Terikel's Tips

by Terikel Grayhair

Want to write a good story that others will want to read? Read the other two guides first, then settle in here, take your boots off, and learn a bit more. The Old One will now ramble on about the little things- and a few big ones- that can make the difference between a good tale and a waste of time.

Formatting:

Double-Enter between paragraphs. Indenting simply does not translate well in our software. It is ignored, to put it bluntly. The end result of indenting to signify the beginning of a new paragraph is one massive glob of text that nobody is going to read with any ease. So, separate paragraphs into easily-read blurbs by pressing the Enter key twice at the end.

Write out numbers. It looks more professional and shows that you care. Saying "There were 24 soldiers in the 2 groups" looks amateurish and lazy. "There were twenty-four soldiers in the two groups" looks more professional and polished. If you do not take the time to write it out and make an effort at doing things right, why should anyone take the time to bother to read it?

Italicize foreign words. Again, the mark of a pro. It helps the reader identify that this word or phrase is not English in origin, and sometimes helps with the mood and tone of the scene.

Italicize thoughts. What a simple way to discern unspoken thoughts from audible sound. "Of course I shall obey your words," said the Greek slave to his new master. And I shall cut your throat at first opportunity, too, you little weasel.

Use quotation marks around spoken words. If a character says something, put his words in quotes. As they are part of the story, they do not have to be in good grammar or even proper words- the quotes tell the reader this is coming out of the character's mouth. "Gragggchchcahch" means nothing, but could simulate a character choking on a chicken bone. He says it, so quote it.

Avoid contractions. Contractions are the result of writers not wishing to write things out. Another mark of a good writer is the avoidance of contractions in the body of his text. Spoken words, in quotes, may be contracted as that is indicative of the character's manner of speech and thus adds flavor to his dialogue. There is no excuse for a writer to use them in the body of text, though. Do not do it.

Do not overuse CAPITALS and bold text. A bold word or phrase stands out because of the emphasis- and its relative scarce usage. But if you use it too much, it can lead to more text being bolded that not, which in turn wipes away the very reason you wish to bold in the first place. It is the mark of an amateur to use bold too often. Avoid it.

All CAPS? THAT IS SHOUTING! Use it as such- and only as such.

Edit and Proofread! Check over your work. Use Spellchecker if you want, but in any event try to find and eradicate any erroneous typographical errors. They look shoddy, and if the reader feels the author did not take the time to do it right, he or she should not take the time to read it. Garbage in, garbage out.

A tip for this is when you have finished a long and arduous session of writing, wait at least a day before going back to edit your work. Go back in with fresh eyes, and read your work as if you are seeing it for the first time. You know what you wrote, now pretend you do not. Having fresh eyes helps identify the errors your tired mind blocked out. The result is a much better presentation and a more satisfied audience.

The Tale

All the formatting in the world is not going to make a dull story any better, just easier to read. Thus we shall now turn our veteran eyes to the tale itself, and dispense what feeble advice we have on the matter to willing pupils.

Plot A story needs a plot. Without a guiding story line, the tale will quickly devolve into rambling moments of action with little or no progress. Think of the Fifty's show Wagon Train. The plot of each episode was clear and concise, but the overall series was about a wagon train heading west- and never got there. It just rolled on and on. And eventually died. Each paragraph of a tale is like a mini-episode- make sure your series goes someplace and gets there at the end.

Develop your story. You do not have to explain the entire background at once in the first chapter, then describe the actions in the next. You do need a background- paint it in broad, general strokes, then parcel out the necessary bits as needed. The same applies to your actions and characters- have them develop as the story progresses. They will make mistakes, or get burned- and you can have them learn from that.

Development also includes twists and turns in the plot. A straight-forward report of an overpowered army conquering its way without hassle is rather boring- and will eventually have the readers wishing for an upset victory by the next underdog. A tale of the underdog, however, beaten down and stepped upon, but who rebuilds their shattered forces to rise again and overcome the Imperial cohorts. . . Well, the makings of a good story.

Write for your audience. You are not logging your own adventures or writing you memoirs. You are writing for others to read- which means you should use language, grammar, and images they can understand. If you are penning an article on sword-making for a group of people to encourage them to make a sword, go into depth about the forging of steel and the hammering of the template- these things make articles on sword-making interesting for those wanting to read such. Likewise, if you are aiming for an audience of non-scientific students who do not understand melting points and spot-welding, keep it more lively and less intellectual.

Avoid repetition repetition repetition. Build a vocabulary. Using the same words over and over again dull the reader's senses and the exciting impact of what you are trying to portray will evaporate and dissipate, and never reach your audience. There are plenty of words out there that carry the same meanings- use them to keep the attention of your readers riveted onto your story.

Research pertinent facts. If you are writing in a historical setting, know what you are doing and use pertinent facts true to the era. This lends credibility to your tale, which in turn makes it easier for the reader to identify with it, which in turn makes your tale better. A tale which has well-researched background is more likely to be greeted by the readers as a good tale than one that is filled with inaccuracies or blatantly fictitious pieces.

Details, details, details. It is the little things which help bring life to a tale by adding flavor and credibility. Two people arguing in a public square can be easily written, but the tale where the two are interrupted by passers-by, or having one blush as embarrassing details are revealed would be greeted as more life-like and thus better. Or a man making a speech in a swamp- the one where he pauses to smack a mosquito would seem more true to life than one where the hero just ignores the little pests.

Visualize. One of the easiest tricks in the book. If you have the imagination to come up with a decent plot and develop a story line, you have enough imagination for visualization. Simply put, see the action in your mind, then write down what you saw. Sometimes for battle scenes, fighting a battle in RTW can provide the necessary skeleton upon which you can place the flesh of your own visualization.

Use your senses. Characters do not just see and hear. They can smell, feel, and taste as well. Try not to forget that an unwashed barbarian who thinks soap is the Devil's Toy will have a hard time sneaking up on a freshly-bathed Roman sitting down to peruse the latest poetry of Virgilius.

Bring the action to life. This is hard, but not impossible. If you can visualize a sword coming at your character, and use the senses (he heard the whistle of the blade as it came for his head), you can breathe life into the action as well. Use adjectives and adverbs, but also sound effects, bodily excretions, adrenaline and other factors to bring the reader into the situation.

Harmon heard a faint creak and felt the air rushing along his neck. He turned quickly, only to see a razor-sharp blade whistling toward his eyes. His heart pounded in sudden fear, but his muscles bulged in defiant reply to whisk up his own blade to parry away the threat. His arm extended after the block, sending the point of his sword through the chest of the hairy barbarian who had just tried to murder him..

Something like that.

Illustrations

Illustrations are immensely capable of setting a mood or bringing a thought to life. They also break up the monotony of a large block of text. If you are going to post a rather long chunk of story, you might want to think about putting a picture or two in to help break up the text.

If you are describing a battle, maps are almost a must. It is so much easier for a reader to comprehend the maneuvers and action by looking at a map than it is for them to do the same thing simply in their own imagination. So, think on it.

Conclusion

Nothing in here is new to any writer, but it does make a nice sort of checklist to ensure you tale is the best it can be, and attracts the audience you desire and crave.

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