Xaraphyne

Some Writing Tips

16 posts in this topic

I thought I would share a couple things I’ve learned that can help make your writing more interesting and easier to follow. Self-editing is always hard, because of course we know what we meant, and it’s hard to imagine how someone might interpret something without all the context that we as the creators of the material have, so it’s a constant challenge to ensure we’re telling the story we want to tell, hopefully making it enjoyable, and inspiring the feels we want to inspire. Here are some conventions and insights that might help.

Quick Dialogue Punctuation Guide

“Yes,” she said.

When following dialogue with a description of the dialogue – how the dialogue was said – do not use a period after the quote; use a comma, and then do not capitalize after the quote.

“I dunno.” She shrugged.

She isn’t “shrugging” the dialogue, so they are two separate sentences, with a period and capitalization.

“Yes,” she said, “but what now?”

Because her whole sentence is “Yes, but what now?”, you use commas throughout and don’t capitalize after the first quote or at the start of the second quote. Only capitalize when a sentence is over.

“What?” she said.

“Now!” She pointed her finger at him.

Exclamation points and question marks can be used either way. If the dialogue is being described, don’t capitalize after the quotes.

More/mixed examples:

”What?” She couldn’t believe what she’d heard. She shook her head. “You did not just say that.”

“Yes, that’s right,” I said. “That makes sense.”

Line Breaks

Line breaks are powerful. You can say a lot just by where you choose to break a paragraph. Think of line breaks like cuts in a movie, or when in real life you switch your attention from one thing to the next. You can use line breaks to direct and focus your reader’s attention.

The first thing to consider is how the last sentence in a paragraph carries a certain weight. It’s like a small story ends with each paragraph. You can even take this to the extremes and separate a line out into its own paragraph for extreme punch, though that’s best used sparingly.

Line breaks are also necessary simply for moving onto the next important piece of action or dialogue. Be mindful to not run too many disparate actions together in the same paragraph. “She did X, then he did Y” is basically the most you want to put into any one paragraph. When you start getting to actions that aren’t related to the very first action in the paragraph anymore, it’s time for a new paragraph.

As for dialogue, this is an oft-overlooked practice that is very important for clarity. The convention is that whenever someone different speaks, they need a new line. Similarly, you can’t insert a line break and have the same person talking twice in a row, because the reader will think we’ve switched to someone else and get thrown off. Ensuring that lines of dialogue alternate without fail is very important to keep your reader from having their immersion broken by having to stop to figure out who is saying what.

Perspective

You may be aware of the difference between first person (I do and say things), second person (You see and do things), and third person (She says and does things), but perspective can go deeper than that as well. Perspective gives your characters personality through how the story is told, and is a great mechanic for building suspense.

Generally, even when you’re writing from the third person, you’ll want to be presenting it from a certain character’s point of view. Everything that is seen and described should only be things that the perspective character sees and knows. As much as sometimes we’d like to tell our reader what every single character in a scene is thinking, it removes all the reader’s opportunities for speculation, insight, and suspense, and therefore becomes less interesting to the reader.

I hope these tips are helpful! If you have any thoughts, questions, or tips of your own to share, please do!

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It's sometimes hard to discern internal thoughts with actual speech. Some ways to differentiate thoughts from spoken words:

A) Describe the thought. Like you would for any other observed scenery or action from the narrator's point of view.

Example:

He wondered if she was even in there.

B) Italicize it. Everything in italics is occuring mentally, while the real-world dialogue is kept regular.

Example:

A stray thought passes through his mind with the power of shadow to it. Are you even in there? he wonders.

C) Use something else in place of quotation marks.

Example:

A stray thought passes through his mind with the power of shadow to it. <Are you even in there?> he wonders.

The use of <> is adopted from the children's Animorph book series by K.A. Applegate

D) Use color! Take advantage of forum coding and change thoughts to a different color.

Example:

A stray thought passes through his mind with the power of shadow to it. Are you even in there? he wonders.

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I generally discourage using color in writing on this forum. Most people use the default dark gray/blue theme, but some people use the gray theme, and some people use the white theme. Your bright pink or yellow that shows up nicely on the dark gray background becomes invisible on the white background. There are a few colors that show up on all three themes fine (mostly the pure red, blue, and green). If you aren't sure if your colors will be readable by everyone, just temporarily change your theme to white (vb4 default style) and double check.

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I generally discourage using color in writing on this forum. Most people use the default dark gray/blue theme, but some people use the gray theme, and some people use the white theme. Your bright pink or yellow that shows up nicely on the dark gray background becomes invisible on the white background. There are a few colors that show up on all three themes fine (mostly the pure red, blue, and green). If you aren't sure if your colors will be readable by everyone, just temporarily change your theme to white (vb4 default style) and double check.

I'll admit that I consistently forget that there's more than one color theme for viewing this forum, and just assume that dark grey/blue is all there is!

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I generally discourage using color in writing on this forum. Most people use the default dark gray/blue theme, but some people use the gray theme, and some people use the white theme. Your bright pink or yellow that shows up nicely on the dark gray background becomes invisible on the white background. There are a few colors that show up on all three themes fine (mostly the pure red, blue, and green). If you aren't sure if your colors will be readable by everyone, just temporarily change your theme to white (vb4 default style) and double check.

In the past I've just made a note in my posts to use the dark color scheme when viewing... because that's how I want it to be presented!

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I generally discourage using color in writing on this forum. Most people use the default dark gray/blue theme, but some people use the gray theme, and some people use the white theme. Your bright pink or yellow that shows up nicely on the dark gray background becomes invisible on the white background. There are a few colors that show up on all three themes fine (mostly the pure red, blue, and green). If you aren't sure if your colors will be readable by everyone, just temporarily change your theme to white (vb4 default style) and double check.

Color can be used to make something that's being said subtle and actually fairly creepy. For instance, if you're writing a character who's hearing whispers from the old gods, but you don't want it obvious, choose a color that's similar enough to the default color scheme to hide it, but different enough for the reader to tell that something's up. Then, when they realize what's going on and highlight said posts...

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I found this article about adverbs very much to my taste. While it's important to use strong verbs and adjectives, adverbs can really do a lot for a sentence, despite the bad rap they can have. (Didn't do so much in that sentence right there... but read the article, it makes the point very well.)

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As someone who struggles a lot with grammar I found this thread very useful, keep up the good work.

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Quick Dialogue Punctuation Guide

“Yes,” she said.

When following dialogue with a description of the dialogue – how the dialogue was said – do not use a period after the quote; use a comma, and then do not capitalize after the quote.

“I dunno.” She shrugged.

She isn’t “shrugging” the dialogue, so they are two separate sentences, with a period and capitalization.

“Yes,” she said, “but what now?”

Because her whole sentence is “Yes, but what now?”, you use commas throughout and don’t capitalize after the first quote or at the start of the second quote. Only capitalize when a sentence is over.

“What?” she said.

“Now!” She pointed her finger at him.

Exclamation points and question marks can be used either way. If the dialogue is being described, don’t capitalize after the quotes.

More/mixed examples:

”What?” She couldn’t believe what she’d heard. She shook her head. “You did not just say that.”

“Yes, that’s right,” I said. “That makes sense.”

I still forget this. Not using periods in dialogue and over-using capitals are my weakest areas in writing and editing.

Unsolicited tips from Nath.

Threads on tips are great. When in doubt though, I (personally) encourage people to reference a writing style guide, be that MLA, APA, or my daily co-worker The Chicago Manual of Style. At least these tomes have answers. Given that what we write here is not academic text material though, I don't think anyone needs to get too hung up on getting it right--that takes multiple passes, editors, and money--and this is for fun. :)

Read widely. What works for your favourite authors will probably work for you too. Read for errors at least once before posting, and be consistent with whatever approach you take to an aspect of writing, be it US or UK commas, which English spelling you use, or whether or not you mix character perspectives in the same entry; even if you do something 'wrong' do it consistently wrong, then it's not quite wrong.

Cheers,

-N

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even if you do something 'wrong' do it consistently wrong, then it's not quite wrong.

or "I meant to do that!!"

:P

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Here are some commonly mistaken words you may not have realized have different meanings. We all know their/they're/there and it's/its can trip you up, but these too!
 

weary vs. wary
"weary" means tired.
"wary" means cautious.

If your character is weary of something, they're tired of it. If they're wary of it, they don't trust it.
 

fazed vs. phased
"fazed" means daunted.
"phased" means put into a phase.

You're pretty much never going to use "phased" unless you're talking about not being able to see someone in game because they haven't completed quests in the zone. When you're trying to say how plucky and unimpressed your character is, the word you want is "unfazed".
 

rein vs. reign
"rein" is what you use to control a steed.
"reign" is what a king does.

If you want to rein something in, skip the "g". I mess this one up every time...
 

cue vs. queue
"cue" is an indication it's time to do something.
"queue" is what you wait in for your turn.

If you want to take a hint, then it's a cue. If you want to do some BGs, you join a queue. Also, "que" isn't a word unless you're speaking Spanish.
 

straight vs. strait
"straight" means not curved or bent.
"strait" is a difficult position.

If your character is in a bad situation, they're in dire straits. If they're taking the shortest route from point A to point B, they're going straight.
 

elicit vs. illicit
"elicit" means to evoke.
"illicit" means prohibited.

If something causes you to react, it elicits a reaction. If something would get you in trouble, it's illicit.

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Misuse of 'weary' is a pet peeve of mine.

 

That being said, I've been misusing 'phased' for years. 

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Adding my own peeve in here:

Amuse vs. Bemuse

"Amuse" means to be funny or entertaining; to be amused is to find something funny or entertaining.

"Bemuse" means to be confusing or puzzling; to be bemused is to find something puzzling or confusing.

 

Her amused smile faded at his sudden raucous laughter--this was a solemn funeral!--and was replaced with a bemused furrow of her brow.

(Forgive the example. I am sleepy!)

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The Oxford Comma is your friend.

Oxford-Comma.jpg

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One of my biggest issues with writing is varying sentence structure. I find that it is where I am least creative and constantly worry that my prose will bore the reader, or unsuspend their disbelief.

Example: Hurriedly through the hailstorm, the party ran afoul of a towering yeti.

Alternatively: The party ran afoul of a towering yeti while hurrying through the hailstorm.

I try to switch up my subject / verb / object order sentence by sentence to create some sort of fluidity, but there always comes a point where I feel as if I'm repeating myself. I'm starting to wonder if I spend too much time describing environments and actions and fail to include dialogue (internal and external). Maybe I need more exposition on history or interpersonal stuff.

Does anyone else have this issue? How do you correct it?

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I personally enjoy the variety in writing styles from writer to writer. Occasionally I WANT the simple back-and-forth of a conversation-heavy author, versus your detailed description tendencies. (I also tend toward lengthiness in that area.) I feel that a good description enmeshes a reader in the scene better and helps to connect them emotionally to what they are reading. This is where the varying sentence structure works for me- because if I get bored I'll start skimming to get back to the good stuff! I'll let you know I have never had that trouble when reading your stories. I also envy your vocabulary.

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