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Srebrna, Skald Arkadii (and thoughts on writing)

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How to check your texts before publishing

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As I’m reading (and publishing) stories on three different sites, I see a range of various problems that FF authors have with writing correctly. Some of these can only be resolved by application of a beta reader, unfortunately. Some would even require a writing lesson or two, to make sure the author is able to correctly pace their story.

However there are some purely technical corrections you can try to make your text more palatable:

  1. Check capitalisation:
    1. Make sure the names of persons are all correctly starting with capital letter
    2. Make sure there are no common nouns or other random pieces of text that are capitalised, when they should not
    3. Names of places should definitely be capitalised
    4. Beginnings of sentences would be nice, too
  2. Check name spelling:
    1. Bingly, Pembereley, Benet, Longborn – neither of these should show up in P&P story
    2. The same goes for all X-Men and their allies and villains. You wanna write Magneto in, you learn how to spell Lehnsherr
    3. Real-live places also deserve proper spelling
  3. Check interpunction:
    1. Correct dialogue markers for your language (“, -, ‘) and their proper usage, including strategically applied commas
    2. No spaces inside brackets “(this is the way)” and “( this is not the way )”
    3. No spaces before !, ?, . or ,
  4. Make sure you’re writing in the same tense – switching between past and present tenses is annoying, unless you’re aiming at some artistic outcome.
  5. Add “the” and “a/an” in front of all the nouns that deserve it
  6. Run spellchecker in your editor. If you don’t have a spellchecker in your editor, download Libre Office (free office suite) and LO Writer has it.
  7. Paste your text to Google Docs. Their spellchecker will have different level of sensitivity. It may point out something that LO Writer might have missed
  8. Open and paste your text into a test box. Check for the suggestions (missing/unnecessary interpunction, wrong verb forms, mistaken words!). You don’t have to agree in all cases, but please, do review the list.
  9. Open and paste your text. Check the suggestions (overly complex sentences, passive voice). Again, you don’t have to follow the suggestions, but maybe something will spark.
    Edit: Try also – it will check the text for repetitions. Really useful if you’ve been reviewing and re-editing and now you have no idea what is where.
    Try also – it offers modes for UK, US and other types of English, points out words that don’t fit in that particular English and catches various other errors. May be a bit overzealous, so of course don’t apply all suggestions :)

  10. If you have it, run One Note. Paste your text to a new text field and mark the whole as EN-UK. Switch to View and then Immersion Reader. Let the reader read this to you. Listen whether the sentences sound natural and make sense. This is actually what makes me correct a lot, still, after other methods.
  11. Read it aloud to yourself. This way you’ll read slowly. Pay attention to where you put pauses and breaks and check if you have . and , there. If not, consider adding them. This way you will also notice repetitions. It is possible you will hear when your dialoge is too stiff or too unnatural or when the narration sounds weird.
  12. Do not fall in love with your text. It’s not a baby, or a kitten. It can be changed, remodelled and corrected. If it was a book, that is exactly what would have happened.

If you can, get a beta. A merciless one!


Written by Srebrna

2018/06/15 at 23:38

Posted in On writing

Music to write to

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I work better if I have some music playing, but my brain apparently got a bit ossified a bit since my master thesis (I listened to a loop of 4 songs for that time, made me type faster) and now I can’t write if I’m listening to something I can understand.

So, choices, choices. I tried, and these worked for me:

  1. Classical music. A lot of Vivaldi. Can’t be too fast, or too slow, or to dour. Just so. Goldilocks, me.
  2. A lot of stuff that’s marked “60 BPM”. Apparently listening to this is relaxing and helps thinking. I have to admit, it does help with relaxation exercises, but unless it has some character, I end up searching for replacement soon.
  3. Loituma. As in the band, not the celery twirling girl clip. Yes, including Ievan Polkka. Why? Because I don’t speak a word of Finnish (except for handmade terms, and they rarely sing about wool or knitting needles)
    I use these two playlists (if I’m not listening to my own ipod):
  4. Irish trad. The actual Irish, meaning, Gaeilge. Which, lately, is mostly Altan or Julie Fowlis for me. And I made myself a pretty little playlist on YT that features female voices:
    Some of these may be in English, but mostly it will be Irish. The same explanation as point 3. I don’t understand it at all, and I love the style (in general).  Helps me write, even if I have no idea what they are singing about.

Otherwise, sometimes, when writing English and listening to it at the some time doesn’t conflict, I indulge in the guilty pleasure of listening to this group of cuties: (especially Emmet Cahill, who is by far the best singer of the set – here the last singing of the four men:

For some reason, despite mostly lack of vocals, I can’t work listening to soundtracks. May be I’m focusing then on what was in the movie at that moment. Exception: Jurassic Park theme. This one: (and if pressed, I can whistle the whole damn thing…)

Written by Srebrna

2018/04/29 at 20:00

Posted in On writing

“POV” markers in FF

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…and why I have them.

Because they are lazy. I mean, really, people.

If you can’t write the narrative clearly enough for your readers to recognise whether you’re writing John or Sherlock POV, maybe you should reconsider taking your hands off the keyboard and taking a break?

I’m not perfect. I can’t say I haven’t used some kind of “pointer” as to whose POV I’m writing. But I at least try to be subtle about it.

Case in point: “But if you can still dream” – the POV is in the title of each chapter.

Another: Double Pride Double Trouble – no indication written, but I add “####” in heavy scene changing places AND I added font change for “parent” POV in earlier chapters.

You can do so many things with formatting, markers and titles, especially if you’re changing the POV on chapter level. Go fancy with the titles. Add first line with feeling. If you start the chapter with “John felt his heart could take no more” then we know it’s plainly John’s POV. If it starts with “Molly had never before performed an autopsy on a friend and never wanted to do it again”, well, the hint is, it’s not Mycroft’s POV, right?

Personally, I prefer adequate narration as the indication. Second is chapter titles.

But readers are SMART so if you can write it, they will understand. Without needing a big neon reminding them who is the main character right now.

If you can’t, well, then POV tags tell us “here there be dragons, don’t read any further”.

…and another little peeve – flashbacks. Dear Lord, people, think. Use italics. Use bold. Use scene breaking markers. Don’t just write FLASHBACK SCENE. It’s not a bloody movie scenario. It’s a story. When you read a book and a character thinks about their past, do you get a “FLASHBACK” there? Where the heck did this come from, stupid cartoons? Because, really. There are ways to form your narrative and to introduce the “memory” naturally in the text, without hitting your reader on the head with a big label.

You can use some smart introduction, like:

Mycroft sighed, looking at the broken figure in the hospital bed. It was just like always, like every time he had to pick up the pieces. It was just like that first time he had to take responsibility for someone his brother had accidentally endangered.

It was just like that boy – what was his name, Victor? Victor had looked just the same as John did now.

…and then put in some remark showing the time/place. The readers are smart. They will work it out.

Yeah. I’ve been reading way too much FF lately. Mostly Johnlock, so sue me.

Written by Srebrna

2018/04/25 at 19:56

Posted in On writing

Tagged with , , ,

Why characters should sometimes do something

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Or why they should not. And on a various ways of speaking.

I’ve gone on a FF reading binge again, this time diving deep into the “X-Men: The Movie” category on FFNet, and I’m coming up with some pearls of wisdom. Feel free to ignore, criticise or simply glare at me for my audacity of trying to lecture others while my own style is still limping sometimes.

To the point:

Pearl 1: Make your characters do something.

What bugs me sometimes is that these poor guys in the stories only walk, sit, stare and speak. Really, people. Sometimes the girls sigh. From time to time someone screams.

Correction: Make them do something that makes sense AND is connected to what they did before.

What I mean is that the characters are people. They should do stuff, even when they are discussing weather or planning a strategy. Make them pick their noses when they forget themselves, roll their eyes, tap fingers, snort, yawn, blink, even stomp around in a fit of nerves. Just make sure what they do is more or less consistent with the context (don’t make a girl yawn and then be bright and sunny in the next sentence OR make someone sit down as a picture of serenity and start screaming out of a blue – of course not applicable if you’re describing a mental asylum).

Paying attention to what they say, the faces they make, the movements around the room/table/field will make the story more fluid and more connected and not just a bunch of disjointed paragraphs.

Also, don’t make your characters do things totally out of character (unless you lampshade it properly by someone else commenting on weird behaviour). Try to redo or describe better necessary weirdness. One of the most common means of furthering the story is someone (preferably a young lady) running out of the room/house and collapsing by the nearest bench/pond/window for our hero to save her or whatever is on his agenda. Make sure her behaviour, EVEN IF DISTRESSED, makes sense.

Yeah, I’ve written a “run out, fall down, be almost ravished” scene myself. When I was 16. It seemed like a good idea at the time and I had no other way of making Her see Him finally. Which was a totally lame way of progressing the events, now that I re-read it.

Pearl 2: Don’t make them do single-action, separate things.

Don’t fill in every gap in dialogue by someone doing a separate action.

“Ugh” she said.

He walked to the mantle.

“I’m not very sure” he said.

He picked something up. He turned it around and put it back on the shelf.

“I’m very sure” she said.

She stood up. She threw blanket behind the sofa.

You see? Awful. Like something from a kid’s book. Make longer sentences. Make things connected with each other. “She stood up, throwing the blanked behind the sofa she’d just vacated” makes this description much more dynamic.

Pearl 3: (from a recently-read P&P fanfic)

For God’s sake, whatever you do, don’t let them run into a soliloquy.

When they talk, let them talk, and by this I mean exchange information. If one person just blurts all their innermost thoughts in a 4-paragraph soul-searching and mind-wrenching expose, all others would normally flee or faint. Don’t make them do this. Let them have a bit of dialogue.

In the case of this specific story, Wickham spewed the whole “Darcy sucks” story in the VERY FIRST SENTENCE to Elisabeth. Well, PARAGRAPH, not a sentence.

Now, monologues are OK. if you’re a Danish prince (and even then they are a bit pathetic), but for normal people (with normal fiancées) it is not the preferred method of communication. The preferred method is, in fact, the exchange of ideas. You say something, I answer/comment, you do something, I open my fan, you stomp, I criticise and so on and so on. Mix a bit of movement into the dialogue and let it be an actual dialogue and not an exercise in a debate club.

Written by Srebrna

2014/07/24 at 00:04

How to be a nice author

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I’m not going to tell anyone how to be a good author, because I’m not such myself and obviously should not advise anyone else until I am.
However what I am aiming to be for my audience (however limited it is) is being a nice author. Nice author is someone you want to go back to and read more even if they aren’t overwhelmingly inspired, because their texts aren’t painful to read.
Some pointers in this direction:
* Keep your AN, N/A etc. (whatever you put at the start of the story) mercifully short. Nobody wants to read a WHOLE SCREEN of you explaining why and how and the weather and… Just keep it short.
* Make sure your author’s note is in a different font (italic is enough) or in some way separated from the actual text. This will allow people to skip it when they come back for a re-read.
* Do not make “POV” markings. Just… don’t. Try to write your narration in such a way that the reader notices the switch from the text. You don’t see “POV” markings in books (unless it’s GRR Martin and he keeps the POV the same for the whole chapter!)
* Do not put surprise Author Notes inside the text. If you MUST communicate some intricate solution you used, put it at the beginning of the chapter or try to explain it in the text itself. A AN in the middle of actual story is CHEAP.
* Do try to get a Beta. Or at least a spell-checker. Install a dictionary in your browser, it will help you to correct texts inside the blog or other form.
* Do not use a lot of fancy formatting but do, please, include line-breaks.
* Read up on the correct way to mark dialogues in your language. Remember that there are different rules for different languages, so check if you are writing in non-native one if your markings are ok.
* Do not blackmail readers for Reviews with a threat of “no more chapters”. If you write well, they will come. If you don’t, nobody cares about your next chapter anyway.
* If you write a songfic, do not feel the requirement to include the whole song in the text.
* Keep consistent formatting across your whole story (in websites like forums this is sometimes very important).
* Do not ever add space before punctuation marks that should be flush with the letter before. Do not add spaces inside brackets.
* No more than three “?” and “!” combined per expression. More means you’re keyboard crazy.
* Make sure you check your text for words that only sound the same. Someone fainted lying “without conscience” breaks the mood like nothing else.
* Do not change tenses from past simple to present and back. Use correct “one tense back” if needed. Present simple makes text look more dynamic, but if you start it like this, KEEP IT LIKE THIS.

That’s just random set of pointers which I’ve collected during last week of reading FF on several sites. It’s most certainly not exhaustive and will be growing.

Written by Srebrna

2014/04/27 at 23:23

Bad ideas – repetition

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So, as I warned, sometimes it will not be fiction, but my writing-related ramblings. I’ve posted this on G+ long time ago, so, just to start the new category, here it comes:

Oh, come on!

I’m reading a perfectly good story, which has a reasonable plot, no typos, no out-of-character actions, but… IT HAS REPETITIONS! And I don’t mean in the nice way, when one person says X, another says X and so on. Or the Department of Redundancy Dept. No. I mean like this:

The other girls cleared the room and just left Meredith and Carolyn alone. “How are you dear?” Carolyn asked. A lot had happened since they last saw each other when Derek and Meredith were in New York. The engagement, the ferry accident, and so much more.
“I’m great. A lot has happened since we last saw you, but we’ve gotten through it and now I can’t wait to marry Derek. Have you seen him today? Is he ok, he’s not getting cold feet is he? Cause I don’t think I could make it through him leaving me at the altar.” Meredith said, freaking out.

The italics are mine. Now, if it’s once – author slipped. Twice – sounds lame. Thrice – run for your lives, this one just can’t write!

Now, I understand the need. Sometimes you write the narration and afterwards the dialogue just seems to repeat everything. It’s ok. No problem. Just get back to the freaking narration and edit the repetitions out!

I’m not saying my texts are perfect, but as a reader (of innumerable kb a day), I have gained a certain experience in how the texts shouldn’t be written. This one is a tiny leedle pet peeve of me, to tell the truth.

Written by Srebrna

2013/07/24 at 00:20