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The Pecman

"Gay Writing Tips" by The Pecman

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Nick Nurse's comments elsewhere are good, but I think they relate more to the basics of grammar and spelling. I'm more concerned about the content of the fiction I read these days (not that grammar or spelling can be taken for granted!); I present the comments below just as a reaction to a lot of the stuff I've read lately on the Net.

TIPS ON WRITING GAY FICTION

(version 2.5)

Maybe a better title for this piece would be how to write better gay fiction. God knows, there?s more crap out there on the Net than you can shake a stick at. But a lot of the truly bad stories out there seem to exhibit the same mistakes over and over again. It makes me crazy, because I feel very strongly that amateur fiction does not have to be amateurish! As far as I?m concerned, good writing is good writing, whether you?re being paid for it or not, and regardless of whether it?s being read by 10 readers or 10,000,000.

Below is a list of my personal pet peeves in gay erotic fiction on the Net, followed by remedies and suggestions that I believe can help nip them in the bud. A lot of these ideas are intended for neophytes who write gay erotica featuring teenage characters, but many of the topics apply to characters of all ages.

1) Get your stories off to a good start. This is a particularly bad problem in the ?gay teenage romance? genre (if that is an actual genre). You know you?re in trouble when, in the very first paragraph, the character wakes up to an alarm clock or a knock on the door. Very clich?d, very predictable... and incredibly boring. Good fiction is like good filmmaking: the scenes often start right in the middle of the action, so we get rid of the preliminary, boring set-up, and cut right to the chase, to the heat of the battle. Start the story in an unpredictable way: hook the reader with the very first paragraph, preferably with some action and conflict, and make them want to read more.

2) Make the introductions of the characters interesting and unpredictable. Avoid the expected. Let the story dictate when the characters appear for the first time; don't throw them in arbitrarily. Whatever you do, avoid directly describing the characters? physical appearance ? especially the lead. Klaxon sirens go off the moment I read a story where the writer says, ?let me introduce myself. My name is so-and-so, I?m this tall, I?m this old, and I look like this.? BOR-ing! Let the reader find out what the characters look like through the eyes of other people. Or let us find out eye color, hair color, height, and all the other aspects of your characters? physical appearance naturally, through conversation, and as the story develops. There?s a thousand different ways to do that if you think about it, and there?s no need to rush it. If possible, avoid the trite routine of having a character look at himself (or herself) in the mirror and describe what they see, unless there?s a damn good reason for it. And don?t think that you have to have go out of your way to to give your characters cool, trendy names. There?s nothing wrong with using ordinary names like ?John, Mark, or Bill,? as opposed to ?Chaz, Toph, or Zephyr.? Do at least make an effort to keep the names different-sounding from each other. For example, a story featuring characters named ?Mark,? ?Marty,? and ?Marvin? might be a little confusing.

And when your lead characters meet for the first time, go for the unexpected. If I read one more gay teen romance where the two characters collide in the hallway, I swear, I?ll shoot my computer monitor (and then maybe myself)! C?mon ? come up with something new! People meet in all kinds of ways ? there doesn?t always have to be a ?new kid in school,? or the ?next door neighbor who may or may not be gay.? And if you go with the ?guy falls in love with his best friend? scenario, at least try to put a new spin on the same old situation to keep the reader guessing.

3) Make every chapter count. I can?t count the number of erotic stories on the Net where the chapters go on and on and on, ad infinitum, and yet very little actually happens in each installment. There are some stories out there (and you can guess which ones I?m talking about) that literally go on for 1000 pages with no end in sight? a veritable Lord of the Rings of gay erotica. And often, the story goes absolutely nowhere, without a real plot, no narrative thread, let alone a dramatic conclusion.

A good novel or short-story needs all the elements of plot, characters, and conflict to constantly propel the story forward to an inevitable climax. Noted writer David Gerrold, in his excellent book Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, said it best when he instructed, ?put a surprise on every page.? His advice works for all kinds of fiction, not just SF or fantasy. Here?s an example for a novelist: write a short synopsis of each chapter you?ve done, made up of no more than two or three sentences. If you find not much is really happening in one or more chapters, then either cut them out, or edit them way down ? even combine them, if necessary ? to spare the reader the agony of having to read them. If you feel the story is getting bogged down and predictable, change it! Throw a new spin on things: don?t go in the expected direction. Keep your reader off-balance, so that they won?t be able to predict where the story and characters are headed.

And don?t give me the excuse of, ?oh, but this isn?t just a novel. It?s a serial, designed to happen over a long period of time.? Bzzzzzz! Sorry, but that?s the wrong answer. I don?t buy the idea that amateur gay erotica doesn?t have to follow the same basic rules of good story-telling as everything else. A good story is a good story, period ? straight, gay, sexual, non-sexual. And, yes, that counts for amateur fiction on the Net, too. That doesn?t mean a good story can?t be an epic: a recent hardbound edition of Stephen King?s The Stand is 1200 pages, and J.K. Rowling?s 2003 best-selling installment of Harry Potter was well over 800 pages; but those stories have tons of plot, oodles of character development, and lots of meat. I don?t see much of that in comparable 1000-page Net stories.

4) Avoid excessive dialog. There?s no easier way to make a story long, drawn-out, and boring than by using non-stop dialog for every single page. If it?s possible to reduce ten pages of relatively-unnecessary dialog to a single page (or even a single paragraph) of descriptive prose, do so! For example: ?The day went horribly wrong. I avoided meeting Tom at every opportunity, but just when I thought he wouldn?t see me, there he was ? at the water fountain, at our usual table in the cafeteria, or in the back row of my math class.? That short passage could easily replace five pages of the same situation told verbally through dialog, which would be no more interesting. Going back and forth occasionally from dialog to description helps break up the monotony of solid, wall-to-wall conversation, and also allows you to establish the mood, the location, the time of day, and the emotional feel of each scene.

And when you use dialog, make it crystal-clear as to who is speaking. Nothing is worse in a novel during back-and-forth dialog scenes when the reader gets totally lost as to which character is talking. One simple trick to make dialog-heavy scenes more interesting is to have the characters do something while they talk. For example, perhaps they have a heart-to-heart talk while jogging. That gives you the opportunity to describe the other joggers at a park, the weather outside, the trees and scenery in the neighborhood. Give the characters some action as they talk. In a movie, it?s rare that two people just stand in a room and talk and do nothing else. During dialog scenes, think about the characters? physical movement, where they are in relation to each other in the room or outside, and give them something to do. And make each line of dialog count. Don?t use three sentences to say something if just one will do.

5) Make the dialog realistic. Not a day goes by when I don?t read a piece of amateur fiction on the Net and I yell out, ?REAL PEOPLE DON?T TALK THAT WAY!? When you converse with your friends or your family, make an effort to listen ? really listen! ? not only to what they say, but the exact words they use, the timing of each phrase, the pauses between sentences, and all the other nuances that give their words personality. An easy writing exercise is to read your dialog out loud, in your own voice, and see if it rings true.

My personal pet peeve are writers who refuse to use contractions in dialog. ?I cannot believe that we shall not be f**king tonight, Bobby.? Uh-uh, no way! ?I can?t believe that we won?t be f**in? tonight, Bobby!? That?s more like it! Making the dialog sound more true-to-life will help bring your story and your characters to life. By the same token, don?t go crazy with accents. Be particularly wary of southern drawls or urban dialect; sometimes just a few words ? for example, an occasional ?ain?t? in conversation ? is enough to establish the nature of the character, their ethnicity, their social and economic background, and so on. By the same token, you can use a specific manner of speaking to give each of your characters a distinct, individual personality. No two people talk exactly the same way in real life; neither should your characters.

6) Show... don't tell. Practically every book on writing ever written repeats this like a mantra. What it means is: don?t have your characters just talk about something that happened ?off-camera.? Make an effort to actively describe what actually happened, when it happens! Try to use all the senses ? not just sight, but also smell, taste, touch, hearing, even time-of-day ? when you describe the scene. Use action verbs. Make every effort to keep the description interesting, but be careful about being overly poetic. Be direct and to the point, and use simile and allusion sparingly. Paint a picture of the whole scene, and give us a clue as to the time of day, where it takes place, and what it looks and feels like. Give us enough detail so that readers will get a whiff of what it would feel like to stand there and watch it all happen. But don?t go overboard and start describing the trees instead of the forest.

7) Be careful with adverbs and adjectives. I used to have a creative writing teacher in college who had a red pen with which she would brutally slash out every word on a page ending in ?ly.? Most experts agree that writers need to use descriptive adverbs and adjectives very carefully. (Ooops! There?s an ?ly? word right there!) For example: ?Come here,? he said seductively. Uh-uh. We should already know the guy?s being seductive by the way he stands, the way he looks, and the way he acts. Don?t use an adverb or adjective to prop up a weak sentence. The only time you can legitimately use words like this is when the actual meaning might otherwise be unclear; for example, ?Oh, that looks great.? Is the speaker being sincere, or sarcastic? Are they amazed, or are they bored? A well-placed adverb would work there.

By the same token, use adjectives sparingly. It?s very easy to go overboard, particularly when describing a sunset, a large building, a picturesque home, or detailing a dazzling character with whom your hero has just fallen in love (or lust). I think there?s a balance that has to be be struck between too many adjectives and too few, but it?s the sort of thing each writer has to work out for themselves, depending on their writing style. For example, Hemingway?s classic style was very sparse, yet also very clear, while Anne Rice provides extraordinarily rich details of every room, every character, and every scene. Each works well for the writers? own style.

8. Be careful with point of view. When you tell a story, you can choose to tell it through the eyes of a single character (1st person), or from an omniscient narrator (3rd person). Many beginning writers go with 1st person, so that the reader experiences everything through the eyes of the story?s hero. If you use this technique, resist the urge to jump to the point of view of another character! This technique smacks of amateurism, because it can confuse the reader, causing them to subconsciously worry by whom the story is being told at any given moment. Stick with one character and one character only! (If you doubt my advice, show me a single best-selling novel by a major author that goes back and forth between different characters for 1st person. There are very, very few, for this very reason.)

Writing from a 3rd person point of view sometimes takes more effort, but can be more rewarding, since it gives you the ability to describe a situation from different points of view. You can also reveal to the reader different story elements that your hero cannot possibly see or know about. Each technique has its pros and cons, but whatever you do, go with one method ? and one method only! ? and stick with it for the duration of your story. There are those who believe you can go back and forth between 1st person and 3rd person, even within a single chapter, but I say again: show me a single best-selling novel by a major author that does so, and I?ll eat it. Using a technique this crude runs the risk of snapping the reader right out of the story, ruining the illusion that what they?re reading is actually happening before their very eyes. (I concede that a handful of 1st/3rd-person novels do exist. But they?re extremely rare, and it?s a technique best attempted only by experts.)

9) Make the sex scenes believable. I?m bewildered by the number of gay stories out there showing young teenagers or virgins engaged in the sort of activities that noted porn star Jeff Stryker only dreams about. While fantasy is all well and good, I think good erotica has to be rooted firmly in reality. Don?t have your characters do anything that?s beyond what?s really believable or possible. As advanced as young teens are today, what with the easy availability of porno and adult images on the Net, I think it?s more interesting (and more realistic) to show neophytes struggling with sex. And don?t assume that everybody in your story needs to have a body of Adonis, the face of Brad Pitt, and endowed with a foot-long phallus. Everybody?s different in real-life, and I think the characters in fiction should be the same way. I don?t mean your characters can?t be attractive ? just keep in mind that sometimes, it?s the flaws that make them interesting, not just their beauty.

And people, please try to make the sex scenes work with the plot! Don?t just arbitrarily have your characters shed their clothes and start humping in every chapter, just because you feel like it. To me, the best gay fiction on the net are those that have a real plot and characters, along with the sex. Ideally, the story should still work even if somebody came along and snipped the sex scenes out. The stronger you make the story, and the more your readers really care about your characters, the more entertaining the sex scenes can be.

Finally, try to avoid making the sex scenes just one anatomical description after another. Sure, love, lust, and sex can all be different, and everybody has their own individual style and preference (and predilictions). But I find the key is to concentrate not just on what the characters see and what they do, but also how they feel. Think about Tip #6: use all the senses to describe the sex between your characters. And alternate what they do in bed ? hell, get them out of the bed, have them go at it in a car, at the beach, in an elevator, whatever and wherever?s possible in your story. Going through the same motions in every chapter is as boring as a 20-year marriage. Variety is the spice of life, and this is never more true than it is with sex.

10) Keep the conflict going! Some writers out there insist on having nothing but ?sweetness and light? in their stories. Nobody ever gets mad; nobody ever gets hurt. Everybody accepts the characters for who and what they are. It?s a nice thought, but real life is a lot harder than that. Conflict is what makes drama possible; without conflict, a story just lays there, like a lox.

Conflict doesn?t necessarily have to come from a villain, nor does it have to involve violence. Characters can clash with each other, or with relatives, or even argue with themselves. Many books on writing stress that the best stories deal with characters who have a moral conflict, where they have to make a difficult decision. That in itself can be a conflict. Every great novel has conflict oozing from every chapter; yours should, too.

11) Don't summarize the plot at the end, or at the beginning of the next chapter. Don?t spell things out ? it?s not necessary. Let the reader discover for themselves what?s going on. Readers are smarter than you think. If something isn?t clear, chances are they?ll tell you about it. If they forget what happened in the last chapter, they can always go back and re-read it for themselves, just as they would with a printed book. By the same token, don?t assume you need to list all your characters and describe them separately for your readers. Your story should be good enough on its own that the reader should be able to figure out who everybody is. If they can?t, your story probably has bigger problems than just a character list can solve.

12) Whatever you do, don't ever take criticism personally. When you post your stories on the Net and invite comments, people will sometimes react negatively. Outright nutcases, personal attacks, or spam can be a problem, but if a reader takes the time to raise some significant issues about your actual work, and they do so in a rational, thoughtful, honest way, don?t just ignore them. At least consider what they have to say, and give them the courtesy of a reply. Remember that they?re not criticizing you personally ? they?re just criticizing words on a page. Don?t overreact! Count to ten, relax, remind yourself that it?s just one person?s opinion, and get on with it. And you never know: maybe the reader has a point. If a single person is confused or troubled by one aspect of your story, maybe others will be, too.

Some writers that I?ve talked to in Email tell me, ?you must be wrong. Why, I have a thousand readers who love what I do!? That may well be true, but just because you get a lot of accolades doesn?t necessarily mean you?re terrific at your craft. Look at your own work objectively. If you see any evidence of violating rules #1-#10 above, chances are, your work could stand some improvement. Bear in mind that there are always exceptions to the rules, and I concede there are situations where it might be possible to break one of the rules and get away with it, provided you do so in a way that?s not clich?d or contrived. But that takes far more skill than most amateurs have.

Again, amateur writing does not have to be amateurish! If your goal is just to satisfy a small audience of fans who read for free, more power to you. But if you really want to be a good writer, you?ve got to work at it. Chances are, you might be getting two thousand emails instead of just a thousand if you were a better writer.

Of course, all of the above tips are based on the assumption that the would-be writer is fluent in English and already knows the basic rules of spelling and grammar. If you don?t, a terrific source is Strunk & White?s Elements of Style, which has been the standard for all basic writing courses for decades. I also like The Chicago Manual of Style, which goes over the same material in infinite detail. And having a good dictionary and a thesaurus by your word-processor is always a nice idea; the ones built in to programs like Microsoft Word are very convenient, but are rarely as good as their printed equivalents.

I won?t go into nitpicks, like whether or not you use HTML or text-only to post your stories. (Personally, I think HTML will at least more-closely resemble conventional typesetting, and that?s bound to be easier to read than plain text.) Just think about putting the greatest effort into what you write. Some of the best stories I?ve ever read on the Net have been those that were just regular, dumb ol? ASCII; and some of the worst-written stories had fancy Flash-enhanced graphics, ten typefaces on every page, and erotic illustrations. I?ll take good storytelling over fancy layout anytime.

HOW TO BE A BETTER WRITER

Damned if I know! If I knew all the answers, I?d be a best-selling novelist and live on the beach in Maui, sipping Mai-Tais with several ?personal assistants? at sunset. The three most-successful commercial novelists I personally admire most are probably Stephen King, Anne Rice, and J.K. Rowling ? not necessarily in that order. They struggled for many years to get where they are, and all of them started by taking writing classes in high school and college, reading good books on writing, and working night and day at perfecting their craft. Their persistence made them very rich (over a billion dollars, in the case of Jo Rowling), and got them millions of adoring fans ? and deservedly so.

As of Summer 2004, Amazon.com reports that there?s over 1200 books in print on fiction writing. You could spend your life reading them and not necessarily become a better writer. That having been said, the three main books on writing that I?ve found to be most useful are:

THE FIRST FIVE PAGES

by Noah Lukeman

Fireside Books

ISBN #068485743X

HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL

by James N. Frey

St. Martin?s Press (two volumes)

ISBN #0312010443 and #0312104782

and

ON WRITING

by Stephen King

Pocket Books

ISBN #0743455967

Each book runs about 300 pages and costs under $10 each in paperback (half that if you pick them up used). Each one is useful to a point, with solid gold nuggets of wisdom scattered throughout, but none is perfect. I?ve read at least 25 or 30 books on writing (and have a shelf full of dozens more I?ve barely skimmed, some not even yet cracked open), I?ve taken a half-dozen college-level classes on writing years ago, and I made a pretty good living as a writer and editor for a half-dozen newsstand magazines for over two decades. Despite that, I readily admit that I?m far from knowing all there is to know about writing. But the three books above taught me more about writing fiction than anything else I?ve seen, heard, or experienced.

Lukeman?s book gives a good rundown on the top 25 things not to put in a novel ? specific items that will immediately turn off editors, agents, or anybody else who knows how to recognize amateurish elements. James Frey?s original book (a classic that?s been used in college-level writing classes throughout the 1990s) goes into great detail on how to build up the strengths you already have, and figure out what works and what doesn?t. Frey?s second book, How to Write a Damn Good Novel II: Advanced Techniques for Dramatic Storytelling, isn?t quite as enthralling, but provides another dozen or so good ideas that can help any budding novelist.

Stephen King?s book is more a general philosophy on how the process works; the first half is a biographical essay on how and why he came to be a writer, and the second goes into the nuts and bolts on writing. King also gives the very good advice that to be a good writer, you also have to read ? a lot. And by that I mean published books with solid literary merit, not just amateur Net fiction posted for free. I find a steady diet of the latter can actually hurt you in the long run, simply because most of the truly good fiction out there are those you have to pay for. Even if you?re not a fan of King?s work, there?s a lot to learn from what he has to say in On Writing.

I?ve also gotten a good deal of useful info from the Writers Digest ?Elements of Fiction Writing? books, particularly Monica Wood?s Description, Orson Scott Card?s Characters and Viewpoint, and Jack Bickham?s Scene and Structure. Each of those is under ten bucks in paperback, and helped to shed light on the specific topics covered. David Gerrold?s Worlds of Wonder (mentioned above) was also useful, and David?s experience as a storyteller and writing teacher will be beneficial, regardless of your story?s genre.

Another good (and free) resource is Lars Eighner?s Lavender Blue, which is available for free here on the web:

http://www.io.com/~eighner/index.html

While it purports to be a short document on how to write gay fiction, the reality is that Lars stresses a lot of good, solid writing principles that will work for all types of fiction. Many of his concepts are echoed in the other books I?ve read, and if nothing else, the price is right. Lars wrote many fine erotic stories in the 1980s and 1990s, including work for some of the biggest gay publishers in North America, and his comments are earthy, precise, and to the point. (Although Lars? online book is free, I strongly encourage readers to send him a donation through the Paypal link on his site.)

Since initially writing and posting this document in May of 2004, I received many dozens of comments, most of which agreed with many of the points I brought up. My friend and fellow author Nick Archer came up with a complimentary list that?s as funny to read as it is incisive, titled Jumping the Shark in Gay Fiction:

http://www.keithmorrisette.com/14b_JumpShark.html

While Nick?s approach is very funny and tongue-in-cheek, many of his points are absolutely dead-on. I concede to having used a couple of them in my own stories ? such as having a romance between a jock and a geek, or setting tales in Florida or California ? but I like to think I threw enough of a spin on what I did to get away with it and avoid the cliche. So again, there?s always exceptions to the rules, but I think Nick?s points are nonetheless valid and very useful, particularly to neophytes.

Those who are concerned about dialog can read Felix Lance Falcon?s excellent (and very funny) Dialog and Writing Lesson, which is on Nifty?s website:

http://nifty.nisusnet.com/nifty/informatio...n/dialog-lesson

A lot of what Felix has to say actually applies to many types of fiction writing, but it does at least provide a basic run-down on where to put punctuation (inside or outside of quotes), how to differentiate between different characters in the same scene, and other valuable tips to writers.

Another good resource is the Gay Authors.org website, which has a variety of links relating to free online dictionaries, writing tips, software, and writers? organizations:

http://www.gayauthors.org/author-resources.html

And as to sexual content, a group of gay teenagers got together wrote a piece for Nifty titled Memo to Writers About Teens, which is also on Nifty:

http://www.nifty.org/nifty/information/mem...emo-to-writers/

Their comments, originally written in June of 2003 and updated in December of that year, brings home the fact that many older writers are living vicariously through their stories, and come up with sexual situations that make absolutely no sense to actual teenagers living today. They were sharply-critical as to the types of activities that occur in many teen-oriented stories. On reflection, I think a lot of what they have to say expands on my note #9 above: Make the sex scenes believable. I think this is particularly important with stories featuring young characters.

Finally, noted gay author Ronald Donaghe?s website has an irregularly-posted newsletter intended to provide resources and information for gay authors. His newsletter is here:

http://www.rldbooks.com/Newsletter/Indy-NewsList.html

The site reviews contemporary gay fiction, and also provides a way for gay authors to promote their books, along with links to other writers and resources. It?s highly recommended.

I hope by offering these general comments, those of you who are thinking about writing gay fiction, or want to improve the quality of your work, will find what I have to say to be useful. At the very least, I hope my ideas will stop writers from making these same mistakes over and over again.

God knows, I don?t profess to see-all, know-all. But I figure if I can stop even one more bad erotic story from being posted on the Net, and help the author find a way to improve their writing, my life will have served a purpose!

?The Pecman

last updated 25 June 2004

Feedback and constructive criticism are welcomed at thepecman@yahoo.com.

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As I spend alot of time editing, I have found the aforementioned works by PecMan to be an excellent guide. To be honest , about the only thing that I have to add to this thread is to restate a couple of things that Pec & Nick already covered.

In many ways, in the past 6 years, this "new" genre has rapidly evovled into a form of storycraft that a traditional writer say ala Danielle Steele or even the great Anne Rice would recoginize as a legitimate form of "Romantic" literature. Possibly edging towards "Pulp Fiction" to be sure, but nonetheless this is what has been created.

The readers I talk to, my fellow authors, we have all conceded that it has become a transition into storycraft that draws readers in by evoking a sense of realism, and touches the heart strings of the readers. Rapidly escaping the format of "porno-fic" as writers delve into the very psyche of their characters and readers become entranced with the ongoing sagas as they are enabled by the authors to peer into the character's lives.

It is so very important to keep this fact in mind as you write. No longer does the more blantant sexual aspects of the story, truly have a need to be the focal point of the plot or theme of the story. Focus on the character as a person, develop the character to take on all mannerisms of being real yet DO NOT make it a singular POV that dwells on body descriptions or how talented the sexual play is on the part of your character. (Note: And Please, please, DO NOT ADDRESS THE READERS by way of; " Let me introduce myself etc."

That kind of nonsense is okay for Nifty.org, but not elsewhere, not anymore. The Gay Teens, Young Adults, and oldsters are searching now for a vehicle of escapism that draws out an emotional response from deep within, satisfies the thirst to "live thru the eyes of..." and gives them a sense of fulfillment not unlike reading traditional published works. This is the benchmark for a good story in this new world and genre. Oh and one more thing, don't insult your readers by dumbing down your story, you would be amazed at how sharp they are and they do not need to be patronized.

For the best example of what I am trying to say, go look at Driver's stories as he really has captured the essence of this. There are now an incredible group of very talented authors out there on the web, it's my greatest pleasure and pride to personally know some of them, and it is my hope that there are more of you out there, that strive to be in that same category as this style of fiction grows, matures, and joins the mainstream.

Thank you all for letting me blog alittle here, Be Well folks

Paul

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Hi, Paul. I really appreciate your comments.

I tell you, I've been astonished by the number of writers who were very offended by what I had to say. Virtually none of the ideas I said above are mine! They come out of dozens and dozens of very effective writing books, written by authors and others with many years of experience. My gut feeling is that the books really are right, and that amateur authors are too thin-skinned to see constructive criticism for what it is.

Maybe it's because I've been slugged, punched, and slapped around for so long in the world of magazine writing (in which I labored for more than 20 years), I'm used to editors critiquing my work. Early on, I took it personally, but I eventually developed enough of a thick skin to be able to say, "they're not slamming me personally -- it's just words on a page." Why these others guys can't do it is bewildering to me. And if somebody does criticize something I say, I come up with a defense and say, "well, that's your opinion, but I feel such-and-such." No big deal. It's like slamming me because I prefer chocolate chip ice cream to strawberry.

Check out Nick Archer's article -- he has a very funny section on the "Let me introduce myself" syndrome. The major books on fiction writing are quick to articulate this, and they basically say:

"Don't ever say or do anything that reminds the reader that they're reading a story! Make the whole process as invisible as possible."

The moment you jump out of the reality of the story and say "let me introduce myself," the fourth wall is broken -- and that simply doesn't work for fiction, unless you're reading a diary or something. [i confess to doing it occasionally, but in a very, very subtle way; there was one moment in [i]Groovy[/i] where I mentioned a certain amount of money, and commented, "and in 1968, that was a huge amount of cash to me," but I think few people noticed.]

And I'm particularly irked by these Net stories that just go on and on and on forever, with no end in sight. Whenever I stumble on some 68-chapter epic on Nifty that has like 3/4 of a million words, I know in advance the chances of this thing being the next War and Peace are very slim. Amateur writers have got to learn the need to organize their thoughts, get to the point, and make every chapter count. Makes me crazy otherwise! :(

--Pecman

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And I'm particularly irked by these Net stories that just go on and on and on forever, with no end in sight. Whenever I stumble on some 68-chapter epic on Nifty that has like 3/4 of a million words, I know in advance the chances of this thing being the next War and Peace are very slim. Amateur writers have got to learn the need to organize their thoughts, get to the point, and make every chapter count. Makes me crazy otherwise!

Not everyone is writing a novel for publication, Pecman.

This is the web and people visit it... read a bit... and wander away, then come back to a story if they are enjoying it. If these long, serialized stories posted on Nifty or elsewhere didn't have readers, I wonder how they even make it to the 68th chapter?

Four excellent stories I have chosen to feature on AwesomeDude --A Special Place by Sequoyah, Perry and Jesse by Underthehoodster, Storm Front by SF Writer, and New Life/Life Goes On by the Eggman-- all fall into the category of long, serialized stories.

Each of them is different, but share two things in common. They are popular and they entertain. Stephen King has been knocked by "critics" so soundly, it is a wonder he can still walk. But still, somehow, he manages to hobble to the bank with his royalty checks.

Of course nobody is making a living writing gay fiction on the web, so the only payment most web writers get is the recognition they receive from their readers. They get feedback from their fans and often inspiration.

Some people prefer to watch daytime TV dramas (soaps) and some of them have been going on for nearly 20 years. Others prefer to watch slick sitcoms which are often over in a season or two.

If you don't like serialized stories... just say so. But this kind of comment -unfairly (in my opinion) comparing apples and oranges- is not likely to win you friends among your peers and more importantly may also be discouraging to young (read that new) writers who might be considering the genre. And this is totally the opposite of what we are trying to accomplish here at AwesomeDude.

Lighten up a bit, dude! :)

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(Aside: I agree about your comment on suspension of disbelief, the theatrical "fourth wall," and that a writer shouldn't do something that kicks the reader out of the story and reminds them it's a story and not an imaginary but real world.)

However, on serial stories, I think I'm qualified to say something, because I had to adjust my thinking on that with P&J. I hashed that out with the author via e-mail and his lj, even after I'd begun editing P&J. I reached a couple of conclusions that, in hindsight, should've been obvious.

An ongoing, serialized story is not a novel. But it is a legit. form of writing. (You don't object to the short story or novella formats, right?) Most TV shows are serials. Before that, many popular radio programs were. Before them, magazines of all kinds published serialized stories, both installments of novels and running serials. (Running cereals would be Wheaties, right? ;) Sorry, stream-of-consciousness.) Those serials included respected authors and magazines of all kinds. The format was and is immensely popular, and I don't mean anything negative in the word, "popular" there. It is simply a different writing style than most of us, particularly people with a writing background, oddly enough, are used to. It's even popular enough that fans of TV, movies, and books write fanfic to fill the need for more of their favorite book or show. If it helps, think of each chapter as an episode or installment, and each part as a TV season or book in a multi-volume book series. Hey, there are two more examples: the multi-volume book series or the multi-movie franchise.

You mention wordiness or lack of plot as an objection to the serial format. OK, to a certain extent I agree. Keep in mind that many authors on the web, particularly many who write GLBT stories, are often young writers, whether new to writing or literally young. So they haven't figured out how to craft their stories as well as they'd like to. Heck, at least they had the courage to write and post it, and it was more than just, "wham, bam, thank you, man!" But here's where I really disagree on that. Often, such stories are "wordy" or have meandering plots because the writers are more interested in character development and emotional content than a quickie, and again, they are still learning how to write, how to construct using words. I've also read at least two stories where the author brought things in from much earlier in the story, which meant that he or she had planned that out at some point, no matter how much they were making up as they went along. Surprise! Those authors had an overall plot arch as well as subplots across episodes and plots entirely within a single episode. When I realized that, I felt really silly -- I'd been caught being a snob and didn't even know it.

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Pecman, I'm not saying you don't have a valid point. I think I understand what you're trying to say. I know everyone who's found AwesomeDude has probably read stories that did have problems. I have.

But I also know that writing stories is a lot of hard work, and new writers and serial writers, especially for GLBT stories, care about their writing and are really anxious about it, so they need encouragement...and some room to play and grow.

OK, end of rant/speech. I'll get down off this soapbox and let someone else use it. -- I don't think you intended a personal attack on anyone, and I don't intend my reply as such either. I'm just saying, be gentle. Think of 'em as virgin writers. Oh, perhaps that wasn't the best metaphor, eh? (Grins.)

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Not everyone is writing a novel for publication, Pecman.

I completely agree. And very few of the novels on the net are good enough to be published; most would be rejected right off the top because they're badly-written. Some that are well-written still get rejected, simply because the publisher decides they won't make money by publishing them. I own up to both; none of my fiction has been accepted by any commercial publisher, but I keep on plugging away as best I can.

I won't name any specific stories by name, but I maintain that many (but not all) of the ultra-long "serialized" stories suffer from diarrhea of the pen. I have no problem with sequels per se; the problem is that the serial stories have no end and just go on, mainly because the writer has no clear idea where the story is going. To me, this is frustrating to the reader because there's no pay off... no climax... no solid resolution that at least ties up the current plot and character.

There's a wonderful, rich history of serials, going back to Charles Dickens publishing Great Expectations in weekly installments in newspapers, or Conan Doyle doing the same thing with his great Sherlock Holmes stories. The difference is, those guys could write. Their stories had real ups and downs, everything in the beginning led to a logical conclusion, the characters were compelling, and the stories eventually ended. I object only to serials that go on forever without a real conclusion. No one could get away with this in real life -- although, by god, Stephen King is coming close with The Dark Tower! -- because nobody would have the patience to put up with it.

I agree that soap operas have their fans, and I absolutely agree that many soap operas have plots that are unresolved and dragged out forever. But I don't think those qualify as good writing. Are they entertaining? They can be. All the stories you name have good moments, but I think some suffer from "wretched excess" at times. I sure don't get this from great serial stories on television; for example, The West Wing, even without the masterful writing of Aaron Sorkin, is one of the most compelling TV shows I've ever seen, and it tells a continuing saga of life in a fictional White House. I'm riveted to that show every week, but you can make a good argument that each episode tells a complete "mini-story" with a beginning, middle, and end, follows all the rules of good story-telling, and has enough conflict to make every minute worth it. I don't see that in many of the serial stories on the net.

Me personally, I would rather that the Net writers just write successive novels, and have each of them self-contained. Write sequels with the same characters if you want. Just make each novel have a POINT and a logical end. Follow the normal rules of good story-telling; don't have any chapters where not much happens, and don't pad them out to take up space. Otherwise, some of these stories just strike me as so much BS to wade through, like a symphony that never ends, or a 4-hour movie that makes your butt hurt in the seat. Even when it's good, you wanna yell "enough already!"

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Keep in mind that many authors on the web, particularly many who write GLBT stories, are often young writers, whether new to writing or literally young. So they haven't figured out how to craft their stories as well as they'd like to.

I know. It's sad, too. But you know what? There are also young guys out there who are bloody geniuses at what they do. This kid T. Scott Faulkner that wrote the story Fifteen -- dynamite story, even though it's not yet finished. Great writing by any definition, no matter how old he is.

But that doesn't give amateur writers carte blanche to write a 700,000-word epic that's boring and saggy. Gimme some confict, gimme some surprises, and keep the damned story moving! That's all I ask. I'm with movie critic Roger Ebert, who once said, "the worst sin a movie director or writer can commit is to bore his or her audience. I'd rather see a bad movie that keeps me thoroughly engrossed than a fair-to-middling film that puts me to sleep." I think that applies to fiction, too.

But I also know that writing stories is a lot of hard work, and new writers and serial writers, especially for GLBT stories, care about their writing and are really anxious about it, so they need encouragement...and some room to play and grow.

Sure, I have no problem with that. But if they were making a movie, I would tell them: learn to use the camera! Learn how to focus! Learn how to light! Learn where to put the microphone! Don't just assume you know how to make a movie because you watch a lot of them. Learn the rules! Learn how to use the tools before you go to work. And don't start by making a 10-hour miniseries; do a short film first.

The same is true of writing. Being a good writer takes a lotta work. It takes practice, you have to read a lot, and it pays to do the research and learn all the rules before you break them. I would have no problem with somebody writing a 700,000-word serial as long as it held my interest, surprised me, and told a compelling story. Unfortunately, I don't see this too often, especially on the Net.

BTW, Perry & Jesse has some good moments and I enjoy the characters. I think there are aspects of the story that could be improved, but it's absolutely not a bad story at all. You're doing a good job with the editing from where I sit -- though I'd toss in my pet peeve, which is that I think the characters need to have their own individual "voices," and I like to see more casual dialog, with more contractions and a more-natural feel to it. Beyond that, it's fine.

In fact, I'm talking with the people behind the "Best of Nifty" list about putting together a "Best Serials on the Net" list, and I'd consider several of the ones here on Awesomedude for consideration. There's certainly a difference between a good serial and a bad one; I just wish the writers would consider my suggestion of making each novel separate, with a real beginning, middle, and end, and just move from there.

To show an example of where this is done well, look at Jo Rowling's Harry Potter books: they're terribly long, it's one long serial comprising 7 years in the life of an adolescent boy... and by god, that thing is as exciting as a roller-coaster. Not a dull moment in sight, the characters are sharply-defined, there's a ton of surprises in every chapter, and (from where I sit) not a wasted page, either. Even though it's mass-market fiction, Rowling's books still follow all the rules of good writing.

I don't get that feeling from many amateur serial stories on the Net, though. :roll:

Maybe the encouragement we need to give younger writers is: please don't start your career as a budding author by writing an epic that never ends! Make some notes, jot down a sentence or two on what needs to happen in each chapter, and do it that way. Have an ending in mind before you write the story. And consider starting with a short story first!

But I concede, there are some terrific, brilliant writers who have the ability to plunge headlong into a novel and they have absolutely no idea where it's headed. Stephen King was once asked, "why did you write for 16 hours a day for months on The Shining?" He answered, "I couldn't wait to find out how the story was going to end!" :mrgreen:

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Hello All!

Wow, now that was interesting, and I cannot help but to add to this ongoing conversation. One of the focal points that you guys have hit upon and I need to restate here is that right now, out there, is a lonely young Gay Teen. He reads a serial, be it on Nifty.org or follows a link and suddenly he's caught up in a story. Then, he thinks, he pauses, and just like it has happened to ALL of us, suddenly that "movie" opens in his head and away he goes.

I'm going to give you an example which is near and dear to my heart. There is a very funny, irreverent, and talented young writer from Chicago, and yeah, I am referring to Comicality. Interestingly enough, it was one of his stories, ironically one that I had first read by him, "Gone From Daylight," that a young 14 year old Gay kid read and he was so caught up in the emotional context of the story that it inspired him to create a "serial" story of his own. Over the past couple of years this youngster has now churned out not only a continuation of that story, but has added other stories as well. His name is Grasshopper, and he story tells from a very unique POV in his tale of two kids; "Just Hit Send." (Note: Go read it, this one will absolutely evoke a deep heart felt response from within you. Oh it's at http://iomfats.org/storyshelf/hosted/grasshopper/ Now I have the pleasure of being friends with both of these young ones and I need to state the obvious. While a serialized tale may turn into an a tale of epic length, the purpose is that it tends to continue to emote & evoke an emotional response and "connects" with the readership.

Dude brought up a valid point by expressing, albeit a tad differently, what I just did. Pec is correct too but only insofar as general parameters of accepted storycraft. This is why discussions like this are crucial. We ALL need to encourage new writers, doesn't matter how old they are or the POV they desire to bring to the table. What does matter is that we nurture them, and assist them to obtain the levels of storycraft that IMPROVE and EXPAND the "conversations they have with themselves," that they share with the rest of us. My dear friend Comsie has done this, and Grasshopper is proof of this.

My job as an editor/author is to encourage, not discourage new and existing writers. I also have an obligation to insure the contents and context of the story flow falls within the guidelines of established writing. I feel, that I also have an obligation to get out there and mentor and be a friend to the new writers that are struggling. It's one of the reasons that I am here at Dude's place. Guys, think about this idea, this brave new world of fiction on the monitor, look at what it does to positively affect the lives of the younger generations. Truly it is an expression of freedoms that my generation could not even fathom existing when I grew up in the 1970's into the early 1980's. Part of this whole dialog, swirls around these serials, stories, and the spirit of community that they create.

Now, I hope that I have not insulted anyone as that was not my intent, I merely wanted to point out another perspective for your consideration.

Be Well Folks

Paul :mrgreen:

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There is a very funny, irrelevant, and talented young writer from Chicago, and yeah, I am referring to Comicality.

I'm very sure you meant irreverent there, not irrelevant.

I visited his site recently; hadn't in a very long time; and discovered a note that he's leaving the net next year for some reason. I don't know why, and don't need to know his reasons, those are private to him, no doubt. But I hate to see a voice go silent.

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Paul, you made a very good point. Ultimately, these stories are for the reader even more than the writer, and they are how the writer gets his fulfillment, by making life a little more, a little bigger, for that reader.

Whether that reader is a 14 year old or an adult, it's much the same. I know how I reacted when I found Nifty, and more importantly when I found stories on Nifty that were more than just a quickie. I felt guilty for reading "dirty stories" but I was comforted by the ones that showed guys like me, or like I was as a teen, confused, lonely, and wanting someone to share with, but too afraid. Except in the stories, those boys did find someone, and often both boys were like guys I knew, not some awful stereotype.

If, in junior high (middle school) or any time later, I could've found something like AwesomeDude with great stories and a forum, or something that discussed informed Christian views that didn't condemn being gay -- well, it would've made a *huge* difference for me.

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Pecman, it looks like we still disagree, and that's fine, we don't have to agree on everything.

I'll just say this and then let it be.

Writing's like anything else, particularly any art. The *only* way you can really learn is by doing it. So new, young writers have to play with the tools a lot to figure out what to do with it all. Yes, that was a pun. It applies to that too. Just be safe when playing with tools, yours or your friend's. Back on-topic.

Even a writer with a talent for it has to learn how to write, and no matter how much he's studied about it or how naturally talented a storyteller he is, he still has to practice to get it right.

The young new writers here are truly remarkable. It gives us all something to aspire to...reach for...uh, I must be more horny than I thought at the moment.

I'm someone who wants to be a writer, a published writer. I'll also probably post stories in this genre. I've written enough and have enough ideas running around various places (my brain, disks, boxes of notes) to know that even with my liberal arts background, "it ain't as easy as it looks." (Saying "ain't" isn't easy for me, either, btw.) My goal for this year is to complete one short story and one larger story, at least complete them, just that will be a big step; attempting publication is a separate issue.

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A comment as an editor, on editing. In real life, I have worked as a desktop publisher, and that includes editing clients' work. Sometimes, it has meant writing something for the client. It also means it's uncredited. I had college courses in literature; I am a mix of writer, artist, and tech, aside from being generally mixed up, perhaps. (I heard that snickering. ;) )

As an editor, I may discuss things that I think need improvement or that don't make sense to me. For stories, I also may make style comments or point out if I don't get something or don't like it. I correct spelling and grammar like crazy, where needed. But I don't rewrite, I suggest. I don't feel that it's being a good editor to rewrite an author's work, especially if it's fiction. -- I know that editors of books, magazines, and newspapers *do* rewrite and authors sometimes have little choice in the matter. I know that sometimes it's needed. But I prefer not to actually rewrite someone's work, because if someone did that to me, even if it was good or necessary, I'd be upset, even though it goes with the business.

That's just my philosophy on editing. So when I edit a story, it's that author's words, not mine. -- You'll see a story from me eventually, and then I'm sure I'll have the same newbie writer issues, good and bad, despite knowing a little about the structural side of it.

Also, as an editor, critiquing people's drafts, I have learned a heck of a lot.

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Hey, all you newbie / wannabe writers, get those keyboards and pencils writing! Don't let all the hot air in this thread discourage you. (Who said we know anything, anyway?) The only way you'll know if you can write or like it is if you do write. You don't have to have a good grade in English or be any age to write. Hemingway wrote run-on sentences that drive me nuts, but he could write. Mattie Stepanek wrote poems that are from a much older, wiser soul than his 13 years would make anyone think; and his stuff does make you think, and sometimes cry, from its truth. J.K. Rowling had just a little success when her first book was published, and it changed her life and millions of readers' lives for the better. The best news is, you don't have to be some amazing talent to start writing. But you might end up as some amazing talent. So write, already!!

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Yup, I am a doofus! :roll: Okay Mistake fixed and yes I deserve 30 lashes with a wet noodle for that one. I am still laughing. Ah yup even an editor can screw up......

Okay seriously, I need to add to Blue's observations a bit. I edit to tighten up the read. Now I am inclined to NOT rewrite as I go. I usually will make margin notes as to the areas that I feel either need further explanation or possibly deletion depending on the overall content & context of the story. Now a good part of this stems from an old habit of doing a first and yeah a second read of the piece before I commence. Oft times I will outline plot and theme in notes so that I can refer to them as I go.

Comsie, (chuckling here, he'd be laughing too...) and I have often exchanged ideas regarding new writers. Now, keep in mind what I just said above for a sec, if you are a new writer, most likely everything is going to spill out at once. Kinda of a brain dump or in my case seizure, in any event let it flow. Reducing the key elements to basic structure will happen. This is the first of many self-edits that come along as you write.

Now, as you gain practice and more to the point, confidence, then you will start to pick up the habits that Pec, Nick, and Blue are talking about. Comsie and I have agreed the base premise for story telling starts with that conversation you tell and have with yourself. We as readers are fortunate, because you share it with us.

Okay, BIG THING HERE!!!! Let it flow! It really is that simple oh and hopefully when you ask someone to review or edit, they can help you MANAGE the flow. Don't rush either, I gotta ya, if you don't enjoy writing out your thoughts because you feel cramped or intimidated or worse it isn't any fun, what's the point, right?

And as you can see from my mistake, hee hee, even us oldsters can still screw up. Don't panic and for God's sake, enjoy.

Be Well All

Paul :mrgreen:

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Hi, Paul. I have no problem with anything you bring up here. However, I see no reason why you can't "nurture talent" and also give them the rules of the road at the same time.

If I had to boil down everything I said into a single sentence, it would be this:

"When you write a story, PLEASE DON'T MAKE IT BORING."

That's really my biggest concern: when my eyes glaze over because some guy has written a long, long, long story where not much happens. You seem to think my rules were constructed in such a way as to immediately crush the spirit of newcomers who have never written before; that was not my intent, and I don't think I did that. I'm just concerned that they'll read a mediocre story on the net, decide, "ah, I'll imitate how this one is done, and then I'll know how to write!" And that's very troubling.

And by the way, I think 90% of the stories that have bothered me the most have been those written by adults in their 40s, who are reliving their misspent teenage years through their characters. (God knows, that was the case for me with Groovy, but I copped to that at the end by explaining that much of the story was true, or at least based on truth.) Read what Nick Archer has to say about that in his diatribe.

BTW, I cited one terrific story by Comicality in my closing remarks to Groovy: "Beneath the Surface," which (IMHO) is among the best things he ever wrote. I even nominated it for the "Best of Nifty" list, even though technically, it's not on Nifty. Also, Comicality and I are talking in Email, and (without quoting directly) he seems to think most of my Writing Tips are valid. So there you go.

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Blue, I'm confused. I'm not sure what you specifically disagree with in my comments.

If you can give me a one or two sentence summary of what you're trying to say, I'll try to respond as best I can.

I'll restate mine very simply:

"A lot of the gay fiction I read on the Net is poorly written, because the authors don't take the time or trouble to learn how to do it well. I think it's possible to at least learn the basics, and one way is to read my document, along with the references mentioned in the piece."

That's it. (OK, plus "don't make your story BORING.")

Do you have a problem with that? If you do, I'm really baffled. We can agree to disagree, if you like.

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I think one of the greatest strengths and weaknesses (depending on your point of view) of the 'net is that anybody can post just about anything, if you find the right site.

Yup, there's a lot of hack writers out there churning out endless and pointless serials (or in my case, pathetically bad short stories) that would never make it into print. And that's a problem that is fairly easy to avoid--just click the mouse.

You see, there's no slushpile on the 'net. No-one weeds out the duds before they before they end up taking up bandwidth on some site somewhere. But that's ok, because we don't have to read 'em if we don't want to.

On the other hand, it's an amazing strength, because people like me can write something that is as good as we can write, and still get it out there and start getting comments on it that encourage and strengthen our desire to write more. The one truth and absolute of writing is that the only way to learn to write is to write. And if someone sends me an email and says "loved the story, when do i get to see more?" I'm motivated to get back to my keyboard and get busy.

cheers!

aj

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I think one of the greatest strengths and weaknesses (depending on your point of view) of the 'net is that anybody can post just about anything, if you find the right site.

I have no problem with that, AJ. It's just that flowery comments from readers won't make you a better writer; they'll just make you feel good about yourself.

Flattery is nice to get, but it's better when it's really deserved. I've actually learned more from criticism than I have from compliments. Several fellow writers (and a few fans) caught some pretty bad gaffes of mine in both Groovy and Jagged Angel, and without their critiques, I never would have noticed the problem, let alone been able to fix them.

Just having the means to publish your work and get it read by an audience is not enough. Knowing how to do it well is far more important. You can only learn that by endless practice, lots of reading, and tons of hard work. Making it up as you go doesn't work for most people. Granted, Dickens and Shakespeare didn't read any books on how to write, but they had the advantage of being born geniuses, a gift which none of us have.

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I have never read any critical comments... positive or negative on either Groovy Kind of Love or Jagged Angel, Pecman.

I have occasionally mentioned them, but have not seen any other author, editor or reader here at the AwesomeDude Forum comment, at least here in public.

Have you scared them all off... you know "best defense is a good offense" kind of thing?

:p

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you're right, pecman--anyone who accepts the praise of readers without a filter in place is not very bright. In most reader's cases, they know what they like, but they couldn't tell you why. And thinking that a few flattering notes and validations is the signal that it's ok to stop learning the craft is seriously misguided.

However, I still maintain that the immediate gratification of publishing online is a strength. I know when someone likes my stuff well enough to take the time to send me a note, that i've brought someone some pleasure--and that's the point of all these stories.

And I appreciated the post about the lonely teen out there. Point well taken.

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I have never read any critical comments... positive or negative on either Groovy Kind of Love or Jagged Angel, Pecman.

I refer to comments I've received in Email. As of late August, I've gotten about 3100 emails on Groovy, and about 1200 emails on Angel.

I'd say less than 10% were critical, but those that were sometimes had some good insights on some genuine issues -- either things I had overlooked, or subtle plot flaws that people flagged as being scenes they couldn't understand. Sometimes, they had just missed something from an earlier chapter, but other times, they had a genuinely good point to make. And yet even the critical letters stressed they liked the stories, which was gratifying.

I also make it a point to answer every Email I get. I figure even if it's just a quick boiler-plate reply, at least it thanks the reader for the message. Emails are about all the rewards we get.

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All well and good!

Rules are for people like me, guidelines. Good writers break them and break them effectively. If you follow the formula your story will be ordinary if you're lucky, vanilla at best. The point, write your story and make it as engaging as you can. Personalize it and make it believable for the reader and you'll have created something. Albeit, not universal in appeal but better than most.

You don't have to conceive a "Grapes of Wrath" or "To Kill a Mockingbird" to make your mark. What you do have to accomplish is a good story. It can be plot driven or character based. Either way, if it's well done...you have a piece of work. It's a mindset when you begin. Think it through and execute it.

All The Best,

Pee Jay

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Rules are for people like me, guidelines. Good writers break them and break them effectively.

Uh... I think I said that in the piece. But I also think it's a good idea to know what the rules are before you break them.

It's sort of like, before you become a race car driver, it's a good idea to know how to start the engine, how to signal, how to parallel park, how to enter and leave a highway at normal speed and so on. Once you get all the basics down, then you can start breaking the rules and driving at 150MPH. (Preferably on a race track, and not on the street by my house.)

My problem is, a lot of the stories I see on the net have cliched plots, paper-thin characters, predictable stories... and worse of all, they're boring. If the story surprises me and goes into unexpected directions and has interesting characters, those three factors alone are generally enough to hold my interest.

There's certain things that do set off red flags to me. Changing point of view is one of them; stories written in present tense annoy me; excessive dialog (and minimal plot) bore me. I'm a big guy on structure, too; to me, the story has to proceed in a logical way, from point A to point B, so it all makes sense. A lot of amateur fiction feels kind of scattershot and disorganized to me, and that bugs me.

I generally also dislike stories where the writer adds a list of the characters at the head, which to me is too showy and obvious. But -- strike me dead! -- no less than Stephen King did that in his brand-new novel, Under the Dome, which I'm reading right now. On the other hand, this is a 1078-page sprawling epic novel by a best-selling author who's earned about $500 million from his books, so maybe I can give him a pass on this one. :-)

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Agreed.

Much of the web-based fiction that I've read has suffered from thin plots, poorly designed and thought out characters, and a tendency to just let things go where they will. On the other hand, you have a wealth of decent (or excellent) authors here and elsewhere who take the craft of writing seriously and for whom a number of drafts is not uncommon. They at least know where they are going with the story, and have a strong sense of both character and place.

Brandon Sanderson usually goes through 10 complete drafts of his novels before he submits them for publication; Jamie (of Scrolls fame) goes through 12-15 edits of each chapter (and has a magnificent plot outline, so everything is included).

I am always so impressed by good writing--a strong and healthy plot, solid characters and a well-edited text are essential to any good story.

I am finishing up the first draft of what (I hope) will be a six-part series. It has a very long way to go before it sees the light of day--the characters are inconsistent, the plot is developed by the end, but the beginning needs a lot of tlc, and the setting is not as developed as it could be. I've quite the plot, but it will take at least a few more drafts to get it to where I can work with it.

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Man, are we ever in sync with that.

It takes me far longer to edit, have edited, then edit a chapter again, than it does to write it.

And that isn't the end of it. After I've written a few more chapters, I'll go back and reread what's already there and massage it again.

I don't keep a count on number of edits, but that 10 to 12 number is probably in the ballpark of how many times I've read and edited anything I've written before submitting it for posting.

I recently was having a conversation with one of my longtime editors. He asked if I'd written anything lately, and I told him no, I'd simply tweaked a story a bit that he'd already edited. His remark was, "Why does that fill me with dread?" He knows how important the editing phase is, and hates leaving me on my own with it.

Along these same lines, I don't know how people can write and post a chapter at a time. I have all the admiration in the world for them to be in that much control. I'm always finding that where the plot is going and how it's getting there is somewhat, not drastically but somewhat, different from what I'd thought it would be, and so have to make changes in early chapters to accommodate where I am many chapters later. This is another way I edit and change and improve as I go along.

Cole

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Yeah, I remember a Creative Writing workshop I attended years ago (can't remember if it was high school or college) where they hammered into us, "good writing is rewriting."

I try to get everything about 75% there in the initial pass, but inevitably, new ideas emerge, and once my friends and editors get hold of the manuscript, at least 25% of it manages to get changed. Ideally, I find solutions for story problems, which sometimes ripple down through the whole story, requiring changes later on. (God help me when I realize there's a problem that affects the beginning of the story, which happened with Pieces of Destiny.)

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Yeah, I remember a Creative Writing workshop I attended years ago (can't remember if it was high school or college) where they hammered into us, "good writing is rewriting."

My first creative writing class was in the 8th grade. The teacher hammered this phrase into us almost every day: "Remember, there's no good writing, there's only good rewriting." In an 8th grade writing class that was absolutely, positively true. And it's still true for me today.

Colin :wink:

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