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.
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.
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.
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:
Here, Shakespeare sets the scene just by describing it. It's really boring."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.
Contrast it with:
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."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.
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.
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:
Is clumsier, and not as compelling as:"Shakespeare" wrote:Ghazghkull's sundae was eaten by Marneus.
This becomes a big problem when an author uses the passive voice and neglects to mention who does the action. For example:"Jane Doe" wrote:Marneus ate Ghazghkull's sundae.
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."Marlowe" wrote:Ghazghkull's sundae was eaten.
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.