What do you do to improve your writing?

Questions, skill improvement, and respectful critique involving game writing.
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Sapphi
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Re: What do you do to improve your writing?

#16 Post by Sapphi » Thu Nov 24, 2011 6:39 pm

Camille wrote: That doesn't necessarily tell you much about how that scene looks. There's a lot of different ways to cling to someone.
That is true. And I didn't mean to say you can never describe things in detail, just that a lot of people take it overboard. For instance....

If in chapter one, when I meet a character "Sally", you inform me that she has dark hair and honey-colored eyes, that's fine. But in chapter fifteen, when Sally is caught in the middle of two rival saloons in a shoot-out, and a bullet speeds by and cuts off a chunk of her hair, I don't really need to be reminded that it's dark hair, and I don't really need to know that what color her eyes are when you tell me they darted around wildly looking for a safe place to hide. You know what I mean? If I forgot what color her eyes are and can't picture the scene in my head, I can flip back to chapter one.

(Of course, it changes things a bit if the story is written in first person. If the person watching Sally is romantically obsessed with her, you could realistically expect to hear a lot about how she looks in the situation than just the basic facts of the situation. Maybe the unusual color of her eyes fascinates them and they make it a point to describe it every single time they talk about her eyes. But from a third-person perspective, that would get annoying really fast.)
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Re: What do you do to improve your writing?

#17 Post by Camille » Thu Nov 24, 2011 7:57 pm

But then if you don't describe enough, you end up with things like this happening. D: Though I do agree in general that too much description can be bad. (I'm looking at you, Victor Hugo!!)
Applegate wrote:Camille, it is theorised that things like, "he said" are read over and are inobtrusive because everyone knows the meaning or some such, so it is preferable to just write "said" everywhere. Naturally, depending on the type of writing it is possible more colourful ways of describing the way he speaks are preferable.
When you have something like
He said, "I think we should go to the café at noon."
It's wildly and drastically different from
"I think we should go to the café at noon," he burst out, and rather bitterly at that.
You get so much more out of a sentence when there's a little bit of description.
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Re: What do you do to improve your writing?

#18 Post by Applegate » Thu Nov 24, 2011 8:09 pm

Oh, I agree there. I mostly rely on this resource for those kind of things, which I found helpful. Mostly, though, audience dictates the degree of description, as does the kind of story: a high-fantasy story might benefit from rich and detailed descriptions, whereas a story about a kindergartener being stuck in the loo might do with minimalism. (assuming you write it for kids: I can't imagine many adults finding interest in the specific way to escape the loo)

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Re: What do you do to improve your writing?

#19 Post by Sapphi » Thu Nov 24, 2011 8:12 pm

Oh... dear... that Hunger Games thing is really unfortunate...
Although I would have to say it's is really less a case of poor description than a really sad example of white majority attitude... yikes.
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Re: What do you do to improve your writing?

#20 Post by Auro-Cyanide » Thu Nov 24, 2011 11:13 pm

Applegate wrote:I find myself partially agreeing and disagreeing with this; I agree you need to be critical of your own work and try to do the best you can, but being overly critical of your work and obsessing over writing one piece just the right way is liable to make you not move forward much at all. Perfection is often hard to attain, and if you attempt to attain it even in writing, you may end up never writing a finished story at all.
Perfection isn't hard to attain, it's impossible to attain XD
What would perfection be anyway? We all aim to be better, and better is always a few feet in front of us. And that's okay, it's natural. If you ever reach a point where you are completely happy with where you are, you stop growing and your work will be stagnent. This is undesirable in the creative mediums were there is no right and there is no perfect. I think it's good to celebrate your successes, and also seek to improve. You can never be satisfied with your work, human's tend never to be satisfied with anything, so you might as well enjoy the process and outcomes.

As for description, I like it when it is relevent and when it is fresh. So I want it to add to the story, not just to tell me a physical desciption, but to tell what it feels like, what the atmosphere is like. I'm not fond of paragraphs upon paragraphs of descriptions of anything though (Tolkien). It should relate to the action, not be seperate from it, since it's a bit annoying to find the entire story grind to a halt. I also don't really like it when people use the exact same descriptors all the time. How many times was 'cold and perfect like marble' (or something to that effect) used in Twilight? Sure there are better ways to do it, or not do it all considering we have already been told.

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Re: What do you do to improve your writing?

#21 Post by Fawn » Fri Nov 25, 2011 1:02 am

@Applegate, like Auro said it's impossible to obtain perfection. But, if you're in the mind of a picky person you'll be able to notice your own mistakes more. You'll never find all the mistakes, but atleast you'll be able to fix the most visible ones.

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Re: What do you do to improve your writing?

#22 Post by Elze » Fri Nov 25, 2011 1:14 am

psy_wombats wrote:
Sapphi wrote:Well, I don't particularly like flowery writing either. I recently read Lolita and I found myself skipping over pages of the abundant description of the countryside of America... I just couldn't take it.

This is an example of the kind of choppy writing I don't like. It's too dramatic and fragment-y for my taste.
"He pulled her to him, clutching her tightly. Stubbornly. Desperately. Then and there, he resolved that he would never let her go. No matter what."
Haha, we're in agreement then... I'd call this weak and the revision offered as preferable. The difference between compact and stuttering is pretty clear.
I think it depends. Sometimes sentences get chopped up to give them more impact. One of my favorite books of all times, "The God of Small Things", had a lot of short sentences. & I loved how the shortest sentences can stir up so much emotion in my heart. It was short, direct, sweet and had the right amount of punch in it. Sometimes even repeating just one or two words gives the previous sentence a whole new level of emphasis too. I can't quote directly from "Kite Runner", but I'll never forget the last sentence. & it contains just two words; "I ran".
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Re: What do you do to improve your writing?

#23 Post by lordcloudx » Fri Nov 25, 2011 2:21 am

Oh, I forgot. I think hanging out in forums with some degree of intelligence and actively participating in topics of interest inadvertently improves your writing skill as well.

See? I just posted in this topic and I can feel my "literary skills" stat building up with every word I put in. :) (Exaggeration done for emphasis and humor in this post, but the message is sincere.)
How do you make your games? I see. Thank you for the prompt replies, but it is my considered opinion that you're doing it wrong inefficiently because I am a perfushenal professional. Do it my way this way and we can all ascend VN Nirvana together while allowing me to stroke my ego you will improve much faster. Also, please don't forget to thank me for this constructive critique or I will cry and bore you to death respond appropriately with a tl;dr rant discourse of epic adequately lengthy proportions. - Sarcasm Veiled in Euphemism: Secrets of Forum Civility by lordcloudx (Coming soon to an online ebook near you.)

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Re: What do you do to improve your writing?

#24 Post by Auro-Cyanide » Fri Nov 25, 2011 2:41 am

lordcloudx wrote:Oh, I forgot. I think hanging out in forums with some degree of intelligence and actively participating in topics of interest inadvertently improves your writing skill as well.

See? I just posted in this topic and I can feel my "literary skills" stat building up with every word I put in. :) (Exaggeration done for emphasis and humor in this post, but the message is sincere.)
It's the only reason I can still formulate sentences :'D

(I would say I'm joking, but I'm kinda not)

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Re: What do you do to improve your writing?

#25 Post by natsumachi » Fri Nov 25, 2011 5:05 am

Elze wrote:I think it depends. Sometimes sentences get chopped up to give them more impact. One of my favorite books of all times, "The God of Small Things", had a lot of short sentences. & I loved how the shortest sentences can stir up so much emotion in my heart. It was short, direct, sweet and had the right amount of punch in it.
Yes, I love "The God of Small Things" too! And that book also has very dense/layered and sensual descriptions, which I think also made it especially memorable and engaging.

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Re: What do you do to improve your writing?

#26 Post by Shadow » Fri Nov 25, 2011 5:45 pm

Creative writing is creative. If you're using basic sentences ("he said", "walked", etc.) then there should be a purpose, otherwise it lacks voice and a number of other elements you can embed in a sentence like setting and characterisation. On that note, everything always has an exception. Never think there is one way to do something because there will always be something that undermines it and still does a good job.

For me I think taking classes is a big step in bettering my writing. Reading and practising got me so far, but sitting down and talking with people who've achieved so much with their work has been the best thing. I learn about how books can be analysed for a specific technique and how both practical and passionate mindsets are needed to write. Peer editing in a formal context also helps, but I think it's important to keep in mind that you can to pick and choose your advice... unless an editor tells you otherwise. Learning about the different mediums also helps — poetry, scripting and prose have different conventions that I can expand my experience with. Learning editing can get boring, but I really recommend looking into it if you want to self-edit well.

Other than that, it is practice, but the right kind of practice. I try to keep my base aims (accessibility and imagery) but differ with form, genre and style. I start with adhering to conventions and getting it within the bounds the first time, then introduce some experiments. Reading comes into practice too, but I make a note to read more of what's above my skill level than what's below it. If I want to get better, I should be looking up, not around.

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Re: What do you do to improve your writing?

#27 Post by KomiTsuku » Fri Nov 25, 2011 7:33 pm

Shadow wrote:Creative writing is creative. If you're using basic sentences ("he said", "walked", etc.) then there should be a purpose, otherwise it lacks voice and a number of other elements you can embed in a sentence like setting and characterisation. On that note, everything always has an exception. Never think there is one way to do something because there will always be something that undermines it and still does a good job.

For me I think taking classes is a big step in bettering my writing. Reading and practising got me so far, but sitting down and talking with people who've achieved so much with their work has been the best thing. I learn about how books can be analysed for a specific technique and how both practical and passionate mindsets are needed to write. Peer editing in a formal context also helps, but I think it's important to keep in mind that you can to pick and choose your advice... unless an editor tells you otherwise. Learning about the different mediums also helps — poetry, scripting and prose have different conventions that I can expand my experience with. Learning editing can get boring, but I really recommend looking into it if you want to self-edit well.

Other than that, it is practice, but the right kind of practice. I try to keep my base aims (accessibility and imagery) but differ with form, genre and style. I start with adhering to conventions and getting it within the bounds the first time, then introduce some experiments. Reading comes into practice too, but I make a note to read more of what's above my skill level than what's below it. If I want to get better, I should be looking up, not around.
Don't listen to her, she's crazy. You should buy my self-help book for three easy payments of $19.95!

On a more serious note, she's spot on. The only two things that I have to add are...

1. Know who you are getting your advice from! Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of who is talking to you is important. While good advice is always good advice, you are more likely to get solid advice from those who have their strengths in the right area. Example: a question on the specifics of grammar would be better asked to Shadow, while time management and fleshing out vague ideas are something I've been doing since the dawn of time. Both of us are editors, each have individual strengths.

2. Know your audience! There is a major, major difference writing a humor story for teenagers as opposed to writing a drama for adults. There is never a substitute for thoughtful voice and style, but being able to craft your style to mesh more seamlessly with your target is paramount. In fact, knowing your audience is pretty much the highest tier of advice I would give anyone in any creative industry that is doing their trade for more than just themselves.

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Re: What do you do to improve your writing?

#28 Post by narusasu » Sat Nov 26, 2011 12:18 am

Desu_Cake wrote:Just like for art, for any writer looking to improve, I would suggest imitation. Pick a writer you like (Or for hard mode: a writer you don't like) and attempt to copy their writing style. Then pick a different writer and repeat. It can give great insight into your own writing style and influences as well as theirs, and can help you find flaws (by comparing your work to theirs).
I completely agree with this. By attempting to imitate a certain writer you will more than likely end up picking up a few good writing techniques along the way. Also, I suggest starting off small. Read through short stories and try imitating how they put together their plots, (was it in chronological order or was it told in an irregular order?) how the narration was presented, (was it in 2nd,1st, or 3rd person??) and what kind of form was it in? (Did it use compression? Did it use suspension? Was it in the style of a document?)

Re-write, re-write, and when you think it's perfect, re-write some more! :D Because in fact, your story will probably never be perfect. That means, try to get as close to perfect as you can. Some people really do not understand the importance of drafts and that's why this is my number one advice. Of course, there are plenty of other tips and advice when it comes to craft, but re-writing is the most basic of advice I can give anyone. If you can, find people willing to workshop your work. You may be surprised to find that there are parts within your story that you thought were clear were actually too vague. You may even find that you've written a very interesting and unique phrase that you never considered expanding upon until someone pointed it out. From there on you may decide to expand, cut out, or even try new formats. Re-writing only goes so far on its own though, so I highly suggest workshoping before writing future drafts.

Of course, learn to distinguish between good and bad advice while in workshop. That will help your future drafts as well. C :

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Re: What do you do to improve your writing?

#29 Post by qoivf » Sat Nov 26, 2011 5:01 am

Actually try not to get too wordy with your writing. Look at sentences and think "Is that common sense stuff". Kind of like: Marie went to the kitchen to get cereal for breakfast. She got the blue bowl from the cupboard. Then she got the cereal from the pantry. She picked out her favorite cereal. After she got the milk from the refrigerator door. Then she poured the cereal followed by the milk into the bowl. She then got her spoon."
How much of that is important? 'Marie went to the kitchen to get cereal.' If it's important that the bowl was blue and all of the steps she took then include that. If not 'Marie went to the kitchen to get cereal.' will suffice because the reader can figure that she didn't forget the bowl, cereal, milk or spoon.
Try reading your story out loud to see how sentences flow, sometimes what looks good on paper makes no sense when read aloud. (I can't think of an example.)
Also take a step back, leave it alone for a month or so, then come back to it. It will be easier to look at it with fresh eyes. When your reading you'll probably notice things that were inherently clear but aren't anymore.
To make your sentences more detailed try adding adjectives, but don't go overboard. (Just because you can write: The brunette girl with fiery red highlights wished to dye her gorgeous hair a hideous shade of dirty, dish soap blonde, as I found out waiting in the comfortable black plush salon chair that was at the front of the salon contrasting with the starch white walls. Doesn't mean you should.)
Also try to combine sentences to make them more complex. You can combine one good sentence and one weak sentence. (ex: The summer breeze blew. I looked into his deep green eyes, knowing in my heart this was the right thing to do. = As the summer breeze blew, I looked into his deep green eyes, knowing in my heart it was the right thing to do.)
Try to picture your story as a movie, describe the things you see as your watching your movie.
Remember sometime simplicity is key. After all King Lear's death was a simple "He died".

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Re: What do you do to improve your writing?

#30 Post by IonicMomo » Sat Nov 26, 2011 5:19 pm

"They" say that to become really, really good at something, like high-quality professional-level good, you need to work at it for at least 10,000 hours. I think this is true of writing.

Taking writing classes is great, but they have their limitations. I'm not an English major, but I've taken some university-level creative writing classes. Most of our writing exercises involve imitating other writers--which is good, you need to know what's worked in the past, and why it works. You develop technique. But at some point, you need to develop your own style too. I'm mostly a self-taught writer, and not a very good one at that, but I think that working on my own to hone my craft generally works far better than working in a classroom setting. But again, each person learns differently...

Writing is a solitary activity. Putting words together to form sentences is an art. Putting sentences together to form paragraphs, and paragraphs together to form stories is also an art. First, you have to understand the components of a sentence, the subject, the predicate, the indirect object pronoun. You need to know what you are writing, what it means, and why each word is necessary. By all means, break the rules later. But as they say, you gotta know the rules before you break them. Think about word choice. "Does this sentence mean what I want it to mean? Is this the right word? Does it fit in this sentence, or am I really reaching for another word that I can't find? Am I just settling because I don't want to go through the effort of seeking out the right word?"

When writing stories, try to keep an active voice. The passive voice is acceptable in certain situations, academic writing maybe, but it's dry and boring. "I built the house" vs. "The house was built by me." The first sentence is cleaner, more direct, and just better in most situations.

Of course, the most important thing you can do to improve your own writing is read. Read, read, read, read, read. Read writers you like and think about what they do well. Copy it. Read writers you don't like and pinpoint what grates you. Purge it from your own writing. Think about structure, tone, and cadence as you read. Read out loud, and feel the starts and stops, the pauses and breaths, the sounds of the words on your tongue. Pay attention to the details. Details make or break your writing.

The second most important thing you can do is to write. Write every day, a sentence or a page or ten pages. Just write. Observe your environment. Daydream. Don't aim for perfection right away, but don't be afraid to part with bad writing if it's just...bad. I have a tendency to cling to terrible writing just because it's mine, and I put time into it, and it has "potential." That's the wrong attitude. Separate the wheat from the chaff, figure out what you're doing wrong and what you're doing right. Keep the good, chuck the bad. But don't get angry at yourself if it's not going well, as you should be learning something from every writing experience, good or bad.

Read Strunk & White. Emulate writers you admire and draw from them until you develop your own ear and voice. Make your prose like poetry--that is, try to convey that which is impossible to convey. Use metaphor and descriptors (adjectives and adverbs) in small but effective doses.

Finally edit, edit, edit. Proofread. Add and remove. Does the story make sense? Are the characters developed? Why does X do Y? Why do I need this sentence here? Can I explain this process more effectively? How do I make this chapter more interesting? Have others read your work. Ask for feedback. Critique others' writing, and it will teach you to critique your own. An editor's work is never done.
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