Writing literature takes a lot of finesse, understanding, and most importantly, knowledge of what makes a good story. Characters, settings, and background, as well as the events within your story, are what make up any piece of literature. I'd like to discuss all these things, share what we know and what we think makes good ones…..and bad ones, and discuss them, with any luck we may all become better writers because of it.
So to get things started off, I'd like to discuss what makes a good character. Definition, first of all but of course you have to make sure that personality gets known. Even if you have them fully defined in your head, you have to make sure that definition is reflected in everything they do. Personally, I find that the minute details and inconsequential actions a character does, defines them more than anything else. Although their dialogue plays a heavy role too. Its sort of like the whole "Han shot first" business, having not shot first would change his character. What are your opinions?
for me, the hardest part of writing to endure with [meta]physical detail, - and still cannot find a way to properly avoid - is what I call the "Detail Fractal Snare".
it is what it is.
I CAN DETAIL FOREVER, down to what feels like a subatomic level AND past that, and then all the way up through the solar system, the universes, and so on in that direction.
i have tried very hard to curb this with short story writing, as those have very very choice detail and each detail mentioned counts. no extraneous description, because it is irrelevant.
but gosh, when i write a long story or a character description or… just… i just get stuck trying to give exactly what i want to be seen as best as i can to the reader.
i guess that's the visual artist part of me getting the better of my writing side.
if anyone has any suggestions or anything to share with me, that'd be appreciated.
Hmmm, for me its the opposite, I've got all these characters completely fleshed out in my head, but since I already know my characters personally, I usually end up leaving out important details because I already know them. I guess its just a matter of picking your descriptions carefully. Honestly, its hard to be to descriptive unless its just unnecessary or it runs on. Have you tried working their descriptions into the dialogue though? Often times during the first few sections of a story you can get away with not having a completely defined character in the dialogue, leave a little bit to the reader to piece together. For instance, in chapter one you might learn that a character is a girl and has long brown hair, you still don't know her eye color, build, size, gait or anything else, but you have enough there for someone to have an animated person in their minds eye. Any other details you want to put in can be worked into off-hand comments throughout the story. Also, don't bother defining anything thats not physical such as personality and emotional stability if its a longer story, your character's "intangibles" should be defined, once again, throughout the story as they speak and react, in short stories that might be a bit more necessary though. Of course, this is just one, somewhat unprofessional way to write, writing in lots of details to start with is a valid way to write things, you just have to do it right.
You're mentally staring at the scene you want to describe, making it the focus of your entire vision. Rather, pretend you are walking alongside a park as you fleetingly and incompletely observe its many elements. Avert your head - to the skies, the ground, ahead and all around you. You are not stationary. What you see changes in proportion to the velocity with which you meander along.
Likewise, the way you want to tell a story can be fast or slow, depending on the details you include and the plot, characters, settings and philosophies which carry it along past each component.
Your cognizance of a story reminds me of Edgar Allan Poe's works. Interestingly, many of his stories rely heavily on apparently insignificant minuteness of detail which eventually becomes important, sometimes either as the expression of a monomanic obsession, humorous exposition, or metaphysical point.
The way I construct a character largely depends on whether or not I have an audience, and what type of audience I may be writing for. For personal stories or roleplay characters I usually give my characters months of thought, trying to get to know them personally to quote Conlan. I like to have every detail in place before I put them into writing, but that in and of itself is a process. When I finally write out these characters I will literally dump my brain out onto the page, writing every tiny little detail I have imagined. Then, over the course of the week, I will reread the text each day, sometimes more than once, and selectively omit details that are superfluous. The text slowly sees itself whittled down from Tolkien-esque information overload to a more concise and easy-to-read mass that tells readers what they need to know.
I find it's helpful sometimes to shear these details down to the barest minimums, as in three or four word descriptions or one-word traits, and write them down on a notecard or in a separate document. As you write your story, bring up this card or document and check for consistency. Is your character still behaving in a way consistent with their original character? Ask yourself why (or why not). Is it because of actual character development or because you changed your mind about how you want that character to behave? If you're finding that you lack consistency, you should step back from your work and re-evaluate your character. The problem with the idea that you know your character so well is the fact that you can sometimes assume that these inconsistencies are simply part of the character. Sometimes they are, but a lot of the time they aren't, and it can make for a somewhat confusing character. It's okay to have gaps where you're not really sure where you or your character stand[s], that can leave room for development, but glaring inconsistencies can ruin a character.
If I'm writing for an audience who will ideally project themselves onto the character I prefer to leave things more vague so that the reader will have an easier time projecting themselves onto the character. If you flesh out a character too much they become just that— a character. They become less of a reader avatar and more of a person. You will see this sort of vague "archtyping" in a lot of high fantasy novels, especially older ones aimed strongly at men. The character will often be more of a template.
I use a lot of the same processes when world building or fleshing out a canon. I think the most important thing for me personally is extended editing and knowing when to stop. This is a fault I find in a lot of other writers, they don't know when to stop. I'm in favour of being concise without being curt or mincing words. Sometimes the general conveyance of an idea is more important than an extended execution of which.
I'm really impressed, thats more of a system than I've ever had, and it seems like it works well. Theres some really good advice there, and I can attest to how well writing out your characters on flash cards works.
Your system does bring a question to my mind though. You seem to write with other people in mind. I find it a bit constricting to do that however. Inspiration comes to me much easier if I don't have to think about weather or not whoever will be reading it will like it. Do you think there is an actual difference or do you think I'm just finicky.
>>204>You seem to write with other people in mind.
Sometimes. A lot of the time I don't, I have a lot of stories that I write purely for my enjoyment. When it comes to these I allow myself a little more leeway and my plot/characters become more flexible or amorphous. Oftentimes my personal work will be so chock full of inconsistency after new inspiration strikes that I will completely shift the story into new territory if I like my later ideas better.>Do you think there is an actual difference
Conventions, or even having a system can make a world of difference as far as cohesion goes. I think that if you want to get something done quickly and without much room for deviation I suggest writing as if you have an audience— even if you don't. Again, I like to get to the point with my work, I prefer never to overwrite, so I can be stiff sometimes. That said, you're not being finicky at all in my opinion!
If there's anything else I can offer my advice on I'd love to hear it. I'd also like to know more about other people's processes.I ♥ /lit/.
That makes a lot of sense, I suppose why I prefer to write for myself is because first off, I know my audience very well and I consider anyone else who enjoys it a bonus. Your post does make me realize something though; I should probably have some sort of actual system for writing. I'm a novice writer, with little actual experience. The reason I know what I know is because as ashamed I am to say it, I spend more time studying writing than I do actually writing myself. Which I suppose isn't necessarily bad, but I don't get the things we're talking about down to habit and I don't know my own writing style as well. All of that being said, I'm hoping this thread stays near the top of the /lit/ board; because studying good works is one thing, but active conversation and opinion on them is something else entirely.
Oh and I appreciate your opinion a lot, and as I come across things on my "adventures" as a writer, I'll definitely consult you, anon.If you can't tell, I ♥♥♥♥♥♥ /lit/ as well.
>>206>I spend more time studying writing than I do actually writing
I promise you, you aren't alone. I spent years studying writing and the processes thereof, which is how I developed the system I like to use now. Habit is great sometimes, but it can suffocate you creatively if you get too stuck in your ways. This is another thing you can see in the works of famous writers (Anne Rice is probably the best example). Subject matter, content, style— it's great to know where you stand on these things, but some writers just won't write anything else, so lacking systematic discipline can sometimes be good for you.
How long have you been writing? Regardless of the answer, I want to tell you not to worry too much about knowing your style just yet. It can take years to find a style you're really comfortable with. I still change my writing style every now and then based on who I'm reading or if I'm writing with someone else, and I've been writing for most of my life.
Always happy to help, good luck on your adventures in writing. Hope to learn a bit from you too when you come up with something new, and you will. I'll try to keep this thread bumped with relevant additions.