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 Post subject: On Writing Styles and Philosophies
PostPosted: Tue Aug 12, 2014 2:19 am 
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A few days ago, Loki and I were discussing personal writing styles and their accompanying philosophies. It's been on my mind ever since, and I think it would be a discussion worth continuing here.

For obvious reasons, I'm going to be speaking from the perspective of my own chosen style and my reasons for choosing it, and citing some supporting examples from my own published stories. This is not to be misconstrued as me saying "my way is the best way and everyone should write this way"; I am not that conceited. (No, honestly...I'm really not. :| ) Rather, this is me attempting to explain what I've found to work best for me, and why. And others are definitely encouraged to do the same!

Personally, I've come to deliberately favor a "less is more" approach to descriptive writing. There are several reasons for this, but the one I want to focus on initially is that it is not because I see myself as writing for children, or a young/immature audience. It's the exact opposite. I write with the intention, or at least the hope, that my work is going to be read by active thinkers. I assume that my audience is intelligent enough to be able to "read between the lines", in places, without having to be constantly led by the nose. This doesn't mean minimalism for its own sake, to the point of descriptive laziness, or to try and hide the fact that I really don't know what the hell I'm doing by pretending to leave key elements open to broad interpretation; it simply means I don't feel that spelling out every possible detail is necessarily the wisest or most effective course, where it can be avoided. I also think a reader's imagination can often fill in certain details better than I might be able to describe them. And particularly when dealing with truly dark, disturbing and horrific topics, I think this approach can be especially effective because in horror and suspense, it's usually the things you don't see that are the most frightening, for this very reason.

When I was younger, I felt somewhat obligated to flesh out every scene, and every potential scene, as much as I could, believing that every written moment held its own undiscovered opportunities, and that scenes I might personally view as "filler" could possibly be found to be enjoyable by others. I now strongly reject that approach, having found that it breeds mediocrity and disinterest. Now, when writing, I try to remember to constantly ask myself, How does this further the story, as a whole? Does this really add something worthwhile, or does it detract? Is it really necessary to include this, in order to tell the story I'm trying to tell? I'm not advocating self-censorship, necessarily, but sometimes things can have unintended consequences, and weighing the pros and cons can be a good idea. Or at the very least, it can't hurt.

I came to a realization some time ago that I've never used any profanity in any of my Titans fics. This was not because I sat down in advance and said to myself, "Okay, this series has a much broader audience than anything else I've ever touched, so I'd better be careful" (like I said, it's something I've noticed in hindsight). The reason is, very simply, that I've never felt it was necessary at any point in any of my fics. Maybe that will change at some point, but so far, it hasn't.

At the same time, I've never thought of myself as writing for anything other than a mature audience. My very first Titans story, Snow, is still, at its core, one of the darkest things I've ever written. While it did not go into explicit detail, it nevertheless dealt pretty directly with the torture and sexual abuse of young children. And needless to say, that was probably one of the first stories where I really had to consciously think about how much detail would be enough to get the point across, versus how much would be crossing the line into cheap sensationalism.

In a related example, one early draft of Chapter 17 would have had Snow mockingly dismiss each of the Titans in turn, and using a racial epithet in reference to Cyborg. I ultimately decided against that for two reasons. First, you can't always predict how that sort of thing might be misconstrued. And second, and more importantly, it wasn't necessary. It wouldn't have added anything in terms of fleshing out Snow's character; by that point in the story, the reader was going to have a pretty clear idea of exactly how evil he really was without him tossing around racist insults, to boot. So that was an example of something I decided would have potentially detracted much more from the story than it might have added to it.

The deliberate omission of specific descriptive details can also serve other purposes in different genres. For example, Slash, which has ended up being one of my most popular fics for some reason. The entire thing revolved around Starfire's "computer drapery", which was never described in the story's text, but which was inferred to have been a depiction of a homosexual kiss between Robin and Kid Flash. It became obvious at least halfway through the story that that was what it was, but I think actually spelling it out would have ruined the joke; part of the fun was figuring out just what was causing Robin to flip out to the degree that he was. So in a sense, the "punchline" was something that was never actually stated.

Switching topics a bit, I'm aware that I do have some definite limitations as a writer, and that they're largely self-imposed. I don't do romance, at least not in the traditional, fluffy sense. There are a variety of reasons which all ultimately boil down to that I've never been able to figure out how to approach it in a way that feels genuine, or at least not "false", to me. If that makes any sense. I'm aware that it's a weakness and something I should probably push myself to overcome in order to grow as a writer, yadda yadda, etc. But it's just not something that interests me, to put it bluntly.

On a similar note -- and those who are familiar with my work have probably already noticed this -- I also have something of an aversion to "purely" happy endings. I just think they're boring. My favorite kind of ending is one that leaves you deep in thought, so both on a conscious and unconscious level, I guess I try to aspire to that.

Anyway, I guess I'll let someone else take it up from here. :P

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 Post subject: Re: On Writing Styles and Philosophies
PostPosted: Wed Aug 13, 2014 5:31 pm 
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CWS wrote:
Personally, I've come to deliberately favor a "less is more" approach to descriptive writing. There are several reasons for this, but the one I want to focus on initially is that it is not because I see myself as writing for children, or a young/immature audience. It's the exact opposite. I write with the intention, or at least the hope, that my work is going to be read by active thinkers. I assume that my audience is intelligent enough to be able to "read between the lines", in places, without having to be constantly led by the nose. This doesn't mean minimalism for its own sake, to the point of descriptive laziness, or to try and hide the fact that I really don't know what the hell I'm doing by pretending to leave key elements open to broad interpretation; it simply means I don't feel that spelling out every possible detail is necessarily the wisest or most effective course, where it can be avoided. I also think a reader's imagination can often fill in certain details better than I might be able to describe them. And particularly when dealing with truly dark, disturbing and horrific topics, I think this approach can be especially effective because in horror and suspense, it's usually the things you don't see that are the most frightening, for this very reason.

When I was younger, I felt somewhat obligated to flesh out every scene, and every potential scene, as much as I could, believing that every written moment held its own undiscovered opportunities, and that scenes I might personally view as "filler" could possibly be found to be enjoyable by others. I now strongly reject that approach, having found that it breeds mediocrity and disinterest. Now, when writing, I try to remember to constantly ask myself, How does this further the story, as a whole? Does this really add something worthwhile, or does it detract? Is it really necessary to include this, in order to tell the story I'm trying to tell? I'm not advocating self-censorship, necessarily, but sometimes things can have unintended consequences, and weighing the pros and cons can be a good idea. Or at the very least, it can't hurt.
It's a difficult thing to measure, I've found. The problem is that the farther apart those "lines" are, the more things could fit between them; and it's entirely possible to be so minimalistic that your readers are drawing a different mental image than you're intending. And when you add another plot-relevant detail later that doesn't fit, they need to mentally figure out what's going on; and getting your reader's mind out of the story to resolve what's already happened is a very bad thing.

Also, a case can be made for pacing. The quantity of environmental detail is an excellent thing for regulating pacing, both because it could be easy to increase or decrease as needed, and because it has the logical connection in that having more time to read such detail parallels characters in a less stressful situation having more time to notice those details.


Incidentally, that's why I usually write from a character's point of view instead of an omniscient observer viewpoint. You can convey a lot simply through showing how a character observes/interprets/reacts to what's going on around them, and it's easier to relate to characters when you're indirectly experiencing the same things they are. This is an area where written media has more flexibility than aural/visual media; internal thought is much easier to convey smoothly in text form.

CWS wrote:
The deliberate omission of specific descriptive details can also serve other purposes in different genres. For example, Slash, which has ended up being one of my most popular fics for some reason. The entire thing revolved around Starfire's "computer drapery", which was never described in the story's text, but which was inferred to have been a depiction of a homosexual kiss between Robin and Kid Flash. It became obvious at least halfway through the story that that was what it was, but I think actually spelling it out would have ruined the joke; part of the fun was figuring out just what was causing Robin to flip out to the degree that he was. So in a sense, the "punchline" was something that was never actually stated.
In a more general sense, leaving out elements or details can leave a reader knowing that they're missing without knowing what it is, leaving them wondering. And a reader wondering about it is a great way to get them to come back for more.

And on the opposite subject of deliberate inclusion, I'm wondering what scenario you have in mind where a kiss between Robin and Kid Flash would need to be described homosexual. :P

CWS wrote:
On a similar note -- and those who are familiar with my work have probably already noticed this -- I also have something of an aversion to "purely" happy endings.
Going for "Understatement of the Year", are you? :P

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 Post subject: Re: On Writing Styles and Philosophies
PostPosted: Wed Aug 13, 2014 7:03 pm 
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The Phiend wrote:
CWS wrote:
When I was younger, I felt somewhat obligated to flesh out every scene, and every potential scene, as much as I could, believing that every written moment held its own undiscovered opportunities, and that scenes I might personally view as "filler" could possibly be found to be enjoyable by others. I now strongly reject that approach, having found that it breeds mediocrity and disinterest. Now, when writing, I try to remember to constantly ask myself, How does this further the story, as a whole? Does this really add something worthwhile, or does it detract? Is it really necessary to include this, in order to tell the story I'm trying to tell? I'm not advocating self-censorship, necessarily, but sometimes things can have unintended consequences, and weighing the pros and cons can be a good idea. Or at the very least, it can't hurt.
It's a difficult thing to measure, I've found. The problem is that the farther apart those "lines" are, the more things could fit between them; and it's entirely possible to be so minimalistic that your readers are drawing a different mental image than you're intending. And when you add another plot-relevant detail later that doesn't fit, they need to mentally figure out what's going on; and getting your reader's mind out of the story to resolve what's already happened is a very bad thing.

Also, a case can be made for pacing. The quantity of environmental detail is an excellent thing for regulating pacing, both because it could be easy to increase or decrease as needed, and because it has the logical connection in that having more time to read such detail parallels characters in a less stressful situation having more time to notice those details.


Incidentally, that's why I usually write from a character's point of view instead of an omniscient observer viewpoint. You can convey a lot simply through showing how a character observes/interprets/reacts to what's going on around them, and it's easier to relate to characters when you're indirectly experiencing the same things they are. This is an area where written media has more flexibility than aural/visual media; internal thought is much easier to convey smoothly in text form.
Those are excellent points, as well. It certainly does require a lot of active...measurement, I suppose, as you said.

The Phiend wrote:
And on the opposite subject of deliberate inclusion, I'm wondering what scenario you have in mind where a kiss between Robin and Kid Flash would need to be described homosexual. :P
The one in which they're both males and the kiss is obviously more than just "friendly". :P

The Phiend wrote:
CWS wrote:
On a similar note -- and those who are familiar with my work have probably already noticed this -- I also have something of an aversion to "purely" happy endings.
Going for "Understatement of the Year", are you? :P
Yeah, how'd I do?

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 Post subject: Re: On Writing Styles and Philosophies
PostPosted: Wed Aug 20, 2014 3:38 am 
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[Reveal] Spoiler: for size: that's not what she said.
Time to jump into the fray! Would've done in sooner, but I've got ongoing issues with illness and depression that've limited me to pretty much focusing solely on university work for the past week. I'll try and maintain some semblance of relation between the thoughts I'm writing down.

I also wrote out everything when I was first starting out at university, but boy did my tutors and lecturers kick the shit out of me for that. And, really, I'm glad they did. Now it's gotten to the point were I almost never have to ask myself, or another person, whether a scene needs to occur as I've written it, or at all. I agree with the points both of you have made, too: another device I've used is having the reader knowing something that the characters themselves do not know, or that only one character or a few characters know about. This can generate a kind of suspense, with various payoffs depending on who the characters involved are. Will this stranger gunslinger betray the party of travellers he's met? Or is an old mercenary and adherent of the Cannoneer's Codex, meaning his word is his life? If his word means nothing, neither does his life.

The Phiend is spot on with pacing, too. A tutor of mind told me that writing is the opposite of being a polite party guest: you arrive as late as possible, leave as early as you can, and if you can see a way to skip the whole shebang, you do it.

Whether that's because it wouldn't matter if you went, or make sense, or because you can get away with talking about it like you did go there yourself, that's the way that you should pace yourself as a writer, as a basic guide. There are plenty of famous writers who broke this rule amongst many others: Charles Dickens, one of my favourite writers of all time, is amongst them. But, to break the rules, you have to know the rules first, and be capable of following them very well to begin with. Otherwise you come out looking less like an Ezio, and more like Desmond with two broken legs: your work will not stand up on your own, will lack grace, the audience will be very much aware of it, of what you're trying and failing to do, and will do their best to find other things to complain about.

My style, at the point it's evolved to be at now, basically compels me to write in a visceral and sensory, and sensual, even, way. I mentioned this to CWS when he and I talked about it, and basically it's some combination of "because I was trained to", "it's enthralling", and "it feels like an insult not to do it this way". I've lived through a lot of bad shit that's not worth going deep into here, but suffice to say that, for one thing, it pains me on a personal level to 'censor' myself, my characters, or my story, by cutting material that may cause offence or discomfort to people. In part, because I want people to test why exactly what I've written distresses them, when it's just about an invariable consequence of the events leading up to it. Vance is God of Death to another reality: he hunts down the Gods from his own pantheon and kills the corrupt ones without mercy, because they basically turned his world into a realm of torment, because it pleased them. Rather than being a grim reaper in the classic sense, he's more of a hunter, armed with a rifle and pistols, and served by innumerable wolves. His rifle is an armor-piercing weapon he kept when he killed the champion of the God of War.

So, when he shoots someone with it, they're pretty much blown apart: a friend of mine is an old US Ranger who's seen the effects of sniper cover from the Barrett M82. Not that I write willy-nilly "Vance always shoots with this gun and it blows people apart because it's cool". I don't think that. Some people might. But, basically, it's the effect of hitting someone with that weapon, which Vance does do when he's shooting at long-range. Which he needs to do, because though he's Death, he's bound, pretty much, by the Cause-Effect relationship. He can't just look at someone and have them die, because that would be stupid. Likewise, Vance's wolves are essentially how he hunts, and how he has time to do anything other than killing people: they are his old servants, and they can sniff out people who are meant to die, and either facilitate their passing, or be there to comfort them when they pass, as with the very old or very young. I don't believe you can really have another character describe a seething mass of wolves fighting a damned God's servants through trenches, tearing their bodies apart to free the souls within. Or, alternatively, have someone recount the oldest, most ancient, and powerful of the wolves curled up with an old woman as she sleeps for the final time. Or, have a wolf who was once a mother carrying an infant's soul from a burning airport by the scruff of its neck. Though these scenes will undoubtedly affect people, for different reasons, you can't just really have them be recounted, as the first you hear of them, and get the full effect.

It's actually a scene I wrote and talked to CWS that sparked this discussion, and I'm glad it did, and I'm not offended or anything -- I'm just including it here as it's an excellent example -- involving Niamhan (that's Nieve-ahn, basically, with the Gaelic pronounciation), a young vampire woman who travels with Vance. Without writing the whole thing out here, the nitty-gritty of it is that vampires as I write them, are related to incubi and succubi, sharing their powers of enthralment and seduction, and are all capable of some degree of blood magic. Niamhan, and a regular ol' human called Drake, are captured and locked up, kept under watch by armed guards. Niamhan's basically restrained so that she cannot harm herself or do anything to draw blood, and Drake's likewise bound, and in a separate cell. At the end of it all, she ends up using menstrual blood to break her bindings, and the cell, which shatters outwards and kills the guards. This scene gets across in an instant just why Niamhan is so dangerous: it's not just that she's a vampire, and that vampires are blood mages. More than that, it's because she's a woman who's astute, wiser than she looks, quick to take control of bad situations, and, in this particular case, just because she's a woman, and her guards didn't think to take that aspect of her anatomy and life into consideration when locking her up. Importantly, it also gets across her understated methods: she only escapes this way, and fights, because she absolutely has to. Her captors are in the service of a greater being, with the power to actually kill her. If a human pulled a revolver on her, she could mesmerise them into dropping it, or at the worst, take the bullet and have her own blood heal the wound. She doesn't like to kill: though she can, and does. That, and she's protecting Drake for Vance, who's building an army. She's basically the protector, the assassin, and the honey trap, all in one, and she's a hell of a lot less conspicuous than the God who exhales frost.

What it comes down to is the person, and what's made them an author, I believe. The story featuring Drake and Vance and Niamhan, A Woman Named Joab, also features Joab (Duh I guess) and Cindy, woman involved in a love triangle with Drake. So, they have sex, and I write the scenes where they have sex, and I describe the act and its anatomical features and all that goes on, depending on the people involved. If there is a liaison between two lovers, I always write it, because sex scenes are an excellent way to get across details of the people involved. Are they secure in their body -- really secure, instead of just playing it up like they are? Just what kind of body do they have? A lot of the aliens in Phoenix are different in their anatomy, different enough that they don't fit the two genders human and aluthar define themselves by. What's involved, on the line, or in it for the parties? Love, or ritual, or some tangible benefit, like a succubus fuelling her powers? I don't write laborious accounts using explicit slang for body parts and loads of screamed desires and shows of prowess, because I'm not someone pretending that they're a sex robot built to please all lovers for at least 30 minutes at a time: I don't go in for that bullshit. But, ultimately, in my stories and style -- my overall philosphy, if you will -- there'll always be a reason, and it'll always be my way, to write a sex scene, instead of having the two lovers wake up in one another's arms the next day. Or, not in one another's arms, and where did the other person go? This is just a necessity for the way that I write: it doesn't fit together 'right' any other way. While it felt 'strange', off-putting at first, I've come to embrace this habit of describing, but not overdescribing, these types of things.

To do it any other way, for me, would be like having a scene cut to Helo and Tyrol in the Pegasus's brig, with Cain explaining that they're there for murder, and for the sake of saving Valerii from something a robot can't comprehend, anyway.

That said, I don't write scenes that con't contribute, and that's especially where they can be explained by someone without being overexpositional dialogue. I don't need to show the scene where Vance sees the master of beasts using his animals to inflict unspeakable horrors, since he can explain it when he's torturing someone for information on his wearabouts. I didn't write the scene, or scenes, where Joab's older brother had sex with her and her mother, or where her mother beat her, because they're both in prison now, and it's the sort of thing you can drop through gossip in the small town setting she and Drake live in. Hell, a story like that made national news, anyway, so people could recognise her. Basically, everything's situational when it comes to what to include: it can't fit a 100% specific rule that is also 100% correct 100% of the time. But, I would tend toward describing the acts, tastes, scents, sights, sounds, and feelings of a lot of scenes, like the tang of blood, the rancid sweetness of corpse-ridden bogs, and or the demoralising sight of the fire Arcturus is dropping on Ax contrasted with the earthen taste of petrichor breeze. Writing Niamhan feeding on someone isn't great for the squeamish, but it shows exactly what the process is like, for her and her victim, and the differences of whether they're willing or not. Of course, that's all just me, like I said. Some people may not enjoy reading my kind of stories, or writing the way I do: but, that is why there are so many different authors and so many different audiences making them successful

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 Post subject: Re: On Writing Styles and Philosophies
PostPosted: Thu Aug 21, 2014 12:26 am 
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You make a lot of very interesting points about what's needed to not only convey the flow of events, but also to communicate subtle character details. That's certainly something worth considering. Reading through the previous posts, I also think some of these approaches are probably tied to the different ways we each tend to perceive and interpret things for ourselves...which only makes sense.

I don't think you took it this way, but I still feel inclined to clarify, just for the record: I didn't intend for this thread to be a criticism of you, or anyone else in particular. Rather, I thought it would be a good opportunity to explain, explore and discuss some aspects of our various individual writing styles and storytelling approaches. And so far, it has been!

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 Post subject: Re: On Writing Styles and Philosophies
PostPosted: Thu Aug 21, 2014 1:46 am 
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Oh, no: I didn't take it as a specific crticism of me. More that I recognise our conversation sparked this thread, so I thought I would include the essence of it, rather than the whole transcript, to provide an example and some context.

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