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Guide to Successful Writing
There is no way this can ever be definitive. Let's get that one squared away right away. No-one can "make you a good author" in the same way that no-one can make me one. I just happen to write and people tell me it's acceptable. And then they ask me how to do it.
I've thought about 'how to do it' and I have no real idea. But the basic rules are very simple.
Let's start with a list of "No, don't ever do that's"
Please, if you want someone like me to enjoy your story, don't do some things:
- Don't introduce any character all in a rush, and especially not in the first paragraph. "I'm Freddie, I'm 6'3", weigh 150lbs and am gay" turns me right off.
- Never talk about sizes of genitals, especially improbable sizes. "He took out his 10 inch penis" is a big turnoff. If it was large there has to be a better way of describing it!
- Do not use words like 'fuck' where there is a better word, especially when writing erotica. The word 'fuck' and similar, brutal words, make a story judder for the reader. Of course there are times to use brutal words, so use them then, but only then.
- Volumes of ejaculate are also a huge turnoff. And most of them are way to big. "I must have cum a whole half pint!" Well, no, you didn't. You had the same teaspoonful that we all get. And so reality goes away and we stop reading your otherwise excellent story.
- Never confuse " and ' where you are speaking and thinking. Now this is a preference, but my house style is to use " for speech and ' for thinking or quotes. Getting this wrong confuses the heck out of your reader.
- Never use words you don't normally use yourself in speech.
- Please don't use words spelt oddly to reflect a dialect. Tell us what the dialect is and then write normally. You can still use 'gonna' instead of 'going to' if the speech flows better, but never attempt (say) an Irish brogue with weird spellings.
- Never search for variants on 'he said', just say 'he said'
- Just don't use apostrophes in the wrong places.
- Check your vocabulary. "Loose" as a verb means to release. "I have my virginity to loose." is wrong. You lose your virginity. Get that simple thing wrong and you piss off your literate readers in one go. If you think that "loose" is just a spelling variant of "lose" think again, then go back and tell your English teachers that they are uneducated idiots. There are other words that are common in their mis-deployment. Don't use them either. Spill chuck will not find it when you use an incorrect worm. Spill the worm write and it will not show up as an error. This is your job as a righter. See watt I mean?
- Narrators. Avoid them. You have to be really good to use a narrator, because I need to be shown things, not told them. And, as for the Omniscient Narrator, no, no, and a thousand times no. Unless you are very, very good, that is.
- Adverbs. The ideal tale contains no adverbs, no adverbial phrases, no adverbial clauses. Now, in dialogue they are permisible, but think how rarely we use them in real speech. In non-dialogue text go back and edit them out. They have no place in a story. None. Maybe one per Harry Potter and the Very Long Camping Trip size novel, but that needed editing down by half anyway.
- Deus ex Machina. Rowling does it all the time. "With one bound Harry was free!" It shows a poor mastery of your plot. If you can't get your characters out of the mess, heck, kill them off and end the story right there. Agatha Christie does it at the end reveal of who the murderer is, too. She knew all the time and we can't work it out because she withholds material. Yes, she sold in millions, but it's terrible.
There are some things you need to do, too:
- Look at your dialogue. If you write "I am going to the zoo" and then say it aloud you will find that you will say "I'm going to the zoo". So write it. Contractions in speech are usual
- Consider punctuation as both a grammatical construct and as the makings of a tone poem. I don't mean 'use unusual punctuation because you are an author'. I mean 'punctuate to reflect what is going on'
- Kids behave like kids. Teens like teens. Adults like adults. So make sure they do.
- Choose a Voice (first person, third person). If writing in the first person, stick to one character. If you flit from person to person [This is Peter, This is Paul] I will probably put your story in the bin. It just isn't worth the effort involved to try to read it. The only exception to this is if it is an obvious literary stratagem. You need to recognise, too, the difference between Voice and Point of View. In Third Person Voice you can move to different points of view, but it takes skill. Do you have it?
- Use 95% facts and 5% fiction. Even Sci-Fi and Fantasy is based on real, supportable facts
- Describe things in a way that makes them live. Think back to that ten inch penis. Was it awesome, lovely, wonderful, impressive, terrifying, shapely, unexpected? What was the skin texture like? What colour was it?
- If using a particular geography, make it consistent. I know you will probably edit it a little, so remember the oddities of your landscape. If using a real place as a real setting make sure you know it well enough to show a visitor round because some of your readers have been there.
- Always use a new paragraph for a new speaker. No exceptions
- Decide when to use a person's name and when not to. We do not use each other's names often when we talk to each other, so use them sparingly.
- Understand with precision what a chapter structure is about. The end of a chapter finishes a concept or a scene. It may, rarely, mark an abrupt change, but, most usually, the end of one chapter will create a link to the start of the next. Closing a chapter moves the story forward because the reader understands what has happened in the author's mind when he or she closed it, and wants to move to the next one. Even so it is a breathing space, a useful place to have a cup of tea, make some toast, and scratch anatomical parts before proceeding.
- If your chapter is so long as to be a novel in its own right, you need to edit. Breaking the chapter into part one, part two, part three is not a valid technique. Edit the thing and break it into actual chapters, or remove great swathes of text. Either will do.
- Tense: Can you really carry it off as a present tense narrative? You'd better be really good, because you need to be in order to achieve it. Most writers try it out, and find it to be too hard, and wish they hadn't. Are you really special enough to be the one that makes it work?
There are some rules of punctuation in dialogue; the choice is between 'punctuation inside the quotes' and 'punctuation outside the quotes'.
The rules are open to interpretation, but the most common is to place the punctuation inside speech quotes ("), and outside the quotes for items ('). Look at the previous paragraph for an example!
Dialogue is easy if you follow this consistently. An example: "Morning, sleepyhead," said Peter. "It's going to be a great day!" He yawned, scratched his head and carried on, "Did you like it when I said 'I love you' last night?"
Notice the capitalisation despite commas flying around the place. And note a mix of " and ' makes it easy to understand.
Well that was a sort of 'rules segment', but actually writing is harder. There are no rules. But I have some suggestions. They are in the simple phrase 'use your eyes and tell me what you see'.
I want simple details about things all of my senses can find. I want to see, smell, touch, hear, taste what is in front of me. I want to feel your pain and pleasure. I want to love at least one of your characters. So take me in my head to the place in your head by using the words on the page that your imagination puts there.
Once you have a grasp of this and you have a finished story, or have finished sufficient for me to make a judgment, then you should submit it.