Writing Tips

8/24/00, from Alanna: When you're writing, make sure that your paragraphs make sense. New paragraphs should begin every time someone new speaks, even if that means that the previous paragraph is only one sentence long. Paragraphs should each contain one coherent whole thought -- if you start a new thought, start a new paragraph. It makes things easier to read, and improves the structure of your story immensely.

9/4/00, from Matt: Go buy Chrono Cross!! Erm.. that's not a tip. Well, yeah it is. Go buy Chrono Cross, write fics about it, and send em in! Dennis Leary voice YEAH!
>From Alanna: ...Matt, they lowered the dosage on your medication again, didn't they? *grin* My tip for the week is simple: spelling and grammar. Don't trust your spelling or grammar checker; they're usually wrong.

9/11/00, from Alanna: Read. Read voraciously. Read when you're in the bathroom, when you're walking to class, when you're making dinner... Readers are the best writers, because not only do they have a whole body of work to draw upon, they can analyze other writers' style. When you read a story you like, don't just enjoy it -- ask yourself why you enjoy it. And then go ahead and try to use the same techniques in your own writing.

9/18/00, from Alanna: Know why you're writing. It sounds simple, but I see a lot of stories that just seem to be written for the sake of writing. Decide up-front what the point of your story is -- is it going to center around plot or character? If plot, what's the plot? If character, which character, and what do you want to show about them? Make sure when you start writing that you know what effect you want to have on the audience at the end, and go for it!

9/25/00, from Alanna: Read your work out loud. This may cause some raised eyebrows from parents, roommates, or cats, but trust me. Start at the beginning, and read through to the end. Pay attention to how things flow -- the rhythm, the roll of the words. If you get stuck in the middle of writing a part, read that section out loud and see what's getting you stuck. Pay attention to the dialogue, in particular. Can you imagine real people talking like that? Does it transition naturally from one speaker to the next?

This works because when you read something out loud, you kick it over from the creative right brain to the more analytical left brain. I know it works for me; it's how I refine my dialogue and spruce up my narrative.

10/2/00, from Matt: Hmm.. writing tip. Ah, here we go: Be proud of your work. This may sound obscure, but trust me on this one. Chances are, if you're satisfied with your work enough for it to bring a hearty smile to your face, others are more likely to enjoy it! Okay, now go get em! ...stop looking at me like that.

10/9/00, from Mark Gross ( When writing something, stop and read something else entirely for a while. Preferably something that's considerably different from what you're writing. Then go back to what you're writing and check it over. Working on something for an extended period of time can de-sensitize your mind to what you're writing, letting your mind consider just about anything as "acceptable" (I speak from personal experience). Reading something else can sometimes jolt your mind back to a more objective state of interpretation.

10/16/00, from Lisa: Delve into a character's thoughts. No, really. If you are writing from a first-person point of view, don't just describe. Include thoughts. Don't linger on mundane 'telling'...instead 'show' the reader. Make them feel like the character you are portraying is really writing the story.

From Alanna: This one's a little more technical: If you write in Microsoft Word, turn off SmartQuotes before you begin typing. In most versions, it can be found in AutoFormat and AutoFormat As You Type control panels. If you leave SmartQuotes on, you produce a file that, when I get it, contains lots of weird control characters that I have to guess at.

10/22/00, from Alanna: Know when to throw it out. If a story isn't working, or if preliminary feedback on your story indicates that people just aren't getting it, don't be afraid to scrap everything you've written and start again. No professional writer I know sells everything that he or she writes. But, at the same time, never give up on an idea entirely, and never actually throw things out: save them on your hard drive for later. Who knows, three years down the road you may be able to use it in something else.

10/29/00, from Matt:
Writing tip #1:
Submit more music to the music department.

Writing tip #2:
What? That was a tip! grumble Okay okay, let's see.. a writing tip.. Know your characters. Don't rush a character into a plot unless it has been fully developed in your mind first. Be the ball son! The more you can feel your characters, the more likely your reader will understand their actions and.. stuff.

Writing tip #3:
Use a ridiculous amount of vivid description. Ever read Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time? I've never read five pages of someone describing a tree before in my life. Boring, you say?
No, not boring. Got it? Here's an example:

The vlishgnath's undulating flesh, comprised of rotted flesh, seeping with puss and reeking of putrefaction, slothed its way down the side of the cavern wall. Bloody entrails of its latest victim tumbled from the vlishgnath's gaping, blood-crusted, maw. The sickening popping sound its suction-cup-like underside made while sliding over the craggy surface twisted my stomach into a frayed knot and spun my head like a top.

The key element here is vivid description which is vital to painting a picture in your mind. Without this key element to describe the beastial dispostition of the vlishgnath, you may want to pet the vlishgnath. Do not pet the vlishgnath.

11/9/00, from Alanna: Do not trust your spell checker. As proven here, it's not always effective. However, don't forget to proofread, either; a good 80% of the stories we reject, we reject because of outrageous spelling or grammar mistakes.

11/15/00, from Alanna: Send feedback! It doesn't even have to be for the authors with work featured this week -- indeed, we hope it will be for much, much more than that. Authors don't get paid for this, so one of the only reasons to keep writing is to keep hearing from fans.

11/24/00, from DJ Carter ( Use everyday events to guide a fanfic. Anything from going to school to watching the news. Take these ideas and mold them into a unique perspective of your game.

11/29/00, from TSG: Be original. After two years and about 500 pieces of FF7 fanfiction, it starts to get old, as will Final Fantasy 8 fanfiction, and as will any mainstream game. Dare to be different, and write something for a lesser known game. We've played pretty much every RPG between us (yes, even the old Spectrum ones. Haha!) and at the very least a fanfic about a lesser-known game will make us sit up and say "You don't see that done often."

12/8/00, from Alanna: Know how it ends before you start writing it. If you take a few days to plot a story in your head before you ever put it to paper (or keyboard, whatever), you will turn out a much more cohesive whole -- a story that feels like you knew what you were doing the entire time you wrote it. If you don't take the time, you might still turn out something that feels whole, but why take the chances?

12/24/00, from TSG: It's been said again and again, but I'll reiterate: Spellceck [sic -- now that's irony (Alanna)] and grammar check your fics. Pretty much every word processor has both commands now, and even if it doesn't, it only takes a minute to skim it. It can improve the readability of a fic immensely, and helps the first impression at the same time. Secondly: Don't write fanfiction because you feel you have to. Write when you're in the mood to write, and it'll seem much better.

1/6/01, from Alanna: The only thing that I could think of this week is don't write when sick. Believe me, it just winds up coming out delirious and twisted. Almost like this update -- and this writing tip.

1/12/01, from Alanna: Look for inspiration in the classical places. The best authors are the ones who can take the classical stories -- mythology and folklore -- and use the same themes and the same ideas in their work. I'm not saying to plagiarize; that's the quickest way to get your story rejected. But the reason that mythology and folklore has lasted so long is that it speaks to the universal truths and themes that have been passed down generation after generation. If your story speaks to those same truths and themes, the reader will identify with it even more.

1/18/01, from Alanna: Get a human editor. Humans catch a bunch of things that a spellchecker won't, and will also be able to tell you whether or not your story makes sense -- or if it needs a better ending.

2/8/01, from Alanna: Take rejection gracefully. If we don't accept your story, it's not a personal attack to you or your writing style. Most of the time, when we reject a story, it's due to a few things: spelling, grammar, poor writing style or the fact that we've seen the same plot ten thousand times already. (There are other reasons for rejection; those are just the most prominent.) Mailing us back to complain that all of your friends liked it won't move us. Get someone who will be honest with your story, rather than kind, as an editor.

2/20/01, from Alanna: Push your usual boundaries. If you usually write romance stories, try a dramatic action story. If you usually write comedy, try romance. If you usually write drama, try something funny. If you keep writing the same type of story all the time, sooner or later it'll start to be the same story every time.

3/2/01, from Alanna: Use titles well. The title can tell you a lot about a story, such as what the reader is supposed to concentrate on, or what kind of a theme the story is supposed to have. If you can't think of a good title, resist the urge to call it something generic; get someone who's good with titles to read your story and tell you what it reminds them of. When in doubt, song titles usually work. Just don't tell anyone I told you that.

4/14/01, from Alanna: If you're going to write poetry, write poetry. We've been seeing lately an influx of what one of my creative writing teachers called "text with line breaks" -- a piece of prose that has been reformatted to look like poetry, without any of the usual poetic conventions. If what you're writing would work better as prose, make it prose -- just because it's short, doesn't mean that it needs to be poetry.

4/29/01, from Alanna: I've said it before, we've all said it before, I'll say it again. SPELL CHECK AND GRAMMAR CHECK YOUR FICS. If it wasn't rude, I'd put that in the <BLINK> tag. Oh, hell, I might anyway... no. But blatant errors in spelling and grammar are often enough to kill even the most perfectly plotted story. It's like Freshman English, people: spelling and grammar count.

5/9/01, from Lisa: I've been noticing that many people start out stories with directly revealing the name of a character. "John Doe was standing at the bus stop" so to say. Well that's not necessarily bad, (in fact, in some cases it's necessary) I always find it entertaining to read first a character description, or a short bit of dialogue...and then to discover the character. Personally, I believe that it entices the reader to keep reading, and allows them to guess at the character being described.

5/14/01, from Alanna: Write what you know. Obviously, we can't all be wizards and warriors, but there are loads of good reference sites out there for just about anything you could possibly want. If you have a character in your story who's an archer, for example, spend some time reading up on archery. You never know whether your friendly fanfic editor does know a lot about archery, and if she spots many factual inaccuracies in your story, it's a pretty quick road to a reject.

5/22/01, from FG5 ( Take a different perspective. Don't rewrite plots already read a thousand times.A different approach with your writingwill grab the attention of your readers, and even more so of the people youwish to publish your work.

5/31/01, from Alanna: Don't give up. Sometimes your story won't be working; sometimes you'll sit and stare at it and wonder if you've lost the ability to string two coherent words together; sometimes you'll be convinced that you're the worst writer who ever picked up a pen. Sometimes you'll get feedback from people who tell you that your story needs a lot of work, or that it's just, quite frankly, not that good. Don't let it discourage you; put the story away for a little while longer, go and read (or play video games!) and come back to it later. You'll usually be able to salvage something from it.

7/4/01, from TSG: Do what you want to do. Someone tells you that Vyse - Gilder fanfiction, say, isn't feasible? Who /cares/? If you want to write it, go right ahead. Just be certain that it's what you /want/ to write - writing something you don't want to will mean you'll be forcing it, and it'll turn out worse than it could be.

7/12/01, from Palagoon ( A thesaurus can be your best friend when writing. I've learned over several years that saying 'he said', 'she said', 'he said', 'she said'. It gets monotonous! Use a little variety! Like try, 'he called to her loudly', 'she whispered softly', 'he told the man arrogantly', 'she sobbed'. There are tons of diferent ways to phrase things, and they are all in your thesaurus! Even when I just started writing, I could realize this repetative stuff was bad, but I couldn't detect it until I read it again, so be on guard for repeating words! (To which Alanna adds: Reading your fic out loud is a very good way of detecting if you've overused words; sometimes hearing it out loud will make you realize.)

7/18/01, from Alanna: Be willing to take feedback. On a lot of mailing lists I'm on, writers post their stories and only want praise -- and then they get upset when people give them feedback on how to improve. Always be willing to accept that someone else might be able to offer a fresh viewpoint on how you can improve your stories -- and always be willing to take constructive criticism without getting upset that someone critiqued your story. Feedback is a rare and precious thing; don't stifle someone who likes your story enough to want to help improve it.

8/16/01, from Paul Beaudoin ( Be constructive with criticism. Replies such as "Your fic was great!" or "Your fic was terrible." are of little help. Even just pointing out scenes you liked or disliked can prove to be constructive, as writers will know what worked and what didn't. By being a little more constructive with your replies, the writers will get better, the fanfics will get better, and you'll have more fun reading them. It's a win-win-win situation for all of us.

8/25/01, from John Zeitler ( When you're writing a comical piece, try to avoid the temptation to turn characters into two-dimensional stereotypes. For example, if you're writing a humorous Lunar 2 fic, Lemina should not always lunge at silver with no regard for her companions. (Though she does sorta do that, doesn't she?) Contrary to this, you should also make sure that what you have the characters do fits in with their established personalities.

9/2/01, from Alanna: No specific tip this week; instead, I present to you a link to Why Did My Story Get Rejected? from the sadly now-defunct Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine. It's a good look into the mind of an editor, and the reasons given at the bottom can shed some light into what an editor is looking for -- myself and my associates included.

9/8/01, from Alanna: Roll with it. If you catch a wave of inspiration and you're in the writerly Zone and everything is just pinging and sparking and you've got the feeling that if you cut yourself that you would bleed words and caffeine -- go for it! Put out the cat, lock the door, grab your headphones, and ride the wave until you can't take it any further. Don't stop to edit, don't stop to think, just write. You can always go back later and fix the spelling errors. And there will be many.

10/26/01, from TSG: Don't use stereotypes too often. Some stereotyping can be good, especially in comedy fics. However, too much will make the humour fade and may alienate the audience.

11/09/01, fron TSG: Save as Text, not as HTML. If you don't know HTML and Word 2000 cheerily asks if you want to save as html file, don't. Save as plain MS-Dos text with line breaks, and Baby GBA will love you for it.

11/17/01, from Start simple. If you are just starting writing, you most likely will have a ton of trouble if you, oh say, try to write a 50 chapter drama. I started out writing short comedies because I love comedy. So if you like poetry, start with that. If you like comedy, start with that. Be confident in what you write.

11/23/01, from TSG: Just go for it. Whether you think you're good at fanfiction or not is irrelevant. What matters is the writing of it. As I've said in the past, writing fanfic requires a lot of effort. Completing a story - especially a long one - is a triumph in and of itself. Most of all, enjoy it.

12/01/01, from TSG: When writing in Word, turn off Smartquotes and we'll love you for it. They can be found in Format -> Autoformat... -> Options... -> Replace. I personally suggest at least turning off checkboxes "smart quotes" and "symbol characters" at the very least - this prevents the 66 / 99 style of double-quote and concentrating three subsequent periods into one character, both of which can be really nasty to extricate from the middle of a long fic.

12/09/01, from TSG: Double-check. Always take when you've written, take a step back, then re-read it. Odds are you'll notice a little niggly point that you missed, or something that could be rephrased, or an awkward piece of dialogue.

12/16/01, from TSG: See update.

12/23/01, from TSG: Enjoy writing. If it's a chore, then you're not going to be at your best, whereas if you enjoy writing you'll have more ideas, and generally write better.

02/06/02, from TSG: Use the RPGFFML. They're an invaluable resource for critisicm, ideas, and clarification.

03/01/02, from TSG: You don't need action. A romance fic where the two people just get to know each other can be just as engrossing as one where the heroine must be saved, if not more.

03/11/02, from TSG: Check your punctuation. Possessive apostrophes have been made famous by Bob the Angry Flower, but other more subtle problems can be out there and can be /much/ easier to overlook.

06/24/02, from TSG: Try to strike a nice balance between description and speech. While a 'talking-heads' fic - characters merely speaking back and forth - can feel clinical or forced, by the same token an overabundance of description can bog a paragraph down. Finding that balance can be tough, but will serve you well.

08/04/02, from TSG: Style sheets in Word can mess up fics horrendously, often tripling their size with useless HTML tags. Take a brief look at your html after saving it: if it's got tags all over the place, try mucking about with the settings of your Microsoft Word client.

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