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 Ð 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 its 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 Ð such as the reason for a characterÕs 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 its 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 Ð 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

Most stories are written in past tense. This is for the simple reason that most people can easily identify with the happenings of a former time than with something happening right now. The common exception to this is in role playing. Here, many players write present tense, as they are in the situation right then.

This is an example of how the past tense is often more effective in telling an action based story than the present tense, from The Best of the ACC battle between Telona and Saitou. This is from a post by Telona.

Saitou spun his lightsaber. Telona was still unhappy about the plant they had trampled. The sound of her whip sliding to the ground whispered in the still air. She was definitely unhappy yet she still grinned that strange menacing grin. Telona flicked her wrist and sent a wave down the whip.

In present tense:

Saitou spins his lightsaber. Telona is still unhappy about the plant they had trampled. The sound of her whip sliding to the ground whispers in the still air. She is definitely unhappy yet she still grins that strange menacing grin. Telona flicks her wrist and sends a wave down the whip.

From reading both paragraphs it is clear that the past tense more naturally lends itself to storytelling, and this is why nearly every published novel is written in the past tense.

In the Brotherhood, many of the role playing related writings take place in the ACC or in run-ons. As those types of writings are generally considered normal stories, past tense is generally used. If you find that your writing partners all use past tense, don't use present tense! Not only does it kill continuity in a standard run-on, it is also hard to read. If you are writing an ACC battle and would like to use present tense, ask your opponent to go along with it.

If you decide to write a story or poem in present tense, be consistent. For poems, it is easier to do, because poems reflect the soul of the writer much more and can be done in many different forms without the reader having trouble with it. With a story, it becomes harder to convey your thoughts and convince your audience. It is more intense to read about the here and now. Try it by looking at any novel and transfer it to present tense in your mind.

Thus, stories using present tense should not be long. If you are use to writing stories and run-on parts in present tense, you may want to adapt to past tense. Once used to past tense, you will most likely find writing easier.

7 - Point of View

The point of view of a story is something that is helpful to decide before you start writing. The vast majority of fiction pieces are written in the third person. Third person writing allows the reader to envision the scene from an onlooker's viewpoint. Third person is useful in the vast majority of stories, and if you don't know what else to use, third person is usually the best option.

The other option, first person, is written from the viewpoint of a character, usually the main one, although some popular writers prefer to write from the viewpoint of a less central character observing the main one. A notable example of this is the Sherlock Holmes stories, written from the viewpoint of Watson, an ally of Holmes. First person is useful for a philosophical story in which deep analysis of the thoughts of the main character is important (e.g. The Wasp Factory by Ian Banks). This is why it is more commonly seen in poetry rather than prose, the intimacy with the character is more often used in poetry than a fiction which, in the Brotherhood especially, is often action based.

In general, action based, dynamic verbs are best suited to third person, whereas static verbs such as 'thought' or 'believed' are better suited to first person. Third person is often much easier to write than first person, and so is the recommended viewpoint for less experienced writers.

Here's an example of how the First Person can be effective in thought tracking, an extract from Iain Banks' 'The Wasp Factory'.

Two years after I killed Blyth I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different and more fundamental reasons than I'd disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did for my young cousin Esmerelda, more or less on a whim. That's my score to date. Three. I haven't killed anybody for years, and don't intend to ever again. It was just a stage I was going through

Converted to third person, this reads:

Two years after he killed Blyth he murdered his young brother Paul, for quite different and more fundamental reasons than he'd disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that he did for his young cousin Esmerelda, more or less on a whim. That's his score to date. Three. He hasn't killed anybody for years, and doesn't intend to ever again. It was just a stage he was going through.

It's quite clear to see how seeing these thought processes from the viewpoint of the main character makes his behaviour seem even more heartless, there's no emotion or regret for what he's done.

8 - Continuity

Continuity is a word you'll hear a lot regarding run-ons and ACC, where lots of little bits of fiction are put together to make a bigger piece, and each writer must make sure that they are following the story and know what's already been written, but it is equally important in standalone fictions.

There are two main types of continuity errors that can occur in singular fictions. The first is when what you've written contradicts the accepted Brotherhood canon. The severity of these errors ranges from the insignificant (getting a lightsaber color wrong) to fiction-crippling errors like getting the species and character wrong of one of the more important characters in the story. These errors are all easily rectified by the same process. Read the DJBWiki. That's all there is to it; make sure what you're writing fits in with Brotherhood fiction. Also, check out the dossiers of anyone you include. Get things like rank right, and race, even Character Sheet attributes. Make sure if you include a character, you do so within what is written on their character sheet and dossier.

The second type of continuity error arises when you contradict yourself, rather than anything that anyone else has written. This is often a result of poor planning, or none at all. If you land at a building on Coruscant, don't walk out the door into the streets of Nar Shaddaa. Usually the errors are more subtle than that, but a keen eyed reader will spot the error and think 'what happened there', which will usually cost dearly in a closely contested competition. Planning and proof-reading are the simplest ways to avoid these kind of errors. Make sure you know what's going to happening in the story before you start writing it, or read it afterwards to make sure you don't contradict yourself without meaning to. Alternatively, get someone else to read it for you

9 - Length

In a lot of fictions, the length is given in the topic, but if it isn't, it's something that needs to be paid thought, rather than writing blindly and not knowing where you're going to finish. Length is one of the things that can be very difficult to judge when you start writing, but in general, if you're going to have a complicated plot with a bit of a twist to it, you should be looking at 3 or 4 pages at the least to build the story enough so the twist comes as a shock. A plot twist in a 200 word fiction has the 'so what' effect for the reader. Similarly, if the fiction is just a fight scene, you don't want to lead the reader off onto a 10 page description of what the walls looked like with very little actually happening.

Most of the time, the problem is that fictions are too short. If you're one of the people who struggles with longer fictions, from the very start, fill everything with as much detail as you can, and use longer sentences. Dialogue can also help to pad out the fiction, often the fictions that are too short a read, much like a newspaper article. Get in depth with the story, put in some dialogue, description, and from the start make sure you're not going through the story too quickly.

Fiction that's too long is an easier problem to solve. Chances are you have a lot of redundant words that you could do without, or sentences that could be worded more efficiently. Fictions that go on too long often have run-on sentences (mentioned in style) that could be expressed in a much shorter sentence. If you read your fiction over and think 'alright, there's nothing I could take out without robbing the story of some meaning', then it's not too long. An important thing is not to look at the number of pages in the fiction, look at the content of it. If your fiction consists solely of you killing someone insignificant and you have seven pages written, take a look at whether what you're saying is important and cut it down. If your war epic has betrayal, deception and tragedy with a romantic side plot, and still only spans two pages, it could probably do with more development.

10 - Characters

This is something that's seen time and time again by regular competition hosts, very cliche behaviour from characters that all seem the same. Often characters blur together because they all talk and act the same, and the only difference between characters A and B is their names. This can get very dull for the reader, and robs your characters, and in doing so, your story, of any personality or feeling. An effective way to stop this from happening is through small clauses of description.

Adverbs are a huge help in giving your characters a sense of individuality. Consistently using synonymous adverbs to describe the actions of the same character is a very easy way of developing a character as an individual. For example, for a calm character, persistent use of words like peacefully, serenely, and other synonyms help to establish the character throughout the fiction as someone who bears those traits.

11 - Conclusion

Nothing mentioned in this course is concrete. If you're an established writer who wins their fair share of competitions, take from this what you want, the purposes of this course is by no means to re-teach you how to write. The purpose is to help those that struggle with writing to improve with simple techniques to make their writing more engaging. We hope you've enjoyed reading this, and that at some point, the content covered here will help you in your future fictions, be they competition entries or otherwise. Please take a few short minutes to test what you have learned by completing the exam listed below.

Take the exam

Please log in to take this course's exam