Posts tagged prose
Posts tagged prose
You should not have a favorite part of your story, as far as writing goes. You can have a favorite part of the plot or favorite character, but if you have a favorite bit of prose, that’s generally not good. Your favorite piece of your own prose probably falls into one of these two categories:
1. The piece of prose is actually bad and you need to cut it, Mr. Purple Barney McGrimacePrune. A lot of people are amazed by their own grandiloquent wordings. English teachers convince them that to make a great story, all they have to do is call a tiger’s fur amber instead of orange. Look over your favorite bit of prose and ask yourself whether it’s necessary and readable. Does it really add something, or is it just a way of patting yourself on the back for being clever at the expense of your readers?
2. The piece of prose is good and you need to make the rest of your story just as good, Sir Lazy O’SitsOnButtocks. Use that part as the standard to measure all your other parts against and don’t stop editing until the other parts are just as good.
1. Actually have the scene in your narrative
This is the easiest one. It’s usually the best as well. Use the others sparingly.
2. Use a symbol to represent it happening
For example, if the pages of a book closely represent your character’s life in-story, you can show the book closing instead of the character’s death. If you don’t spend long enough on the setup, portraying something this way can be confusing to the readers. Neverjust do this because it sounds “literary.” Before you use a symbol instead of a scene, ask yourself whether it would really give a more fitting message, advance things better, and/or have more emotional impact. I’m not at all against using symbols, but even the best authors often use them wrong.
3. Have a character relate it
There are two occasions when you should have a character tell about something happen instead of working into your narrative: when that character was not the protagonist and the protagonist wasn’t there and when you need to tell something about that character.
4. Employ a Newspaper or website in story
These are sometimes fun, but don’t overdo them.
5. Have a character piece it together afterward
I love this. It doesn’t happen often enough outside of mystery novels.
6. Have it not actually happen (part of a dream, VR, etc)
Again, these are great, but in moderation.
There are differing opinions on whether stories should just be there to teach us, just be there to entertain, or fall somewhere in the middle. If you are one of the people who writes stories with morals, I think there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. Incidentally, I myself usually fall more on the “write to entertain” side of the spectrum, so I might just be blabbering nonsense here.
The one thing that I can’t stand reading is when somebody gets punished for their actions. Hear me out, here: the actions themselves should lead to the character’s downfall. If some external force punishes them, it doesn’t carry as strong of a message. For example, if you have an anti-smoking message, you could have the smoker get punished by having somebody they look up to suddenly shun them for smoking, or you could have the action be its own punishment by giving them lung cancer. The first one is far more contrived. Lung cancer is something that could be legitimately expected from smoking, while having a role model abandon you is not.
On a similar note, don’t have generic bad things happen to people when they do the thing you’re crusading against. Have very specific things happen relating to the thing they’re doing. Make the lesson realistic. If you’re crusading against something, think about why you’re crusading against it. Most likely, it harms people’s lives in some way. Show the realistic harm it can do instead of generic and unrelated bad things.
Using a metaphorical punishment only works if the crime is metaphorical as well. If you put in something that represents smoking into your story, I’m fine with later reading about something that represents lung cancer. If you actually put smoking in, please actually put lung cancer in.
The follower of the day is twobrotherstwovessels.
Do you ever see someone smile and think, Oh, that smile makes him look like he was broken at one point, but has recently found hope in something small?
Yeah, neither do I. Fictional characters do this a lot, and it bugs me. The author wants to show a complex emotion that can’t be communicated through mere facial expression. However, the person experiencing the emotion is not the narrator. The author can’t think of any possible way that the narrator could figure out that emotion without having them ogle the exact contours of the other person’s face and get psychic readings on their emotions.
There are a lot of people who have trouble with common body language expressions. Books cheat by giving us the unique subtleties and layers of expressions that relate to complicated emotions.
“Then how do I let people know about those emotions?” you might ask.
Somebody’s mind is like a room. You wouldn’t let your characters just guess what a closed room looks like without any other knowledge, would you? If someone openly talks about the depths of their emotions, they’re opening the door to the room. A facial expression is like a tiny, dirt-smudged peephole. It can show simple things like “happy” or “sad.” Faces are pretty flexible, so they can also show more complex things like “bitter” or “wistful” as well. You’re pushing things when you describe somebody’s expression as “nostalgic” or something similarly complicated. Faces can certainly not show anything like “determined to do something they know is wrong so that they can save somebody close to them.”
Like a closed room, there are other ways to see what is inside. If the narrator is curious, they can knock on the room’s door by asking the person how they’re feeling. Maybe the narrator is shy or scared, so they ask other people what’s in the room. Just remember: having the narrator infer another’s complex emotions is like having the narrator infer what the next room looks like inside.
The follower of the day is pourthelight.
I see far too many science fiction and fantasy works set on another world that give me only a handful of bizarre creatures. One or two of them will be things you would expect on another world, but the rest will have close analogs here on Earth.
You might enjoy such things, but when I see another planet, I want to see an entire other planet of new flora and fauna, not just a couple of oddities amidst a sea of normalcy. Ever since third grade, I’ve been designing places with a plethora of bizarre creatures. Here’s how.
Step 1: Make an environment, devoid of life.
Think of all the things that make up your environment. You’re going to want to do this one biome at a time, because most creatures don’t live in both the desert and the rainforest. Some things, like distance from the sun(s), will shape the entire planet, but you should still have several different biomes on a single planet. Mountains, plains, deserts, hilly areas with rich soil, lakes, and islands are examples. Don’t put any life in yet, but consider every possible aspect.
Step 2: Make a common plant.
In the time of the dinosaurs, ferns were everywhere. Now, grass covers a lot of Earth’s land space. Extreme arctic regions often don’t have grass, though, and dense forests sometimes don’t allow enough light to reach the ground for grass to grow. With all of the aspects of your environment in mind, think of something that would thrive there. What would it have evolved to absorb the most possible nutrients from your environment? Depending on how far your planet is from the sun, plants might have different colors. A very faraway planet might have black plants to absorb all possible light, while a planet in the same general area as Earth would probably have green plants. A place with good soil might produce plants with plumper roots. Don’t think, What would grass be like on my planet? Instead, think, What configuration should my plants have that best suits the environment? The idea is to make something that doesn’t look like any Earth plant. A non-Earthlike plant should spring naturally from any place with a different environment than the ones on Earth.
Step 3: What eats that plant?
Create a creature specifically designed to eat that plant. Every part of their body should be created with that plant in the front of your mind and the environment in the back of your mind. You might have to make small modifications to the plant because it would have evolved to evade the creature. You also might find that more than one creature can be designed with the consumption of the plant in mind. This is wonderful.
Step 4: Expand the food web.
From there, create more and more species designed to eat the previous ones. Think of some plants that would grow in the odd little crevices and corners of your environment and create animals that would eat them. Fill every niche that you can think of. For example, there might be a creature that eats only roots or one that that scavenges on dead meat. Don’t forget your omnivores! You can then do this to every other biome on your planet.
There you go. This way, life on your planet should end up looking nothing like life on Earth. If you want a specific creature, you can design an environment and ecosystem around it.
The follower of the day is mentalroadtrip.
Do you know what one of the biggest draws of zombie apocalypse-style books is? People often read them so that they can later imagine themselves and a group of their friends in a similar situation. The setting just lends itself to such things. How would you rig a house to keep the zombies out? What weapons would you use? Where would you get your food?
There are several other stories that inspire the same kind of thinking. How would your Pokemon journey go? What items would you alchemize in Homestuck? How would you fight if you were picked for the Hunger Games?
The magic of these types of settings is that it makes people think and talk about what you wrote long after they finish reading it. Not every setting lends itself to speculation like this. The standard fantasy setting, for example, only has room for the heroes in the actual story. They are the chosen ones and nobody else can come. What’s worse is when a map is provided at the beginning of the book that only shows the places the characters go. I don’t know about other people, but I certainly love it when there are unexplored areas on the map that I get to fill in with my imagination.
When the story is still being molded and the setting isn’t firm in your mind, try to think of a way that more than just your main characters can be heroes. Aim for a process where people can become heroes so that literally anybody can become one if they really want to. In Homestuck, for example, all somebody has to do is buy Sburb to engage on the journey. In The Hunger Games, people can volunteer themselves.
It also helps to hint that the story world is bigger than just what the characters have to traverse. Give your readers little areas to call their own that your characters haven’t touched.
The follower of the day is kylasedai, who is awesome and also a person that I follow.
Please stop associating an angular face with intelligence and a doughy face with meanness and stupidity. This is a real problem. Most people in fiction who are described as having, say, a “weak chin” end up being unpleasant people. Even in works that otherwise disregard looks when creating personalities, people with fat faces end up being the jerks. Somebody’s face should not be shorthand for their personality. The expression on their face can, but not the face itself.
The follower of the day is moonfox23.
Remember when you were little and watched or read Winnie the Pooh? Eeyore was almost always sad, but occasionally he would experience a small joy or get bored or experience another emotion. Eeyore is probably the most extreme example of a character associated with an emotion, and even he could experience the entire range. He was just usually sad.
Similarly, you should never have a character who is always experiencing a single emotion. Can they be associated with one emotion? Sure! Can they usually be found in that emotional state? Absolutely! Can they experience the same emotion 100% of the time?
Give your depressed people little joys and your happy people small sorrows. It doesn’t matter how many other quirks they have, a character will always be flat and one-dimensional if they can only ever be found in one emotional state. “Emotionless” counts as an emotional state unless they are a robot or similar.
As an added bonus, a character experiencing an emotion that they usually don’t experience can be a good point of drama. These drama points help keep people reading.
The follower of the day is sunnaybunnay. TW: some posts deal with self-harm.