Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Understanding good writing in 10 easy steps!

     Okay, so you have stumbled upon this little blog, and you see this post.

     Will you read it?

     Who knows, but here it goes:

     Good writing. Bad writing. Those two are constantly brought up by people to explain why they like, or don't like a specific work of fiction. But what does make someone's writing good or bad? Is it all really subjective? HELL NO! The subjective part is the choice of themes and tone (genre).

     What is good writing then?

     Well, to answer that I would have to explain what writing fiction is. How do I know what fiction is? I know that because I am a smart cookie and like to ask critical questions about my life experiences. That, and because I read and watched a lot of stuff. Writing fiction is the act of lying. Lying about non-existing characters and the non-existing world they inhabit. And I won't get into the bullshit of whether or not "it all exists in your <3". No, this is a topic for a different time.

     So now, when we have established that telling fictional stories is basically lying, let's get to what makes good fiction. Good fictions are convincing lies. CONVINCING lies. You need to convince the listener/watcher/player that the lie you are telling is plausible. How do you do it? By making it follow the basic rules our real life follows. Let's write down a few important basics:

1) There must be a presence of evil in your fictional world. But it is the amount of evil that is the most important, because too much will be confusing (since when is life that terrible?), and too little/none at all, will come out as an Utopia (again, completely unlike real life). When everyone is evil in your story and wants to get the protagonist, your story is really you projecting like crazy. When everyone loves and adores the protagonist, it will be a self insert crapfiction. Not the mention, everyone cannot be evil either. To summarize, there needs to be some evil, and some conflict, but not too much or too little. And evil does not have to be anything super serious; it could be just a few bad traits someone has, or a bit of misfortune. Or someone getting sick.

2) There must be a significant amount of chance, or "fate" in your story. Those words should be interchangeable for every writer. The majority of the story's events, as well as your fictional world itself, should be beyond the protagonist's control. Such is the way of real life: most of what happens around us and to us, we do not decide. The world decides for us. So, if your protagonist "accidentally" finds an item on a deserted road that will be instrumental in defeating the big bad guy in the end, that is not bad writing. When someone's good intentions lead to the death of a loved one, that is not bad writing. Our future, as well as present is not completely under our control, and that should be the same in fiction. Because when in your story everything happens exactly as the protagonist plans, that is self insert crapfiction, not a good story. Throw in a little Karma, why don't you!

3) Logic. Minor mistakes aside (we are only human, after all), there should be no real logical problems in your story. Things that are very unlikely should be reduced to a minimum, and implausibilities should be reduced to nothing. Having a super powerful big bad guy be defeated by a really weak protagonist in a fair fight, just because you really want it, is stupid, and makes your story a piece of crapfiction.

4) Tone. Are you going for realism, or is your world a comic? Maybe it is a cartoon? In the last two cases, you very well can implement cartoon physics, and bend the laws of said physics, within, and around your characters. Remember those big impossible cartoony eyes? That's just a start.

5) Consistency (in tone). If you are writing a sequel to a work, make sure to keep the tone of the original. At least for the most part. Was the first story realistic, or was is a wacky cartoon? A drama or comedy? Keeping that question in mind is very important.

6) Consistency (in personality). While you can expand and evolve a previously established character (see part 7), you should not betray what he or she was all about in the past. When you are writing a sequel to anything, always remember who those characters were, what they did, and why they did it. Change or no change, they are still the same people.

7) Character growth, and character depth. Any character should have as much identifiable traits as needed for your story. They can be deeper, or shallower depending on what the story is, and their role in it. However, the idea that sudden never-before-seen behavior is "going against established personality", is full of crap. Just because it was never mentioned that Johnny loves ice cream, does not mean you cannot bring it up later. Having all your character traits written out on a long sheet of paper, and sticking to it like the Word of God is bad news, to your story. Characters should grow and evolve as you write the story. Having them programmed to have all their traits set in cement from the start, makes them into robots, and not living breathing beings. Unless you are writing a story about a robot and why the fuck would you do that geez.

8) Character NOT growth. If you look around in real life, you will surely notice some people change more than others. Some are just way too stubborn, while some have no loyalty or principles and change every day, only to change again the next day. Some people already underwent their "character development", and are now more static, because the change already happened, and now there is not need for it anymore. The idea that there should be character development for everyone in every story ever made, was popularized by Hollywood, after the big wigs realized that Hero's Journeys make the most money.

9) Relatability. You don't write a story about ground. Or a rock. You always write about characters, living beings with feelings and thoughts, and characters always come first. Even when the world is given a large focus, it is the characters' reactions and thought about the world that you really are writing about. Or should be writing. No matter who your characters are: humans, humanoids, aliens, talking animals, non-talking animals, toasters; there should be something human in them. They should have hopes and dreams, passions, fears, bad traits to overcome or succumb to, rivals, and whatever other problems to overcome or be defeated by. Every protagonist of a good story is human to some extent. Except for crapfiction, of course. No one wants to read a story about something that is 0% human. Even the desire to enslave the world is a human flaw, and is relateable.

10) Last, but not least, a good story must be interesting. What is interesting, you might ask? Well, an interesting story is a story that is not 100% identical to what happens to you every day. An interesting premise is something that you don't see every day. Name one bestseller that deals with an average man who wakes up, eats his breakfast, and spends all day watching cat videos on YouTube. THERE ARE NONE, BECAUSE THAT IS NOT INTERESTING. Now, a story about a man who goes to his work, but not really, and instead pretends to go, secretly puts on a bat costume and fights crime? Now that is interesting. And let us not forget that any story that deals with magical powers, fantastic technology, grand battles, and supernatural entities are automatically not boring, at least in concept, because we don't normally deal with that stuff on a day-to-day basis. Also, Indiana Jones and The Ark of The Covenant is interesting.

      And now, boys and girls, we know what elements make a good fictional story! If you do not follow these guidelines, you are a crap writer and should be ashamed of yourself for unleashing your crap writing on the world :)