Amph How NOT to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes: The Cheerleader

Discussion in 'Archive: The Amphitheatre' started by Nevermind, Jul 3, 2011.

  1. A Chorus of Disapproval New Films Riot Deterrent

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    With every post Nevermind types regarding this subject, Lovecraft grows ever closer to combusting in his casket.
  2. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

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    Don't misunderstand me: you can break every rule here and still get published.
  3. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

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    Yeah, but that's the thing with writing. There's no hard and fast rules on what's right and what works in terms of good writing, for every rule there is an exception if you manage to have the audacity to pull it off. It's much easier to say what's wrong, what is bad and what doesn't work as you more or less know when this happens. It's like watching a bad movie.
  4. Esperanza_Nueva Force Ghost

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    In that sense, writing is like art: you have to know all the rules before you can effectively break them. Classically, if you're going to draw a tree, it should look like a tree. Some of the best artists can draw you the perfect tree, but they don't. They draw what they think a tree should look like. I think it's the same with writing. You have to know your grammar, points of view, and tenses as well as "rules" like those listed in this thread, but once you've sharpened your technique, you don't have to let yourself be restrained by those rules.
  5. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

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    No, those rules give you clear boundaries and allow you to avoid what's truly horrible.

    FTR, I never say kids or teenagers have bad writing. They're still young and they just need time to hone their craft. Which is why I am more willing to forgive Paolini rather than Meyer. By the time you are an adult, however, you should know better and be able to take constructive criticism. With young people, it's far more important to get them writing and keep them at it.
  6. Esperanza_Nueva Force Ghost

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    But...but...I was agreeing with you. :p

    I'm not saying that writers can just throw all grammar or other rules out the window, but rather that you have to know, for instance, what makes a sentence complete before you can write an effective sentence fragment. Yes, there can be effective sentence fragments. This one, for example.

    "Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college." -Kurt Vonnegut
  7. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

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    Yeah, I knew you were agreeing but I should have put it better.

    I use semi-colons in two contexts. When I write poetry and you need to use punctuation carefully to get the right sound, as a semi-colon is almost a full stop but not quite. You sometimes need just the right pause.
    And I use it when I make a list to sort out unruly commas. Lynne Truss calls it the special policeman in her book Eats, Shoots and Leaves.

    Such as: Our lunch arrived. For James, fish and chips; for John, steak and fries and for Kim, a green salad. Of course, you could put that into four sentances, but here it makes sense.

    But other than that I agree, except when I write academic papers but I don't do that anymore.
  8. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

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  9. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

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    So did Virginia Woolf.

    And put Eats, Shoots and Leaves on your list to read, Zaz. It's very funny, even though it is about punctuation. And she has another Talk to the Hand about manners.
  10. Esperanza_Nueva Force Ghost

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    I love Virginia Woolf and Eats, Shoots and Leaves; I'm ambivalent toward semicolons. :p
  11. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

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    And I don't like Kurt Vonnegut. :p

    And on to Chapter Two: "Complications and Pacing"

    "Twenty minutes later, he realized it was like time had stopped."

    "So your novel has a rock-solid setup, and it's heading toward an amazing, explosive conclusion. Never fear! There's still plenty of time to squash excitement like a bug. Read on for the fascinating lore of "bogging down in the middle."

    Plot Basics: Thread Count

    "There is a sweet spot for every novel--the right number of characters, the right number of events--where your plot achieves a realistic complexity without requiring colour-coded pages to follow it. We cannot tell you what yours is, but we can tell you what is probably is not."

    Then they give examples:

    1. Monogamy--one plot line only. If your plot only has two people in it, you are in danger of boring the audience and--main problem--it is not like real life. (Of course, if that's your point, ignore this.)

    2. Onanism--one person only. "Tales of solo travel and/or self-discovery are particularly susceptible."

    3. Serial Monogamy--"As soon as the character has a problem, the author rushes in officiously to solve it...if a problem is worth creating, it's worth hanging on to long enough to make the reader care."

    4. The Orgy--"Here, innumerable plot lines confound the reader."
  12. MarcusP2 Games and Community Reaper

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    No. 4 is endemic in fantasy series...ASoIaF, Malazan and WoT all fell prey to it.
  13. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

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    Comparing plots and sex?
  14. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

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    No, "The Wheel of Time" was apparently planned as a trilogy, and the twelfth book is currently being completed by another author because the original one died in 2007. Haven't read it, but most people who have will tell you the first three books are good, and then it goes on and on and on.

    Have not read Malazan.

    I am currently doing a chapter-by-chapter on G. R. R. Martin's "A Game of Thrones", which has a curious problem: the plot expands sideways more than it progresses anywhere. It, too, was planned as a trilogy. Currently on Book 5, which is really the second half of Book 4. Books 4 and 5 each took five years to complete, and rumours abound that a whole book was left on the cutting room floor when Book 5 was published. (I had assumed it was not edited; wrong-o). Martin is so enchanted with his faux-medieval world, that he can't stop adding a lot of extraneous information to it--I understand this includes the species of turtles inhabiting it, for instance.

    Here's an example of a negative review of Book 5 from Amazon:

    "Some alternative titles that came to mind after finishing the book:

    "A Lacking of Editors"
    "A Cashing of Royalty Checks"
    "A Fulfilling of Contractual Obligations"
    "A Losing of Interest"
    "A Yawning of Readers"
    "A Stuffing With Padding"
    "A Bloating of Subplots"
    "A Skimming of Chapters"
    "A Nothing is Happening"
    "A Why Am I Reading This?"
    "A Done With This Series"

    Who are these five thousand tedious new characters introduced over halfway through the series and why should I care about them?"

    I think this is too hard on Martin; he isn't doing this because of the money; he simply can't stop. It's like an addiction. And because the series is successful, the publishers have no control over the product, so to speak. Neither does he, and this is just the opposite of the artistic process, where the author has something to convey, or a story to tell. The author here enjoys his fantasy world so much, he keeps enlarging it, and is helpless to conclude the story. I call this syndrome "Lost in Your Own Fantasy" and Marcus is right; quite a few fantasy-genre authors suffer from it.



  15. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

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    Christie once said is that the problem with writing isn't starting, it's when to stop.
  16. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

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    Being *unable* to stop seems like a new phenomenon.
  17. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

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    Oh no, it's hardly new. Margaret Mitchell had a similar problem.
  18. MarcusP2 Games and Community Reaper

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    By all accounts Steven Erikson was able to get the Malazan series back under control in the last two books and reach a fairly satisfying conclusion, though with an immense amount of small plotlines that were never resolved.

    I still have my fingers crossed that Martin does the same, because 4/5 had some unique diffficulties that hopefully won't be repeated. But the lack of real progress in what is seemingly the main storyline of the series is concerning.
    I agree that he's in desperate need of a strong editor, who will reign in his desire to describe in minute detail clothing, meals, and wildlife (which is a new one for this book, dwarf elephants and turtles indeed.)

    His short stories in the same world don't seem to suffer as much from this affliction.
  19. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

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    I took a look at Malazan on the 'net, and noticed something rather disturbing: it was based on a role-playing game. So we have the print version of the Transformers movies...a game disguised as a story. And the author is a role-player, not a writer.
  20. Gonk Jedi Grand Master

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    I don't mind authors adding as many characters as they like, but the stipulation is those characters have to SIGNIFY something.

    That is, the author must be using that character to say something (without preaching, of course). I don't care how unique a description for a character is: two general character types are always going to run into confusion with one another if their archetype is too similar. If you've got 5 characters and one is Sawyer from LOST, and the other is Tyrion Lannister from ASOIAF, maybe that's one thing. But if you're dealing with 100 characters, those two fellows might be apt to get confused on the page despite the fact that one is a Dwarf and one is a southern con-artist. The more characters you have, the less the surface descriptions are going to matter, so you have to really dedicate yourself to character development to make sure we'd never confuse the two. And when you're dealing with 100 characters... you sure you got time for that?

    When you add in character after character and they just function as a way to pad out your world... well, something's wrong there. You can't just world build with template names. Yeah, maybe your 7th King in the northwest realm should have a chancellor to run his court, but unless you want that chancellor to have some narrative weight on your story... why bother with even naming him? In my understanding, to even name a character is to delegate importance. I do not follow Homer's example of naming every single Greek and Trojan Hero that came to fight in the Illiad: if someone's there and they're not going to serve a narrative function, just treat them as a label.

    Keep in mind though, there's tons and tons of uses for bit characters. I haven't gotten to this part in the book to see if it's the same, but take note of the secondary character of "Jory" in Game of Thrones: he is given a considerable scene of talking to Jamie Lannister, where the two reminisce about fighting together for the King against a rebellion, when they faced a common foe. They seem in that moment to share a certain comradeship.

    And then one or two episodes later, Jamie kills Jory without a second thought over what amounts to a petty squabble with Jory's Lord, Ned. There's a certain gravity to what the two seem to be talking about in the first scene that provides an irony in the second.

    So uses like that are great. But the point is, if you're going to create 100 characters... USE them for something more than just a standard name given a standard death. Have them play off your main characters.
  21. MarcusP2 Games and Community Reaper

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    That's not strictly true. Erikson made up a world to host role playing games in, and wrote the novels based in that world. It's not based on any existing game, and it's certainly no Dungeons and Dragons. He wrote the first book as a movie script (that would have sucked) and reworked it into a novel. When he sold the first one his publishers asked him for some more so he plotted out further ones. It's not based on any game he ran or anything like that.

    As regards to the writer/RPGer thing...he's an anthropologist who studied at the Iowa Writer's Workshop and published four books under his real name before the Malazan series. I hope you're not comparing him to RA Salvatore. :p
  22. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

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    Crichton was a doctor; and as a writer, he was a good doctor.

    I never would compare *anyone* to Salvatore. Unless I really hated them.
  23. MarcusP2 Games and Community Reaper

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    I await your 'Things I've seen in RA Salvatore novels' section in the GoT Chapter by Chapter thread then.
  24. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

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    But I liked Vector Prime!
  25. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

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    ARRGH!!! I still remember the parody of "Vector Prime" we did.

    On the theory that every author writes his own stuff better, I tried Drizzle the Angry Elf, or whatever it was called. Not for long.