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

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So, while Hirohiko Araki is a very love or hate manga artist, his "Manga in Theory and Practice" is a very enlightening read about how he creates a story, and I recommend it even if you're not interested in comics or manga. I don't agree with strictly everything he says, but he has very clearly thought about it and, even better, has been putting it into practice for 20+ years. I think anyone interested in any medium of story creation could get something out of it. It's a pretty fast read, too, so it's not like reading someone's 400pg thesis on how writing should be done or a textbook. I find myself pulling it back out every once in a while to read it again.

There are 4 major fundamental parts to the structure of a manga according to Araki, and I'd argue most forms of storytelling: Characters, Story, Setting, and Theme. It is possible to make a successful story based on characters or setting alone, but these are extreme examples. Most stories require some balance of these four, particularly if you want the story to remain interesting after a few years.

A character should:
  • be distinct
  • have an empathetic or interesting motivation for their actions
  • already have a history within your (the writer's) mind, even if that history is never explained to the reader, as this will define who they are and why they behave the way they do
You have to have a good grasp of your main characters before you create your side characters, or else everyone will blend together. But the side characters are not less important than the main character--they, too, should have distinct purpose. Side characters actually have more freedom than the main characters.

Story may be a fundamental part of manga structure, but Story alone cannot make a story worth reading. Without at least one of the other fundamentals, this will not draw in peoples' attention for long. The closest story type that does this is the murder-mystery, and even that will fail without something else going on. However, a manga (or any other medium) without Story will not age well in most cases, as characters and such will become dated. Story keeps the characters, setting, and theme moving forward.

The story chapter actually is one of the biggest parts where I disagree with Araki-he states that your main character should always move in a 'positive' direction-but rather than type out his entire argument, which is actually more complicated than it sounds, I'll say to check out the book yourself. But I do agree with his assessment that no one wants to read about a "hero" who does nothing but fail for chapters on end, even if they do eventually get their shit together. I also agree with his assessment that taking your main characters back to zero is a bad idea.

In any story, let your characters act, don't let actions just happen TO them. If things are just happening TO the main character, then why is the story following this asshole?

When it comes to setting, readers want to be immersed. While they can become immersed in places that obviously can't exist, very mundane things can destroy that immersion if you're not careful, like turning a gas-powered train into an electric-powered train (as actually happened to Araki). And some things can't be researched online. Here's an interesting tidbit, keeping in mind that this book was originally written for a Japanese audience:
Jojo's seventh story arc, Steel Ball Run involves a race across America, but I knew that undertaking that journey by myself in one single trip would have been impossible. Instead, I split up the research into three sections: from the West Coast to the deserts, from the Great Plains to the Mississippi River and Chicago, and to the finish line in New York. Each region possesses its own culture and is home to different types of people.

Without going there for yourself, it's impossible to comprehend the feeling of scale in the midwestern United States, where the scenery stretches on forever and unchanging. The feeling of distance there is nothing like in Japan. Say, for example, an enemy is approaching from afar--at such a distance that escape would be trivial in Japan. In the Midwest, the open landscape remains identical from one hour to the next, and I was struck by the real sense that I could never make an escape from such an adversary; there was simply nowhere to hide. I was able to put that experience to good use when it came time to draw the manga.
Obviously, not all of us can afford to take trips around the world for research, but it may be important to keep in mind. But also don't use everything you research--the audience doesn't care about the little things to be thrown in their face, either.

The Theme connects the four fundamentals. Themes should not become muddled, and the themes will, inevitably, reveal the creator's own philosophy on whatever it is the theme is talking about. As such, never choose a theme because it's popular. The theme should be whatever it is you truly believe. That isn't to say the theme has to be completely thought out before you write or draw anything, but the theme will be an underlying guiding light to whatever happens in your story. Faking it will never work long-term.

The rest of the book is dedicated to how he implements these rules into his work--which I'll leave for him to explain.

He also has a very nice template for character history, to mark down relevant information about a character before the story even starts. Not that you have to fill out every single box, but if character creation isn't your strong suit, maybe think about it. Also good for organization, if you have a lot of characters. Here's a link to the history template someone made out of the book.

On another note, my story beginnings are fucking terrible. I start out like a discount Hemingway. After a few pages, once I get into the groove, it gets a lot better stylistically, but I legitimately do not know how to make the beginning of a story not suck. Even going back later and fixing only helps so much. And I hate in media res openings, so advice like "start with something interesting" doesn't help me much. I never understood how people struggled with the ending of a story, but beginning one is the absolute worst! How do you guys like to start things?
 
M

MW 002

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If you have the fuck-you change for it, be sure to check out the Story Planner app if you’re a psychotic outliner. It’s available for Apple and Android users.

I just got it, and am mostly using it to write up character profiles. It’s pretty fun to use once you get the hang of it
 

BrunoMattei

No I am not the Cinema Snob
True & Honest Fan
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If you have the fuck-you change for it, be sure to check out the Story Planner app if you’re a psychotic outliner. It’s available for Apple and Android users.

I just got it, and am mostly using it to write up character profiles. It’s pretty fun to use once you get the hang of it
I really don't see the value in that kind of shit not unless you're planning an epic like Gravity's Rainbow or the 120 Days of Sodom.
 
M

MW 002

Guest
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I really don't see the value in that kind of shit not unless you're planning an epic like Gravity's Rainbow or the 120 Days of Sodom.
I definitely wouldn’t suggest it for folks writing some generic contempary fiction for sure- but since I have a preference for writing fantasy, I find it helpful for keeping things consistent while keeping it neatly organized at the same time.

But then again, it’s not really going to be helpful to people who don’t really outline anything in the first place.
 
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GODREKCUF

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I doubt it will help, but if you are beginner, don't push yourself too much and really, really spend your time on writing, you can edit stuff later in progress, but that's all, you write, learn things [also from reading books] and you basically shape your own style and get better into it
 

Tanti-Fanti

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what are some good tips on how to write a flawed/troubled character but also make them likeable?
It's all a balancing act really.

A lot of troubled characters with a heart of gold stories fail because the writers either lean in too much into said character's jerkiness or make them so likable you wonder why they're considered troubled to begin with. In some cases it can also be used to justify a character's behavior or at least be used as a way to understand them.

What's underlying issue is this: how long can you make a character act a certain way without their own antics biting them back in the ass? Depending on how you write the story and characters it won't take too long, but for other cases writers also fall into the trap of extended the drama for far too long and making the troubled character plain unlikable. There's only so much an audience is going to take before they give up on said character. That's the tricky part. There's only so far you can go before they reach outright villain/anti-hero territory.

A troubled character isn't an excuse to write some jerk who never gets comeuppance because of said tragic backstory, but as a way to understand that sometimes we don't know as much about others as we think we do. The audience should know WHY these actions are related to said character, but not necessarily excuse them either.

A key question to ask yourself is that are you creating a character you want to justify or are you justifying the reasons for why said character is the way they are? Notice I said justification and not "excuse". If a trouble character does something horrible within the story's own reason, they should be called out for it, but it doesn't meant the audience shouldn't know why.
 

orelpuppington

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It's all a balancing act really.

A lot of troubled characters with a heart of gold stories fail because the writers either lean in too much into said character's jerkiness or make them so likable you wonder why they're considered troubled to begin with. In some cases it can also be used to justify a character's behavior or at least be used as a way to understand them.

What's underlying issue is this: how long can you make a character act a certain way without their own antics biting them back in the ass? Depending on how you write the story and characters it won't take too long, but for other cases writers also fall into the trap of extended the drama for far too long and making the troubled character plain unlikable. There's only so much an audience is going to take before they give up on said character. That's the tricky part. There's only so far you can go before they reach outright villain/anti-hero territory.

A troubled character isn't an excuse to write some jerk who never gets comeuppance because of said tragic backstory, but as a way to understand that sometimes we don't know as much about others as we think we do. The audience should know WHY these actions are related to said character, but not necessarily excuse them either.

A key question to ask yourself is that are you creating a character you want to justify or are you justifying the reasons for why said character is the way they are? Notice I said justification and not "excuse". If a trouble character does something horrible within the story's own reason, they should be called out for it, but it doesn't meant the audience shouldn't know why.
from what i've seen in fandom, people are almost always going to hate characters who:
-are vengeful for petty reasons
-cheat on their spouse (unless the spouse is abusive in someway)
-ruin things and make things difficult for others because of foolish decisions they've made
-are giant hypocrites
-or they never face any kind of consequences for their actions that harm others

these are generally pretty easy to avoid, but then again, if you make a character never hurt others or makes bad decisions that could hurt others, even on accident, its just not realistic and leads to mary sue/gary stu territory
 
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Prophetic Spirit

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from what i've seen in fandom, people are almost always going to hate characters who:
-are vengeful for petty reasons
-cheat on their spouse (unless the spouse is abusive in someway)
-ruin things and make things difficult for others because of foolish decisions they've made
-are giant hypocrites
-or they never face any kind of consequences for their actions that harm others

these are generally pretty easy to avoid, but then again, if you make a character never hurt others or makes bad decisions that could hurt others, even on accident, its just not realistic and leads to mary sue/gary stu territory
I can understand those archetypes being bad executed but you can mixing up a team of many characters with pros & cons and focusing each other while the protagonist just can be in the background for some time and expand their character arc later.
More than that, you're right; i hate those perfeccionist characters.
 
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orelpuppington

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I can understand those archetypes being bad executed but you can mixing up a team of many characters with pros & cons and focusing each other while the protagonist just can be in the background for some time and expand their character arc later.
More than that, you're right; i hate those perfeccionist characters.
it should be easy to write a balanced character that isnt a perfect mary sue or a character who's an absolute asshole with no redeeming qualities

but at the same time writing is never as easy as it seems. i think just as long as a character doesnt do anything heinous or unforgiveable, and they learn from their mistakes and make an honest effort to better themselves, the fans will usually like a flawed character.

but there are also characters that are super flawed and never progress or better themselves that are still loved by fans.
 
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Prophetic Spirit

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it should be easy to write a balanced character that isnt a perfect mary sue or a character who's an absolute asshole with no redeeming qualities

but at the same time writing is never as easy as it seems. i think just as long as a character doesnt do anything heinous or unforgiveable, and they learn from their mistakes and make an honest effort to better themselves, the fans will usually like a flawed character.

but there are also characters that are super flawed and never progress or better themselves that are still loved by fans.
Yeah, even if you write a very complex & detailed character, it's a matter of perception with taste of the consumers.
The thing is... the diverse of the cast must be the main point in fiction media but the plot itself must be the real one.
That's the way i saw my actual work.
 
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