[Resource] Writer's Tactica

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Didi et Gogo
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[Resource] Writer's Tactica

Post#1 » Sep 16 2009 04:16

In a short fiction thread I'm writing (shameless plug), it was suggested by another member that having a resource on hand at ATT with writing advice would be a good idea. I think so too.There are many resources that concern information and content (e.g. the Library stickies, MDCP manuals, anything Doombringer writes ;)), but nothing that concerns the craft of writing specifically.

So I decided that I would start this resource. I am by no means an expert on writing - my experience is all of one creative writing course on poetry I took three years ago, and a slew of philosophy essays from uni - but I have some kernels of wisdom that were passed on to me, so I'll put them down. After that, I'll cede the floor to ATT to fill in more advice from there. Post or PM me some good basic advice, and I'll update the first post to keep the format.
-Tim




Image


Practice: Practice, practice, practice....
    Writers aren't born with pens in their hands. They learn. Writing is a skill like any other, and you can learn it by doing it a lot. The more you write, the more mistakes you make, and the more you learn to avoid them. The more you write, the more triumphs you'll have, and the more you learn to repeat them. Consider this the Cardinal Rule.
    Credit for this rule goes to Elliott, thanks!


Read: Read the kind of books you want to write. Read different kinds of books. Read any book.
    It's the best advice I've ever gotten about writing. Reading gives you an instant familiarity with the language and plot construction of professionally edited, commercially approved writing. That knowledge is invaluable, because it allows you to synthesize a broad range of story-writing into your own style, and gives you a bank of ideas to draw from when you get stuck.
    Furthermore:
    Doombringer wrote:"If you're writing about jets, research air combat maneuvers or fly a flight sim or three (Falcon 4.0 has always been a personal favorite, with its fully simulated Korean campaign). If you're writing a war story (and face it, anyone here should be, this is 40k we're talking about), then read about war. It isn't all about the guns and explosions, it's about the emotions. Despite this, knowing how to tactically maneuver down a narrow corridor, and writing such, only serves to add the depth and ambiance to the setting that turns a good story into a great one. If you're writing about grunts, read up on infantry and their notable battles and tactics (let me know, I'll host the Marine Corps Commandant's Reading List). If you're writing about armor, there's a whole wealth of information on tank battles if you know where to look (Tigers in the Mud, by Otto Carius, for example, is one of my personal favorites!).
    On the other side of this coin, don't drown your reader in jargon and over-explanation. This is a huge difficulty for me, personally... Most people don't need to know [extremely] specific stuff, and it's going to be a judgment call on the author's part on when and if he or she should inform the reader of it at all...."


Read it Aloud: Read it aloud to yourself, or, better yet, have a friend read it aloud to him or herself.
    Remember that storytelling existed before written language. While it is true that some narrative styles are almost illegible out loud,* most prose benefits from oral recitation a lot. When you read your story out loud, problems that you didn't even know were there will pop out at you like sore thumbs. It's even better if you can get a friend to do it, so that they don't know what to expect.
*Curiously, Watership Down


Show, Don't Tell: If you can, show the reader what's happening instead of telling them.
    I always hated the way this rule is phrased, but it's also good advice. Instead of telling a reader what's going on, show them. Exposition is boring to read, so you want as much information to be picked up "incidentally" as possible. For instance:
    "Shakespeare" wrote:Ghazghkull Thraka walked into the soda parlour and sat down. It was very clean and had a row of red leather stools at the counter. Ghazghkull order a strawberry sundae.
    Here, Shakespeare sets the scene just by describing it. It's really boring.
    Contrast it with:
    "Jane Doe" wrote:Leaving a trail of muddy prints on the soda parlour's gleaming floor, Ghazghkull Thraka set his enormous bulk to rest on a stool at the bar. Protesting under his weight, the red leather cushion groaned so loudly, the server had to ask him for his order twice. "Strawberry sundae," he growled.
    Here, the reader just follows Thraka, and incidentally picks up the same information as before, without having to sit through a bunch of exposition. They both have their place, but showing is often better.


Ask yourself...: It is always good to ask questions about what the goals are in the story.
    Often, people will start writing anything. That's great, and its always good to brainstorm, but once some good ideas hit the page, you'll want to start asking questions. The purpose of these questions is to designating goals for the story. You can have a goals for the whole story, for a chapter, or even just a paragraph, and once you know what your goals are you can direct the story to fulfilling them. Done right, answering these questions can taking a very general idea and focus it into a specific intention.
    The biggest question to ask is "Why?": Why am I writing this story? Why am I writing this paragraph? Why would Marneus Calgar steal a strawberry sundae? This means you stay a step ahead of your reader. The last thing you want as an author is for someone to get to the end of a chapter and wonder what the point of it was. If you constantly ask "why?", then every part of your story will have a purpose furthering the overall goals, and the reader will never have to wonder why a Chapter Master and a Warboss would eat sundaes.


Know Thy Foe: Get inside your characters' heads.
    One of the things that you often hear from authors being interviewed is what it was like to "live with" their characters for the years that they wrote their novel. The key here is to try to put yourself into the shoes of your character and then think like they do. You imagine their goals, their fears, their impulses, their inner-struggles, and then use these to motivate your character. This is one of the reasons why Tau are so hard to write. Because they have an entirely different culture and ideology,* it becomes very difficult to detach yourself from everything you know and think like an alien. Still, practice can make this one of the most compelling tools in your arsenal because it will make everything that your characters do make sense. "Living" with your characters will give them depth and realism that you couldn't capture otherwise.
    This is especially useful in confrontations:
    Elliott wrote:I've found the best way to write a confrontation between two forces is to think like the antagonists. If you begin a story - keeping in mind that the antagonist is a rational actor who wants to win and will plan accordingly - it goes a long way towards (1) making your plot stronger and filled with less holes, and (2) driving the action, as the heroes react to/predict the actions of their foe.
*A different Lebenswelt for the phenominalists/Germans out there.


Active Voice: Wherever possible, listen to the MS Word paperclip.
    Excessive overuse of the passive voice is a mistake made by a lot of novice writers because it looks more erudite. I loved making this mistake when I learned to write essays, and it took forever to wean myself of it. The key is to look out for unneeded uses of the verb "to be." For example:
    "Shakespeare" wrote:Ghazghkull's sundae was eaten by Marneus.
    Is clumsier, and not as compelling as:
    "Jane Doe" wrote:Marneus ate Ghazghkull's sundae.
    This becomes a big problem when an author uses the passive voice and neglects to mention who does the action. For example:
    "Marlowe" wrote:Ghazghkull's sundae was eaten.
    The reader is presented with a mystery: who indeed ate Ghazghkull's sundae? All we would know is that someone ate it.* With the active voice, this problem never occurs.
*Of course, this can be used politically, e.g.: Richard Nixon saying: "Mistakes were made," instead of, "I made mistakes."


Preparation: How you work counts.
    Try different methods of writing and different environments. Some people like sleep, some insomnia. Some people write on paper, some cannot do without their laptop. Having tried and tested plan of action when you set up to write is very important. If you find that making deliberate, detailed plans for your narrative results in more coherent prose, then make sure you sit down and do it. Arrange your workspace to be conducive to your creativity. If you wake up spontaneously in cold sweats at 2:00am all the time with the greatest ideas ever thought, keep a notepad on your bedside table.
    Considerable thanks to Doombringer and Wolfs16 for this one.

An excellent collection of advice, courtesy of Sholto.
Last edited by Didi et Gogo on Sep 25 2009 06:28, edited 7 times in total.

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1st Tau Airborne
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Re: [Resource Submission] Writer's "Tactica"

Post#2 » Sep 16 2009 04:59

Thankyou for the tips. :) Hope to see more. I will take what I can from this lesson. Wish I had advice of my own to add but I am just a wee bit (WAY TOO!!) novice at writing to put anything forth.

-Airborne

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Didi et Gogo
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Re: [Resource Submission] Writer's "Tactica"

Post#3 » Sep 16 2009 10:57

Nah! You've got advice to give Airborne! You're a "novice" who's completed an entire short story (it's a great read, too) and you've got to have learned something through the whole process. Even if your advice is "merely" to persist and persevere, it'd be great to hear your take on it. This is, after all, a resource meant for people just beginning, so advice from people who've gone through the arduous process of starting a story is exactly what we need.

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Wolfs16
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Re: [Resource Submission] Writer's "Tactica"

Post#4 » Sep 16 2009 11:05

Okay, I think I have a simple little thought to add.

Don't try writing if you are feeling sleepy. I know it sounds simple, but pushing yourself into the late hours to write a story many times leads to sloppy work. This also limits your abilities to make good judgments when you are editing. I've written stuff at night, thought it was good and then the next morning realized it was terrible. So get a good nights rest and approach it with a fresh outlook.

(Oh and Airborne, don't sell yourself short! You've done some great work and you've even given me some good advice! :D )

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Doombringer
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Re: [Resource Submission] Writer's "Tactica"

Post#5 » Sep 16 2009 11:53

Excellent article, Didi et Gogo. I appreciate the praise, and I promise I'll find some time to go read Caveat Imperator, just been a little busy lately is all. :)

As for Wolfs16's comment, though, I'm not sure I wholly agree.

I wrote Origins during the last twelve hours of a twenty-four hour duty at the Barracks. It really was the story itself that was keeping me awake at all during the monotony, and though I did have to spend about an hour proofreading, and I had to modify a few things here and there (the Barracuda strike wasn't supposed to take nearly as long, haha), I think it turned out pretty well for the amount of time spent on it.

To be honest, some of my most abstract thoughts come out when I'm most tired. I think Elliott can attest, it is most often out of my weary, exhausted ramblings that arise the more profound, pointed, and poetic of my thoughts.*

To each their own, I guess. :)




* - I recall a conversation we had a few nights back, though about all I recall was going on and on about Tau battle plans and strategy, and then him telling me it made a hell of a lot of sense.

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Wolfs16
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Re: [Resource Submission] Writer's "Tactica"

Post#6 » Sep 17 2009 12:02

Yeah, I'm sure that some people work better under some conditions, so maybe it really wouldn't fit this resource article. I find that sleeping on it really helps me to mull over the info a lot better and come back completely fresh and ready. (The opposite seems to be true for any conversions I work on. For some reason, the later it gets, the better ideas I get for models. :D )

But Doom, you're a Marine, so your used to using the old brain at any hour of the day! :P

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Didi et Gogo
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Re: [Resource Submission] Writer's "Tactica"

Post#7 » Sep 17 2009 12:07

No worries Doom, my story will be there for reading until the Empire crumbles and the gue'la get to ATT's databank. ;)

I've attempted to synthesize your suggestions, Wolf and Doom, and have posted them above.

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Lyi'ot
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Re: [Resource Submission] Writer's "Tactica"

Post#8 » Sep 17 2009 12:16

Fantastic article! Good words of advice, indeed, and I I'd like to humbly throw in two of my own. Please, Didi, feel free to change them into your own voice; I really like the style you wrote your guide in.

Practice: A favorite author of mine (John Scalzi) wrote that up-and-coming, want-to-be authors should practice writing, every day, if they wanted to become good. Interestingly, I had never considered that - I always thought that a writer was just good at writing, and that it "flowed naturally." With several stories under my belt, I can attest to the fact: practice is good. I can't describe it better than that, except to say that it's mental exercise that makes subsequent writing efforts stronger and hit harder.

Think Like Your Enemy: I've found the best way to write a confrontation between two forces is to think like the antagonists. If you begin a story, keeping in mind that the antagonist is a rational actor who wants to win and will plan accordingly, it goes a long way towards 1) making your plot stronger and filled with less holes, and 2) driving the action, as the heroes react to/predict the actions of their foe.



I can attest to Doom's unusual late-night lucidity. He curses a slight bit more, and gets much more energetic, but the work speaks for itself: two nights ago, he succinctly and forcefully explained how Tau technology influences their fighting style, and how incredibly more powerful it is when compared with modern-day armies. It really helped clarify just how the tau fight.
++TFTD: He who promises peace, promises damnation.++

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Doombringer
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Re: [Resource Submission] Writer's "Tactica"

Post#9 » Sep 17 2009 12:27

Another piece of advice I can give aspiring writers (a category I still strictly hold myself in, at that), is to research. As you can see, I've done more than my fair share, and that's just my 40k collection - the military-specific ones are still on the shelf. ;)

Didi et Gogo did an excellent job reminding authors to read relevant books, any books in fact, in order to learn the best 'professionally edited, commercially approved' format and style to write.

Regardless, I don't want this valuable secondary aspect of doing so to go unnoticed. If you're writing a war story (and face it, anyone here should be, this is 40k we're talking about), then read about war. It isn't all about the guns and explosions, it's about the emotions. Despite this, knowing how to tactically maneuver down a narrow corridor, and writing such, only serves to add the depth and ambiance to the setting that turns a good story into a great one.

If you're writing about jets, research air combat maneuvers or fly a flight sim or three (Falcon 4.0 has always been a personal favorite, with its fully simulated Korean campaign). If you're writing about grunts, read up on infantry and their notable battles and tactics (let me know, I'll host the Marine Corps Commandant's Reading List). If you're writing about armor, there's a whole wealth of information on tank battles if you know where to look (Tigers in the Mud by Otto Carius, for example, is one of my personal favorites!).

Doing this adds professionalism and some amount of qualification and belief to your writing. You won't make the wealth of amateur mistakes out there, like certain Black Library authors, who write about Tau Hammerheads and Imperial Leman Russ tanks engaging each other at ranges of less than 200 meters or Rhino-surfing Terminators, and/or ruin the believability of their story by ignoring one side's signature tactical and operational advantages (such as the ability to hover over rivers, *ahem*) for the sake of plot alone.

On the other side of this coin, don't drown your reader in jargon and over-explanation. This is a huge difficulty for me, personally. The reason the Barracuda scene in Origins ended up lasting so damn long, was because I wanted to specifically illustrate how easy it was for a Tau squad, in the field, to call in an air strike (a ten-second process for the Tau, that would take a human using a radio two to five minutes to accomplish). It was a spur-of-the-moment desire, likely fueled by lack of sleep, that made me want to do this. Originally, that scene was going to cover the cautious advance towards Gal'he'shase, but out of nowhere, I wrote three to four paragraphs on the process of calling in an airstrike... Had to shorten it significantly to retain any measure of rhythm and flow to the overall storyline, but I still feel like I may have overdone it on the jargon. Most people don't need to find this kind of specific stuff out, and it's going to be a judgment call on the author's part on when and if he should inform the reader of this at all, if it's ultimately unnecessary.

Absintheminded
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Re: [Resource Submission] Writer's "Tactica"

Post#10 » Sep 17 2009 12:39

Don't ask me for advice. I seem to always seem sarcastic when speaking, and inevitably have an off color comment when writing.

Now, if you want wordplay with puns or portmanteaus, I'm your man. Just expect me to extol the virtues of the genitive case.
Tau Physician: Patient Hunter

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Didi et Gogo
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Re: [Resource Submission] Writer's "Tactica"

Post#11 » Sep 17 2009 12:51

Wow! This is great stuff. It'll take me a while before I can get those up - I'm making the mistake of studying with ATT on my screen, and I'm going to log off now.. I swear I am... :::(

Elliott, practice is going to go right at the top! That is soooooo important. Also, I think getting into characters' heads in general should go up there - though I think I'll use the antagonists as the example. More Marneus Calgar jokes, anyone?

Doombringer, excellent contribution. I think I'm pretty much just going to copy-and-paste that wholesale!

Absintheminded, Certainly I should hope you keep your genitives in some sort of case. It does seem more virtuous than the alternative....

Absintheminded
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Re: [Resource Submission] Writer's "Tactica"

Post#12 » Sep 17 2009 01:30

Didi et Gogo wrote:More Marneus Calgar jokes, anyone?

I still call him Carneus Malgar. It seems more insidious than regal

Absintheminded, Certainly I should hope you keep your genitives in some sort of case. It does seem more virtuous than the alternative....


.Most of my puns are more subtle. That, or I'm losing my touch.
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Sholto
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Re: [Resource Submission] Writer's "Tactica"

Post#13 » Sep 17 2009 03:13

I collected these links while putting my website together - http://incunabulum.co.uk/Links.htm

Take a look under Writing Advice and Useful Resources

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1st Tau Airborne
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Re: [Resource Submission] Writer's "Tactica"

Post#14 » Sep 18 2009 09:35

The advice I choose to give is simplistic and yet one of the harder things to accomplish. (I still havent quite gotten it) Keep writing no matter what be it on a essay for school or one of your current projects just keep writing and take one or two day breathers so you don't get burned out. Thats all i have for now but more will come.

-Airborne

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Lyi'ot
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Re: [Resource Submission] Writer's "Tactica"

Post#15 » Sep 24 2009 02:05

You've got a good eye for aesthetics, DeG; that opening icon is really impressive. Consider this stickied.
++TFTD: He who promises peace, promises damnation.++

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