Thursday, March 5, 2009

AdminEssay: Style: Four Parts On The Writer's Technique by Emibella

"Coleridge was a drug addict. Poe was an alcoholic. Marlowe was killed by a man whom he was treacherously trying to stab. Pope took money to keep a woman's name out of a satire then wrote a piece so that she could still be recognised anyhow. Chatterton killed himself. Byron was accused of incest. Do you still want to be a writer? And if so, why?!" -Bennett Cerf

My ten year old daughter is a writer. She has written stories about her childhood toys coming to life and playing with her, she has written songs and funny poetry and nary a day goes by that she doesn't write something down in which she takes pride.

Writing is a funny thing. Anyone can do it. There is a dictionary of words at our disposal waiting to be formed and shaped into masterpieces that will delight, evoke emotion and make us beg for more. As readers, we expect a certain level of greatness from our favorite authors. When they falter, we have a hard time forgiving their mistakes. We invest so much emotion, so much of our personal time in what they write that we beg of them to give us nothing less than perfection. And really, what is better than the perfect story? Beautifully written, impeccably edited, gloriously detailed and researched a story can put together a universe in it's creation.

So what does it take to form what my ten year old can do into something really special? What makes a writer go from just a writer to a great writer?

The truth is, there is no one answer. For some it is just shear talent. They were born with the gift to put pen to paper or fingers to keys and come up with a masterpiece. For others, they work harder on their art in an attempt to master it. They go after it with gusto and pride.

Here at The Ficster (I am always too Lazy to write the Discerning part down), we would like to get to the bottom of how a writer goes about defining their style. We would like to believe that by getting a grasp on what others do we can help fledgling writers and those who wish to write know what it takes to get started on the path to greatness.

I don't know what the magic potion is to being great. I do know the way I do things. When I thought about putting this series together though, I knew that the way I did it wasn't going to be enough. How terribly elitist and downright egotistical it would be of me to tell you the best way to write. Writing is deeply personal. It is downright painful at times. It is incredibly fulfilling.

In order to do this correctly, I decided to call out to a selected group of writers in the fandom who write in very different styles to help us along in this journey towards understanding and thus the Style Series has been born.

This week, we will delve into preparation. How do we come up with ideas? Do we share them? Do we research them? Where were we when we were hit with the idea that we are writing now?

Over the coming weeks we will dig into a writers influence, their process and then finally the final product until we have a greater understanding of what it takes to write a story.

My hope is that this will motivate, educate and entertain you. There are so many great writers out there waiting to be born.

Part One: Preparation

The Gathering of Ideas

"You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we're doing it." -Neil Gaiman

My story has been in my head for a long time. As someone with a background in rhetoric, I can't help but be drawn to stories in which the words push and pull you in the direction that the author specifically wants you to go. Plato saw rhetoric as manipulation, as leading the reader (or, in his case, listener) to believe in what they wish to be true rather than truths themselves.

This sparked interest in a story based on such manipulative language both from the characters and from me the author through the narrative. The idea was born and I sat on it until, one day, I discovered this wonderful thing called Twilight Fanfiction and a place to plant my seed was found.

My story is unique. You may have an idea as well or you may go after them. Authors all find their stories in different places, it is what gives our stories unique life.

"If a story is in you, it has got to come out." -William Faulkner

I'm a "what if" thinker. So, I constantly have scenarios running around through my head. Sometimes I try to come up with specific scenarios and sometimes not. I alter the scenario to fit the characters, and the genre is determined by the idea. For me, the best ideas come when I'm not trying too hard to look for them, often times when I'm cooking, driving, or taking a bath. (Yes, really. Don't knock the bath, it's my #1 piece of advice for anyone who is trying to write.) -Ginnyw

Two of the stories I have written came from ideas I had while talking with some of the people I met on the boards. I was a reader for a long time and I was dared to try and write. So I did, only I tried to write stories that were more realistic than some of the ones I had seen around. In love and life not everything is pretty and pink. There is guilt, there is jealousy and a lot of pain. Not every story out there paints these emotions in the same light.
You could say that I stumbled into writing, and I do not sit down and plan or think in advance about topics.
Once I pick a topic or idea then I do sit down and plan and outline like crazy. Nothing too fancy, mostly bullet points that tell me what are the major ideas I want to present in the story.

In my story, WWDAN, I was struck by memory lane. Something happened in my past and a bit of nostalgia brought about my memories of childhood and the subsequent growing I shared with someone else. I remembered snippets of things we did and based off of that afternoon of reflecting, I wrote the first four chapters of WWDAN. I also spoke to the person prominent in influencing WWDAN's basis in real life events for research. This allowed me to face realities I had brushed under the carpet and really opened me up to another way of writing I didn't know I was capable of. I was able to tell this story from a POV I barely understood. It was my eyes looking through another's that really brought it to fruition and the "research" was invaluable to personal closure and growth. -smellyia

Produtture, my work in progress, was a character study for the novel I’m currently shopping. I wanted practice in getting a cheery, flippy, yet resourceful and honest voice for a character that’s in the middle of a disastrous situation. So what if I originally meant to make it about Bella and Alice teaming up to win back Edward’s affections and it ended up being about covert Volturri movements and an international vampire war? That doesn’t mean I’m crazy. Does it? -marve

I was on vacation in Hawaii last year. This touristy auburn headed boy(somewhat Edwardian) was too frightened to jump off this cliff area into the water, and this pretty local girl came right up to him, reassured him and eased him off the cliff with her. They both came out of the water holding hands within a couple minutes. I thought "hey, that's a great start to a story" and it ended up being the start of a AH story I'm writing that's very New Moon-centric called "She's Royal," because Hawaii is paradise and Twilight/New Moon in many ways is about Paradise and Paradise Lost. -halojones

Research schmresearch. With scotch, we don't recall (the "we" being me and jandco) how it came about, exactly, except that one day i was like "bored bored bored scotch scotch scotch. fuck me fuck me fuck me." and she laughed... and then i went off and wrote that bit in the first chapter with the siamese cats rosalie and alice putting edward up to no good.... and i sent it to her with the message LET'S DO THIS and she was all FUCK YES. -wtvoc

The most obvious example would be 'Seducing Ms Swan'. I was sitting in a Physics lesson sometime last May with Very Important Exams looming, but, true to form, my mind was wandering. I was gazing absent-mindedly at the whiteboard when I suddenly thought (and I truly have no idea where it came from): "Oh my God, wouldn't it be weird if Bella was Edward's teacher?" Things just took off from there. Two hours, a P.E. lesson and a walk home later, and I'd fleshed out most of my plot my discussing it with my Twilight obsessed friend (who, to this day, refuses to read the fic because she thinks the idea of a teacher and a student is 'disgusting'. As anyone who has actually read my story knows, the physical aspect of Edward and Bella's relationship barely exists, despite the title.) -rialle

I've only had the one story I've written, and it just came to me spontaneously. Although I'll also say that it came to be in RESPONSE to stories I'd read (that bothered me). I (perhaps arrogantly) wanted to take the same idea and write it better. Not copying the other stories, mind, just the general "Edward never came back" storyline and "disabled Bella" and tell it more realistically. -That_writr

To share or not to share, that is the question

"It is impossible to discourage the real writers - they don't give a damn what you say, they're going to write." -Sinclair Lewis

As writers, we can be completely egotistical and totally self loathing at the same time. It is what comes from loving our idea and hoping that others will understand that it is, in fact the BEST IDEA IN THE WORLD.

We stew. We wring our hands. We toss and turn and then we go from loving to worry and sometimes to downright hate. We may need reassurance, we may need help or we may just need to vent to our closest confidant. Either way, our story IS our own but we often need to get our hand held or our ego stroked or just plain love from those around us. We are artists. We are needy.

With my story I tentatively ran it past people. Would I be hated for having an Edward that isn't perfect? Would it be worse to have our beloved characters lie and manipulate? I needed the support of a friend to test me. To make sure that I knew how to stand up for my passion and defend it. Defend it I did and my story was born.

"Friends who are not writers try to be sympathetic and understanding of a writer's mood, but, truly, it takes one to know one." -Lynn Abbey

"It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer" -E. B. White

I don't like giving up an idea before I have it worked out. When I share too early, I feel like the threads of it become unraveled -- like it's not something I can nurture anymore. In Disaffected, there are times where I throw things in I haven't discussed with my beta prior. It has nothing to do with confidence and everything to do with working it out on my own. There are plot lines she has never known that have been cut. I don't share them because once I do, I feel like I'm letting it all go too easily. I like to keep my creativity compartmentalized and rigidly controlled you could say. That doesn't quite mesh with the tortured artiste bit -- but it works for me. -smellyia

I usually write the whole thing out by hand, then send it piece by piece to a few trusted friends *ahememibellaahem* whom I know will give me their honest opinions on it, tell me what only makes sense in my head and needs to be translated to uncrazy, and then stroke my ego in just the way it needs to be stroked. -marve

I usually don't run my ideas by anyone, and that's only because I'm a total wimp. I get really shy about my writing, and somehow it's much less personal to just throw it out into the ff universe to anonymous readers than it is to hand it over to a particular person whose opinion matters to you. -halojones

I run ideas by people sitting around my house and by WTVOC and Bittenev. WTVOC knows each little whim i have before anything is even typed. -jandco

I don't have a beta per se, but I find that I am physically incapable of posting until jandco has read anything, ever. I have a list of others that I turn to for help/advice/ledge-talking-down like bittenev, jfly, smellyia, and a few others who I trust and love, but NOTHING gets posted without jandco's input. -wtvoc

I talk my ideas over with some close friends, and even in the process of writing I discuss the direction I am going with a few people. Once the chapters are completed I also have them read before they are beta'd. I think that it is helpful to have people that look at different things.

I have people that I go to for just context and plot discussions. Others do cold readings to let me know if the chapter is doing what I intend it too. And then real editing happens by others.

No, I immediately went to somebody else and said, "Does this sound like a stupid idea?!" I'd never written a story before (just non-fiction journalism pieces), so I wasn't at ALL sure I could write even a short story, never mind such a long thing! -That_writr

Multitasking: Keeping your focus

"It seemed to me that I had undertaken too lofty a theme for my powers, so much so that I was afraid to enter upon it; and so I remained for several days desiring to write and afraid to begin." --Dante

In my life, I have to multi-task. I have to teach, take care of my family, write, edit, run a blog and have time for the plethora of volunteer projects I take on. Because of this, I only write my one story. That doesn't mean that I don't take on other ventures. A group of my lovely friends and I have started a friday night writing group to help us hone our skills, I enjoy writing for this blog and my music trifles.

If I have ideas for other stories I file them away on a word document and try my best to forget them. I know my limits and, while I have a hard time saying no to anyone else, I found that it's important to say no to yourself once in a while.

"Writing is spending a long time in silence, by myself, and covering up the work when anyone comes in the room so they can't see it." -Philip Pullman

I have this mental list and sometimes when I think up a line or something, I scribble it down on a post-it (I am currently staring at a pile of post-its that may or may not include grocery lists and phone numbers of credit card companies I keep forgetting to pay), but I have never worked on an outline. I just... write. -wtvoc

I currently have ideas for stories other than my main chapter fanfiction, and they've taken the form of oneshots (that I hope to one day continue) which I've posted to my accounts. I just don't have the necessary time/ability/patience to write more than one long!fic at once. -rialle

Sweet Jesus. I have about thirty seperate "misc fic" files and numerous misc "OG" files. My mind is always in multiple worlds, BUT recently I made a decision to focus posting of only one at any given time. That way I am able to keep my current projects up to par. Granted, that's not to say I'm not always concentrating on something else. The best thing about running this blog AND keeping a fic going is the diversity of it all. I'm never STUCK in one mode. Diversity is the best thing for development in my opinion, BUT it's imperitave not to overload one's self. Balance is key in life and writing. -smellyia

I put ideas in the back of my head and just let them sit there while I work on other stories(I don't like writing more than two stories at a time). If my mind keeps thinking up good details on an idea I'm keeping filed somewhere in my brain over time, I tend to know it will be a good story to start. If nothing really comes to mind with another idea on the other hand over time, I know it's probably not worth pursuing. -halojones

I have several story starts on my hard drive and I have loads of ideas that are scribbled down in notebooks. I try very hard to only write one thing at a time. I've found that if I have more than one project going on then I become too easily distracted. Mostly because even though the names are the same, the characters in each story are very different and it's hard for me to switch between them. -Ginnyw

Those things that set us apart: Quirks and Whatnot

"Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up." -Jane Yolen

When I write, I am in the zone. My story is emotionally draining for me. I am so far in my heroine's head that I can't help but feel what she feels. To prepare for this I read a ton of first person narrative. By doing this I discovered that in my story it would be a disservice to jump from one persons POV to another. In many ways I am writing a psychological mystery, to understand others motivations would ruin the effect.

I also learned through reading how the perceptions of the main character can be false. This is a beautifully manipulative tool. We can create lenses of truth in a way that is not omniscient and thus the story can unfold with differing truths.

I am not trained in fiction writing but in rhetorical prose, because of this I read fiction to become a better writer of fiction. It is my research and it has helped me tremendously.

"Prose is architecture, not interior decoration." --Ernest Hemingway

Before starting anything I read. I read as much non-fic as I can for about two weeks. If I'm really pushing it, I can clear about 4-5 average sized novels in two weeks. My main rule is that they are all very different from each other in content, style and genre.
Because I like to remind myself of a few key things:
1. I'm not as good as I think I am. This isn't meant as a way to garner ego rubs or disparage myself. It's to keep my feet planted and to help firmly embed myself in reality. I can always do better. It's never my best. Because as soon as it is the best I can do, it means I can't or won't grow. That's the death of any creativity in my world.
2. That there is a multitude of options and opportunities I can embrace. I don't have to be pigeon-holed by any template. I can be witty AND angsty. I can fluff it up, but make you laugh. The action can be curbed by gentleness. I can write out of order or make it about morals that aren't traditional. I can be silly, but still strive for intelligence. These things are within my grasp as it was for the writers I admire -- All I have to do is strive for it and one of these times I may catch the gold ring.
3. The most important. I want to keep close to how it feels to be the READER. I may start this for myself and when I finish anything, my personal satisfaction is beyond satiated -- but it's the READER who is the one I am trying to reach. When it becomes ONLY about me is the moment I fail them in my tale because I've forgotten who is sitting shotgun and who I'm making late for their destination when I make a wrong turn.

I tend to listen to songs that fit a mood for a story or chapter. I can't tell you how many times I'll just listen to a song, and a scenario will pop into my head that I wouldn't have thought up otherwise. I actually switched gears on one of my stories because I listened to one song that was sad, and I imagined this previously light hearted story having this very sad story development. I went with it; and it turned the story into something else entirely, but I'm glad with the results.
I actually try not to read stories, especially fanfiction stories, until after I update a chapter. I reward myself with ff stories when I update a story; by the same token, I withold from reading stories until I write something myself.
I don't re-read the books for characterization, but I will have certain phrases or story developments from the actual Twilight series in mind sometimes, and I tend to like to take a phrase from Twilight and twist it around to fit a new meaning in my own story.
One thing I do honestly is just be observant in my real life. Sometimes you'll catch a moment in front of you while people watching that may sorta inspire you to write a scene or whatever. I've had that happen in places as banal as the supermarket.

I play the "what if" game with everything: TV shows, movies, books I'm reading, WIPs I'm reading... heck, even sometimes a story that my kids tell me about their day at school, etc. I let the scenes carry out in my head for a bit and then move characters like Edward and Bella to replace the original characters and then imagine how the scene would play out. That leads to questions like: How did Edward and Bella get into this situation? What is the motivation for their behaviour? Who else is involved? How will things unfold after this scene? --

Our next installment of the Style Series will be on Influence. What our writers have read or heard or saw that has played a role in who they are and how they write today. If you have any questions you would like to have answered on preparation or next week on influence, feel free to leave it in the comments.

This is a series meant to educate but more importantly to inspire new ideas in you. After all, if people stop writing great things, there will be no great things left to read.

A special thanks goes out to all the authors who helped with their points and personal insight -- you are greatly appreciated by ALL of us here at TLYDF: smellyia, GinnyW, withthevampsofcourse (wtvoc), jandco, gustariana, rialle, marve, that_writr and halojones. Thank You ALL for your contributions to this article and the Fandom at large.

Emibella is a wealth of rhetorical and hippie knowledge. She drives the coolest minivan in existence, mainly because she let smellyia sit shotgun. Her life is made up of a multitude of wondrous things including organic shoes.


  1. organic shoes? you frickin' hippie.

    dude, i loved this. it's good to know i'm not the only completely neurotic person around here. sometimes i wonder where or wherefore the ideas flow, and seeing the similarities and striking differences between all of us is simply another aspect of the community that i love to see drawn out. thanks, emibella... and next time GIVE A GIRL MORE WARNING.

    speaking of influence... i'm listening to chicago and it's making me wanna write. off i go...

  2. Bah! Not JUST organic. The shoes I am wearing today are made from Hemp, recycled bicycle tires for the rubber, recycled plastic bottles for the laces AND organic cotton lining. I am sending you a picture because they sound like clown shoes and yet are really cute (for hippie shoes)

    I like wearing them while drinking my fair trade tea and eating the sprouts I am growing in my kitchen.

  3. Smellyia is spot-on about reading other crap. I think if more people did that, so much Twilight fic wouldn't be the SAME crap.

    Also, I like showers - but seriously, for me - inspiration comes from the grocery store [FOOD STORE!] or the post office. I also see it as a unique opportunity to observe people. People in real life are annoying, weird, and ugly. They also say the funniest shit imaginable without ever realizing it - so, yeah, all of it feeds my ever knotted brain.

  4. My darling hippie emi -- fabulous I tell you. Just absolutely fab. Well done homeslice.

    Pastiche -- I read somewhere a long tie ago where Stephen King said that the number one thing a writer could do was to READ. I took that to heart and have found that when I read -- my own creativity is sparked in it's own way.

  5. Hello,

    This was really interesting. This blog continues to get better and better, with each new bit posted on here. I seriously enjoy reading everything that TLYDF has to offer.

    It was really interesting to read how the process works for a variety of authors, and how different the process is for different authors.

    I found that with idea generation I related more to the process of GinnyW. I am very much a "what if" thinker. A lot of my favorite published authors have information on their websites that gives further information on how the writing process works for them. Jodi Picoult, who is an amazing story teller, comes up with her ideas by posing "what if" questions. She will deal with situation, usually a bit of a complicated or emotional situation (i.e. organ donation, suicide, school shootings) and then pose a "what if" question that would further complicate said situation. I always found that was the type of approach that worked best for me and helped me keep things interesting and unique in my story.

    Like several of the authors, I have many different story ideas floating around in my head at one time. I have a word document that is pages and pages long, full of ideas. The ideas can be for complete stories, for specific chapters, or just for an activity. Sometimes the ideas in this document are just one liners that I thought up and would love to use in a story someday.

    Despite the vast amount of ideas I have, I cannot write more than one story at once. Originally I was writing two stories, but whenever I had the time to write I was more interested in writing one story over the other. I don't have the time to update two stories on a somewhat regular basis and for me it results in a stronger story if I only focus on posting one at a time.

    Like WTVOC I don't have an outline. I originally wrote an outline, but didn't follow it. I know exactly how the last chapter of my story is going to play out, and I know what the last line in the second to last chapter is going to be. But I don't outline how each chapter is going to flow. I just write and let the story happen.

    For me, I never try to force the writing. Sometimes I write while half watching television, sometimes while listening to music, and sometimes in complete silence. If I sit down for thirty minutes and am unable to write anything of consequence, I stop writing. I can't ever force it, because if I force it - it is bad. After I have finished writing a chapter I let it sit for a night and then go back over it. I hash out scenes to add more substance, I change dialog to make it more realistic, and I fix grammar/spelling errors. Then I send it off to my betas and they work their magic.

    I think the most important thing to get from this article is that writing is a really individualistic activity. It works differently for everyone. There is no wrong way to do it and there is no right way to do it.

    Thanks for writing,


  6. Pastiche, the next installment is going to specifically be about those inspirations. The books we (as a community) read, the music we listen to, the television, hobbies and whatever it is that we go to outside of fandom that influences the way we write. I could not agree MORE about the importance to go outside of Twilight.

    Shotgun-mellyia, that steven king quote is ready to go. I ALMOST used it for this one since it fits with what you wrote so well. But any time you can quote Dante and Gaiman in the same article, you can't slight yourself.

    jm, you cover SO much with what is to come. I think that lots of writers are going to relate OR find things fascinating about their fellow writer's techniques.

    I know when I was reading things I would say to Jfly or Smellyia how completely DIFFERENT everyone is... also, we will have the same authors next time but some others as well.

    I didn't print half the stuff these guys sent and it was ALL good.

  7. Lookit mah name is on there. I feel like I just won an academy award.

    This was really interesting to read, and it's awesome to find out what gets some of the writers I really respect going. It's always interesting to learn about other people's processes, especially the ones who actually plan things out, outline, do stuff on purpose etc. It amazes me.

    Everyone quoted in this article is a great writer, and it's interesting to see that everyone's prep and process is as different as their styles.

    Thanks for writing emi!


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