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Old July 2nd, 2013 (4:20 AM).
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
Gone. May or may not return.
    Join Date: Mar 2010
    Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
    Age: 23
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    Posts: 1,030
    You ask how to figure out what happens next, and how to write a good character. Those are two pretty big questions, and the short answer to both is that there isn't an exact answer.

    Let's take 'figuring out what happens next' first. Some people plot their story meticulously before writing it; if you take this approach, there's no need for you to worry about figuring out what happens next. Others (like me) have a vague idea of where the story needs to end up, and of a few important things that need to happen, and have no plan at all for the rest of the time - which necessitates, of course, figuring out what happens next.

    There's no one way to work out what it is that happens next, but you can start by asking yourself what's already happened. Has something happened that should define what happens next? For example, your character has found a wounded Riolu. So he's going to go and get it healed, presumably. And therefore something else is going to happen in consequence; I can't define what exactly, but you, knowing your setting, probably can, if you think about it a bit. The point is, by thinking about what the events you've described already might cause, you can start to come up with what happens next.

    And, of course, if you really can't think of what happens next, go away and do something else. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, that approach works for me when I've written myself into a corner and need a way out - I go away and sew for a bit, or sculpt, or anything other than writing, and an hour and a half later, when I've completely forgotten about the story, an idea comes into my head.

    In terms of characterisation, Phantom's outlined the basics (making sure the character acts consistently, like an actual person) and given you one method for making a reasonable character - that of coming up with their backstory beforehand. That's a good way of doing it, and probably one of the most reliable. (If not the most fun.) Just make sure that once you have that backstory, you don't necessarily shovel bits of it into the main narrative - remembering to keep in mind what bobandbill said about showing and telling; the character must act in accordance with their personality traits, but the reader's smart enough not to need to be told what those traits are.

    I'll also say something about physical appearance here, since a lot of new writers seem to go totally overboard in describing people: it isn't all that necessary. Countless great novels have been written with hardly any mention of the protagonists' appearance except when they have a necessarily distinguishing feature, (e.g. a missing eye). That's not to say you ought to stay away from that sort of description, but it's good to keep in mind that readers usually subconsciously compose characters' appearances out of aspects of people they've met, whether or not you describe them. If you do choose to go for a more extensive physical description, don't dump it on the reader all at once; insert it piece by piece as each feature of the character's appearance becomes relevant. For instance, describing hair colour only when that hair is being brushed aside or cut, or describing eye colour only when those eyes are locked on the the protagonist's own and sending a chill of fear down their spine. (Or whatever.)

    OK, that was meant to be short, but I rambled on and on like an adventurous cow. Sorry about that.

    Anyway, here's some more general advice for writing: read and write. A lot.

    No, more than that. A whole lot.

    Aiming to improve certain areas - grammar, characterisation, etc - is good, and it will help show you how to go about crafting stories, but writing, like all skills, improves with use. Keep doing it, and you'll get better at it - perhaps not as noticeably as if you really strive to refine a certain area of your writing, but much more consistently. That's not to say you shouldn't try to think of your characters as realistic people, or learn how to punctuate dialogue, but none of it sticks half as well as when you put it into action; that way, all the various tricks you have to juggle when writing become natural. Eventually.

    Also, reading. For a start, reading fiction is an excellent way of intuiting grammatical rules - I have never been taught grammar, for instance, and yet I know enough about it that I can teach (and have taught) non-native English speakers how it works. It also gives you an insight into how plotting and characterisation works, or even just show you a few nice little narrative devices. I almost never read a decent story, poem or play without finding at least two or three excellent tricks I'd never thought to use before.

    That's not to say you need to look for these things specifically when reading; if you read enough, they'll make their way into your head without noticing.

    This has been a much longer post than I intended. I have completely lost sight of where I started, and can only offer my apologies for its length and a hope that somewhere in here is something that's helpful.


    For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
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