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Writing - Tips and Resources


supernal

Valucre is an open site that does not limit the manner in which our members can write, but our community does encourage growth. This is sometimes misconstrued to mean we want long posts, which is not the case. Often times detailed posts are just a side effect of general improvement.

Roleplay and Writing: A few thoughts from Carlos

Some writers mourn a lack of detail in their own writing when they come to Valucre's play-by-post style, especially those that are transitioning from a chat environment or extended hiatus. Coming to a site where paragraphs are the norm can be intimidating.

The first thing to remember is that quality trumps quantity. The length of a post is not the determining factor to how good or bad it is. The second thing to remember is that on a forum setting, even though Valucre is active, you can take your time. Don't write in a rush, take your time to experiment with your writing, and revise your posts so as to refine them. Giving yourself time for a second draft of a post will let you refine your writing.

Remember, although roleplaying is a game and a hobby for most of us, roleplaying is writing. The more you develop your writing, the better at communicating your ideas you become, the more impactful and substantial the game. Becoming better at writing can help you in many areas in life, but we'll save that for a later time.

In regards to detail, there are a few elements you can consider. A character's thoughts and emotions have always proved to be a deep well that a writer can draw from. What does your character think, what do they feel, and how does that express itself in the character? Are they suspicious? If so, why? If so, how does this change the way they behave or react?

Pay attention to your surroundings. Interact and engage. This is not to say that in every post you make you have to climb a tree or dip a hand in the river, but things like weather, the time of day, the setting itself (walking from one end of town to the other, or from town to forest) are all variables that change.

Pay attention to your character while they speak, and to their orientation in regards to other characters and objects. Having your character pace about the room, or prepare dinner, or sketch a drawing, or sharpen his knife gives them a sense of being, of being more than a disembodied voice. Your character is alive, and it helps to convey them as such.

Repetition is a double-edge sword. Remarking on your character's blue eyes five times in one post is superfluous, but mentioning it only once throughout a thread makes it an easily forgettable detail. Switching words out with a synonym is a poor habit. Noting that your character has blue eyes, then aqua eyes, then azure eyes, is not the same as reinforcing the detail through expression ('eyes the shade of the ocean at night' or 'as if some portion of the light blue sky took residence in her eyes').

Tips

Proactive vs Reactive

As writers in a collaborative environment, it is very easy to fall into the habit of simply reacting rather than writing in a manner that advances the plot. This is especially true in group settings. Reactive writing contributes little to the story, even if it is well written, usually by way of being little more than a summary of previous posts coupled with little more than your character's reactions.

Proactive writing advances. You're still reacting, but in a way that moves the thread forward even by a single step. It means asking a question, engaging in an action, giving depth to the setting or granting significance to an item, impacting the story in a way that takes into account what came before but also establishes something for the posts that come after. Don't be afraid to get creative.

Length of Post

Length is largely irrelevant, but not completely. The forum writer should take pains to avoid "one-lining" in a play-by-post setting. This does not mean to take the extreme position that all of your posts need to be a thousand words long, but that you should provide enough content in your post that other players in the thread have something of substance to respond to. That said, there are certainly situations where a few sentences will suffice, but you should nonetheless take care not to allow "shake-n-bake" writing to become a habit. Without the atmosphere generated by some effort in writing on your part, your partners are liable to misinterpret events or simply lose interest.

On the other side of this, although writing at its core is meant to be an expression of creativity, you should take care to avoid "fluff" or "purple prose". By all means embellish, but if you write five paragraphs and four of them are describing a field or a flower, that is excessive.

Please note that this in no way advocates excessively complicated writing.

Vocabulary and Diction

Mark Twain said:

The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

Simple Writing Commandments

  • Use active voice. Use passive voice only to obscure the subject.
  • Be measured and precise: choose your words carefully.
  • Structure your writing so that each paragraph or section has a unified focus.
  • Keep paragraphs "bite-sized''.
  • Hyphenate correctly.
  • Use an appropriate and consistent level of formality.
  • Eliminate unnecessary words.
  • Prefer simple and direct constructs to more complex ones.
  • Use "which" and "that" correctly.
  • Don't rely on fluff words like very or extremely to strengthen your points. In the words of the immortal Mark Twain (again): Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very"; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
  • Use a spell-checker.
  • Avoid redundancy.

Source: http://www.cs.duke.edu/~chase/commandments.html

Description

Modified excerpt from Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively by Rebecca McClanahan:

Perhaps the best way to fully define description is by considering what it is not.

  • Description is not "all that flowery stuff". It isn't merely embellishment, something we stitch to the top of our writing to make it more presentable.
  • Description doesn't always mean detailing how something looks. One of the best descriptions I've ever read was written by a blind child. Evocative and memorable description is rooted not only in visual detail but in the smells, tastes, textures and sounds of our world.
  • Description doesn't begin on the page. It begins in the eye and ear and mouth and nose and hand of the beholder.
  • Writing descriptively doesn't always mean writing gracefully. Description won't necessarily make our writing more refined, lyrical or poetic. Some descriptions demand uneven syntax and plainspoken, blunt prose. Jagged, even. Fragments too. Slice of chin. Buzz saw.
  • Description doesn't always require a bigger vocabulary. House is probably a better choice than domicile, a horse is easier to visualize than an equine mammal, and red blood is brighter than the sanguine flow of bodily fluids.
  • Writing descriptively doesn't necessitate writing more. Description isn't a steroid, something to make our language bigger and stronger, nor is it an additive promising more miles to the fictional gallon. Sometimes writing descriptively means writing less. Our three-hundred-word description of the wedding cake might need to loose two hundred words; it may need to disappear altogether.
  • Description rarely stands alone. Most description exists as part of a larger poem, essay or story, seamlessly intertwined with other literary elements. Description isn't something we simply insert, block style, into passages of narration or exposition.
Resources

First, looking in rather than out, I recommend the Useful Writing Resources thread started by one of our very own.

Looking outside of the site, if you want to buff up your vocabulary, I suggest www.vocabulary.com and www.freerice.com.

Vocabulary.com has a program in place that adapts your vocabulary level by your accuracy in answering questions, not just how many you get right but how many tries it takes you to get the right word, using both fill in the blank and multiple choice. It adjusts to teach you new words, and reintroduces words you struggled with previously to enforce familiarity with it.

Freerice.com has a simpler version of the above program. The bonus is that each question you answer donates a certain amount of rice that goes towards feeding the hungry people in the world. It isn't much for a question or two, but with so many people playing the game worldwide we can make a difference. Valucre has a freerice group.

A combination of the two isn't a bad idea either.

This article on Point of View explores the benefits and limitations of First, Second and Third person. It has some solid examples, and suggests avenues you might want to explore when experimenting with your writing.

Edited by supernal

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