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Young Writers Society
Tips : Prose Writing
Mon Feb 13, 2012 5:18 pm
Seeing how we have many new members and the prose is not dead yet, I've decided to put together my accumulated knowledge on prose writing and divide it with numbers, that represent importancy. While I might be stating the obvious at times, this topic is mainly focused on the new writers.
1) Creating the characters X creating the world X describing it
This is the major start for any novel. While it might seem like a huge effort to create the world with proper details, it's something that everybody should do in order to offer a high quality work. How does the nature look? The cities? Which century it is? How does it look? What the people there use? What is their power? What are the rules? The list goes on and it has to be answered. The writer that is unsure of how things work in his/her world, is bound to sound unsure to the reader and lose a lot of potential, mainly because of being cheap and unimpressive.
Answering all the related questions, however, doesn't mean that you're going to bombard the reader with it. You have to know your own world the best, know everything about it, and offer it to reader
in small bits
like a prize for an achievement (in our case, the achievement is reading further).
Having properly created the world doesn't just make it solid and your work more impressive, but it also gives the ultimate ground for your characters - based on what kind of the world you have, you can determine what kind of people there are, what are their habits thanks to the everyday accessories, what are they stimulated/encouraged to do, how they revolt, what is their viewpoint, who are they themselves? The list goes on far again, but that is also a very great neccesity. Ask me why? Do you want to have countless robots walking in your story, repeat the same boring lines, have default stereotypic personality, have one monotonous voice tone, bore the heck out of the reader and be a failure? I'm sure you don't.
If you have problems with the initial imagination, there's a way I myself use a lot and it's been rather helpful - and not just for me.
Be there, be your character, be the observer, do it.
I've even gone as far as acting it. I simply imagine the world in the best detail I can, imagine the main protagonist and the specific scene, imagine being him - with all his personal characteristics like being prone to grinning, being sadistic, thinking of violent acts, etc - and do what he would do. That way I can write down and describe in great detail many things - how annoyed I felt, what thoughts went through my mind, how I couldn't hear anybody speaking, because I was focused on figuring out how to harm them, how my heartbeat rose, etc. As you can see, 'be there' stands for 'see, feel, smell, hear and touch'. Notice how I wrote 'how I couldn't hear anybody speaking, because I was focused on ___' - you should truly describe what is important to the story (usually 3rd person writing) or to the character (1st person or 3rd person close) and
avoid creating info dumps by focusing on everything - the real human there wouldn't, and if he does notice something, then it's important and has to be shown.
Here's an example taken from Jack London - White Fang :
Dark spruce forest frowned on either side the frozen waterway. The trees had been stripped by a recent wind of their white covering of frost, and they seemed to lean towards each other, black and ominous, in the fading light. A vast silence reigned over the land. The land itself was a desolation, lifeless, without movement, so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness. There was a hint in it of laughter, but of a laughter more terrible than any sadness - a laughter that was mirthless as the smile of the sphinx, a laughter cold as the frost and partaking of the grimness of infallibility. It was the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life. It was the Wild, the savage, frozen-hearted Northland Wild.
- Notice how extravagantly he describes the world before showing the reader any action. While it's not like you have to write like that and I've seen dozens of much easier and less extravagant words using descriptions, you can however tell straight away how original and actually
it is. Jack London thought his world out very carefully and knew how it felt.
With the basic purpose of description over, it's time to focus on how description itself should be done. We're often told that we have to balance 'Show and Tell'. It's quite a nuisance at the beginning, but as you practice it, it becomes a part of your writing and you actually enjoy doing all the details. 'Tell' represents the core of action and anything that happens or is being said, f.e. : He waits for her, walking around.
Where is she?
- It is very simple and is the core.
'Show' would represent the interpretation of the human senses and adding your
. Let's stick to the core I gave in 'Tell' and add 'Show to it' : He's been waiting for her in the winter park for ages now, rabbidly walking around as the cold keeps biting his skin and the sun is nowhere to seen behind the white clouds.
Where is she?
- See the difference?
Now let's add the 'Personal Touch'. It's basically what makes you an unique writer, what you yourself focus on with passion and what you yourself believe should be mentioned. I've imagined myself being that character with all his personal traits , which I've just thought up, and wrote it down : The cold of the sunless winter day has been rapidly eating away at his patience, making him restlessly walk around in the park, wishing that she'd already show up and save him from the suffering; she has no idea just how much he hates having to wait.
Gosh, damn it, what is taking her so long?!
- I'm sure you can see how much more interesting the text is to read with the 'Show' and 'Personal Touch'. It's no longer plastic and robotic like the simple 'Tell' and offers more experience. This is how I believe one should write the whole story - be it the description of the world or the character or any action. Do it with your own personal touch and offer greater experience.
However, to be awesome, you do not have to use extravagant words and god knows what kind of long and complicated words - you do not want your reader to have to run for a dictionary and spend more time searching for the definitions (and be a major pain to read). Use the most comfortable language to you and keep it to how you usually talk to your friends - you don't talk to them using words they wouldn't understand, and in a way, the reader is your friend.
An also important fact about the descriptions is that it's recommended to try and stick to active descriptions - use active sentences, make weather do something to the person, have something do something else. It makes the text more smooth to read and quite interesting too - which can't be said much about the passive descriptions, where everything is being done by something hell knows.
To show the difference, I'll write an example of both:
- Active - He watches how the night's breeze plays with her long hair while she's reading a book, thinking just how lucky he is having met her.
- Passive - ... It's actually horrible to even write. Just try writing the active version of the text in the passive. Oh my gosh.
2) The opening line
So, you have your story thought out and prepared to write down your great scenes. Where do you start? The important fact about the opening line is that it is the very first experience the reader gets from your work - that means it has to be hooky. How do you make it hooky? While it's quite not easy to do, the most typical tip here is to start
where the important story starts
. You can fill the reader on small details later, what you need at the beginning is to give him what this story is about - is it action, is it emotional? Is it dark, heavy or a comedy? It can begin with a dialogue and it doesn't have to - you can begin with a description of a scenery for example, but that is quite a tough task to do, unless you're a gifted cracker.
What it has to do though is to make the reader ask questions (Who is 'she'? Why is this fight so important?, etc). The first impression is very important. Where it all begins, where the story takes realization, is where you should start and try to make it have a good impact - and have quite some fun too.
This is an opening line from one of my the most recent works (While it's not perfect, it is still an example) :
"Daimyo (Chief of clan), they are going to reach the wall anytime soon!" One of the archers yells while covering from a trebuchet's thrown rock. The daimyo, a young man with a shield, has been already waiting for it right behind the gate together with an army of samurai. He eyes them and raises his right arm as he grins, "This is our fight! Let's tear them apart!"
I'd like to ask you to pay attention to how the opening line is done - I've told the reader that this is going to be a war conflict filled story in the old Japan (based on what they are using and who fights, and the names as 'Samurai' and 'Daimyo' are the proof) and introducted one of the main characters right away - the daimyo, a young man with a shield. Notice, how I'm not going too much into the detail - it'd just create an info dump and slow down the whole process, when I'm aiming to make this adrenaline rushed.
I told the reader the most important about the whole story in that opening line, letting him decide whether it is what he's interested in or not, without being too vague or too detailed, and managed to raise a question : Why is it happening? Questions and things the reader doesn't know (and has to read further to figure out) serve like a good motivation and are a key to success.
Conflict is what the plot twists around.
A tip to a good dialogue? This is going to be frankly the shortest part of this topic. Why? Because the dialogue in your work should be like any conversation in the real life. When you listen to the people, 'eavesdrop' even, you hear the changing tone of the voice, how they speak, how they use simple words, how their expressions change, how they move their body, etc. You want to show that in your dialogue too - and please, the most important, don't blow up an information rocket, write what matters.
To give an example, I've borrowed a dialogue line from CelticaNoir :
"Ah, but you thought he was never coming back." Isabella smiled widely as another look of discomfort came into her older sister's face, and this time Ariana didn't even attempt to hide it. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, obviously not wanting to think about the subject of their conversation. Isabella leaned forwards even more eagerly; she was in a mischievous mood today, that one Ariana could see. “Hmmm? I see your cheeks have turned scarlet. Ariana, you aren’t blushing, by any chance?”
“Why would I?” Ariana murmured, finally regaining her composure. “It is not as if there is anything between me and Cadoan, Isabella.” She smiled. “Perhaps your imagination is running away with you again?”
- I in no way encourage you people to write exactly like that, but I'd like you to notice how Celtica brings out the most important changes in mood/tone inbetween the dialogue lines and carries it further through the way they speak.
~Don't beg for things, do it yourself or else you'll never get anything~
Prometheus, thief of light, giver of light, bound by the gods, must have been a book.
— Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves
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