Normally, this is the sort of thing I’d post to the more casual blog, but I’d probably receive the third degree there for what I’m about to say.
As a hobbyist writer, I’ve been involved with online writing communities for nearly 15 years now and have experienced dozens of different kinds of writer cultures. I think I can safely say that I’ve seen most of the usual writing-and-book-publishing dramas that eventually crop up in such creative circles. I’ve also been the odd beta reader, a casual editor, and a frequent reviewer.
If there’s one bit of advice that I highly recommend to both readers and editors, it’s that in online circles where writers post more personal stuff or post more casually written things (not officially published works), one must bear in mind that many writers have egos that are as fragile as glass.
Now, I’m not saying that you need to protect their fragile egos from criticism or rejection. Hell no. That’s unhealthy and unrealistic and quite frankly some of us writers actually prefer to hear honest critiques or to know when we make a typo in our creative writing (we exist!). Writers/artistic people can and should be responsible for managing their own emotions, reactions, mental health, and so on. But, uh, in close-knit writing groups on social media, fandom culture, etc etc it might be better for you to take a moment to think before you say something to them there because I’ve seen many folks make an off-hand comment or note something with the intention to be helpful and then immediately regret it because social media can breed such nasty backlash. You can go full Leeroy Jenkins if you want, but also be smart and protect yourself in this screwed up age of internet harassment culture, mmkay?
Also, certain writing circles can turn into toxic echo chambers of the same old advice, same old rules of etiquette, and other toxic behaviors such that folks who think differently will eventually leave (usually to form their own groups). Sometimes it’s better to gracefully bow out or otherwise stop expending so much energy rather than try to force a change on something that refuses to be changed. Because it bears repeating: Don’t set yourselves on fire to keep others warm.
Since I don’t really have much to add in the way of writing advice that hasn’t already been said before, here’s some funky writing prompts instead:
- An eldritch abomination/horrifying cryptid is actually real and comes into the public limelight to terrify humanity again, only to be rather confused by having a ready-made fandom and memes about them. They eventually decide that stardom isn’t so bad and becomes a regular figure on talk shows, discussing their horror dimensions from which they originated.
- A deity falls in love with you and while their text messages to you are god-tier entertaining, you’re really not interested in a relationship with them.
- A mysterious entity takes over your country’s government and appears to be capable of controlling everything that happens with very little effort. However, they have a weakness for your award-winning homemade recipe and would do just about anything for a batch.
- History class at night school is rather boring until ghosts start giving their input during the lectures.
- Whenever anything is burned to ashes, it appears in another dimension. The original resident of this other dimension is starting to get rather annoyed by the clutter.
- Atlanteans asked the gods to hide them from the rest of the world because they were having a very bad case of Impostor Syndrome-induced anxiety and didn’t want to put up with other people’s pressures and expectations anymore.
- Demons don’t cook anything to eat and they think the human customs of doing so are essentially a magical religious practice.
- A knight has a mission to rescue a princess from the villain/monster, only to find that she has already escaped and the only clues as to where she went were left behind in a diary.
- A wizard commissions a magical cloak of invisibility, but a typo in their order leads them to receive a cloak of enhanced visibility instead.
- A young witch attempts the common taboo of making a love potion and manages to succeed, but the potion promotes platonic love and enhanced communication skills. The government sees it as a threat to the war effort.
(Crossposted from my other writing blog.)
Or: Funky things that have really happened and that would be fun writing prompts or writing inspiration in the right, non-chronically-sleep-deprived-because-grad-school hands.
These are so underused in fiction even though they can be a treasure trove of humor and drama just waiting to happen. Admittedly, it would take more work to tweak these for a fantasy or science-fiction series, but it probably wouldn’t be impossible. Also, a lot of these can be applied to the Found Family/Family of Choice trope.
- The youngest sibling and the oldest sibling wear styles from completely different decades (e.g. 80s and 90s) because the youngest kid’s entire wardrobe is hand-me-downs from the older ones. And yes, it looks as hilarious in family photos as you might think.
- Birthdays and holidays spawning a lot of Dobby the House Elf moments
- There is no such thing as a perfect family photo. Someone is always blinking or making a silly face or sneaking in a rude gesture. Always.
- Grocery carts piled ridiculously high with the basics and yet inevitably one item on the list will always be forgotten and it just so happens to be essential for dinner
- Cooking a meal involves both racks of the oven, three-quarters of the stove, and sometimes an electric griddle or crock pot on the side
- Bunkbed Discourse™ x1000
- Four+ people trying to get ready in a bathroom at the same time (the nicer ones will eventually give up and get ready in a bedroom that has a decent mirror but they’ll still maintain that the bathroom mirror is the best)
- One sibling piled under two blankets with three pillows over their head in their fully-lit bedroom at 1:38 AM because one of their siblings procrastinated on their homework. Meanwhile, a third sibling reads a book and the fourth sibling sneaks back through the window from their latest nighttime adventure.
- Similarly, siblings getting roped into homework projects and favors around the clock, especially if they involve videos, pranks, or both
- One sibling bribing a pack of siblings with junk food or favors so that they’ll leave the sibling alone with their crush
And if you have more to add (even if you don’t have many siblings), by all means, please do so in the comments! This was pretty fun to think about, even if messily organized.
(A crosspost from my other books and writing blog)
Photo by Markus Spiske
Voice is a skill to be developed, like any other writing skill. Give yourself permission to stretch it and challenge it and expand it and enhance it.
via #82: Getting Bored of Your Own Writing Voice — Story Hospital
(Hi all, I’ve been swamped with work for the past week or so and it’s not letting up any time soon, unfortunately. In lieu of one of my own posts, I’d like to share a Story Hospital post that I really enjoyed reading and that taught me a few things. Hope all of you have a great week! – Cinnia)
(Written partly because I finally had the opportunity to read a good romantic story last week and was pleasantly surprised when none of these common things cropped up)
- Describing a male love interest as an “Adonis” or “Greek God”
I mean, first of all, this is a lazy way to avoid describing how someone looks. I get that description isn’t easy for every writer to do, but this one thing is incredibly overused and relatively easy to cut out of the writing during the editing process. Unless the person is literally a Greek God, and even if they are, maybe try to find a photo or drawn reference for the character’s features and use that when describing them.
- Lest the previous point give the wrong impression, this does NOT mean waxing poetic about a character’s hair, eyes, and the outfit they’re wearing (down to their shoelaces) for several paragraphs.
I mean many of us are probably guilty of staring at a crush for too long, but infodumping details on a reader is going to bore them to tears and they’re much more likely to skim the material than remember it.
When introducing a character, try to space out the descriptive details a bit and work them into other parts of the story rather than when the reader first meets them. Look up one of the many writing guides on describing characters to see more detailed ideas on how to do this.
Also, please, please, please don’t keep repeating someone’s eye/hair/skin color several times unless it’s 100% relevant to the plot. I promise, the reader got it the first or second time.
- Snooping on the love interest while they’re bathing/swimming/etc. and ogling their body in full detail
For a while, I hoped this creepy trope had died out by the mid-2000s, but then I saw it in works published in 2015 onwards (happening to both male and female characters) so, no, it has yet to be killed with fire. Blech.
First of all, I don’t care if a character is super attracted to their love interest: Creeping on them during a private moment kills the romantic vibe because it violates consent between the characters. How is the reader supposed to trust that consent won’t be violated in other ways?
In other words, if the love interest doesn’t consent to voyeuristic observation, don’t include it in the story to show attraction because it quite frankly isn’t.
- Once they do get close to becoming or have become a couple, protectiveness =/= possessiveness.
I kinda feel like there must be some confusion on the part of some writers between the two characteristics, but they are NOT the same. Also, the latter one is a big red flag of toxic relationships, not healthy ones.
Some protective characteristics: supports partner through crises, helps them if they are at risk of harm, knows when to express concern and offer help but (most importantly) knows when to back off and let their partner do things without their involvement.
Some possessive characteristics: knowing (and following) their partner’s every move, threatening to harm their partner or another person if the other person even makes prolonged flirtatious eye contact with their partner, and refusing to back off when their partner wants to handle a problem on their own.
- Treating romance as a magical band-aid for other personal problems
Okay, here’s a typical romantic plot I’ve seen: Girl meets Boy. Boy has mental health problems. Girl and Boy fall in love. Boy’s mental health problems magically disappear from the story.
Admittedly, I picked the more sexist version of this trope a la “my love can fix him” but it’s unfortunately common. I think mostly why it crops up so much is because a) some writers might wish it really was that easy to fix mental illnesses and b) a failure to consider characters’ lives outside of their relationships.
Point being: Love is not a magic fix. If someone is dealing with serious problems at the beginning of a story, then they need to continue to deal with it after they have a partner, just like in real life, healthy relationships. Otherwise, the problem in the story just feels like a gimmick thrown in there to add angst, which does a disservice to readers who want to read about characters who struggle with similar problems.
(Crosspost from my other writing blog)
Image credit: Alejandro Avila
(Based on The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth)
Here’s something Forsyth inspired me to make to experiment with style and see what to add or remove from my writing toolbox.
For each of the figures of speech, try writing a few sentences (or more) using it. If you have the book, that’ll be handy since it has many examples of each type to get you thinking. Otherwise, a browser search plus the book’s Wikipedia page will be handy. Try not to focus on writing the best possible responses as much as practicing it and getting a feel for how it sounds in your writing. Good luck!
- Periodic sentences
- Hypotaxis and Parataxis
- Rhetorical Questions
- The Fourteenth Rule
- Metonymy and Synecdoche
- Transferred Epithets
- Scesis Onomaton
(Cross-posted from my other writing-focused blog)
Image credit: Pexels
Or, Questions to Ask When Worldbuilding
As a reader, reviewer, and a writer of fantasy, one of the things I’ve noticed over the years is that writers tend to get hung up on the worldbuilding, especially for high fantasy. It’s also curious that there appears to be a running assumption that writers must base their high fantasy culture(s) on Earth-based cultures, even if they do take a leaf from Dungeons & Dragons and Tolkien now and again.
I mean, they’re certainly welcome to do so. IMHO, drawing on inspiration from real places and people is not so different from fanfiction writers who create transformative works from an original source as well. Both have the bonus of including lots of curated wiki articles and books and experts to create a base for the writer’s worldbuilding to grow from.
On the other hand, what if writers don’t want to do that and want to create everything from scratch? Well, that’s certainly a more difficult route to follow when writing high fantasy, but not impossible. However, it will require a lot more work and careful thinking on the writer’s part when worldbuilding and editing because they must create the earth and grow the seeds of the stories all by themselves.
Additionally, this style of worldbuilding does not mean writers can avoid research or engaging careful critiquers or sensitivity readers when they are preparing to publish their novels. The style may have changed, but basic building blocks of all writers remain the same.
Here are a few questions to get fantasy writers thinking:
- What are the basic needs of the characters?
- Do they need water and oxygen, like so many usual fantasy characters?
- Or do they survive in some other way?
- e.g. imagine a species that could survive living near a submarine volcano or on an ice planet
- What languages are spoken?
- How does their structure influence other aspects of the world, such as the lingua franca, character’s names, colloquial expressions, and history?
- e.g. agglutinative (Korean, Quechua, Turkish) vs fusional languages (Spanish, Pashto, Russian) or something completely different
- Note how all of these examples are very different as well, which might help with creating languages that aren’t essentially word-for-word codes of English or some other European language
- What plants and animals (including insects) might be available as resources for food, clothing, etc.?
- It’s not high fantasy, but consider how the planets of Star Wars are so different with respect to this. Lots of unique species and fashion styles are what makes them so memorable.
- How would the world’s politics work?
- Do they even conceptualize politics the same way we do?
- Another way of asking this: Who leads? Who has power? How does context and conflict influence that?
- When creating an entirely new species, also think about how relationships and communities might work.
- Is the species solitary or community-based?
- Do they welcome outsiders and ideas from outsiders or do they stay isolated and focus on preserving their culture(s)?
- Are they nomadic or fixed? Maybe something in between?
- What things and ideas do they value?
- Do people stay together to raise their offspring (e.g. like marriage)?
- Do they even have offspring?
Anyway, just some things to prod the brain to think differently for a little bit.
As always, good luck with your worldbuilding and writing!
(Crossposted from my other writing-focused blog)
Image credit: Pexels
The question is how to go about writing characters who aren’t like you, not whether you are allowed to.
via #71: You Are Allowed to Write Outside Your Own Experience — Story Hospital
(Hey y’all, I’m bogged down with Life Stuff at the moment and don’t really have the energy to write an original post at the moment, so I thought I might share another Story Hospital response about a subject that’s very important to me as a writer. Hope you find it useful and insightful!)
Looking like a finished work isn’t what a first draft is for. It’s a tool to help you tell the story.
via NaNoWriMo: Why “Bad” First Drafts Are Great — Story Hospital
(I thought I’d share a link to this post now that we’re closer to the end of the month. It has many good pointers about not being disappointed in the first draft of a story. It also applies to the first drafts of many types of writing in general. Best of luck with everything this week! – Cinnia)
It probably goes without saying that I love to write, probably just as much as I love to read. I love flexing my creative muscles, but also consider blogging a close companion — it’s been my years-long, ill-kept secret means of unleashing my energy and weird thoughts on the Internet.
In many ways, writing makes me feel like a guest invited to another world or into the lives of my characters and my readers, though this probably makes the process seem more formal and organized than it truly is.
A more apt description, perhaps, is that I become a fly on the wall, privy to scenes and thoughts and emotions that seem to spring from my mind to my fingertips when I start writing them down. It’s almost like I hear the words and the descriptions and the poetry, but not quite — it’s something that becomes heard once it’s written, but until then it’s far away but ever-noticeable, like a train horn sounding off in the distance.