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Reviews writing

Character Descriptions: Please Don’t Do This

While it’s true that clothing, facial features, and other physical qualities can help your character stand out from the crowd. Some of the most memorable characters stand out, not for their features, but for their quirky personalities. Obviously I’m not the quintessential writer, I’ve still got a long road ahead of me. However, as an avid reader, here are some things that novice writers do that kill their characters.

The Whole Face

The writer tells us everything. The hair, the eyes, the ears, oh don’t forget the earrings… it’s too much. In real life people don’t notice everything about a person’s face or figure. The average person will notice a couple to a handful of things. As such, if a writer wants their character to stand out, they’ve gotta stick to the most interesting stuff.
So, focus. What is most important or most unique about this character’s face? The scar on their chin? Their lack of eyebrows? Their earrings that drag their ears to their shoulders? The reader will not remember the character as well if they’re given everything all at once. Not only that, but the truly important details get lost in lengthy descriptions.

Exact Height

He’s five foot three, but she’s five foot two… they’re made for each other. Okay, unless it’s going to play a huge role in the plot. Please. Don’t. It’s awkward because most people don’t consider how tall a person is when they first meet them on the street. Well, if you’re a person like that, please comment below because this is a thought I’ve literally never had in my life. Generally when I look at people I think, very smol, small, about my height, tall, whoa tall. Never once have I been “huh, I bet that random guy is exactly six foot three” in my whole life.
Sure, saying they’re over seven foot or under three foot is fine. Why is this okay? Because at that point it’s a distinctive trait. If a person meets a fantasy creature that only comes up to their kneecaps, they’re going to notice that. But again, notice how I said “comes up to their kneecaps” because that is an adequate unit of measure in this scenario. Anyhow… just stop. We don’t need their exact height.

Descriptions Well Done

Obviously it’s not hard to find examples of well done descriptions. Here are some authors that I think do an excellent job of this.

Brandon Sanderson does an amazing job in Mistborn. The descriptions are gradual, as they become relevant, and remain enough to give us key features of the individuals. Also, some characters don’t get a description so much as a title that makes apparent their appearance. In the prologue, Lord Tresting isn’t described right away, but the title Lord already gives the reader some idea as to what he looks like. An image pops into their head. An image which is only clarified as it’s relevant to world building.

Another author who is sparse on upfront descriptions is Patrick Ness (at least in the book A Monster Calls). At first we know very little about Conor except he’s thirteen just a few months ago. This calls forth the image of a child. It isn’t until later on in the book that we get further descriptions.

If you can avoid clunky descriptions, that alone will do wonders for your writing. If you’ve read this far, don’t forget to follow the website for updates and until next time.

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writing

RPG Inspired Writing

With writing you sometimes feel like you have to do everything at once. However, if there’s anything that homebrew D&D taught me, it’s that build as you go is a perfectly valid way to write a campaign and, by extension, a book.

Have you played Dungeons and Dragons? Have you? Well, it’s amazing and I highly recommend it. If you haven’t played before, a good place to get started is by purchasing the Player’s Handbook. It’s a bit on the pricey side, but absolutely worth the investment as it delineates the basics a person needs to know about playing the marvelous game of Dungeons and Dragons.

Anyhow, I digress. So, in what ways can RPGs strengthen writing?

Only Provide Pertinent Details

Dungeons and Dragons is great because it teaches improvisation and build-as-you-go style world building. You only provide as much as you need to tell the story, not a bit more and not a bit less. There are hundreds and thousands of random character, name, and store generators that make up for the rest of what you don’t plan before session. Learning to deal with the unexpected actions your players take and cooperate with them on their adventure is optimal practice for book writing. After all, what characters cooperate with you while you write them?

Keep Moving

Also, it almost certainly breaks a writer of the need to endlessly mull over an element of their character’s backstory or an element of their world. You have to use it now! Too bad if it’s not perfect, you have to use it. No more time to think about the intricacies of what it means, go go go!

The players aren’t waiting for you if you’re a DM. They’re expecting you to know the game and the rules so that they can enjoy the story. The DM won’t wait for you if you’re a player. They need you to know at least your own character so they can build a world that will cater to that character’s development or downfall (depending on the type of campaign).

This encourages writers to pound out that first draft, no matter how messy. The more you practice it, the closer you’ll get to getting it right. Even if you aren’t a gardener, you’ll learn a lot by participating in RPG based character creation and world building.

Pitfalls

I won’t deny that it does have some pitfalls. Please… just don’t start your book in a bar, tavern, or with a group of guys that meet in the very RPG-typical way. It’s not good, 95% of the time. So, to sum up, not everything translates. Some things are better left to the RPG sphere. However, the benefits far outweigh the pitfalls.

What do you think? Do you agree that RPGs such as D&D can lead to stronger writing? Or am I wrong? Let me know your thoughts in the comments down below.

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Micro-fiction Publications

Tale Foundry: Write a Better Future

In light of recent events, Tale Foundry changed their prompt for this week. Honestly, things are out of hand right now. I love that Tale Foundry is doing their best to help in this time of change and crisis. All the donations from this week’s stream on Twitch are going to ACLU.

This time of change and fear of course brought an important name to my mind. Federico Garcia Lorca was one of the first victims in the Spanish Civil war. He was an amazing poet and he wasn’t afraid to speak up about political issues. As such, it’s so surprise that he was one of the first silenced in the wartime events of Spain.

Since I feel that his voice was also marginalized and discriminated against, I thought it appropriate to include excerpts from one of his poems in my submission for this week. Also, I gave the title a name honoring the concept of his poem. Feel free to check out my submission: Rivers of Lemonade on Tale Foundry’s website.

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Reviews

5 YA Fantasy Cover Comparisons

Deseretgear and I recently did a YouTube video, 5 YA Fantasy Cover Comparisons, about book covers we like and don’t like as well as why. Check out the article below to see highlights or go head and click image below to hop on over to YouTube and watch the full video.

cover comparisons

Reason 1: What is the Genre?

There’s nothing I hate more than when I pick up a book and I have no idea what genre I’ll be reading. Especially since there are some genres that I don’t like. Some book covers don’t give off any indication at all. I’m more likely to never pick the book up in the first place rather than flip it over and read the blurb. In making things as generic and mass-appealing as possible, the cover loses could-be readers. Specificity may lose the crowd, but it brings in the ones who will cling to content to the bitter end.

covers on the shelf

Reason 2: The Design is Cluttered

There’s too much going on, or the things that are added don’t add to understanding the story inside. This has to do with purposeful design. If it seems like things were thrown together or if they don’t really have a purpose, then the cover feels bland. The best example of this that we discussed in our video were the covers for the book Shiver. Both covers we looked at were similar and both contained elements pertinent to the story. However, one of them was certainly a tighter and more thoughtful design. Purposeful covers are a testament to the thought that went into the creation process.

covers with purpose

Wrapping Things Up

We haven’t judged these books by their covers but we have judged their covers by their covers. Both Des and I know that traditionally published authors have little to no say in the design of their book’s covers and in no way does our review intend to reflect poorly on these books. These are fantastic books that either we’ve read personally or heard good things about. However, doesn’t that make this all the more lamentable? Doesn’t it make it even sadder when a good book deters readers who would love and enjoy the story inside because of industry choices outside the writer’s control?

So, if you’d like to see the full review, check out our YouTube video and subscribe for updates. Also, tell us in the comments below what you think. When have you been disappointed by the cover of a book you know and love?

cover blank
Categories
writing

A Bad Scene, Better Than None

Oh, you’re past the inciting incident and you haven’t reached the end just yet. You have a few thousand words to go through before you get there. And by a few I mean about 30,000? I’m low balling, by a lot. Anyhow, when you get to the flabby middle section of your book the most important thing is to keep moving.

writer's block

Fresh out of Ideas. What to Write?

Out of Ideas? 😦 What should you do if you’re in the middle and you find yourself out of ideas? This is where leading a meeting or running a RPG comes in handy because nothing says pull something out of the air right now like having a table full of expectant faces. Yikes. Literal nightmares. But, after a long while, after a very very long while, you get used to it. And you find that, yes, you can pull things out of the air. You’ve studied them so much that they spill out.

But wait, maybe you’re not to that point yet! So, what do you do? Well, I look up plot hook ideas because, surprise, the plot doesn’t happen at the beginning and the end of the story alone. A whole lot of it happens in the middle too. These guys can give your characters enough juicy action to keep kicking through the slump of your book.

So, here’s a pair of useful places to look:

  1. D&D Quest Ideas
  2. Subplot Ideas

I also recommend Save the Cat, Writes a Novel. It has some excellent plotting advice which should help you string your story quite nicely.

writer's block

Why a Bad Scene Is Better Than None

A bad scene can be rewritten. Half of the battle is getting through the middle of the book. If you can make it to the end you can re-hash, re-smash, and honestly re-write a lot of things. A bad scene is good because you know it’s bad. A bad scene can be tossed or re-written. So, write a scene you hate. Write a scene that sucks. If you write it, you’ll reach the end, and you’ll know how to change it when you go back.

In fact, Brandon Sanderson openly admitted in his lectures that he makes revision notes as he writes his first draft. This is perfect. If you really don’t like a scene, you can make a note about how you’ll do it better next time around. And thus, you’ll reach the end of your book.

writer's block

Keep Writing

Never give up. Even if you can’t make it this time, keep trying. Don’t give up and try to keep writing even through the terrible bits. You’ve got this. Feel free to comment below. Do you disagree?