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The problems with young writers

queryquagmire:

Hi! Sorry if this question is too broad, but what would you say is the biggest problem with writing done by people who are too young or inexperienced? Are the flaws similar, or does the writing depend more on the individual? Thanks.
 Anonymous

Apology graciously accepted.

There are a number of problems I see over and over in the writing of young people, especially people under the age of 18. Fortunately, they almost all go away with time, age, and practice. This is not to say that young writers suck, or that they should give up and hang their baby-faced heads in shame. Far from it! For if no young people started writing, we’d have no older-and-wiser writers who cut their teeth writing during their teenage years to produce new books for us all to read and enjoy. They’re just better off practicing their writing instead of trying to get it published before they’re ready.

So here’s a list of the problems I often encounter when asked to read young people’s writing. If you feel like I’m talking about your writing… I probably am. Let this be a lesson to you.

1. They mistake their god-given talent and potential for skill. Talent comes naturally. It’s raw potential. Skill takes practice. Hours upon years of practice. Make no mistake: writing well requires skill. Just because your English teacher tells you you have a great talent for writing doesn’t mean you are ready for publication. Practice your skills.

2. They write autobiographical characters or plot. Spare me from one more main character with suspiciously similar physical characteristics to their author. Spare me from one more mundane “fictional” story about interpersonal conflicts between classmates. While the events of your formative years may be important to you, they do not necessarily make for good fiction. And no one else gives a shit.

3. They write wish fulfillment or Mary Sues. Couldn’t get the better of that bully in real life? OBLITERATE THEM IN FICTION. Hate your hair/nose/zits/lack of a love life/clumsiness/inability to be good at everything? BE THE PERFECT VERSION OF YOU BY WRITING ABOUT IT. The result is annoyingly two-dimensional writing devoid of real conflict and peopled by cardboard villains and absurdly perfect heroes. Y’know: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

4. They write about things beyond their experience or understanding without any empathy whatsoever. This may shock you, but 17-year-old Civics and Poli Sci students do not have the answers to all the world’s problems. I once read a painfully myopic story by a 17-year-old girl about the evils of abortion. It was terrible and embarrassingly uninformed. Another time I read an account of the Iraq War (and how three highly-trained Marines could end it within 24 hours) written by a teenage boy that was just downright offensive and oblivious to its own racism and misogyny. The authors in question just had no idea what they were writing about, and instead of doing research, they simply painted the world with broad strokes according to their own naive understanding of current events.

5. They’re too fucking melodramatic. Laughably so. But it’s ok, because someday they’ll look back on The Trials of Arabella and cringe with embarrassment and sigh with relief because they now know better.

6. They don’t understand that truth is necessarily stranger than fiction, and therefore their fiction has to actually make sense. The excuse “But it happened that way in real life!” doesn’t count. See #2.

7. They never edit or revise. NEVER. All too often, young writers finish writing in a late-night frenzy of enthusiastic keyboard-pounding, slide back from their desk, stretch out their hands, and declare themselves masters of the literary universe. They’re high on the excitement of having actually completed a manuscript, and they remember how good and smart they felt while writing it. So in their minds, how could their story possibly suck harder than a promiscuous Black Hole? So instead of rereading what they just finished writing, let alone editing it, they immediately give it to someone else to read. And that someone else will have to suffer through the horrors of a first draft. Spare your friends and loved ones the gross offense to common decency that is your first draft. Reread. Revise. Edit.

8. They write read-alikes of their favorite books. I was once asked to “take a look” at a manuscript written by the daughter of a friend of a friend who wanted to be “a professional author.” It was Twilight… with different character names and set in the author’s hometown.

Over the years I have led creative writing groups for high school and middle school students, and tutored seventh-grade reading and writing. All of the above comes from that experience, as well as the experience of having far too many teenagers send me query letters that start with “My English teacher says I’m a really good writer and that I should get my story published.”

If you’re a young writer, remember this: the great writing you think you’re producing now can only get better with time. So wait. And practice.

maxkirin:

Pat asked:

Hey Max, I am having difficulty with the end of my story. There are multiple characters in situations that need to be resolved, and while I have a good idea of what those resolutions will be, I am not sure just how to start. I don’t want to have a list of “and then X did this and Y did that”. Do I follow each character separately? Try to interweave them? How do I begin the end, knowing that it will likely take some time to get to a satisfying conclusion for all my characters? Thanks so much!

Hello Pat! Thank you for the question :D

Now, you (and anyone else reading) will find that I am going to be referencing this post (Let’s Talk About: Writing The Climax) so you may want to read it, it is one of my best replies and it works as the foundations to this answer. Also, I don’t mean to sound like a broken record— but thank you for sending this question in particular! Nobody ever asks about writing the end/climax so I really cherish questions like this~ ♥︎

So, with that out of the way, let’s tackle this bad-boy, okay?

As I mentioned in this post, to make a successful climax you need to have something at stake, and a payoff that echoes the reader’s emotional attachment. But what about the ending, though? Well, I think that the ending of your book should give the reader two things:

(More) Payoff and Closure.

Let’s tackle ‘em one by one c;

► (More) Payoff

Payoff is so, so, so important. Now that there is nothing else at stake (by which I mean that the main obstacle/threat has been taken care of), it is your job as the writer to make sure that there is a satisfying payoff to each and every of the plot-lines in the story✝. Like I mentioned in the other post, if you demanded a certain emotional attachment from your readers, you need to echo that in the payoff. You don’t have to give every side character and side plot their own epilogue (though, that will depend on your story). I will go into more detail in the next segment as to how to go about this, but for now know that you don’t ***have*** to put every side story in the spotlight, though you should give them a payoff in one way or another. It can be as little as a few lines showing that they have overcome their life-long fear, or them taking a moment of silence to consider the ones they lost during the final battle.

Of course, the one exception is when you may want to leave a certain element of the story open for interpretation or leave it open because you plan to expand on it in another book or a sequel. Though, if this is your plan you may want to consider giving a reader a clue so they are not left confused. The last thing you want is to get an email from someone asking you: “Hey what happened to that side-character? They just disappeared at the end! They were my favorite :(“

► Closure

Consider this the ribbon that ties the present. So, following that analogy, make sure to tie all of the loose ends in your story (or at least the ones you will not continue exploring in the next book). Now, some of you may say that this sounds too much like the previous advice— and that is because there is another clause to this bit.

Be very (very) careful of introducing any new threats or plot elements at the very end of your book.

We have all seen movies and read books that had a satisfying ending, until the last minute when they decided to set-up the story for a sequel. Suddenly all of the closure and payoff has been disarmed, and you feel as though you didn’t gain anything from the experience. I am looking at you Asura’s Wrath. True ending? More like Buy-The-Next-Game-Ending. I seriously enjoyed Asura’s Wrath UNTIL those very last 2 minutes that left a really bitter taste in my mouth :/

Again, I am not talking about setting up a sequel. Long series do often end in a cliff-hanger, and that’s okay, the difference is that your story needs a certain degree of closure (to wrap things up, if you may c;). Without it the readers will be left unsatisfied. Just remember how you felt after watching the movie adaptation of Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince for the first time.

Or if you want a more infamous ending, consider how the original Mortal Kombat movie ended :p Yeah we beat the badguy! Wait, no, there is another badder guy? Welp I guess the movie is over now. Okay.

► Putting The Pieces Together

Now that we have the theory down. How do we go about putting it together? Well, I know of a couple of ways c;

  • It’s Over. One way to end a story is to show the conclusion of the main arc, and only lightly touch the consequences of the story’s outcome. I personally don’t like these sort of stories, because I generally find that the payoff is basically non-existent and pretty much everything is left open to interpretation. Sometimes it works, Inception, and sometimes it does not work, The Last of Us.
  • Vignettes. You could take a moment to show how each of the main characters are affected by the end. It doesn’t have to be long, just meaningful enough to give the reader closure. This is also a good way to go about tackling side-stories. The trick for these is to focus on the change, as opposed to their actions. Show the reader how this character is now that they have completed their goal. Don’t tell us that the boy and the other boy finally got together— show us the two of them being in love.
  • Jump Forward (Or Moving Forward). Another way to show the reader how each character has changed is to jump forward in time. It DOES NOT have to be entire years or decades— it can be as little as a few hours after the final battle. You will find that once people have certainty (AKA the big dragon is dead) they quickly start sorting out their life. This is the type of ending scene that shows characters looking forward to the future. It does not tell the reader what will happen, but it gives closure by showing that they are on the right path.
  • The Reunion. This is pretty much the same as the previous, except that several years are skipped forward and it doesn’t leave things open, since we get to see the consequences of a character’s actions. We see how their dreams have changed. I know that this gets a lot of flak for being a cliche, but I think it is a very effective way to show growth c;

But, which one should you use? Well, that is something that only you can answer for yourself. Really, these are the ones I am familiar with— it is entirely likely that you could create yourown way to tackle the end. As I mentioned before, all you need to please your reader is to give them (More) Payoff and Closure. If you can give your readers that, then it does not matter how you do it.

If anything, this is the best part of writing as a medium— you can, and you should, play around and find what works for you & the story you’re working on!

I hope this helps! If you, or any other writerly friends, have any more questions I would love to hear them~ ♥︎

Thank you for the question, Pat! And doubly-thank you for pledging to my Patreon page! Thank you for directly supporting me, my books, and the awesome posts that you see on this blog everyday~ ♥︎

Interested in becoming a Patron? Head over to my Patreon Page where you will find information on the sweet perks that can be yours from as little as $1 dollar a month, least of which is my gratitude! ♥︎

Sep 7

How It’s Said (substitutes)
In a happy way: laughed, rejoiced, giggled, joked, lilted, sang out.
In a sad way: cried, agonised, bawled, blubbered, lamented, sobbed, groaned, snivelled, wept, mourned.
In a bossy way: insisted, bossed, demanded, preached, dictated, professed, ordered.
In an angry way: raged, miffed, seethed, fumed, retorted, thundered, blurted.
In a pained way: barked, cried out, cried, screamed, jabbered, bellowed, groaned, howled, shrieked, roared, grieved, wailed, yelped.
In a frightened way: quaked, stammered, shuddered, quivered, trembled.
In an understanding way: empathised, accepted, consoled, crooned, comforted, sympathised, agreed.
In a tired way: mumbled, struggled, emitted, wearied.
In a begging way: beseeched, begged, implored, pleaded, entreated, appealed to.
In a mocking way: mocked, ridiculed, derided, hooted, japed, insulted, jeered, parodied, taunted, teased, chaffed, flouted, degraded, sneered, disdained, jibed, gibed, disparaged, belittled, decried, flouted, fleered, leered, scoffed, sniggered, swiped, scorned, repudiated, lampooned.
In a seductive way: purred, simpered, coaxed, wheedled, persuaded, baited.
As an answer: As an answer: responded, retorted, replied, rejoined, answered, acknowledged.
[Source] [[Jack Teagle]

How It’s Said (substitutes)

In a happy way: laughed, rejoiced, giggled, joked, lilted, sang out.

In a sad way: cried, agonised, bawled, blubbered, lamented, sobbed, groaned, snivelled, wept, mourned.

In a bossy way: insisted, bossed, demanded, preached, dictated, professed, ordered.

In an angry way: raged, miffed, seethed, fumed, retorted, thundered, blurted.

In a pained way: barked, cried out, cried, screamed, jabbered, bellowed, groaned, howled, shrieked, roared, grieved, wailed, yelped.

In a frightened way: quaked, stammered, shuddered, quivered, trembled.

In an understanding way: empathised, accepted, consoled, crooned, comforted, sympathised, agreed.

In a tired way: mumbled, struggled, emitted, wearied.

In a begging way: beseeched, begged, implored, pleaded, entreated, appealed to.

In a mocking way: mocked, ridiculed, derided, hooted, japed, insulted, jeered, parodied, taunted, teased, chaffed, flouted, degraded, sneered, disdained, jibed, gibed, disparaged, belittled, decried, flouted, fleered, leered, scoffed, sniggered, swiped, scorned, repudiated, lampooned.

In a seductive way: purred, simpered, coaxed, wheedled, persuaded, baited.

As an answer: As an answer: responded, retorted, replied, rejoined, answered, acknowledged.

[Source] [[Jack Teagle]

(Source: victoriousvocabulary)

Sep 5

Here’s a basic rule: if you’re reading or watching a Shakespeare play, and you’re not imagining the actors standing in front of a mosh pit of jeering Londoners waiting to throw vegetables at the stage, you’re doing it wrong.

Shakespeare might have written the best works in the English language, or given us profound insight into the nature of humanity, or whatever — but his works wouldn’t have survived to our day if he hadn’t been popular when he was alive, and he wouldn’t have been popular when he was alive if he hadn’t been able to please the crowd. And that includes a lot of dirty jokes. A lot.

Sometimes in incredibly inappropriate places. We’re here to rescue a few of those for you, and retroactively embarrass the heck out of your fourteen-year-old self, who had to stand up in English class and read things that, in retrospect, are absolutely filthy.

This isn’t about the stuff that always does crack fourteen-year-olds up in English class, but is totally innocent: the “bring me my long sword, ho!” sort of thing.

But the kids who lose it every time the word “ho” is uttered are closer to the spirit of Shakespeare than the teacher who demands they treat the words like museum pieces.

Sure, it would be awkward for teachers to explain the Elizabethan double entendres to their students — but pretending they don’t exist makes Shakespeare seem unnecessarily stuffy and difficult.

So we’re going to start with the most obvious innuendoes, and move on to some seriously advanced sex punnery that is probably going to blow your mind.

- Reading Shakespeare without the sex jokes is the real tragedy. (via newsweek)

Sep 2

Why you need strong verbs when you write

amandaonwriting:

Strong verbs improve your writing in three ways. They help you:
  1. Reduce adverbs: Choosing strong verbs helps you to be specific. You should replace an adverb and a verb with a strong verb if you can. It will improve your writing. Don’t say: “She held on tightly to the rope.” Do say: “She gripped the rope.” Don’t say: “He looked carefully at the documents.” Do say: “He examined the documents.”

  2. Avoid the passive voice: Choose specific, active verbs whenever you can. Don’t say: ‘He was said to be lying by the teacher.’ Do say: ‘The teacher accused him of lying.’

  3. Eliminate wordiness: Strong verbs help you eliminate wordiness by replacing different forms of the verb ‘to be’. They allow you to stop overusing words like ‘is’, ‘was’, ‘are’, and ‘were’. Don’t say: ‘She was the owner of a chain of restaurants.’ Do say: ‘She owned a chain of restaurants.’

If you reduce wordiness, choose specific verbs, and use the active voice, readers will be able to understand you more easily. This is what you want because the reason we write is to communicate. 
Sep 2

Reading Women (2012 - 2013), Carrie Schneider

  1. Rena reading Zadie Smith, Megha reading Edith Wharton.
  2. Flávia reading Clarice Lispector, Bianca reading Sylvia Plath.
  3. Evan reading Anne Lamott, Aura reading Maarit Verronen.
  4. Sara reading Miranda July, Sheree reading Angela Carter.
  5. Hsiao-Jou reading Fang-Yi Sheu, Heather reading Chris Kraus.
  6. Cauleen reading Gwendolyn Brooks, Molly reading Roseanne Barr.
  7. Sarah reading Zora Neale Hurston, Vicky reading Gloria Fuertes.
  8. Alyssa reading Patti Smith, Yala reading Susan Sontag.
  9. Whitney reading Terry Tempest Williams, Naomi reading Adrian Piper.
  10. Kelly reading Gabrielle Hamilton, Amy reading Michelle Cliff.

(Source: carrieschneider.net)

cockend:

The mummified heart is said to be that of vampire Auguste Delagrance, responsible for the deaths of more than forty people back in the 1900, a period of vampirism in the USA. When he was identified, Delagrance was hunted down by a Romano Catholic priest and a Voodoo Hougan, and was destroyed in 1912. (x)

This is fucking Rad

(Source: welcometothe1jungle)

Writability: How to Make Cuts Without Losing Anything Useful

avajae:

Oftentimes, when editing, there comes a time when we have to make cuts. Whether it’s because the word count is way too high, or the plot is on the sluggish side, or there are unnecessary words floundering about, it’s pretty inevitable to avoid some eventual cutting.

However, cuts don’t have to be painful, and sometimes, they can even be relatively simple. And so I’d like to share five easy cuts to make without experiencing too much pain.

  1. Suddenly. “Jimmy crept around the corner, then, suddenly—” aaaaand stop right there. Suddenly is one of those words that we’ve been tricked into believing are useful. When we write “suddenly,” we’re trying to convey to our readers that whatever happens next happened without warning, but there’s just one problem—you’ve already warned your readers. 

    Every time you use the word “suddenly” you’re basically shooting yourself in the foot. “I suddenly felt sick,” for example, takes away the suddenness of the nausea, because your readers read “suddenly” and knew something was about to happen. “Suddenly” doesn’t tell our readers not to expect something, it does the opposite—it warns our readers that something is about to happen. And that’s not very sudden, is it? 

  2. Very, really, etc. These are often throwaway words. I want to say 7/10 times you use “really” or “very”, you can probably replace it with a single word that’s more powerful and effective. “Very tall” for example, could be “towering.” “Really slowly” could be “sloth-like.” Etc. etc. 

    There is an exception, however. Sometimes words like “very” and “really” are used to accentuate a voice, especially with younger characters. For example, while “very fast” can almost always be changed to “quickly,” but “navy” may not be better than “very blue” if your POV character isn’t likely to say “navy.” 

  3. Filter phrases. If you haven’t read Chuck Palaniuk’s post on “Thought” verbs, you need to do so now. I’ll wait. Go read it. I mean it.

    Did you read it? I hope so, because I can’t begin to tell you how incredibly helpful it is. Filter phrases are fine for first drafting, but when it comes to revising, it’s time to remove them and replace them with something more powerful. 

    In case you didn’t read it, filter phrases are phrases like “he thought” “she wondered” “I knew” “he felt” “she saw” “I smelled” etc. The problem with them is that they add an extra layer of filtering, which distances the readers from the narrative. 

    For example, “I smelled freshly baking cinnamon rolls” could be changed to “The sugary scent of cinnamon and sweet glaze was so thick in the air, I could almost taste it.” By showing us what the character is smelling rather than telling us what he/she is smelling, the imagery becomes much more powerful, almost as though the readers are experiencing it themselves. 

    Yes, it can be a little tedious going through your manuscript and removing them, but I highly recommend you do. It’ll definitely make your work much stronger. 

  4. I am, do not, will not, did not, etc. This is a super easy one. Oftentimes, especially in dialogue, I’ve seen writers forget their contractions. Sentences like “No, Jim, I do not think I will be going to that party” immediately sounds stilted just because the contractions were forgotten. “No, Jim, I don’t think I’ll be going to that party” sounds much more fluid, yes? (The answer is yes). 

    It’s an easy mistake, and you certainly don’t have to change all of them to include contractions (in fact, depending on your voice and the voices of the characters, you may only change a couple), but it’s definitely something to keep in mind because changing just a few can really add to the flow.

  5. Unnecessary scenes. This one’s a little trickier, but 9/10 times that I see a plot that’s dragging, it’s because of this little evil sucker. 

    Every scene needs to have a purpose. Every. Single. One. If you can’t go through each and every one of your scenes and identify the purpose (for example, character development, plot development, foreshadowing, etc.), then chances are it doesn’t need to be there. Another great way to determine this is imagine what would happen if you removed it—would your story still make sense? If your book would work without the scene, then chances are likely that you don’t need it.  


What other easy cuts can you think of when editing?

naturexphotography:

Following back

naturexphotography:

Following back

(Source: ifyouloveme-setmefree)

bookgeekconfessions:

I wanted to double check that “The Cherry on Top” was a short novel or novella and I found this on uphillwriting.org. I think it’s very informative and hopefully you guys will find it useful!

(Source: uphillwriting.org)