No one has won a race without first learning how to take the first step. Writing is no different. Regardless of what you are writing, the basics are very important. If you think not the demented elves suggest you consult your editor on what he thinks about the matter. But what are the basics in storytelling? For the demented elves, it is grammar, spelling and word choice, and punctuation.
Grammar is something we as children have forced upon us when we believe it isn't that important. As storytellers, we like to excuse bad grammar because it is part of the story, but unless it is part of your dialog, bad grammar is bad grammar. People may not speak in complete sentences, but we do read in them. Nothing takes a person out of you story than poor sentence structure. If one has to read a sentence more than once, you have lost your audience. A well written sentence is key to telling a good story.
Likewise, spelling and word choice is very important. In the experience of the demented elves, a spelling error isn't always a misspelled word. Sometimes, a misspelled word spells another word that changes the whole sentence. For example, the tone between respectfully and resentfully (a time when a spelling error led to a spell check error) changes the entire sentence. ( WATCH OUT FOR SPELL CHECK AND AUTO CORRECT! These technologies are as much a hindrance as a help.) As for word choice, know the difference between words such as then and than, effect and affect, and other commonly confused words. Wrong word choices could make you look like you don't know what you are doing and there goes the audience, on to someone else.
Then again, one must not simply use punctuation, but must use the correct punctuation. The demented elves once read a book with no punctuation. To be honest, This elf never finished the book because it was too hard to read. One could never tell if one was reading action, description, or dialog. This made it difficult to know what was going on in the story and thus it was never finished. While the need for punctuation is important, it should be noted that incorrect punctuation is as bad as no punctuation at all. The wrong punctuation can change the entire meaning of the sentence just as the wrong word can. As the internet is fond of pointing out, there is a difference between "let's eat, Mom," and "let's eat Mom."
If you have difficulty with the basics, and even if you are not, it might be in your best interest to invest in a book on grammar. Even those well versed in grammar need to reference the rules from time to time. The demented elves believe it is better to check than to be wrong. A well written story is necessary for a well told story.
At any given time there will be any number of stories in books, on television, or on the big screen that appear to be exactly the same. The tendency is to believe that there are those ready to steal your work. The truth is, there are only so many story types out there. So when one movie about vampires comes out at exactly the same time as your vampire movie, what can you do? Simple, MAKE IT YOUR OWN.
What makes one movie stand out from another is not that it is the only zombie slaying, Bigfoot, romance, crime drama, it that when you create your story, it is your zombie slaying, Bigfoot, romance, crime drama. When you make it your story it becomes as unique as you are. The demented elves like to create new styles from old structures. An example would be, when challenged to write a Haiku poem, this poet wrote it about being hung over. Not exactly award winning material, but it brought a smile to a few faces. This isn't always going to get you the big bucks (OK, so it will most likely never get you the big bucks), but maybe by trying something different you might find your own voice. It is your own voice that makes or brakes your story. Once you find your own voice, keep working on it. The great story will sell, but first you need to find it.
There is no such thing as wasted time unless you are wasting time doing something you do not enjoy or it is something you do not gain anything beneficial from. Going to work may not be enjoyable, but the paycheck is why we continue to go. As such, though we would rather be doing something else, the time is not wasted.
But what about when we write? Do we only need to write things that we will use? Is there such a thing as wasted writing? The answer of course is a resounding NO! There is no such thing as wasted writing. Every single time you write, you are practicing. That in and of itself is reason enough to participate in throw away writing, but there are many more reasons, a few of which the Demented Elves will share.
First off, throw away writing is helpful when writer's block has set in. When there is no pressure to write anything of value, the brain is free to force the hand to write down what it wants you to write, thus dislodging the blockage you may be experiencing. This too is reason enough to take up throw away writing. but there are other reasons as well.
Another example would be, if you do throw away writing on days you are not working on your projects, you will keep the habit of daily writing. This is important. Any writer or writing instructor worth their salt will tell you daily writing is essential. Demented Elves contend that any writing will do, just as long as you are writing. Even things such as this blog post counts as daily writing. Remember the more writing you do, the better you get. The better you get at writing, the better a story teller you become. The better story teller you become, the better chance you have of selling your story. And we could go on and on and on and on.... but the Demented Elves are certain you can come up with your own reasons to participate in throw away writing. We think you get the idea.
One parting thought: All those reasons are good reasons, but my favorite reason for doing throw away writing is... IT MAY BE SOMETHING YOU WISH TO KEEP IN THE END!
In the not so distant past, the demented elves reviewed a story where things just happened. To say it plainly, there was no sense of story. It got the elves to thinking what is the story? What is story for that matter, and how does one create and convey that story?
Let us start with what story is not. Story is not a sequence of events that comes to an end. That is to say, the story is not about a man walking into a bar to have an encounter with the bartender. It is far more complex than that. It is about the man. It is about what he wants. It is about why he is entering the bar in the first place. The encounter with the bartender is merely the vehicle for the story.
Who your character is and wants to be is what drives your story. In it, things happen to your character, and hasd on who he is, he responds. Story is about change, or lack thereof, of an individual as a result of what has happened to him.
That being said the demented elves wish to ask you, what is your story about? Is it about a soldier who learns to love on the battlefield? Then all your actions, responses, and conversations need to reflect your character's lack of love at the beginning and his abundance of love at the end. Sounds easy right? But then again, if it were easy, we would have an abundance of good stories.
On a parting note the demented elves would like to remind you of a few things. First, story is not a bunch of random things that converge to a single point, nor is it what happens to your character until there is a conclusion. Story is about your character's growth, or lack of growth, while all these events are happening.
Lastly, ask yourself, what is my story about? Then ask yourself, but what is my story really about? Once you understand that, the rest will fall into place.
The demented elves have now a "long standing" argument with a friend. Perhaps it is not so much of an argument as to a different style of writing. The demented elves contend you should just get the first draft on paper and worry about everything else until after the first draft is completed. The friend either ignores this advice or comes up with a reason as to why he must edit as he goes. While it is up to the author to find a writing style that works for himself, the style of getting the words on the page is the first rule no matter the style.
There are many different styles of writing. Almost as many as there are types of documents and stories out there (maybe even more). That said, the most important rule is to write. Get it in the page. The problem with editing as you write the first draft is that you are writing from the critical part of your brain and not the creative part. Not only does this slow you down, but often it prevents you from completing your task, and thus, you never finish your story. the demented elves ask that no matter what you are writing, please finish what you start. You may have the next greatest story ever told, but if you do not finish, no one will enjoy your story.
After a ray nasty cold, I have found myself off task after being on a roll. I have found myself in a place where gettingbback into the rhythm and discipline of writing has become a bigger task than the actual writing. I know thatiI am not alone, that many writers find themselves in a similar position when life gets in the way of our well planned week. So how does one stay on task, how do you get restarted once you get off target, and what difference does it make anyway?
To answer the first question, one has to look within. Writing takes self discipline, and what motivates us is as individual as we are. There is no right answer to this, so you have to find what works for you. If find solid deadlines work best for me, but for you, a hard deadline my have no meaning. You have to discover your own motivation, create your own routine, and stick with it. Some say it takes 21 days to make a knew habit or break an old one. That's three weeks if that sounds better for you. Certainly not a long time to get into a writing habit.
But what do you do when you get out of the habit? After all, we are only human. The demented elves suggest you go back to step one and look inward, find what motivates you and work on that writing habit again. If you did it once, you can do it again. And no matter what remember your goals.
What difference does it make? The difference is finishing your work or not. If you do not stay on task, you may never finish, or it may take a long time to do so. It also takes you out of your own story and it may take an additional time to remember what it was you were writing in the first place. The demented elves will agree with the experts that say, write everyday. There is no one way to do it, so find the one that works for you and continue to write, write, write!
I have read a lot of books on writing, and while plot points tend to be discussed more so with film and TV, it is something any writer may wish to think about, especially if one is struggling with the plot. For the most part, plot points are discussed in fairly similar terms (though I have seen them called other things); however, regardless of how they are explained they are pretty much the same concept.
Plot points are simply moments in your story that are life changing. Not for the author, but for the protagonist. I have often times heard it as moments that take your story in a new direction, but I believe it is more than that. Consider a story where the protagonist moves to a new city and gets a job. While that is a life changing event, it is not going keep the interest of your audience as this is a common occurrence. When making your plot points more intense than reality captures the audience's attention. To make a move more intense, you could move her into a home with an old man that hates women, and he is not afraid to let her know that at every possible moment. Or perhaps you could focus on work. Imagine your farm boy finds out that the fabulous job offer was nothing more than a con and he is now penniless in a strange city where he doesn't know the language. Either choice will keep your audience because now the protagonist has just had a life changing event that leaves him or her with a dilemma.
Demented elves believe that each plot point should bring more pressure than the last. Think for a moment and turn up the heat. That is what makes the story more interesting. It is all well and good that the heroine has to learn to live with someone that hates her, but then what? After a while, it gets old. So know that the story needs a new direction, what if the old man gets kidnapped? What if the heroine is the only one the kidnappers will talk to? Now we have a new direction with a new dilemma. One that will force the protagonist to make an even more difficult choice. The more demented the plot point, the more the audience will be interested in the story.
The three act structure has three. Each one should be more demented than the next. Each one should present the protagonist with a life changing dilemma. They do not have to be unbelievable, unreasonable, or involving fictitious creatures, but they do have to be extraordinary. When thinking out your plot points make them as interesting as possible.
It is the opinion of the demented elves that profanity is the sign of weak writing. In all honesty, a good writer can think of better words for a character to use than those wonderful "four letter words" we use in real life. It has also been observed that movies, books, and other forms of entertainment do not do as well when they are riddled with words that are otherwise found as offensive to more sensitive ears. As a writer, you are better off using little or no profanity.
Now comes the argument of "but to leave it out is not realistic." There are moments in writing when using any words simply will not do. For instance, when Indiana Jones was standing on a rope bridge spanning across this deep canyon and the bad guys were at either end of the bridge, it would have been unrealistic for him to say "oh fluffy muffins." So, Mr. Jones lets out a curse word, after all, who wouldn't; however, it is noted that out of the entire movie, that is the only time he uses profanity. A rule of thumb is, if you can think of something better to say, please do. The overuse of these colorful expressions take the audience out of your story.
Should you insist that there is nothing wrong with the proliferation of profanity in your work, ask yourself this, would you want your boss to read it? Your mother? How about your pastor/priest/rabbi/etc? No? Then why use it. Use your creative writing skills to come up with better language than that.
Every author wants to write it. The one liner that is Remembered and oft repeated. It is possible for all writers to write theirs. It really isn't that difficult. All one has to do is remember a few things.
First of all dialogue needs to sound natural. A juvenile delinquent would not use formal language any more than a politician would use street slang. Knowing who your characters are helps with how they speak. A word to the wise, if you are unfamiliar with the way a certain group of people speak, do not simply make it up. It will come across as insincere and phony. It is better to do a little research.
Another way to have better dialogue is to listen. Not so much as to what people are saying, but how they are saying it. The demented elves know that sometimes the best oneliner is the one spoken unintentionally, usually an off the cuff remark. It is highly recommended that should you hear that precious gem uttered, write it down. You never know when you will want to use it. Keeping a log of phrases will also help with getting a feel for natural language.
One last item to remember, as a story is an extension of the author himself, it is not a bad idea to put yourself in the shoes of the characters you create. Ask yourself, " what would I say in this situation?". It may make the process of writing dialogue easier. It will also flow more natural because the author is being himself.
The recent purchase of a new cellphone has brought the demented elves to a realization. One that will divert attention away from the storytelling process itself and address a common dilemma many writers have, most of us new writers that is: What app or software should I use?
When it comes to apps, one should use caution. This isn't just for writing apps, this the rule for any app will promise you the world, but many, especially the free ones, simply don't deliver. In fact, many do nothing. My suggestion to you is, read what they say it will do and then read the reviews. That will tell you if it is something you would use. A word of caution though, don't believe all the reviews you read since there are always sour grapes and those that don't like anything. I suggest you read all the reviews and look for common problems in each. In the end, you have to find what works for you.
When it comes to software, there is a lot out there, and depending on what you want to write depends on the software you need. Obviously, if you are simply writing letters, reports, or even magazine articles, all you need is a word processing program. For that matter, an old fashioned typewriter might suite your fancy. These are all items that do not require any specialized formatting or elements. If you are a writing a novel, you may wish to stick with the word processing; however, you have to work with what makes you happy. As for formatting software, the demented elves have one piece of advice: Test drive the different software using the demo programs before spending a penny. many are quite costly and it would be a shame to spend money only to find out it wasn't what you wanted. In regards to making any recommendations for software, the demented elves will not do so because each has something different to offer and it all is a matter of writer preference.
In the end, whether it is for learning to write or for formatting, one must find the apps and software that works for the individual. There is no one right way to do things (unless it is the format of the document itself). That said, remember buyers remorse can be painful so know what you are buying, even the free stuff. Just remember, there is no substitute for hard work, so there is no magic app (or software) that will write your story for you. Have fun with the programs, but put in the work.