themselves with personality traits they lack) and limits the kinds of stories you can tell with it.

Third Person Perspective – Whenever a secondary character in the story, a non-protagonist (or non-antagonist) is the narrator, this is Third Person Perspective. When done right, it can read much like you are saying to the reader Hey, let me tell you about this guy I knew once... The problem with this style is that it limits your narrator's level of information more than any other. I recommend against this style, even with more accomplished writers, but there are stories in which it is the better choice.

Third Person Omniscient – By far the most common style of narration, Third Person Omniscient is exactly that...a third party who knows everything. You know what the hero is thinking, you know what the villain is thinking, you know what the secondary characters are thinking, and you know every single action that takes place among them. This narrator can be an overseeing god or one of the characters who knows more than they would. The reason this style is most common is that it is the easiest to write with, but it lacks the personal connection of the others.

Combinations – Many stories will have more than one narrative voice, and this can work very well in adding a dynamism, but it is tricky. A story with variable timelines would do well with more than one narrative style, but a story following a single protagonist on a single journey might not. Not every story is a good candidate for multiple narratives, and I tend to caution newer authors against it. As with my notes on Natural Progression in the Plot tutorial, it's vital to make sure the Voices are complimentary.

Language is tied very closely to Voice and is more than just the tongue in which the words are written. Think back to our examination of Characters in the second tutorial, looking at Demeanour and Speech Pattern. Your narrator will have these things as much as any character, and a good writer will understand the parameters of what the narrator and the narration will say. If your narrator is a young girl, the Language will usually be somewhat flowery and sweet, so using a lot of technical terminology would be inappropriate. Conversely, a dark and sinister villain telling the story wouldn't describe something as being 'delightful'...at least, not with a sneer. The personality of your narration should always inform your word choices, and the more you pay attention to this detail, the more coherent your narrative will be.

Also known as Past, Present and Future, you'll need to decide if your story is happening as it is being told or if it's already happened (or, for the more adventurous among you, if it hasn't happened yet!) This sounds simple, and it is, but be careful. It's a common error to switch Tenses accidentally during Composition. That doesn't mean you have to use only one Tense or another when you write, but it does mean that when you alter tenses it should be meaningful and done with purpose. As with your Voice, it is possible and common to employ more than one tense, but different Tenses require their own considerations of Voice.

And there you go. Once you've decided upon your Technique, you have the tools you need to start your Composition.
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Re: Writing Well, a brief writing tutorial in six parts

Postby Gibson Twist » June 25th, 2011, 8:17 pm

You have all of your parts laid out before you. Your Concept is solid, your Tableau is set, you've worked out your Plot and you know the Technique you're going to use. Now comes the hard part...Composition. Oh boy, now you actually have the write this thing! Well, believe it or not, this is the simplest part of the process. You know what you have to say and how you're going to say it, you know who does what and when, you know how long you want it to be...if you've done a good job with the first four parts, then all you have to now is put the words on the page. In this tutorial, I'll talk a little about the actual mechanics of writing, how to view the various stages of writing your story, and I'll also look at Writer's Block and some ways to avoid it.

First, let's look at the more mechanical side of Composition with Spelling and Grammar, Vocabulary, Word Choices and Things To Avoid...Generally.

Spelling and Grammar
Never lie to yourself, Spelling and Grammar are important. I can't describe how important these are. If you take nothing else from these tutorials, please believe that these proper skills can make or break you. Pour Spelling is perhaps the best way to make yourself seem unprofessional. The best example I can give is the mistake in the last sentence. Did you notice it? Spellcheckers don't notice when you use the wrong word if you've used an actual word, and no one should ever rely on them. Likewise with Grammar, people will notice if yours is poor. This isn't to say your Grammar has to be flawless, there is a marked difference between proper Grammar and the kind of grammar that is acceptable in conversation, and ending your sentence with a preposition isn't the end of the world. In fact, sometimes using perfect Grammar can hurt the story depending on how you've chosen to tell it. Still, the better your Grammar (including punctuation) is, the better your writing will be.

As with Spelling and Grammar, Vocabulary is also very important and for many of the same reasons, but also for another. If your story takes place on a boat, how many times do you think you can use the word boat before the reader gets tired of it? Having a broader vocabulary will help you find alternatives...ship, vessel, seafarer, or more specific terms like yacht, catamaran or sloop. In addition to this are word choices, the words you use will have a great impact on how the reader takes the story, and they should always reflect the choices you've already made as to your story's Voice. If your story is light, then the words you choose should reflect this, while if your story is dark and grave, the Vocabulary should be part of what demonstrates it.

Word Choices
It's hard to know what rules to follow when dealing with something so subjective as actually writing your sentences, but this is the meat of what you're doing, so it deserves attention. The first thing is that one sentence should lead into another with a certain fluidity, much like your Scenes. Each one should build on the last and progress the ideas you're trying to relay.

Things To Avoid...Generally
The infamous Run-on Sentence can be difficult to spot as a writer. I know I have been guilty of it more times than I'd care to admit, probably in these tutorials. A sentence isn't a Run-on Sentence just because it's long, though, as some would have you believe. A Run-on Sentence is one that offers one thought and then fails to end, instead making a protracted and awkward stretch into a second idea, one with at least a cursory connection to the first idea but which should indeed be in its own sentence, and a Run-on Sentence could be made into two or more sentences just by changing a comma to a period, and often could serve as their own paragraph. Yes, like that.

The not so infamous Run-on Paragraph is another danger, though I'm not going to bother exemplifying it...I don't have the room. Paragraph should be like a sentences, each one offering an idea and creating a flow from one to the next, and they should end when that idea is complete. Run-on Paragraphs are exactly what you'd think, paragraphs that go on too long and have too much going on in them. Again, not all long paragraphs are Run-on Paragraphs, and in fact I have seen paragraphs that were more than a page long and were right to be so.

This sentence is a Non-sequitur. Actually, it's not. A Non-sequitur is a break in the literary or conversational flow, a sudden and unheralded change of topic or idea, usually before a thought is complete. Spelling is very, very important! Alright, that one was a Non-sequitur. They can be used very effectively, but they should be used with equal rarity.

Next, once you begin writing longhand, let's look at the various components that make up your story...Chapters, Introduction, Story Flow, Climax and Denouement...and how you should confront them.

In the same way you look at sentences and paragraphs and paragraphs as conveying an individual idea in each one, Chapters should be divided into small stories that contain an individual thematic nature. You should already have spent some time evaluating these sequences while constructing your Episodes during the Plotting, and you should have a sense of how your Chapters will be structured while evaluating your Technique. Be careful, though, not to break a scene's tension by ending them too soon, too early or in a wholly inappropriate place in the narrative. It's generally good to end a Chapter with either a new twist in the story, a resolution to an ongoing idea or, even better, both. Refer back to your notes on Episodes often as you write, these are your most effective tools in setting the framework for your Chapters.

This is a simple one, right? Wrong. Most writers will tell you that the beginning of a story is the hardest to write, and the reason is not hard to understand. The Introduction has a lot of jobs to perform and not long to do it. First and foremost, you have to begin the story, which begs the question how and where does the story begin? If you've done a good job constructing your Concept and Tableau, you'll know more of the story than you're actually going to tell, so at what point in the lives of the characters do you let the reader start watching? Does it begin with the Rebels stealing the secret plans or will you skip straight to The Empire chasing them down? This then begs the question of what characters do we get to meet when the story opens, and how long until we've met them all? The story's beginning is also your chance to catch a reader's attention and let them know there is something in the work that makes them want to keep going. While this doesn't have to be dynamic or action-packed, it should be an indicator of what's to come, be it through foreshadowing or just plain old excitement.

Story Flow
Once the story is moving along, it's important to set a pace and keep it. This harkens back to the Progression I talked about in the Technique tutorial, but here you need to maintain it in words as well as sequence. Having an even and consistent pace is vital to keeping the reader interested as you begin to unfold the events that bridge Introduction and Climax. There's going to be a lot of information and activity to come, and you need to make sure you're not doling out too much exposition and not enough activity at any given time, or vice versa. You don't want the story moving too slowly and the reader growing bored, nor too fast and the reader getting confused. Even the most action-packed story needs to pause for a breath now and then.

Ooh, the good part. This is the pay off of the story, the reason you've written it and the reason people are reading it, so don't sell it short. The same rules of Story Flow apply, you need to keep the pace steady and consistent, but here you're going to want to step it up a bit, build the tension...but be careful not to throw it into overdrive. A sudden shift in the pace will jar the reader, and while they won't put the story down necessarily, they might not enjoy the ride. Think about a piece of music that rises to a crescendo versus one that just blasts loud noise at you suddenly. As you get closer to the Climax, you should be increasing the energy with which you write, signalling more and more what's to come without giving it away. Most importantly, though, make it clear what's happening. There is a level at which you can allow the reader to infer, but you should never be vague at this point.

There is a type of Climax that I want to address specifically, and that is something called deus ex machina, which means god out of the machine. This is when the Climax is brought about by an external force, like a god or an unexpected cavalry, and it happens without significant precursor or any kind of set-up.* Most of the time, though not all, this kind of Climax seems convenient and uninspired...usually because it is. Deus ex machina is very hard to pull off and is rarely an appropriate way to end a story. I recommend against it strongly.

*If you've laid the ground early in the story for an external force to show up, like sending a character off to find the cavalry or having a specific point of calling on a god to help, this is not deus ex machina.

Okay, the story's over, let's all go home...hey, but wait! What happened to the guy with the hat? Did he get the girl and find his dog? The Denouement or Resolution is where everything slows down (including your pacing) and, usually, settles into the status quo. The reader has invested time into this story and these characters and they're going to want to know where their future will take them, so give it to them. Your Denouement can be short and slightly cryptic if you choose, or it can be longer and detailed, but be careful. Too little information can leave the reader dissatisfied (as with a certain boy wizard story I could name but won't) and too much can feel like you're starting a new story altogether.

Finally in this tutorial, I want to take a look at one more important element of writing your story. It's going to happen. I don't care who you are or what you're writing, at some point you'll catch this dreaded disease: Writer's Block. Your story is sitting there unfinished, perhaps unstarted, maybe even abandoned in the middle of a word. It's a crushing feeling when you can't/won't/don't want to write and it is the single biggest factor in failed writing. There are innumerable causes of Writer's Block but sadly fewer cures. Here, I'll talk a bit about tools you can use to prevent it, Patience, Dedication and Writing Time, as well as How To Fight Writer's Block when it comes along.

One of the most important personal aspects of writing is Patience. Writing is not an art form that is accomplished quickly and the rewards of it take even longer, which is not to mention the intricacies of detail or possible research that will require countless hours of your life. There is very little instant gratification like there can be with visual art or music, and every writer must be aware of this and prepare themselves for the long haul. Writing can be boring and thankless sometimes, and working under those conditions can (and will) become tedious. This is the brutality of writing, and if you don't have Patience, chances are you're in for a rough time.

When I say Dedication, I don't mean that page before the book begins with a pithy platitude that really just serves as an inside nod that nobody really cares about. I mean Dedication, devotion to your craft, the will, drive and determination to stick to the project and see it finished. I've already written in detail about Dedication in another essay (which I suggest reading) entitled Are You Serious? and as I've said there, I can't overstate its importance. Dedication is the difference between people who want to write and people who write.

Writing Time
This is the most common piece of advice I give, and I'm afraid that it's the least heeded. If you have trouble making time for writing, be it through time management or lack of inspiration, the solution is simple...schedule yourself time to write. However long and however often you decide, and be realistic, don't schedule so much that you can't meet it or so little that you're barely doing it, make that the time you devote to writing. You don't have to write during your Writing Time, but you can't do anything else. No television, no computer games, no eating, no cleaning your room, no talking on the phone or texting...nothing. If you're not writing during this time, you are staring at a blank wall.

How To Fight Writer's Block
Sadly, there is no truly reliable way to get past Writer's Block except time, and even that fails some authors. The best way to get back into the swing of the words, though, is to get the inspiration flowing again. Here are just a few ways to help you along, and each one of these methods has helped me many times.

Write The End First - It's not always a good idea to start out this way, but generally if you lose your way and referring to your notes isn't helping, I've found that writing the ending can help. It reminds you where you're going and you can figure out better how to get there.

Write Something Else – Our projects can overwhelm us sometimes. Now and then, we need to focus on something else for a bit to rinse the mental palate. Working on another project or even just scribbling down nonsense can act like a glass of refreshing water.

Back Up and Try Again – You've written yourself into a corner and you don't know how to go forward. Maybe somewhere along the way, you took a wrong turn and you need to retrace your steps, find the place where you went wrong and try moving ahead from that point.
Read What You Have – If you've lost the motivation to write, looking back at what you've written might jog your creative impulses.

Take A Break – The best way to fight Writer's Block is time, and sometimes nothing else is going to work. If you keep trying to get the words moving again and the ideas are still stalled somewhere between your brain and your fingers, maybe it's time to let it sit for a while. It happens that you get too wrapped up in the work and words bottleneck, or maybe you're just not happy with the way things are going but don't know how to fix it. Take A Break. Most of the time, stepping away from the project can clear your mind and when you look at it again, you look at it with fresh eyes. Before you do, though, you should set a time limit so that your short break doesn't become abandonment.

There you go! Now you should be well-armed to write your masterpiece and ready for some of the obstacles that will come along. Sound easy? Sound complicated? Well, it's both, and that's the beauty of working with words. Now that you're actually writing that brilliant idea that's been swimming in your head all this time, the only thing left is to undo it all when you begin your Review.
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Re: Writing Well, a brief writing tutorial in six parts

Postby Gibson Twist » June 25th, 2011, 8:27 pm

You're going to hate this part.

Like the devil, Review is known by many names. Revision, rewriting, editing...whatever you call it, you have to do it, and the reason is simple. You aren't good enough not to. No one is. Some of you out there might be fans of Jack Kerouac and chanting his mantra, first words, best words, but it just ain't so. Even you disagree and have no intention on ever rewriting a thing you write, you will still benefit from Review. How? Well, Review is more than just rewriting, it's about examining your work and seeing how to make it better, whether it's how to improve a specific story or how to improve your writing in general. Let's look at The Big Red Pen, Critics, Criticism and Critique, Mentors and Fellowships, Rewrites, Re-Rewrites and The Final Draft.

The Big Red Pen
The first thing you're going to want to do is read your work, preferably in a printed form with a Big Red Pen* in hand, circling mistakes and making notes in the margins as you go. This let's you make changes later instead of interrupting the flow of reading by stopping to fix typos and plot holes. So what are you looking for? Well, simply put, everything that I talked about in the Composition tutorial...Spelling and Grammar, Story Flow, the whole bit. You're making sure your story is clear and cohesive, making sure you've said what you want to say, that you haven't included things that don't belong or left out things that should be there. You've certainly had bad days while you were writing it where the words seemed to fall onto the page with all the grace and finesse of sandwich meat. This is your time to clean that up. Make sure it makes sense, make sure it reads well and make sure the words are your best effort.

*Red ink is the easiest to spot on white paper. You can be cute or artsy and use something else if you want, but when you go back later to make your changes, you don't want to miss anything so make sure whatever you use will be easy to find. Your Review isn't an art project, it's to help you write better.

Critics, Criticism and Critique
One of the things I want to do in this tutorial is help you understand why Critique is such a good thing. No one is so good at what they do that they can't improve, and no one is so skilled to do it without an outside perspective. Keep in mind, you're very close to this work and you've imagined more about the story than you've put on the page. That creates the possibility (or probability) that you've left things out that you should have included. Maybe there's a giant biologically engineered cat creature and you've neglected to explain where it came from. Likewise, there may be subtle or even not so subtle problems with your writing style that you can't see. Having a third party give you feedback is the best, sometimes only way to spot them.

I'm one of the fortunate individuals who loves getting qualified Critique of my work, and if you're serious about becoming a better writer you'll do your best to love it too. It might help to tell the story of how I came to love being Critiqued.

When I was a young author in high school, I was convinced to join the school's Writers Club. I was hesitant to join since I knew it was largely a poetry circle and I had no desire to hear the fumbling recitations of teen angst wrapped in a gauze of hormonal pretension. Too harsh? Well, a friend convinced me to join and at my second or third meeting, it was time for me to get the feedback on the short story I'd submitted for consideration the week before. Most of the students hmmed and hahed about this thing or the other, none of which really amounted to much. I sat there listening to the feeble interpretations of what story element meant what and thinking how they didn't understand it at all when the faculty head that oversaw our meetings spoke up. It was unusual, since he rarely had much to say, he usually just sat there and let us Critique each other. I was more shocked when he proceeded to tear my precious short story into figurative shreds of fine dust. I mean, he went through it and roasted me good. Then he said something very key...he told me I had the talent to make it better by knowing these things.

That's when I realized he was investing the effort in pointing these things out to me because he thought I could grow as a writer by fixing them. He wasn't doing it with the others. That night, I rewrote the whole thing and I'll be darned if he wasn't right. If someone is going to take the time to pick apart every piece of your work and tell you how you can improve it, it means they have confidence that you can improve it. Let me state again, they have confidence in your ability to write well, even if you're not doing very well right now. That's a good thing.

Think of a Critique as a test run for your readers, a sort of contained focus group. Now, the problem with focus groups, why they have a bad reputation in artistic circles, is that they're often too broad and indiscriminate...common folk who may not be entirely qualified to judge what they're judging. This is why it's important to select your Critics carefully, find people whose opinions you value and whose assessment will be honest. It does you no good to hand the work to your mother who might not be a reader of the genre you write and is likely to sugar coat a response to spare your feelings. Conversely, it's not good to hand it someone who is particularly negative and will just point out everything that's wrong, some of which probably aren't. That's just Criticism.

Criticism, as I'm choosing to define it for the purpose of this tutorial, is a generally negative attack. They don't like this, they don't like that, the work is bad and you should be ashamed for making it. You suck and so does everything you write. I could say a lot about being open to the negative feedback, and it's good to be. I could say a lot about the problem being your perception if all feedback sounds like that to you, and for some it will*. There is also an unavoidable amount of feedback that is in no way constructive. A good Critique is one that has both positive and negative feedback, meaning it lets you know not only what you're doing wrong, but also what you're doing right.

To all new authors, I say get your work into the hands of as many qualified Critics as possible, and consider everything they have to offer you. Whether they go at it with their own Big Red Pen or if their feedback is more general, ask them to be thorough and honest. Not everything they say will be good advice, and some of it will conflict, but even when you evaluate the bad advice you'll gain a better understanding of your strengths.

*If all the feedback you get is or sounds like negative Criticism, then there's an issue. Either you're too sensitive and can't deal with the reality of Critique or you just lack the skills for what you're doing. In either case, as difficult as it might be to face, writing might not be for you.

Mentors and Fellowships
It's always good to have goals and ideals for how you want to write, and in keeping with that it's often good to have someone to look up to, a level to which you can aspire. A Mentor is someone who is accomplished or knowledgeable in your field, at least in your eyes, whose work you enjoy and respect and who has an interest in helping you improve. Mentors are like the old grey wizard who walks with you and points the way when you lose direction, gives you advice and feedback and lets you in on the secrets no one else is telling you. Mentors are invaluable, if only to act as a model for who and how you want to be, in more than just your craft. I would urge everyone to find someone like this in their lives.

Another way to get reliable feedback is through Fellowship, meaning a group of like-minded people who share common goals and similar levels of skill. This is different from Mentoring in that no one person sits above any other, acting more like a round table where learning is mutual. I've been fortunate enough to have belonged to a number of Fellowships (as I am currently with my fellow Squids as well as with others) and I can say unabashedly that my work would not be what it is without each one.

Fellowship allows you to have your work Critiqued by people who are equally qualified, and also offers you a look at their work to help illustrate the strengths and weaknesses in your work as reflected in theirs. It also brings a level of inspiration and healthy competition, as when a Fellowship is functioning well, everyone becomes and stays eager to produce and share new work. It isn't easy to find a group such as this (and one shouldn't be forced or maintained if it isn't working to everyone's benefit,) but when you do find people with whom you communicate well and whose work you respect it will help you more than you know.

You've got red ink all over white pages, perhaps several copies of white pages. Now it's time to make those red marks go away. It's not easy to do Rewrites, as it requires you to reimagine your story, sometimes from the ground up. Rewrites can be as simple as changing some dialogue and reworking scenes to flow better or as complicated as a complete overhaul starting from the basic Concept (It may seem odd, but the best works I've written are the ones in which I've started over from scratch on the Third or Fourth Drafts.) It helps to have a process in place to do this, at least until you get the hang of doing Rewrites. While I've modified it over the years, the process I used when I was starting out went something like this:

Spelling and Grammar – Find all the typos, mistakes and poor word choices and change them. These are quick and easy and helps get you in the right frame of mind. You should be doing this before you give your manuscript out for Critique.

Dialogue – If dialogue is choppy or incomplete or just needs adjusting, do it now. This gets you a little more focused on changing what's being said by, not just in your story.

Scene Changes – Chances are you've either left necessary scenes out or written some that aren't needed, or maybe just paced them wrong. Be aware of how changing a single scene can affect the rest of the story and make those changes when needed.

Characters – Consider the notes on your story's players, whether some are weak or cliché or too perfect or we don't see enough of them. You're going to need to adjust them, and this requires a more intricate revision. You may need to rework an entire section where they appear, or in some cases the entire story to facilitate these changes. Whatever you need to do to make the story function around these changes, you need to make sure the story still flows.

Plot Changes – If there's a problem with the overall Plot, anything from an inadequate Inciting Force to a confusing Climax or something more pervasive, make these adjustments. Again, be aware of how changing one aspect of the Plot will affect the story as a whole.

Concept Changes – If you feel like the very core of the story isn't working, you may need to start over. As horrifying as this can be, you have to go back to the first step and reimagine your Concept, rework your Tableau, restructure your Plot and rethink your Technique. This will lead to a Complete Rewrite.

Complete Rewrite – It might happen, for whatever reason, that you have to do the whole thing again. Maybe you've changed your Concept, maybe you want to change the Characters or maybe you just want to try a different Voice. Rather than trying to salvage what you've already written, you might need to write it all over from the first word. Keep your older versions handy, though, and refer to whichever elements you feel you got right the first time. Keep in mind you're still building on the work you've done...you're not writing a second book, you're just writing the first one again.

You've made some radical changes to your story, reworked it and done major Rewrites. Now it's time to do it again. Take that new manuscript in hand with your Big Red Pen and have a read. Circle the typos. Cross out the bad scenes. Change your protagonist's gender. Hand it around to people whose opinions you trust and let them do the same. If you can still find things you think need to be changed, or if your second round of Critique still brings back significant notes, you'll need to go through your Rewrite process once more. It can be painful, but remember why you're doing this...to develop your skills and write the best story you can write.

The Final Draft
When you finish writing your manuscript (or script as the case may be), what you have is called the First Draft. That's a big accomplishment, something very few people ever do. Whether you never touch it again or make a Second Draft or Third or Ninth (which I've done) you are now in an exclusive club. The bigger accomplishment, though, is the Final Draft at which you stop making changes and decide to let your story continue its existence in whatever form it's taken. It's often said that stories aren't finished, they're abandoned, and as cliché as it might be, it's true. Writing is a mercurial thing and as such we could go on tweaking and editing and reworking it until we die, as some do. At some point, though, a good writer will decide that the work is good enough and step away from it, resisting whatever urge is in you to make more changes. It is possible, and in fact very easy, to over-edit and tweak out the personality and meaning in your work.

I find that the best way to make sure your Final Draft is the Final Draft is to leave it alone for a while. Don't read it, don't let anyone else read it, and for god's sake don't let anyone Critique it. Like a good chili, it's best when it's had a chance to settle. If you do leave it alone for a while and still can't resist the impulse to make more changes, then it probably wasn't the Final Draft. Even though I break this rule myself, until you have a clear understanding of when your own work is done you should avoid making changes after you decide to put the story down.

And then you're done. Yep, that's it, you've reached the end of your writing journey. Sure, there's lots to do after you've done your Final Draft, like Solicitation, Production, Distribution, Advertising, Self-Promotion and so forth, but that's not writing, that's business, and it's for a different tutorial. For now, kick back and enjoy the fruits of your hard work. Bear in mind that there is no part of this series that is absolute, and as you grow as a writer you will find yourself straying more and more from the lessons you've learned here.


This series wasn't designed to give hard and fast rules for how to write well, but instead is meant as a guideline you can use to think about how you can write better. The rules by which you write and the rules by which everyone writes aren't the same, and the difference between them is what distinguishes you from other writers. After all, a good writer knows how to follow the rules and a great writer knows how to break them, but you have to know the rules to know which ones you can break and you have to be good before you can be great.
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Re: Writing Well, a brief writing tutorial in six parts

Postby kirikirimai » June 26th, 2011, 9:38 am

Wow. I just sat through this and took notes. I just want to say that this has been super helpful and you did an amazing job putting this together. I don't think people here on SJ can thank you enough!

Re: Writing Well, a brief writing tutorial in six parts

Postby Queerious Toast » June 27th, 2011, 10:53 am

Gibson, I cannot thank you enough for making this tutorial.

This should be stickied.
mosama wrote:Did I give you permission to bring my thread back from the dead with your flop ass autistic 5 year old doodle?
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Re: Writing Well, a brief writing tutorial in six parts

Postby jjfresh » September 1st, 2012, 11:13 pm

Thanks for this. It is most helpful for all ameteurs. I had habit of writing details first, then go to plot. Very bad! This makes more effort but becomes a detailed story. Thanks!

... 2 in the morning!? You must not have been able to get it off your mind!
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