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Matt's Tips and Tricks

Postby Alaskamatt17 » Mon Apr 11, 2005 8:01 pm

One of the best pieces of advice I've ever received is to read your work out loud when doing revision. Do this after every draft until you can read it out loud and nothing sounds wrong. That's when the piece is finished. I'll try and post some more advice if I can, but I'm busy with school and writing.
After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are always artists as well.
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Outlining

Postby Alaskamatt17 » Mon Apr 11, 2005 8:12 pm

There are as may different methods for outlining as there are writers. Some of us like to go for the gusto without a scrap of notes; others will take years plotting their novel. Some people outline every scene in detail, maybe even down to the paragraph level; others paint the broadest picture they can with words, and fill in the space between.

My favorite method is something of a mongrel hybrid between the wide open and the concrete. At once it is both vague and exact. It is vague in the sense that I keep every crucial piece of information in my head, but exact in that I plan how many chapters the final novel will have, and how many pages each chapter will comprise. The end result is that I have a very good idea how much space I have to impart a sense of scene, character, or theme. Typically the process works as follows:

1)I come up with an idea for a novel.
2)I write a brief (ten to twenty-page) synopsis
3)I attach names to all my scenes, and come up with an estimate as to how long a chapter should be that contains the scene, allowing time for builup going into the chapter, and a slight bit of tension release after the main scene for the chapter has occurred.
4)I arrange the scenes in order on a sheet of paper, writing down only the chapter title and the page count.

That's it. Once this process if done, I just start writing. More on this later.
After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are always artists as well.
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Researching

Postby Alaskamatt17 » Mon Apr 11, 2005 9:51 pm

Before starting a novel, I like to familiarize myself with the subject matter. For instance, on my most recent novel, Orion's Key I re-read Jurassic Park, The Lost World, and The Lord of the Rings as preparation. It was a fantasy/sci-fi story involving a quest on a planet populated by intelligent dinosaurs. Preparing myself for it by reading these books helped.

In retrospect, I should have done much more research. Since writing the rough draft of Orion's Key I have learned so much more about paleontology and world-building than I ever knew before. I should have read every dinosaur fiction book before I started, and a few epic fantasies in addition.

For my next project, I intend to do just that. It's still a long way off (I have two books left in my dinosaur trilogy), but I'm planning my reading list now. Without giving too much away, my next project is going to be a medical thriller/fantasy involving the spread of an epidemic. I'm going to read as many disease-based thrillers as I can, as well as some of Neil Gaiman's fantasy, and Stephen King's The Stand.
After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are always artists as well.
-Albert Einstein
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Editing Tips: Part I

Postby Alaskamatt17 » Tue Apr 12, 2005 11:26 am

This will be the first post in this thread about editing and revising. Rest assured, more will come.

Editing is one of those things I hate but do anyway for the sake of my story. Taking a novel through seven drafts is not easy, and only slightly fun. The best way I've found to make it less excruciating is to focus on one thing per draft. Start with the big picture, then add in the details.

In my second draft, I always look for structural issues. Can a scene be weeded out? Can a character be weeded out? Sometimes even a whole chapter has to go. It's not pleasant cutting out this much, but it does seem to improve whatever piece is undergoing the process.

When doing these major structural changes, I usually stick with the word processor. After the second draft, however, it is time to print the manuscript. A printed manuscript is actually easier to edit: you can attack it relentlessly with a red pen. If every margin isn't full, you know you're going too easy on yourself (okay, that's an exaggeration. Every five pages or so, it's fine to leave a little white space, provided that page is good enough to deserve the special treatment). The comments can include things like: "shorten this scene", "add more description," "repair dialogue," "check for character consistency," or anything. It's fine to catch grammatical and spelling errors here, but not necessary. You'll have a whole draft devoted to that.

That's it for this post, I'll try putting up some more editing advice later today, or maybe tomorrow if things get to hectic.
After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are always artists as well.
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Postby Magus » Tue Apr 12, 2005 6:19 pm

So far it looks like you're giving very sound and useful advice. And your comments on the reading list have given me something to think about. I already figured that something like that would be necessary, but you just made me bring it up to the next level.

For your next book, I'd also recommend watching the movie Outbreak. It's very well done and does a lot to show how quickly an unchecked disease can spread.

Whenever I think I get a good idea for a story/novel I always write it out in detailed bulletted notes and craft it in my mind as fully as I can. I wait on it for a week or two and then, if I'm still just as exited as I was when I got the idea, I write a detailed 2-4 page summery that encompasses characters, events and other such developments.

Keep up the good work Alaskamatt17!!!
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Editing Tips: Part II

Postby Alaskamatt17 » Tue Apr 12, 2005 7:07 pm

Thanks, Magus. I'm trying to just post whatever tips come to me when I'm online. I think Outbreak was based on a book, but I'm not sure about that.

Well, back to tips on editing.

When you get your second draft completely covered in comments so that the amount of red ink hurts your eyes when you look at it, it's time to go back to the computer. Go through the manuscript document and make all the changes you suggested to yourself with your red pen. Depending on the length of your novel, this should shrink your word count about 10,000-20,000 words. It's really, really hard to see all those words flying out the window, as you will associate them with all the hours it took you to write the book. Think of it this way instead: for every unnecessary word that you don't cut out, there's at least another hour you'll have to wait before your book gets accepted somewhere. So edit ruthlessly.

Once this is done, it's time to get nitpicky. Microsoft Word has a search and replace function that comes in handy. It can be used to strain out the weakness in your prose. One of the better uses for this is to replace all instances of the letters "ly" with highlighted versions of themselves. (Use the drop-down menu for formatting, or consult your word processor's help file). You can also search and highlight exclamation marks. A good rule for exclamation marks is to cut out every one of them that is not part of a one or two word fragment.

After you have this whole process done, you're ready to go into the last couple of drafts, in which you revise to achieve style. Since I don't really know anything about style, I'll leave that topic for another post.
After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are always artists as well.
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Writing Battle Scenes

Postby Alaskamatt17 » Wed Apr 13, 2005 6:38 pm

I'm going to take a break from the topic of editing and move on to something a little more entertaining: battle scenes. As any fantasy writer knows, these scenes are tough. Sure, you may be able to outright tell what's happening, but usually it takes a little more to convey the sense that the reader is actually there.

One common trick is to use short paragraphs and short sentences. The reader will be covering so much space with their eyes that they'll feel worn out and battle-weary when they get through the scene. It also tends to be a little more heartpounding when the author is skipping from one thought to the next with little chance to segue.

But this is not necessary. Not by a long shot.

I recently finished a science fiction novel in which the climactic battle scene had paragraphs that spanned pages. And it was one of the most heart-pounding battles I've ever read. The secret was in the voice. There were no adverbs, no adjectives; commas came in short supply. I also noticed that most sentences lacked forms of the verb "to be." All of these things tend to slow the reader down.

For example: Murgar was leaping, sharp blade protruding from clenched fist, ready to spill his opponent's lifeblood upon the jagged ground.

Murgar leapt. His blade pierced his enemy's skin. By the time he wheeled to face the oncoming legion, the man's corpse had hit the ground.

The first sentence implies that action is about to happen. While this would work great for a suspense scene, it is not optimal in a battle. In a battle you don't think about getting ready to strike, you think about striking. And when the strike is through you move on to the next enemy. If you rest, you die.

The exception to these guidlines (and they are just guidelines) comes when you begin writing that epic siege where the White City falls. Not every moment in a siege is exciting. Sieges actually involve a great deal of sitting around waiting. Rather than focus on how boring it is for your characters to sit around and wait, however, it is a good idea to build a little dread. Everybody knows there's a huge army camping right outside the gate ready to slaughter them at the first chance. Don't you think it would be good to let your reader in on the anxiety, too? This is where you take on the kind of voice used in the first sentence above. It's a great tension builder, and when your action breaks loose as in the second sentence of my example, your readers will appreciate it more because they'll know what's at stake for the characters involved.
After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are always artists as well.
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Snuffing Writer's Block

Postby Alaskamatt17 » Thu Apr 14, 2005 1:43 am

The topic for this post is snuffing writer's block. I'll admit, I suffer this just like anyone else. But I know how to slay the beast.

I open up a blank Word document and just vent all my frustrations. It doesn't have to be coherent, or even grammatical or anything. I just type. Typing about the problem itself helps.

Here's an example:

I'm stuck in my story and I don't know where to go. I think I'll just sit here putting words on the screen until inspiration strikes, You know, it's a funny thing, because this is one of the scenes I've been looking forward to writing ever since I outlined the book series. It's really cool in my mind, it just read like vomit on the page. I guess you can't read vomit, but you get the idea.

Anyways, it's the one where Alex and Shalondur come into Dathalad, which is where they keep the tree-skimmers. Wow, this probably wouldn't make sense to anyone but me. Anyways, there's these towers where they keep these massive reaving vessels that the Camarasaurs drag across the canopy. That's what Alex and Shalondur see as they come into the valley where Dathalad rests. It's so awe-inspiring. Alex can't believe it. He sees the dinosaurs with their long necks milling about the perimeter of the harvest city, and the small fast ones are on catwalks between the skimmer towers so they can carry rope to prepare the various convoys. The ropes is made of vines and it's braided.

That's not the part I'm stuck on though, it's what's next that's hard. I don't know what happens to them when they come into the city. I mean, one minut they're marvelling at these tree-skimmers, the next: blank. It's aggravating. Maybe I'll have them go talk to the Harvest Master--he's the one in charge of this place anyways. Yeah, that sounds good. After all, Shalondur is Emperor, he needs to know what's going on. And with the Deinonychus army moving in there sure is a lot to prepare the city for.

Alex thinks it would be best to evacuate, but the stubborn harvest master just wants to fight. Shalondur takes Alex's side, too. That doesn't change anything. Since Wurrabond fell the Harvest Master says Shalondur doesn't have power anymore. That's a big problem, 'cause I bet it's gonna get Dathalad in trouble.

Whoa, that sounds great: Shalondur and Alex get kicked out, the Deinonychus army arrives after they leave, the whole city of Dathalad gets what it deserves because it's so snobby. I think I'm gonna go write that now.

****************************

And that's it. Nothing fancy, just a stream of thoughts that get you back in the writing mood. Hope this helps anyone else who suffers from writer's block.
After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are always artists as well.
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Postby Magus » Thu Apr 14, 2005 7:30 pm

I just a had a little bit of this last week. I was writing this one story that I carry with me to fill in those otherwise wasted gaps of time, the one about Bellemine Dragnus and Cheesor the Mad. Well, they're fighting this one mage they come across in the woods. He casts spells that form these explosive orbs that chase them around everywhere and destroy everything that they touch. That plus the mage formed a gollum out of stone and his sending giant plumes of fire at them all the while. I couldn't figure out how they'd possibly get out of it, but I knew that I'd betray the story if I had it any other way. I was able to come up with an ending that was fitting and believable to the scene. But I still lost a good bit of time thinking of it. It was worth it, though.
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Postby Neurolanis » Sun Apr 17, 2005 1:48 pm

Wow you really posted some good comments there, Alaskamatt17! You seem to be well disciplined. I appreciate your comments on battle scenes as I have many in my epic Fantasy novel and it's sometimes been frustrating. Breaking things up and stuff like that makes sense for sure. And I agree that in battles characters can't "prepare" a move, just make them! I also agree that there MUST be a sense of a heartbeat somehow. Either in the structure of the sentences, or in the style of the writing, or in the execution of the action.

I think another good point is that you must always describe things differently. The reader must feel like he/she is moving along through the adventure as it unfolds. Using a line like "...striked with his might axe and the armor split with a raoring thunder" twice would be in bad taste. So, I find myself using every conceivable word for 'noise' or 'clash' I can find!

Have you ever published anything, Alaskamatt17? I bet you're good. You seem to know exactly what you want from your stories.

Myself, I'm a scatterbrain and just throw myself blindly into a story. I toss myself at a corner and have to write my way back out -- and that is how I write! I just throw myself into and write my way out of corners!
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Postby Magus » Sun Apr 17, 2005 3:38 pm

I'm quite the opposite. I'm a meticulous planner that must have the story already mapped out in great detail. I do still leave a lot to the whim of the moment and interpretation of my current state-of-mind, but everything is just about planned out still. I know that some, Stephen King for example, writes without any outlining or previous planning, just writes what comes to them in a given moment. I just find that I cannot do that.

Also, "striked" should be "struck". So you're right in saying that it's not proper writing. It's not even proper English.

:roll:

:wink:
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Postby Neurolanis » Sun Apr 17, 2005 8:20 pm

Yeah, yeah, yeah. :?
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