As a writer, I always have these nagging fears in the back of my mind. The loudest among them is the question, “Will they like what I wrote?” While I like to believe that if I write what I feel everything will turn out okay, the question is still very much valid. The audience is the one who has to read and process what I've written. If I want to remain a bold and relatable writer, I need to be able to cater to the needs and interests of my audience. This doesn't mean avoiding topics you're passionate about or talking about topics you don't like. It means learning who your audience is and what they need in order to get the message of your work across to them.
I realize every audience will be different. It is up to the author to figure out who their audience is and what they need. However, there are some basic “Turn-ons” and “Turn-offs” in writing that can be applied in almost every situation. Whether you're writing for The Story Corner, Character Building, Roleplaying, or even school, I've decided to list some dos and don'ts that I've picked up on over the years.
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DO- Learn formatting that best fits the audience. Regardless of setting, there is a certain outline that is used in writing. For high school and college level papers- kill me now-, you use MLA or APA. For character building, there are certain formats that work better than others. (For an excellent guide, click here. ) The same goes for writing fictional works. In long, multiple paragraph chapters, a reader can get lost without proper formatting to help break up text. Adding spacer images can help the audience stay on track and group together paragraphs that are related.
DON'T- Forget basic grammar and syntax. I know just as well as anyone else spelling mistakes happen. It never fails that after I post a discussion one or two spelling errors begin glaring me in the face. The problem occurs when several errors appear in the same work. This makes writing look sloppy and turns away a lot of audience members. I recommend putting a paragraph or two into Google Translate and have it read your writing back to you. You can hear grammatical errors and it usually underlines your misspelled words for you. A good rule of thumb is to know the difference in commonly used homophones- they're, there, their, your, you're, etc.- as well as when to make a new paragraph. This will prevent a lot of confusion and make your writing more fluent.
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DO- Include a solid introduction and conclusion. The purpose of the first paragraph is to get the reader's attention. A good opening sentence can make or break it for a lot of readers. “It was 6am and I got out of bed,” is a lot less likely to get attention than “I woke at the break of dawn, climbing out of the quilt-covered bed that held me captive.” Similarly, the first paragraph/chapter should make the reader want more. Hint at the main plot of the story, but don't tell all. As for the conclusion, make sure it ties in to the beginning. If our hero started the story on a farm with nothing but cows, make him return home dawned in armor and riches. A similar start and end make a story feel well rounded.
DON'T- Overuse Prologue and Epilogue. If you do your job as a writer, you will rarely need a prologue. The exception to the rule is if the reader needs to know about a big event that happened years before the events of the story. If a villain was slain hundreds of years ago in massive battle but vowed to return, that might require a prologue. An epilogue could be used in a similar way, but only if you plan to tie the events of Story A to those of Story B, or possibly to tie up any loose ends that weren't addressed at the end of the hero's tale.
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DO- Plan out your characters and plot line. Having an outline in writing not only keeps you on track, but can help you through the dreaded Writer's Block. The plot line can be as strict or free as you like, so long as you have one. I always have a loose outline so that I feel free to add or take away from the story as I see fit. Contrarily, a character outline should be super strict. If your elf has green eyes and orange hair in Chapter 3, he cannot show up with brown eyes and blonde hair in Chapter 8. Unless he had contacts or dye, but you get the idea. Characters need to be consistent to help the audience keep track of them.
DON'T- Make over-powered, flawless characters. Heroes that never fail are unrelatable to an audience and they will become bored with them very quickly. Every one has a flaw, so the characters you write should as well. For my character Talia, her flaws include feelings of uselessness and being unlovable. They're flaws expressed multiple times and often cause her to get into situations she wouldn't be in if she didn't have them. Characters with flaws create conflict and conflict drives a story. Let them have injuries or mental wounds. Someone some where will relate to them.
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DO- Research what you're writing. Diving into books or lore about your subject impresses the audience. You don't have to include the entire history of Argonia, but if you casually drop the fact Argonians have the knowledge of those before them through the Hist, your audience will know you've put effort into the story. If you're basing a character off of someone in the real world, doing research on them pays off as well. I've found, especially in builds, including some of the history and lore behind a character gives the audience a deeper understanding of why your character does what they do.
DON'T- Use excessive wording that no one will understand. One of my biggest pet peeves is when a character who is poor or had little schooling steps up and starts speaking like they've studied Shakespeare at Harvard. Do not do this. A character should talk how they were raised. Look up insults and slang for your character's race. Learn mannerisms. Just please, do not have your Khajiit say, “The hors d'oeuves look delectable, even if served in this decrepit bungalow.” Similarly, if you have to look up a word for synonym purposes (see hors d'oeuves above) you should not be using it in your writing. If you don't understand the word, your audience very likely won't either.
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DO- take criticism. More times than not, your audience will want to give you feedback. We all hope for the good comments, but there will always be one or two critics. As a writer, you need to be able to address and assess criticism. Most of the people on this site will leave comments to encourage and help you out. Their suggestions have been invaluable to me and have helped me grow and a writer and builder. Learn from your mistakes, correct them, and move on. Don't dwell on a problem without thinking of a solution.
DON'T- leave hateful comments. Criticism is important, but only if it's constructive. Writing “This sucks” on a post does absolutely nothing. Nor does “I really don't like this content”. When leaving a negative comment, try to include a way to fix the problem you see or at the very least, give an explanation why you don't like it. You personally wouldn't like to receive said comments, so do your best not to give them.
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Those are my top Dos and Don'ts for writing. There's a lot of content here and not a whole lot of explaining, I realize. In my next few discussions, I'll be going into more detail on a few of the topics- formatting, character building, plot- but I just didn't want to make this post unbearably long. If you guys have some Turn-ons or Turn-offs I missed, let me know! I'm always looking to improve my relationship with the audience and I'll try to incorporate it into my own writing. Hope this was helpful!
As Always, Talos Guide You!
This super usefuk, especially new/begining writers. Fantastic work!
Wonderful guide Kendrix. I may have a few things to add.
A few more tips from another writer for others:
DO - Maintain character voice. This was touched upon a little above under the excessive wording bit, but you want to figure out how your character talks and carry that through the entire story. Like Kendrix said, someone with little schooling might not speak as if they studied Shakespeare. You'll want to think about things like where they come from, what slang their society may have, etc. After that, you have to keep the voice consistent. A character who is framed as more reserved in action and words might not be the first to stand up to an injustice. Or a character who stutters wouldn't start giving grand speeches with perfect diction. Keep a character's voice consistent and I will thank you.
DON'T - Add moments that have little relevance to the plot. This rule is a little more flexible but in general, I find it helpful to avoid moments that don't contribute to the plot. Explaining all the comings and goings of critters during the night while your characters sleep doesn't progress the story and can be condensed into a single paragraph. Now, consider changing it to a more meaningful moment where the characters discuss a plan or have some character backstory mentioned and the moment will be easier to invest in.
DO - Start during the action. Another one the is loose, but as a writer in any genre, from college essays to fantasy epics, you have to hook your reader right from the start. You usually have the first page or two to do this. The classic Hero's Journey starts at the "Status Quo" where the hero is in their natural world. This establishes the norm for the character before throwing the hero into a different place with the call to adventure. I prefer to start later, perhaps at the Call to Adventure itself, before backtracking to the beginning. This hooks the reader with some action while still allowing for the status quo to be set. A prologue can also help with this, but you should avoid overusing prologues, as mentioned above. Great examples of this in practice is Homer's The Odyessy and Virgil's The Aeneid.
DON'T - Exposition dump. Though you should research the topic you are writing about, especially to maintain continuity with lore or anything else, you shouldn't dump all this research on the reader at the very beginning. Only include the things that are relevant at that exact moment or will come into relevance soon. Most readers won't care about that king who didn't do much except die 500 years ago unless it connects with the story. Some small details are fun, when used in moderation. Example: They entered the ruins of Saarthal, an ancient city where it is said that Ysgramor himself resided. Example of what not to do: They entered the ruins of Saarthal, an ancient city that was built by Ysgramor as the first capital of Skyrim, until it was sacked by Snow Elves on the Night of Tears, who were later wiped out by Ysgramor and his 500 companions.
Sorry if it sounded a little harsh at times, but those are just my tips to add. Happy writing!
All great tips, Percival! Thank you for adding. I'll admit to having trouble with several of these. Oof. Haha.
Another great tip that I forgot to mention:
Always write, even if it's only a couple snetences a day. Find the time to write and you'll be surprised with how far you get. And always remember: You can edit a bad book, but not a blank page.
Nice to see this Kendrix (and Percival (above me)). Lately, I've been really wanting to get into the Story Corner, even if it's just a Journal type (not too sure how that would work) and seeing this has definetly helped me out a lot. Thanks!
I can't wait to see what you write, Lee!
Like I said in your previous thread, a lot of what goes into writing a great build apply to writing a great story. I think it might be worth going into some detail about tropes and cliches. They’re almost unavoidable, but one must understand them in order to create interesting nuanced characters and stories.
I'll definitely be doing one like that! Thank you Curse!!