Author Topic: dndfreak's guide to writing novels and short stories  (Read 10801 times)

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Offline dndfreak

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dndfreak's guide to writing novels and short stories
« on: November 15, 2009, 02:32:11 pm »
Part one: before you even make a new .docx, plot outlines ahoy!

So you want to write a story, eh?  What's it about?

If you can't answer that question immediately and with more than three sentences, you're doing it wrong.

To even begin, you need to at least know the basic premise.  Personally, I must admit I do it a little differently, I write the whole thing out, let my characters take me where they will naturally.  After that, I go through it and reword pretty much everything from scratch now that I know exactly what'll take part.  However, most of you won't have that kind of time or patience, so I recommend writing a basic outline of what the book will contain.

I took the time to write up this form you can use that will take all the major points one at a time, feel free to paste it into word or whatever and print at your leisure.


dndfreak's plot outline form

Setting:____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Antagonist's background:______________________________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Antagonist's goal:____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Antagonist's motive:__________________________________________________________________________________________________

Protagonist's background:______________________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Protagonist's goal:____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Protagonist's motive:__________________________________________________________________________________________________

Primary plot twist:____________________________________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Secondary plot twist:__________________________________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Climax:______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Resolution:___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________



Copy and paste the antagonist/protagonist section for each character that fits in those categories and you have the basic plot structure applicable to pretty much any book.  For example, let's look at the first potter novel.  Caution, it's a bit of a spoiler, not that anyone hasn't either read or seen this by now.

Setting: Modern Day England, Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry
Voldemort's background: dark wizard who waged war on the entire world, was defeated by the love of Lily Potter for her baby, Harry
Voldemort's goal: to regain his mortality and powers
Voldemort's motive: a neverending hatred for potter and a lust for power

Draco Malfoy: spoiled brat child of Death Eaters.
Malfoy's goal: to get potter kicked out of hogwarts
Malfoy's motive: revenge for his fallen lord and a general despise of anyone with a backbone
Professor Quirrel's background: repentant death eater turned schoolteacher
Quirrel's goal: get voldemort's body back
Quirrel's motive: get voldemort to cease posession of quirrel's body

Harry Potter's background: orphaned by voldemort's wand, lives among muggles
Potter's goal: stay alive by preventing voldemort from obtaining a new body
Potter's motive: vengeance for parents and will to live
Ronald Weasley's background: lives in huge wizarding household, son of ministry worker
Ron's goal: help harry in any way he can
Ron's motive: friendship and fear for his family

Hermione Granger's background: mudblood, loves studying wizarding past in effort to forget her muggle heritage
Granger's goal: graduate at the top of her class and keep the school she loves from being destroyed
Granger's motive: obsession with the truth and a search for ways to prove herself to be stronger than the purebloods around her
Albus Dumbledore's background: famed wizard and scholar, handpicked voldemort for hogwarts and feels somewhat responsible
Dumbledore's goal: save harry and keep voldemort at bay
dumbledore's motive: regret for the pain he caused harry by not defeating voldemort when he had a chance and a passion for his entire school and what it stands for.

Primary plot twist: Quirrel is hiding voldemort behind his turban
Secondary plot twist: Snape is on harry's side!
Secondary plot twist: voldemort needs harry to obtain the stone
Climax: Voldemort is waiting for harry in front of the Mirror of Irased.  Quirrel attacks, but finds that potter's scar combined with voldemort's soul is turning quirrel's body to dust
Resolution: Harry wakes up in hospital, everyone is a live, voldemort escaped once again


As you can see, it allows for a good amount of detail while at the same time leaving room for you to get creative.  The form is meant as a guideline, not a summary.  It's a tool.

Note that some things, like the main antagonist's past, may not even be referenced in your story.  However, it's always good to keep these things in mind as you're writing since they often reflect personality quirks and dialog.

So now that you have that settled, let's move on to the next step.

Part two: descriptions are descriptive

So you're about to introduce the story, and to do that you need to paint the first picture in the reader's mind.  For many people, it's tough to find the right words to paint the right image.  That's what a thesarus is for, and if you don't write as much as I do then you're probably going to need it.

Take a look at the first two paragraphs of the Gearlan Chronicles, one of my unfinished novels.  Look at how I introduce the setting.

Quote
The man’s long, black cloak reached down to his ankles, nearly blending him into the night.  It was the trademark of the Gearlan guild, a group of mercenaries famed for their unique combat style: fast swordplay with the assistance of the mystical arts.  Gearlan warriors, often called spellblades, were known everywhere by their cloaks.  In some of the unfriendlier neighborhoods, this often gave the Gearlan a chance to practice their skills and prove their worth in front of a group of drunken tradesmen.  Unfortunately, the event usually ended with the deaths of said tradesmen.
   Tonight, however, this mercenary was not looking for a fight.  The unknown spellblade walked through the roads and alleyways of this small country town as if he belonged there, despite appearances that led to the contrary.  If anyone actually strayed in the streets at this time of night, they would have stopped in their tracks in the sheer awe of his presence.  However, no one was in the streets on this night.  And if any were to be there, this was the one day in the town’s history when they wouldn’t question him.

Pay close attention to the very first sentence.  "The man's long black cloak reached down to his ankles, nearly blending him into the night."  At first, all you think is "black cloak, shady character".  But here's what it really says:

Long black cloak + only goes to ankles = tall person
the man's = figure is male
black + blend into night = it's night out with very little light sources implying the lack of a moon or a very desolate area

Instantly, from that first sentence, we have an idea of who this guy is in addition to where.  The best part is that it's entirely subtle, so you pick up on it when trying to visualize it without even realizing how accurate it is.

The next few sentences define the fantasy genre thanks to a guild of mercenaries that use magic and swords to do battle.

Let's move on to the second paragraph.

"Tonight, however, this mercenary was not looking for a fight."  By itself, this really doesn't say much.  However, coupled with "In some of the unfriendlier neighborhoods, this often gave the Gearlan a chance to practice their skills and prove their worth in front of a group of drunken tradesmen.  Unfortunately, the event usually ended with the deaths of said tradesmen.", it leads to the conclusion that we're in a town.  Why else would it say that he wasn't looking for a fight if he wasn't in a place where he could find one?

"The unknown spellblade walked through the roads and alleyways of this small country town as if he belonged there, despite appearances that led to the contrary."  This next sentence reveals a few important things.  First of all, it clarifies that we're in a small, country town.  Secondly, it shows that the gearlan (the men with the cloaks) don't normally show up in these parts.  Now not only do we have a physical setting, but a cultural one as well.  Lastly, there's the combination of walking through the back alleyways as if he belonged there.  This shows two things, one is that he's in no hurry to get to his destination and the other is that he's been there enough times to know where he's going.

"If anyone actually strayed in the streets at this time of night, they would have stopped in their tracks in the sheer awe of his presence."  What does this say?  First of all, it isn't just night.  It's really late, which would explain the lack of ulterior lighting.  Next, we have an example of someone's response, showing that gearlans are well known to the public for something.  However, how could this person know where everything is and yet be a shock to everyone there?  He must have frequented the area BEFORE becoming a gearlan, possibly even living there for a time.

"However, no one was in the streets on this night.  And if any were to be there, this was the one day in the town’s history when they wouldn’t question him."

Something must be happening.  Something so big that even a notorious gearlan wouldn't surprise them anymore.


Do you see how subtle I am when setting the scene?  The trick is to use your details not to set the scene but to support an action.  For example, everything in those two paragraphs focuses solely on the guy walking down the street.  The details are there not to describe the scene but to describe the act of a guy walking.  Whenever you have to describe something for the first time, try not to make it a flat-out statement.  Instead, hide it behind an action.  For example, instead of saying "the man has unkempt black hair.", you could say "the man ran his fingers through his unkempt black hair."  The reader instinctively focuses on the action and lets his subconscious pick up the real detail.  While the first sentence will break up the action and detract from the significance of the scene, the second one has something happening and reveals a character's habit as well.

Also, beware of recurring adjectives.  When an object is first described, you tend to use the most obvious word available, for example the black hair thing.  From that point onward, you don't need to say black every time you say hair, it's a waste of space and an annoyance to the reader.  Try to assume that your audience has an attention span.

I don't mean to say that you should never use the word black ever again, it's useful in two situations.  The first is comparison, as in "his shirt matched the color of his black hair" which is fine since you're talking more about the yet to be described object than the one you're referring to.  The second one is a bit more complicated.  It's the use of non-direct describers.  NDDs are words or phrases used to reference something without specifically saying what it is.

For example, let's say that our black haired man is going to a barber shop.  Our first sentence is "the man is sitting in a barber's chair, the traditional red and white sign visible through the full-panel window in the front of the store."  We could easily make the next sentence "as the blade whirs to life, strands of the man's hair begin falling to the floor."  However, we just used man in the previous sentence and it would begin to sound cluttered.  Using an NDD, the sentence "As the blade whirs to life, strands of black hair begin falling to the floor." works much better.  Not only does it help reinforce the memory of the hair being black, but it also solves our problem of overusing the noun for our protagonist.

That leads me to another point, adjectives aren't the only thing bad to use in excess.  Any word falls into that category, really.  With articles (a, and, the, etc.) and conjunctions (and, or, but, etc.) it's completely fine to have the same word used in each sentence (at the most every other with conjunctions).  However, the others really don't have the same privilege, especially nouns and adjectives.  Unlike the latter, the former have pronouns to cover the slot as well making it much easier to split up.  Unfortunately, you'll also run into the same problem when you use too many pronouns.  Not only that, but they're nowhere near as descriptive as a NDD.  As such, you'll find that you'll be using them a lot the more you write.



So I wrote the first two parts, and as it turns out I killed almost two hours writing it.  That's why all I have written so far is what's above this little block of text.  If people want to see the whole thing finished, I'll gladly do it.  However, if nobody ends up looking at this thing I won't have invested days worth of my time into it.  That being said, comments?  Questions?  Concerns?

If you want help with a specific writing piece or want an honest edit, feel free to toss me a PM.



Link to part 3: http://www.gamingsteve.com/blab/index.php?topic=16842.msg765534#msg765534
« Last Edit: December 30, 2009, 06:08:55 pm by dndfreak »



Offline Putspooza

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Re: dndfreak's guide to writing novels and short stories
« Reply #1 on: November 17, 2009, 05:48:02 am »
This is pretty cool.

EDIT:

before you even make a new .docx

Pfft, Microsoft Office.

Offline dndfreak

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Re: dndfreak's guide to writing novels and short stories
« Reply #2 on: November 17, 2009, 06:18:40 am »
Well excuse me for using the latest tech on the market ( ') ( ')

Offline Raz

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Re: dndfreak's guide to writing novels and short stories
« Reply #3 on: November 28, 2009, 09:30:49 pm »
Basicly, answer " Who, What, Why, When, Where "

Offline dndfreak

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Re: dndfreak's guide to writing novels and short stories
« Reply #4 on: November 29, 2009, 05:04:57 am »
Yeah, in later editions, more like the second half, this was really s'posed to be more about HOW to answer those questions, at least later on.  Most fledgling writers at least know what they're supposed to say, just not how to say it.  It's a trend I've seen all too often on more than a few places across the net.

Sadly, it doesn't look like this has garnered too much interest as of yet so it's doubtful that I'll be continuing.  Ah well.

Offline Darth Grievi

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Re: dndfreak's guide to writing novels and short stories
« Reply #5 on: November 29, 2009, 09:23:08 am »
I like it.  :)

Besides, writing tutorials helps yourself get a handle on whatever it is. Writing drawing tutorials helps with drawing, ect.

Offline Tylui

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Re: dndfreak's guide to writing novels and short stories
« Reply #6 on: December 02, 2009, 12:58:08 pm »
This is the first post I've posted in probably over a year. And I want more.

Offline dndfreak

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Re: dndfreak's guide to writing novels and short stories
« Reply #7 on: December 02, 2009, 02:16:21 pm »
Well I guess if I managed to lure a lurker out of hiding... I guess I will keep going with this, but bear in mind it'll be a while.  I finally bothered to get myself a legit job last week and I've been kinda bogged down, I do get thursdays off though so I might be able to work on it tomorrow.

Offline Spudman

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Re: dndfreak's guide to writing novels and short stories
« Reply #8 on: December 09, 2009, 08:55:15 am »
You? Get a job? Who are you, and what have you done to the real dndfreak!?

Anyway, i love it! In fact, i may start writing again... Whats next (For this project thing i mean)?
"You will all suffer my sins, your oceans of blood will soothe my body and purify of it or this world which I have been born into. Your souls will merge with mine, your pain and fear and despair will drive my crusade!"

Offline dndfreak

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Re: dndfreak's guide to writing novels and short stories
« Reply #9 on: December 10, 2009, 09:39:59 am »
Well, obviously it didn't get done... Putting in a new desk, so I don't really have a place for my PC atm (using the Wii now).  As for what was coming next, I honestly couldn't tell you.  I have an outline saved on my pc with all that crap written in it but it really won't be accessible for at least the next three or four days.

Offline dndfreak

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Re: dndfreak's guide to writing novels and short stories
« Reply #10 on: December 28, 2009, 08:08:50 pm »
Well, three or four turned into fifteen somehow, but I'll be getting to work on this soon.  Sorry for the wait guys, things have been crazy lately.  I'm still wading through the mounds of presents from my birthday, let alone Christmas.  I plan on at least starting this tomorrow but I doubt you'll see a new entry until the day after.

@ Spudman: The next few sections will be on fleshing out characters, including basic personality archetypes, naming, speech mannerisms, varying thought processes, etc.  I especially look forward to the part on writing realistic dialog as that seems to be the biggest roadblock for a lot of people *cough* Kaizer *cough*.  ;)

In all seriousness, he's not the only one I've laughed at and you'll find out why throughout the next few sections.

Until then, happy writing!

Offline dndfreak

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Re: dndfreak's guide to writing novels and short stories
« Reply #11 on: December 30, 2009, 05:27:42 pm »
Stupid character limit won't let me tack this onto the end of the op, so it appears I'll be linking the posts to each other instead.

Link to parts 1 and 2: http://www.gamingsteve.com/blab/index.php?topic=16842.msg757721#msg757721

Part three: Protagonists and Antagonists, the Looping Technique

In case you haven't figured it out by now, the protagonists are the characters that are the focus in a story.  Key word being focus, many stories occur from the point of view of an "evil" character but it doesn't mean that the main character is the antagonist.  The antagonists can be anything that opposes a protagonist.  Unknown by many, this doesn't have to be something sentient.  In fact, there are four main types of antagonists that appear in writing.

Person vs Person: Another sentient life form causing conflict with the protagonists, can be any species real or imaginary.  This is by far the most common type of antagonist and is the focus of these tutorials.

Person vs Environment: Often taking the role of hazardous terrain or a natural disaster, this antagonist plays a role in many survival stories.

Person vs Society: This antagonist takes the form of a group of people of which little to none are identified by characters.  The most common forms are gangs, nations and student bodies.

Person vs Self: These forms of conflict are immaterial and fill the role of conflicting emotions or ideas, perhaps a hard decision or a heavy feeling of doubt.

Note that in most books, all four of these types are used.  It's the antagonist(s) involved in the setup and delivery of the climax that determine what denotes the "main antagonist".  For the purpose of the guide, I'm going to assume that your main antagonist is a person scenario.  Not only does it tie in with the next few sections, but knowing how to flesh out the opposition will help no matter the focus of your story.  It's a technique called personification, where you associate human traits to non-human objects in order to help the reader visualize or understand the subject better.

In any case, I'm getting off topic.  The point is that while it's good for you to use many types of conflict in your stories, for now we'll only be focusing on people.

The most important thing to keep in mind when making a new character is LOGIC.  Whenever you make a decision for a character, ask yourself why.  There's your next decision.  Making a basic character like this will help to ensure that the person is realistic and that there are no contradicting elements.  For example, I'm going to come up with a new character here:

Code: [Select]
Decision: Loves the internet.
Why: an escape from his real life
why: he thinks his real life sucks
why: his real life sucks
why: his parents died in a fire when he was a kid, he's moved from foster home to foster home ever since
why: the parents were both firemen, they went back in to a burning building to save the residents.  The residents made it, not the parents
why: the residents were the character's childhood friends
why: They're all obsessed with the internet

And voila, a complete loop.  Albeit not that detailed, it provides an insight into the likes, outlook on life, and background of the character.  The loop also provides ways to "link" it to other characters.  For example, I could start a new loop with one of the friends with why they are obsessed with the internet.  I could also link it to the parents, starting with why they saved the childhood friends.  Those loops will probably link to each other as well, let alone introduce new characters to make loops for.  This looping form of making characters really helps in fleshing out backgrounds, establishing if and how everyone in the story knows each other, the experiences that form and alter their speech mannerisms, their likes and dislikes, how they would interact with other characters and more.  It's also a great way for adding new characters into a story.  For example, when making the Gearlan Chronicles plotline, I started on Thaze's loop and got stuck on needing a "why" for his fondness of his hometown despite what had happened there.  That's how the role for Amy was made.

Even if you already have your character fleshed out, it's always a good help to go over it with a loop.  You might find a plothole in your story like the one I mentioned.  It's also good to note that the typical chain for an important character is much longer than my sample.  My Thaze chain (not shown due to spoilers) is over 40 reasons long and contains links to 32 different characters.  Many of them are minor and only have 2 or 3 reasons, but more than a few (like Amy and Ruari) have loops almost as long as Thaze's himself.

The key objective when making links is to somehow connect the main protagonist to the main antagonist.  It doesn't have to be a direct link, as many antagonists and protagonists don't meet before well into the tale.  However, it's important to be able to compare the two to be certain on WHY they would clash.  It also helps to decide how they interact with each other for the first time, be it directly over a common interest or through one of the characters that was used to link the two.

I personally recommend making the main protagonist's and main antagonist's loops before building upon any other links.  They ARE the two most important elements in the story, so it's important that they stay true to your concept, whereas you may find yourself altering side characters to fit them into the loops.

As a final tip before you go off and start your loops, remember that one person can have multiple loops, in case you want to add something in that doesn't really fit into the first one.  Just be sure that it doesn't conflict with any of the other loops.



Questions so far?  Comments?  Concerns?  Feel free to post in this thread or send me a PM, but be specific as to which numerical part you're referring to.  the most recent one now might not be the most recent one by the time I see your message.

Also, feel free to contact me about assistance in your writing projects.  I might even use a snippet as an example in the guide (not without permission, of course).  In any case, I'm always willing to help you out (provided I have the time).



Part four: http://www.gamingsteve.com/blab/index.php?topic=16842.msg770051#msg770051
« Last Edit: January 18, 2010, 10:27:56 pm by dndfreak »

Offline Kaizer

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Re: dndfreak's guide to writing novels and short stories
« Reply #12 on: December 30, 2009, 06:04:34 pm »
Quote
Voldemort's background: dark wizard who waged war on the entire world, was defeated my the love of Lily Potter for her baby, Harry

yea you made a grammar error in yer OP

Offline Eagle

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Re: dndfreak's guide to writing novels and short stories
« Reply #13 on: December 30, 2009, 07:49:50 pm »
That would be spelling actually, considering it's a typo.
I am bloody FASHIONABLE eagle!1!

Offline dndfreak

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Re: dndfreak's guide to writing novels and short stories
« Reply #14 on: December 30, 2009, 10:41:52 pm »
I was gonna say that, but I decided to just fix it instead.

It's funny how it took this long for someone to pick up on that.  I mean, that's been up for over a month now and nobody saw it?