Anonymous asked: Right now, I’m working on this story or trying to at least. The thing is, I don’t know where to start. I already have the characters, their roles, the setting, and plot together but… I’m having trouble actually “writing” it. What should I do?
Congratulations, you have reached the easiest part of the story-telling process. All of your research, your character creation, your plotting, and your world building is ready to be synthesized into what will become the first draft of your story! All you have to do now is write it! Wicked easy, right?
Kind of. Writing is a very personal process. No one can tell you when or how to be creative; you learn how you navigate your creative process by tapping into it often. Go tap. Do that now.
As far as starting to write your story down, here’s what you do: Put the pen on the paper and start writing words. Make sure you phrase those words into sentences and structure those sentences into paragraphs with dialogue and description (or not). Keep writing these sentences until you finish telling the story. Don’t stop until the whole thing is out there in ink on paper.
Alternatively, you could do this on a computer. Or with a pencil.
The crux of it is this: The story is not going to get written unless you write it. So write it.
Read these articles and come back to us if you need further assistance!
- In the Beginning
- Eight Secrets Which Writers Won’t Tell You
- 25 Things I Want to Say to Aspiring Writers
Thank you for your question!
Anonymous asked: Kind of building upon the ask about cliches in fantasy writing. My series is centered around a prophecy. While I don’t plan on erasing that, because that is a key feature in the books, do you think that prophecies are extremely overdone, and, if so, do you think that, if done correctly or uniquely, they could be considered less cliche?
Prophecies are exceptionally commonplace in fantasy writing, it’s true. There are lovers of fantasy out there that do not want to read another prophecy story. They conveniently present a series of internal and external conflicts to characters, and oftentimes those conflicts are played out very similarly across different fantasy works.
- It is very hard to say that an idea is always a bad idea. Being cliché does not mean being wrong in every case. While the prophecy is hackneyed, it could still work. For example, the Harry Potter series relies on the prophecy heavily as one of Harry’s sources of frustration through the story. Harry Potter is a successful series (please don’t kill, us Potter fans!), but prophecies were cliché before it was released just as they are cliché now.
- Be intensely honest about your writing. This question does beg to be asked: do you really need to leave it in? If you had started the story over and didn’t put the prophecy in at all, would you still have a story? Would it be better? This is a question that you must ask yourself. Be honest. If the answer is yes, you need it, then have at it. If the answer is no, or maybe “I could be more creative here”, then it’s time to break of the red pen and edit.
- Correct and unique do not go together. You asked if prophecies could be done “correctly or uniquely,” and if that would make them effective. You cannot do a prophecy both correctly and uniquely. They are opposites.
- “Correctly” implies that there is a right way to do it, which seems that it’s going to end up being remarkably cliché if that’s the way everyone else has been doing it all this time. Nobody describes a work of literature as “correct”.
- “Uniquely” means that you look at the normal plot situations presented by the prophecy cliché and tackle them in a way that surprises you and your reader. People have been at this for a long time, and it will not be easy, but if you can write a prophecy uniquely (and well) then you will be successful.
When all is said and done, if you read your story and say “Hey, this reeks of Author So-and-So,” then you have a problem. If you read it and say “Hey, I’m proud of the way I twisted this classic element and made it unique,” then you’re in good shape.
- Making Prophecies Work
- On Prophecies in Fantasy
- Fate and Prophecy Tropes
- Prophecy in Writing a Fantasy Novel
- The Use of Prophecy in Fantasy (SFF Chronicles Forum)
- Kick the Fantasy Cliche (And Some World Building Tips)
Thanks for your question! As always, if you have any comments or suggestions on this topic or writing in general, please send a message to our ask box!
What place, if any, does profanity have in writing? There are as many different answers as there are types of writing.
Novels that purport to reflect real life must include profanity if the life they reflect includes use of profanity. This is difficult to accept for many people of a certain age, dismayed by the ubiquity of swearwords in modern literature, who have the disadvantage of having grown up during an era when books and movies were censored. (But let’s get real: In the Old West, cantankerous cowboys did not refer to each other as “You no-good so-and-so,” and in combat, to paraphrase a well-known expression, there are no decorous speakers in foxholes.) Popular entertainment often admittedly goes overboard in drenching dialogue in profanity, but that is merely an exaggeration, not a fabrication, of reality.
If you’re going to write novels or short stories, it seems that to be honest with yourself and your readers, if a story takes place in a milieu in which profanity is uttered, at least some of your characters are going to be swearing. If, however, the setting does not lend itself to cursing, it’s not an issue.
Over the past couple of years, several nonfiction books with asterisk-laden titles have appeared, including Sh*t My Dad Says, a compendium of quotations from the author’s foul-mouthed father; the self-explanatory A**holes Finish First and The Complete A**hole’s Guide to Handling Chicks; the bedtime-book parody Go the F**k to Sleep; and the latest example, the trivia compendium The Little Book of Big F*#k Ups: 220 of History’s Most Regrettable Moments. These books were preceded some years ago by the memoir Another Bull**** Night in Suck City, which is being adapted into a film starring Robert DeNiro. (The movie version, apparently, is titled Welcome to Suck City.)
Our society is not yet ready for uncensored book covers (or movie titles), but the pages between are accessible only to those who choose to access them, whether in a bookstore or a library (or someone’s home), so outcries of outrage are pointless. Few book publishers would permit profanity in books targeted to minors, but you might argue that children can thumb through such books in the adult-trade shelves. If, while doing so, they see swear words they don’t already know (whether they use them or not), what damage, exactly, has been done? Explicit sex and violence are a much greater concern than naughty words.
Again, if you choose to write — in this case, nonfiction — and if swearing is appropriate to your presentation, cuss away. If it isn’t, the question is irrelevant.
Journalism and Online Publications
Does profanity have a place in journalism? Mainstream print publications, and their online versions, so as to avoid alienating subscribers and advertisers, are unlikely to reproduce quoted profanity or allow it in the narrative. If it is necessary to report that a profane or obscene word was uttered or was printed elsewhere, the publication will either disguise the word with asterisks or other marks, or paraphrase it.
Publications that cater to certain demographics, however, tend to allow foul language for dramatic or comic effect. You can protest that such usage is gratuitous or excessive, but that means the publication is not appropriate for you, not that it’s inappropriate.
Newspapers and magazines, whether read on paper or on screen, are commercial products, and editors will determine what constitutes acceptable content in the context of the market. Publishers of niche publications, and of self-published materials such as blogs, are entitled to decide for themselves.
Degrees of Profanity
Ultimately, the question any purveyor of prose must answer is, where do you draw the line? Certain four-letter words are either acceptable or anathema. But what about minor league profanity: hell, damn, and the like? If you prohibit these words in your publication, what about heck, darn, and gosh, which are all merely disguised forms of literally profane profanity? What about effing or bleep? Everyone knows what each means or could mean. Why permit euphemisms or evasive explications? Don’t you risk offending readers or site visitors who resent such coy conjurings intended to wink-and-nudge them about what you might otherwise have explicitly stated?
The more significant connotation of that question is, why choose profanity over no profanity? Using profane and obscene words certainly communicates passion, but are you taking the low road, the easy way out, by dropping f-bombs instead of raising eloquent arguments? Are you debasing language, and culture, by pandering to provocation?
I’m not advocating or attacking profanity. I swear on occasion, and not just when I hit my thumb with a hammer. I believe that use of profanity in speech or writing can be both a rich source of humor and effective as an emphatic rhetorical device. But it doesn’t matter what I think. For both producers and consumers of content, it is an individual issue: Either you accept it, or you don’t.
NOTE FROM WRITEWORLD: Bookmark DailyWritingTips.com immediately.
I have a problem when I write, I have very little dialogue. It’s not that I can’t write it, but just the way I write tends towards not having very much dialogue. People say that’s not good.
Well, I hate to say it, but ‘they’ are right. A story must have dialogue to push forward. (The only exceptions being an internal monologue or short story focusing solely on feelings and the like.) Dialogue is used to make characters learn about each other, and themselves. It makes characters grow in themselves and with other people.
Some writers avoid writing dialogue, even if by accident, purely because they don’t know how to write it realistically. Here are some protips on writing realistic dialogue:
- Use contractions. People speak in contractions. It’s just how it is. Unless it’s someone speaking English as a second language, or a grammarian who’s a stickler for sounding proper, people speak in contractions. i.e. Cannot=can’t, I am=I’m, who is=who’s, etc. (Though sometimes people avoid using contractions for emphasis. This is, obviously, acceptable, but try not to overdo it. I have trouble with that sometimes…)
- Use slang. A lot of people avoid using slang because it’s not ‘Standard English’. But people speak in slang, so why wouldn’t the dialogue contain it? Don’t be afraid to use ‘sup’, ‘mkay’, or ‘lol’. (Though I have qualms about the last one there…)
- Write as the character. This one’s obvious, but I’m serious. If you’re writing the dialogue for a three-year-old, use things such as, ‘otay’, ‘fahtruck’, ‘tayoes’, or ‘ice cweam’. (Okay, firetruck, potatoes, and ice cream, respectively. I borrowed my nephews vocabulary on that one.) Likewise, if you’re writing a fifty-something-year-old Southerner, be sure to use things like, ‘y’all’, ‘j’eat, and ‘I’m goin’ down now’. (You all, did you eat?, I’m going home now.) Basically, know who you’re writing.
- Listen. Pay attention to every day conversation. Pick up on certain ways different people say things. Take note of peoples’ ages and dialects and how they speak and what words they use. Being attentive will help you greatly when it comes to writing dialogue.
Now, if you already know these things and truly feel you just cannot, for some reason, include dialogue, well… That’s unique to me. It might be a common problem, but I’ve never heard of someone having trouble including dialogue at all.
Any writing blogs wanna weigh in?
for Fantasy Faction
Anyone who follows celebrity gossip knows there is a downside to fame. Addictions, bankruptcy, and sex scandals threaten to tarnish a star’s image. Perhaps the biggest downside of fame is that, for most, fame is temporary. Why? Imitation. A hit record or a hit movie creates an army of fans. Producers start looking for the “next big thing” to satisfy the demands of those fans. Copycat acts start appearing, the market becomes saturated, and the fans move on.
The copycats are even worse when it comes to fiction because that market does not move as quickly. Imitation survives far longer than it should, until it calcifies into cliché. But there is hope. Writers can avoid using clichés, and readers can avoid stories that are lousy with clichés. To that end, I offer the following top ten list of fantasy clichés that deserve to be put to rest, once and for all.
- A Prophecy or Destiny
One of the most enjoyable aspects of reading is watching characters develop as they struggle to overcome challenges. If the readers, or worse the characters, have some foreknowledge of how these challenges will be met, the drama loses all impact. It’s a shortcut, a cheat code. At best, the reader will want to skip the hundreds of pages a character spends resisting prophecy or destiny. At worst, the reader will throw the book across the room, suspecting that the ending has been spoiled. And as far as false prophets, a surprise interpretation of prophecy, or a mistaken chosen one, skip those as well. These twists are no longer surprising.
- (2a) The Orphan/Chosen One
Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, and King Arthur/Wart. Across media, this is a common cliché, often related to prophecy. As children, we all dreamed of being picked from obscurity to become a celebrity, a hero, or a doer-of-great-deeds. Let’s leave those dreams in childhood and not in our fantasy novels, okay?
(2b) The Wise, Old Wizard
Otherwise known as the bearded deus ex machina. Does the protagonist have a guide or a mentor? Fine. But I draw the line at stories in which the protagonist and his friends have been struggling for the past two chapters, only to have a wizard swoop in and solve their problems with a wave of his wand or a magical phrase. I think readers would prefer a wizardless solution, where the protagonist solves problems for himself.
- The Dark Lord (Corollary: the Pure Superhero)
Similarly, I would argue that it is acceptable for a story to contain a tyrant king or a bloodthirsty general. But if the antagonist is evil for the sake of being evil, that story has crossed the line into cliché. A villain never sees himself as a villain but as a hero in his own mind. Unjustified evil is boring. And so too is unmitigated goodness. That’s why Batman is better than Superman.
- White Hat Good/Black Hat Bad (Corollary: good people are beautiful; evil people are ugly.)
Any story that relies on some form of simplistic shorthand to divide good from evil should be avoided. Now that’s not to say that you can’t have symbols or uniforms for opposing sides in a war, but any sort of Manichean marker, such as the color of clothing, race, or species is too reductionist. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy fell victim to this cliché, with his Aryan/good elves and dark/bad Orcs and Uruk-hai, but George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series flipped the cliché, with (mostly) honorable men wearing the black of the Night’s Watch, while corrupted men wear the white of the King’s Guard.
- The Races/Species are Uniform
Just as an entire race or species shouldn’t be purely angelic or demonic (even angels or demons need complexity and variation), members of a race or species shouldn’t look or act the same as if they were clones of one another. Look at humanity: the variation is quite dramatic. Yet it is rare to see such variation among elves, dwarves, or other fantasy creatures.
- Men, Front and Center (Corollary: women are to be put on pedestals or martyred.)
Take a look at the protagonist and secondary characters. Are they all men? Are the women in your story afterthoughts? A beautiful princess in need of rescue? A goddess sacrificing her immortality for the sake of a handsome hero? A grandmother or witch? Just as races or species shouldn’t be simple stereotypes, neither should female characters. Look for stories that challenge sexist conventions. Readers prefer strong female characters. Choose Buffy Summers over Snow White.
- Unrealistic Fighting (Corollary: unrealistic healing from wounds.)
A hero cannot take on a dozen assailants simultaneously and win. And a group of assailants would not wait to attack the hero one after the other. The hero would likely be killed, or at least horribly injured. And in a society where medical knowledge is limited, these injuries would have long-lasting consequences (barring magical healing, but see cliché number 8). Broken bones not set properly would cause pain and limit motion. Arthritis would be common, not to mention pain and nerve damage. Again, George Martin does inflict long-lasting injuries on many characters in his A Song of Ice and Fire series.
- Magic Without Limits
This follows from clichés two and three. Magic should be constrained in some way. There should be a cost to acquiring a magical ability and limits on the exercise of magic. Otherwise, magic can be used to solve all problems and overcome all challenges posed in the story.
- The Church of Witch Burning
Religion can be a difficult subject in fiction. Historically, churches have been a source of community, of spiritual and worldly education, and of political power. Although a fictional religion can stand in opposition to magic or magicians, or even actively struggle against them, a fictional religious order shouldn’t be reduced to one overarching cause. Religion becomes reactionary, making it difficult to justify all those religious adherents. Check out Mary Doria Russell’s portrayal of the Jesuits in The Sparrow or Walter M. Miller’s monks in A Canticle for Leibowitz for examples of a more complete portrayal of a religious order.
- Strange Spellings
Stories should not have to rely on capitalizing words or spelling them differently to invoke a sense of mystery or power about the word or concept. The context in which the word is used should be sufficient. The same goes for changing the names of recognizable animals in order to make the beast sound more fantastic. Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series relies on creative spelling and excessive apostrophes quite heavily: Dhai’mon, Dhjin’nen, Ghob’hlin, Gho’hlem, Ghraem’lan, and Ko’bal, for example.
Readers may recognize elements of The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey among my clichés. Please understand that I am not criticizing these stories themselves. I am criticizing imitations of these stories. A familiar character or plot device becomes a cliché only if it lacks originality. Execution is the key to storytelling. If an author is able to bring creativity and beauty to a story, the idea will likely rise above cliché, becoming something else entirely. For example, the first book of Gene Wolfe’s The Wizard Knight is about a boy transported to a sword-and-sorcery world where he must find a magic sword and become a knight. Yet Wolfe’s talent prevents that story from becoming a cliché.
I encourage readers to look for stories that challenge conventions that twist clichés into something new, favor complexity over simplicity, and aim for originality. Celebrate those stories, and ignore the knock-offs.