Writing Tips Megathread

A beta reader or writing advisor who helps a writer with writing minority groups that the writer doesn’t belong to. For instance, race, orientation/gender, or disability.

I’m pretty sure I’ve made some missteps in one area.

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This is a bit of a complicated question… I know that there’s a type of novel which is called an " epistolary novels" which means they use letters or depending on the era of the book- anything from journal entries, to telegrams (in more modern novels, they might use email) to help move the story along. For instance both Frankenstein and Dracula books are epistolary. novels-since in the former we have letters from both Dr. Frankenstein, and The Monster and we have with Dracula,- Harker’s journal entries, his letters to Mina, a news article and Van Helsing’s telegrams. A more modern version which might be consider this is “Love, Simon”, since it uses email as a way to tell the story

So the question is How much “found material” (letters, journal entries, emails or telegrams, or news articles) does there have to be to be consider an epistolary novel?

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I don’t think there is a hard-and-fast rule. However, my gut response is “all of it”. I’m familiar with the examples you gave. I just finished Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, which consists of journals, letters, sworn statements, and even inscriptions from grave markers— nothing from a first- or third-person narrator. I’m not sure exactly how you would inject a narrator into the mass of other epistolary content and make it work.

I just thought of a couple of exceptions, though: Fred Saberhagen’s The Holmes-Dracula File and Séance for a Vampire. Both incorporate Dr. Watson’s memoirs as well as first-person narration by Dracula. The first book gives them alternating chapters, while the second book has a looser format (IIRC). However, the Watson memoir is the only epistolary content.

As a memoir, not a journal, it may not be considered epistolary because it doesn’t have the same feeling of being written as the events took place. On the other hand, you could say the same thing about the very lengthy letters in Frankenstein.

Years ago, I wrote an epistolary short story in the form of emails. I really need to see if I still have a copy…

I was just wondering because in the series I’m reading (Invisible Library) that after book 1- the other books -the beginning of the book sort of something similar to a “prologue”, is some kind of “found material”- in 2 cases it’s email, and in another there were 2 “found material” -like a travel advisory for the Liberians and a letter from one world’s Victoria London Sherlock Holmes detective to his Inspector friend in Scotland Yard

I wouldn’t think of that as an epistolary novel; I think your description is correct, it’s a regular novel with an epistolary prologue.

By the way, I would recommend The Woman in White; it’s in the public domain, so you can get it for free from Project Gutenberg. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins - Free Ebook

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I read his other work The Moonstone and it was really good

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I’ll have to add that to my list!

I’m embarrassed to admit that, until recently, I thought Wilkie Collins was a woman. I have no clue as to how I got that impression.

sorry I forgot to mention but apparently something I found online about The Moonstone book, is somewhere in the novel, there’s a scene where the Detective asks someone why he’s writing about what’s happening and the person explains why. Basically the only novel that sort of explains the point of the epistolary

But I shouldn’t talk since I use letters, blog posts, to tell My SimLit, as well as songs

I’m just about to write Chapter 7.9… but 7.13 is titled after this site because of some skits being performed in Drama class

The Woman in White keeps teasing you with statements like “The circumstances and reason for this affidavit will be explained later”. So that’s kind of the same thing.

I guess we should stop hogging this thread and let folks talk some more about general writing tips.

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I have a 2 part question in regards to writing stories.

In a good vs evil story how do writers deal with a situation(s) where a good character* has to commit (do something bad), in order to defeat (undermine) the villian?

Since by having the good character doing something bad, doesn’t it make them bad as well, or is there a grey area for good characters?

I know of one example but I will put it under a spoiler In the Harry Potter books in the last one the title character uses 2 Unforgiveable Spells-one was The Imperius Curse, and the other was The Cruciatus Curse

*I only said a good character because it could be the hero/heroine, or it could be one of their friends on their side.

For me, that depends on three factors.

Firstly, is it necessary and in service to a higher goal? Are there other ways they can accomplish the same goal? If they’re doing something that they know is bad and they have another option, that doesn’t speak highly of their morality.

Secondly, does the character know it’s a bad thing and if so, how long does it take them to decide on it? If someone doesn’t know something is bad, or their morality system states that it’s fine to do that thing, then they can’t really be held accountable. That being said, they can still face consequences for it. If they do know it’s wrong and they’re a good person, I’d expect to see agonizing over the situation before doing it, or a very extreme situation where anyone would snap. But again, even if they’re in that situation, there should still be consequences.

Thirdly, what are the consequences for doing it? If the character faces significant consequences for it, or carries guilt with them for doing it, then that helps the case significantly. Especially the case if they doubt whether they could have done something else in that situation.

The answers to these questions determine whether they can still be considered good characters. I’d say the third one is the most important in keeping characters good or gray, morally. Even if they do something bad because it’s justified and they don’t know what it does or they agonize over the decision before making it, it means nothing if they just go on with their daily lives afterwards. Besides, from a writing standpoint, it’s just bad writing to ignore it because you can get a lot of mileage out of that. They feel guilty, other characters distrust them (rightly or wrongly) after making a horrible decision, the legal system might be after them (or it exposes corruption in the legal system if they’re willing to forgive the character because they’re on the side of good), and so on.

So for your example, only one instance would be justified. There were three Unforgiveable spells: two Imperius (the Death Eater they ran into on the way to the bank and the goblin who got suspicious of them) and one Cruciatus (Carrow). Putting the goblin under the Imperius was justified because it was necessary to keep the plan going, but the others were not. They could have dealt with the Death Eater some other way, like just knocking him out - Hermione was disguised as Bellatrix, who is known for having a short temper and a violent streak, so randomly cursing another Death Eater wouldn’t be out of character for her. That being said, since it was in service to a greater goal, it might have been okay if there had been legal or emotional consequences from it. The Cruciatus is entirely crossing the line. It was completely unnecessary and even treated as laudable by the narrative. Because, as repeatedly demonstrated in HP and JKR’s public life, everything is okay if the “good guys” do it, but nothing is okay if the “bad guys” do it. I mean, arguably Hagrid is more of a villain in the first book than Malfoy is, and Hermione more than Marietta in the fifth book, but we like those two so they get away with the heinous things they do.

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Thank you for that.

And I came across after I posted that question, a example from another novel of a good character commiting a crime of sorts in order to right the wrong that has happened.

In Treasure Island, in order for the ship to get back in the hands of the “legal” people aka the good people, the protagonist, Jim Hawkins has to commit an act of piracy in order to do that.

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A tip that everyone will hate, but also it works: if you have writer’s block, change the font to Comic Sans to get the words flowing. I don’t know why this works, but it does for a lot of people.

Just be sure to change it to another font before you send it for feedback.

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I used to do that all the time. I honestly don’t dislike comic sans. Stopped because I would keep forgetting to change the font when I exported the pdfs, and my betas were not happy lol.

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Even changing the font size or margins will help you see things a bit differently. I use this trick for proofreading.

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If you want to know how to describe something in your writing, I suggest doing what I do when I am writing for product descriptions. When I have to write a product description all I have to go on is a picture.

Therefore I write the description as if the person who is reading it is blind. Keep in mind, however, that when you’re writing unless it’s a children’s picture book or something on the cover that no one knows what is in your head.

Characters

How does the character look?
How tall are they?
What color is their eyes, hair, skin, etc?
Are they thin or heavy?
Muscular?
Is their voice soft or gravely?

Scene

What’s the weather like? Is it cold/hot?
What’s the season?
Is the sun shining?
Is it raining/snowing? Is the wind blowing?
Is it inside or outside?
Is food cooking? How does it smell?
Are people eating? How does it taste? Spicy, crunchy, sweet?
Are people talking? Are they excited? Mad? Happy?

These are just a few of the things you want to incorporate into your writing. Remember you know what you see in your head. Your readers do not.

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Also, if you’re writing from the point of view of your character, what would the character notice? If your character is an elf or lives around a lot of elves, then when they meet another elf, they would not make a big deal over the pointy ears or whatever other features elves typically have. You could probably just get away with saying that the other person was clearly an elf. A human meeting an elf for the first time might. If the elf thought they were talking to a human wearing a hood and the hood comes off to reveal another elf, they might be surprised and make note of the ears. But if the character is used to strange things, they should describe them casually.

Similarly, even if it’s commonplace to you, it doesn’t mean it is to the character. If the POV character is an elf, they might be surprised at a human’s rounded ears and make extra note of that in their description. Describing ordinary things as strange and unusual does a lot to demonstrate that the character isn’t used to them. By describing what’s abnormal, you can indirectly describe what’s normal; if someone thinks human eyes look weird because the non-white part always remains the same size, then what does that imply about their own eyes? And it can be fun to write things from a new perspective. I recently had a character encounter pants (trousers) for the first time, to great confusion.

Having two characters describe the same thing differently, or one character describes it and another reacts differently, can show off the character as well. Suppose two characters order the same dish. The POV character thinks it’s pretty good/maybe needs salt while another is dying of spiciness and chugging milk. If it’s raining, a grouchy person will describe the weather as trying to drench people while a happy person will describe it as watering the flowers. A random person looks at a magic workshop and notes how strange it is, while a mage looks at it and notes what the implements are used for. A standing person describes a shelf as low, but a wheelchair user describes the shelf as high. A tired person might miss way more details than someone who’s fully awake.

Basically, think of what someone would notice and what they would think are the most important parts about that thing.

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Very good point.

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I’m get really confused. But what’s the difference between a “Regular” comma, and an “Oxford Comma” since to me, they’re basically the same thing?

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Oxford comma is before the “and” in a list. Example:

I am eating a burger, chips , and onion rings.

That bolded comma is the Oxford comma, and any other comma is a regular comma.

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