This discussion is about writing to capture and maintain the reader's attention.
This topic isn't inspired by any particular forum section, post or author. It's not even confined to elfquest.com, related fan sites, or Elfquest fandom in general. My intent is to address the fact that, even with the ease of audio and video content available on the Internet, writing is still the dominant form of communication.
Imagine if every post on every forum consisted of a video of the author speaking his words aloud! Theoretically, it's possible, especially if everyone had a camera and microphone setup. But it's much easier to skim though verbal material, and read anything that draws and maintains our interest.
The written word limits how we can express ourselves to others. Readers are naturally drawn to text that is easy to navigate and comprehend. The writer's challenge is to attract and hold onto readers, when so many competing options are available.
What temptations do we offer, in order to snag the fleeting attention of our fickle audience?
Brevity and clarity - Writing should be easy to read. If the sentences and paragraphs are too long, if the text is cluttered and hard to navigate, the reader will be quickly lost.
Spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and appropriate word usage - There is an advantage to having learned English as a second language. Even though it's a very difficult language to master, the student has not spent his childhood picking up the bad writing habits typical of many native English speakers. (As an example, one immigrant I know marvels that a local body of water is called "the lake", when it is obviously a large pond.)
Use of description and dialogue - Both fiction and nonfiction should appeal to all of the senses. Dialogue invites intimacy by pulling the reader into the story or article.
and not to be underestimated in importance... subject matter. If you write about something people have an interest in, most likely they will read it. Granted, if you botch everything listed above, they may stop a short while after they begin...
No matter how great the subject matter is, if I just see a big block of text with no formatting, I'm not going to read it. Or if I have to keep stopping because the grammar, spelling and punctuation is so bad I'm having trouble understanding it, I'm not going to read it very long.
I would say one of the hardest challenges with writing is including enough description so that your readers can see what's happening in their heads, without getting so bogged down in detail that it becomes boring. But maybe that's just my preference. I've been known to skip pages of battle details because I find that stuff really boring.
Another thing about details: it's always a fine line between describing a character and fawning over them. Saccharine descriptions and characters always turn me off a piece.
Appropriate word usage - yes! That's probably the biggest stumbling block for me. I often have to stop writing while I search for the perfect word. Vocabulary is very important to conveying the correct mood. The right word can really crystallize the moment. The wrong word - especially a mis-used homophone - can really break the flow.
And if you don't know the actually meaning of a word - don't use it. Or better, look it up.
Lunakat, you make an excellent point about subject matter. Fortunately, the Internet is so diverse, it's possible to find an audience for just about any topic. I can sit in the public library and lose myself in a book about commercial earthworm culture.
Jeb, you are dead right about formatting, grammar, spelling and punctuation. To an Egyptologist trying to decipher the meaning of heiroglyphics, the reward is worth the effort. The casual reader, however, is won or lost within a few sentences.
I agree, too, that description and detail call for moderation. It helps to have another pair of eyes go over my work, and suggest what can be left out.
If the author fawns over a fictional character, the character might be a "Mary Sue." In fanfiction, the Mary Sue is based upon the author's own personality. Vanity compels us to give her exaggerated virtues, and keep her free of flaws.
Remember that this isn't science or math calculation. Perfect elements does not always equal a good story.
And I think that's part of the mystery and magic of writing, but also what makes it so hard. You can say that it depends on the subject matter, but I've tried to read books that, based on the subject matter, I thought I would enjoy, but I didn't. I've also read books that I thought would not appeal to me at all that I really liked. (Life of Pi comes to mind - come on, a guy stuck in a raft with a tiger? Really? But it was really good.)
I've heard writing advice that you've got to really hook your reader with the first sentence, but I've also read books that really didn't get good until the second or third - or tenth - chapter. (Ever read "Centennial" by James Michener? About the first 100 pages are about the geology of Colorado. I skipped it.)
Anytime anyone thinks they've got a formula for success, they always run into the problem of sounding too...formulaic. But that's how the majority of romance novels are written, and I've enjoyed a few of them in my time.
In fact, I'd say that a lot of my favorite books wouldn't be considered great writing, but somehow they captured my imagination. How? I don't know. Wish I did!
I might make the argument that writing, at it's most basic, is communication. So as long your writing effectively communicates what you want it to, you will probably be able to find an audience. But that's why I think things like grammar, punctuation, and proofreading are so important.
Although I'm probably a dinosaur in the time of facebook and texting. That might be changing for younger readers.
But even the misuse of grammar and language can be an effective writing tool. Ever read "The Sound and the Fury?" Difficult to read, but good at putting you inside the character's head.
"The Sound and The Fury"... required reading in college, but not something I would have pulled off the shelf. (Especially the part about the guy who gets surgically neutered. Ugh!)
Another good thing to do when writing any piece whether it be a fanfic or a non fanfic piece, is simply read it aloud. If you do that your ear will hear if what you just wrote makes any sense to you. It is a very good way to ensure that you have written a piece that makes sense to those who will be reading it.
Also write about what you know. If you wish to add a sci fi feel to your writings then do so, but make sure it sounds or in this case reads as something plausable. This will stand for geography as well, (location is everything, even when writing) or any other aspect you wish to include into your writings.
Just as examples, in an American setting, merchants would not be allowed to sell a bottle of wine to a twelve-year-old. Business people would greet each other with handshakes. Nudity would not be permitted on public beaches. Weekends would be Saturday and Sunday. There would be several restrictions as to where people could smoke. Children would wear T-shirts, jeans and backpacks to school. "Blackface" characters and certain ethnic slurs would not appear in advertising. In a typical dining scene, cheese would be yellow. Farms would feature big red barns, and pigs that were round and pink. Working-class families might own a motor vehicle or two.
oh, I understand what you were saying Trollbabe. You made a really good and very accurate point. Please don't take my response seriously... i was just kidding around with you.
One of the staples of advanced English classes is the obligation to read literature that is considered classic, at least for its time. A college reading list of classics might include Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, Coleridge, and the epic poem Beowulf. (To digress, those of you who only know Beowulf from the 2007 movie have not suffered enough. Chaucer is fascinating in contrast, but you have to read it with two books in your lap. One should be a modern English translation, and the other should be a study guide with an organized directory of the characters and stories.)
What is considered a classic of English literature will vary according to the school, the professor, and the current culture, but exposure to those works is intended to help the writer to understand his craft. Familiarity with material that has stood the test of time gives insight into the development of a genre.
Occasionally I read something like this, by a fanfiction author: "I like this novelist, and I've read all of his/her books, and I want to write books in the same genre." An aspiring writer, who is interested in anything from Western novels to action movies to pop song lyrics, should not confine his study to that particular area. A writer planning a career of writing fiction, poetry, or for radio, stage or screen might go a few steps further and learn multiple languages, so as to read and understand classics of other cultures. (I'm not that ambitious myself, preferring to write mundane nonfiction.)
That reminds me of something I thought about including in my post before.
A couple of semesters ago I heard a colleague counseling one of his students who wanted to be a writer. He told the student he could take writing classes and spend money on writing conferences and weekends, but if he really wanted to improve his writing, the best thing he could do is read. Read classics, read best-sellers, really see what's out there and what can be done.
I agree. Writing classes provide direction and feedback from a teacher. Conferences offer exposure to successful writers. But nothing replaces reading.
I don't read many novels, but I think the choice of character names is important. In some books, the author introduces a collection of characters in a short span of time, such as the crew of a ship, the authorities investigating a crime, or the occupants of a village.
Sometimes, two people have similar-sounding names. When they do, I find myself confusing them. (In "Elfquest", I sometimes have to remind myself which one is Wing, and which one is Windkin.) In other stories, characters have long or complicated names. For example, the novel is in English and the name ends in a long French syllable.
Nicknames help. You can begin by introducing a character by full name, then giving him a name like "Smitty" or "Gus" for the rest of the story.
I have a question about spelling. The word "avatar" originated in Hindu mythology. It showed up in popular entertainment as a metaphor. In the English translation of the anime series "Space Cruiser Yamato," the captain was named "Avatar." Later, the word was associated with Internet communication, as a kind of visual signature. Later came the movie "Avatar."
I want to know if the proper spelling for the signature image is "avatar", or the corruption "avitar."
Thank you, Stormcatcher!
You're welcome. I was about to drop a few words more, topic-wise, but that got blasted during the last weeks' mayhem. Not that important, either.
I'm someone who rarely reads fiction at all, always preferring to read an encyclopedia from A to Z. So in order to entice me to fanfiction, the author would have to abide by the following rules:
1. No tropes. Especially no Mary-Sues.
2. Nothing OOC. Not even in the faintest imaginable way!
3. No AU, no crossovers ever.
4. No misspellings. An occasional mistyping will be generously ignored.
5. Handle original characters with care (see 2.).
6. Make sure you only write about things you are an expert in. I do not mean, "know something about", I mean expert. I'm the sort of guy who might detect a wrong nautical term or plant description as easily as a missing picture at an exhibition. And I'll either want to have it corrected or chuck the author forever.
7. General rules on "good reading" apply: Avoid repetitions and any terms that do not fit to the planet/universe. I nearly freaked out at the term "vandals" in Shards - that's the wrong word in all ways possible. Got me close to abandoning EQ, seriously.
8 - 10... will probably follow.
But I guess most of this has been stated already, hasn't it?
I agree, I'm not much into alternate universes and crossovers. Some are good, but it's hard enough to keep up with what is going on in the original fictional universe.
Just wondering, for those of you who have favorite fictional characters: Do you prefer an ordinary character who works hard for years, to become someone extraordinary, or a character who, through birth or by chance, becomes an extraordinary person?
It doesn't matter whether it is original work, AU, or a crossover. Make what you write sound believable. Research any subject you wish to use in your writings to make sure you are factually correct. Ask for the assistance of others, they may see what you are missing.
As for original characters to ooc's a mixture of both is a nice way to go. Keep true to the original characters. Make the ooc's seem real. As far working to develop a skill vs an innate skill, that would depend on what you what your characters to do. The only thing you have to watch for is a character that has no limits. Gets out of control at that point and can turn off the reader, so you want well rounded characters in that regard.
Stormcatcher has touched on a lot of things to watch for when writing. I would add punctuation as an item to watch for and sentence syntax.. If in doubt read it to yourself out loud. If it sounds funny to you, it will sound funny to others.
Other than that have fun writing and don't feel like you can't write, just write about what you know and have fun.
I learned in school that two of the most important elements in fiction, are character and exposition. Both make fiction interesting.
My pet peeve is a long, long, long run-on sentence devoid of punctuation.
Couple of notes... it is impossible to avoid tropes. They are tropes for some very good reasons. And they aren't necessarily BAD. The same goes for Mary Sues. They can be done HORRIFICALLY... or they can be done well. I will readily admit that just about ALL my OCs are Sues of one form or another. What makes them entertaining is that they all have their internal rules that they follow.
Consistency and Consequences are key.
An amateur writer (in terms of experience and quality, not compensation) breaks the rules because they don't know what the rules are. The professional writer (see caveat above) breaks the rules because they know what they're doing.
AUs and Crossovers CAN be done well, they just take an exceptional amount of care and creativity and attention to detail. I do agree, though, that the canon needs to be handled carefully. You can, as a writer, bend all sorts of things in the name of exploring this, that, or the other thing... but you still need to know what you're doing.