Writing Tips - Let's help each other not be crap.

Scratch This Nut

Problematic Chihuahua
I was going to make this about making characters in general because that what I'm struggling with most, but figured this would be more helpful. Post your struggles with writing and hopefully we can help each other out.

For me, I'm trying to write a character that is a young Navajo girl, who's a skin-walker. Her culture obviously has a lot to do with her story and I don't want to look like ignorant. Just want to know a good place to do some research.

Charles Morgenstern

Rhodesian Scholar
Admittedly, everything I know about the Navajo comes from Tony Hillerman novels. Given the reliability of sources on the internet, you may be better-suited at your local branch of the public library than using Google. It may not be simple finding sources written by members of the Navajo tribe, which makes it so it is wise to look into whether the research done by others is not disavowed by Navajo people as being inaccurate.

Not that you have to be strictly accurate, of course. Deeming a naagloshii 'Shagnasty' didn't hurt Jim Butcher.


He didn't play Bond as a Welshman
From Kurt Vonnegut comes 8.5 rules which I love:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
  9. The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964). She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.

As for investigating the Navajo, see who wrote about this skinwalking business and go from there. Nobody's going to complain about the fine details if the story's good enough.


Perhaps you could find some Navajos and ask them? But that makes me wonder, what was your reasoning to write about that specific character? It can be very illuminating to think about what made you take this choice instead of e.g. simply creating your own fictional group of people. If you don't think you can display a certain culture in a respectful seeming manner then change things up as needed.
Find out what the spirit of the thing is you want to use and give it another form.
Instead of using stereotypical elements that don't matter in the big picture of your story, take other stuff. Your source uses leather for clothing? Then you counterpart wears linnen. Your inspiration exclusively herds horses for meat? Well then your culture cut be specialised in cultivating fish.


True & Honest Fan
Need a little help: Which do you like better, The blossom of the evening or The full flower of the evening. I asked my sister, but all she did was steal my bike.
Blossom. Bonus points for Evening's blossom. Not that fewer words is always better, but why deny the great Germanic heritage of English in favor of French-style possessives?????? (plus that eliminates a possibly troublesome extra "the")
  • Agree
Reactions: rookie and yuna

Halberd Sonichu

As someone who struggled to write for years. i'd say just write down whatever comes to mind, you might get some things wrong. But its better then staring at a blank screen and there can always be a second draft after doing research. let your fingers flow and worry about fact checking later. another thing that has always been help for me is listening to music. especially music that fits into the theme of the story your writing.

Magnum Dong

whoops i dropped my monster condom
Here's some of my favorite storytelling tips from a 22-rule guide by Pixar:
1. Keep in mind what's interesting to you as an audience, not what's fun to do as a writer.
2. What is your character good or comfortable with? Throw the opposite at him. Challenge him. How does he deal with it?
3. When you're stuck, make a list of what wouldn't happen next. More often than not, the material that gets you unstuck appears.
4. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind, and the 2nd, 3rd, 4th... - get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
5. What's the essence of your story? What's the most economical way of telling it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
6. Coincidences that get characters into trouble are great. Coincidences that get them out of trouble are cheating.
7. Why must you tell this story in particular? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.


True & Honest Fan
any advice for throwing yourself back into something when you set it down at a weird place?
Here's how I deal with that problem:

Choose a small unit (page, paragraph, 200 words) and make it your goal. Pretend whatever you write next is already perfect. Ignore feelings of doubt as you write it. Go crazy if you want. Remember in some small corner of your mind that, perfect as this text is, you are allowed to disregard it later.

When you are done with that small bit, ask yourself if you'd like to keep going. If yes, continue without looking at what you just wrote; come back to it later and revise or remove, based on what you write after. If no, read over it and see if you got anything right. There's probably at least one good thing. Start there next time.

Repeat until you think you've picked up the thread. Save outtakes to read when you've completed the work. They can be very interesting.

Replicant Sasquatch

Do Lolcows Dream of Electric Hedgehog Pokemon?
There's some great advice in this thread. Here's some extra tips I've learned in my experience.

1. Show, don't tell.
2. Keep your prose short, concise, and fluid.
3. Don't vomit a thesaurus onto the page. "Said" and "asked" are the objectively best dialogue indicators 95% of the time.
4. Be flexible. Characters grow and change, and the outcome you planned might not be the one which suits them best.
5. Get second opinions. Listen to criticism.
6. The best stories are the ones where the characters accomplish something which would have been impossible at the beginning.

MW 002

Never publish a first draft-that is the draft where all exceptional mistakes go.
To further expand on this

What I find helpful in writing the first draft to any kind of novel is to just get all the basics of your story into this draft.

Use the second draft to expand on characters or the lore of the story. This is where you can literally sperg out.

Third draft should be the one where you decide what parts are relevant enough to stay and what should be cut out.

Fourth draft should be dedicated to fixing grammical mistakes, rewriting weird sentences and basically polishing the manuscript. This draft is especially critical if you're hoping to to present the manuscript to any kind of publishing firm.

Hypodermic Johnny

I fucknut. You fucknut. He/she/we, fucknut.
Put some thought into your world. I'm not asking for three fully functioning forms of government made perfectly clear, but I want some indication that there is SOMETHING there.
At the same time, don't get so bogged down in the worldbuilding and scene-setting that you burn yourself out and can't actually get to the fucking plot/story itself.


Nick Clegg's biggest fan
True & Honest Fan
At the same time, don't get so bogged down in the worldbuilding and scene-setting that you burn yourself out and can't actually get to the fucking plot/story itself.
Well, I'd argue that depends what exactly you want to do. World building itself can be a goal unto itself if you like writing for your own amusement. If, however, you want to show others the work, then you'd better find a story within your world that you'd love to write about.

Replicant Sasquatch

Do Lolcows Dream of Electric Hedgehog Pokemon?
At the same time, don't get so bogged down in the worldbuilding and scene-setting that you burn yourself out and can't actually get to the fucking plot/story itself.
I'm inclined to side with this. The most important parts of world-building are consistency and relevancy. The world has to make logical sense in its own context, and the elements of that consistency must be relevant to the plot. Don't bog down your reader with some pointless history lesson.

Some of the best settings I've read are the ones where the reader doesn't really know anything about them beyond what the protagonist sees.