Department of Writing Studies:
1 – Introduction
Welcome to the Shadow Academy’s Writing Studies course. This course will go over some of the key points of writing fiction in the DB, some of the common errors, and what steps can be taken to avoid them. It is important to remember that fiction is never an exact science; the objective of this course is primarily to assist the less able writers of the brotherhood to write fictions that stand a better chance of competing in the brotherhood’s fiction events. Individual descriptive techniques, for example metaphor, are not the focus of the course, the focus is mainly on the format of your piece.
2 – Titles
Something that readers take for granted in published stories, no matter if they are novellas or short stories or poems, is a title. A name to your writing can enable readers to immediately know what it is about, appreciate the finer nuances of the topic and go deeper into the story. It will also help you to explain the theme of your story.
Unfortunately, a lot of writers in the DB do not put a title to their stories. Some simply assume that the topic to write about would replace the title. But this is not always true, and even if it is, you are still expected to write the topic as a title on top of your story. This shows you aren’t simply too lazy to think of something, but just take what is given.
Another reason not to put a title can be the inability to find an appropriate title. But in such a case, you are still supposed to announce the beginning of your writing – either by putting “No Title” as title, or by putting (...) to show you cannot, at this point, title your story. This shows you have not just forgotten about it, and it helps eventual judges and readers to get a feeling of beginning.
If you chose the title for your writing, the topic and the style in which you write may make a difference. For example, there is a poem called “Friendship” which describes the relationship between a cat and it’s human friend. A part of it describes the homecoming of the human:
In a field
Covered with snow
I can clearly see
Her slender body
White and brown.
Now, if not for the title, you would probably wonder about this description. The field is white and brown, due to the snow, so to clearly see a cat with the same color is a bit of a trick. However, as they are close friends, it is possible. The man knows where his cat is. The title gives you the information needed – two friends close enough to know each other under all circumstances.
It works the same way in stories. A title makes the readers curious, shows them what to expect in some limits and prepares them to absorb the information you present. As to how to chose your title, there are various methods. Some writers try to chose titles before they write a single word, as it helps them to focus. Others write the whole piece and then decide on a fitting title. Both methods are equally valid.
3 – Prologue/Epilogue
A prologue is a small piece of writing that is presented at the beginning of a report or a story. It is designed to open communication between you and your readers. In some, but not all stories, you may want to use a prologue. Prologues are helpful to prepare your readers by describing the atmosphere of the place it is set, the protagonists and probably the events that led to your characters being where they are. It can also describe events which have happened before the time your story is set in – such as the reason for a character’s quest.
It can be a paragraph or a few pages long, depending on the size of the story, but it should never evolve into a completed story of it’s own. It must be easy for the reader to transfer over from the prologue to the main story. Thus, no suspense is needed unless it directly pertains to the main part of the story. In many cases, the prologue and the main part blend into each other, without the reader really noticing. In some cases, it can even happen within one paragraph, although this is not a recommended practice. You can use this method to bring a certain point across, for example if your character is surprised or ambushed. In other cases, the prologue is a chapter in itself, which will be discussed later.
There are situations when you don’t want a prologue. You may start a situation with a lot of action, either to directly lead over to a more quiet set up and then explaining the situation. And introduction to the situation would take the drive of it in such a case.
Many of those principles also hold true for an epilogue, except that it is placed at the end of your story and deals with concluding the tale. In it you could tell your readers about the potentially interesting things happening to your character after their adventure is over, such as getting married and living happily ever after.
4 – Chapters
Not all writings need chapters, of course. For a story only a few pages long, it is usually not needed to divide it up. When a writing begins to develop into a long plot, however, chapters are a great help to mark turning points or different perspectives of a story. It also helps you to transition between different locations in a tale without confusing your readers.
If you have a strong title for your story and don’t want anything else to conflict with it, or if the chapters aren’t very long, it will do to number them. Should you decide to give them names, simply follow the guidelines for a story title. Chapter names don’t have to be consistent in style; in fact, some very well known authors change from one word titles to sentence long titles within the same tale. As long as it fits with the story, there is no problem with it.
The length of a chapter should generally be more than one page, as it is expected to carry you over a certain time frame. Of course, there can be derivations from this rule as well. If you read Stephen King’s ‘The Dark Tower’ series, you will note at least one chapter containing only one sentence. This is something that only has an effect in long tales though, and should not be attempted without a very good foundation. In the average story, a somewhat equal chapter length makes the most sense.
5 – Styles
From the different ways to deal with chapters, we have a transition to writing styles in general. While in theory, no style is wrong as such, there are some styles which are not widely accepted by readers, either for general reading difficulty, or because of trouble to follow the story.
Hard to read, for example, are sentences that do not seem to stop, even when going over a whole paragraph, giving the reader no chance to rest eyes and mind and involve reading the whole paragraph in case of a disturbance or loss of thought, so it is a bad thing to do unless you want to lose your readers early on, and of course it won’t win any competitions.
The above sentence should prove the point. Even one such sentence can be confusing. There is only one case in which such an approach is tolerable and sometimes needed, and that is when one of your characters’ minds is running too fast to concentrate. If this happens, it is best to clearly mark the process as thoughts.
Even too short is bad. It feels interrupted. Disturbing. Tiring to read. Especially over some pages. It stresses the mind. Too many new starts. Hard to give meaning to things. Limits your expression. You might lose readers earlier.
There are, of course, situations in which you can use short sentences – a hectic scene which has your character running from something. An intro needing precise wordings. Short sentences may be used more often than seemingly endless ones, but aren’t suppose to last longer than a paragraph or two. As with long sentences, it needs to make sense. If you aren’t sure if to use overly long or very short sentences, don’t.
6 – Tenses