Er, so, um, this is a bit of an unusual contribution to this thread I think, since it covers a more specific topic commonly botched by newbie writers: Suicidal characters. Naturally this is going under a spoilercut due to sensitive content.
Spoiler:- Suicide Talk:
OK, so as someone who's dealt a lot with suicidal idealizations and has attempted to take his own life more than once, and has channeled his feelings and experiences with it all through his writing as a form of recovery and catharsis, I felt I should give my fellow writers some advice on how to tackle suicidal characters because they're commonly mishandled.
First off, never use this kind of thing for cheap drama. Really, nothing should be used for cheap drama, not even good ol' character death or character cripplement, but for a character contemplating or worse actually taking their own life it must be handled especially carefully and in an appropriate manner. (Rape is in a similar, probably even worse boat.)
Second, well, I should start with the unfortunately common notion that people who commit suicide are weak-willed or idiotic. That is decidedly not true; the whole offing yourself intentionally thing is a lot harder than it sounds in multiple respects and takes a lot of mediation - and in the end, it's still pretty scary. Like, trying to OD myself - I don't know how long I stared at that bowl of pills thinking over wheither the hell it was going to work or not and that there was no going back if it did. Aaand there are the complications of trying to throw myself into traffic or goad cops into shooting me that are significantly harder to put into words.
But what I can put coherently into words is I still damn well wanted death. You generally have to really, really be beaten psychologically into a pulp to ever get to the point where you'd ever want to literally throw your own life away, but once you hit that point it sounds like something merciful. You don't care about the goddamn metaphysical roulette of whether or not you'll end up on a sunny cloud or in a fiery pit or as absolutely nothing at all or anything else, you just want release from the horrible psychological suffering you're feeling every goddamn day.
Why? Because you feel like you're worthless. Your life means nothing, you're a detriment to others in your life, everything that weighs on your psyche is dragging you down and you just want to semi-literally self-destruct.
As you can guess, it's awful. Really awful. A pit you need a lot of genuine support to drag yourself out of. I managed to get it, even when I veered closest to actually doing it with that OD attempt. My friends from another community saved my life there. A lot of people aren't as lucky.
So please, keep all that in mind when writing a suicidal character - and seek the advice of other survivors like me. One particular tool I like is using some allegory for suicide to keep things more subdued - rather than actual death, the character seeks a death-like state to free them from their suffering - I once interpreted a suicidal character once subsumed by their dark side as feeling such.
And that's all. Hopefully that was helpful, if decidedly heavy.
Last edited by Umbramatic; 26th July 2016 at 6:48 PM.
We're Legendaries. It's just a vacation to another world. What could possibly go wrong?
(Chapter 5 up! Lovely banner by American--Pi.) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Plasbad
Two young men join up with Team Plasma eager to help the cause, but find out via others in the organization - particularly N - that they aren't quite in on what they signed up for.
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First piece of advice: Keep in mind that some clichés are clichés because everyone uses them for no apparent reason, and some clichés are clichés because they are the Phillips screwdriver in the toolbox of writing. For instance, most of the stories you'll find involve an evil force rising first, and then a hero setting out to defeat it. You won't often read a story where a hero sets off to find an evil force to defeat. There are a few notable examples of the latter, such as Don Quixote, but that kind of story requires a certain type of main character. My point is, don't be afraid to do something that's been done a lot before.
Second piece of advice: Keep in mind that rules are made for breaking. Obviously I'm not talking about grammatical rules; I speak here of the writing guidelines that everyone takes for granted. Telling the story from the main character's POV. Making sure people get character development before someone kills them. Even telling your story from the beginning and going forward in time rather than starting from the end and going backward. Even having a heroic character at all. These are the kind of "screwdriver clichés" that I told you above not to be scared of. So what's my point in contradicting myself? Well, I'm not. I'm just telling you that, while you shouldn't fear the screwdriver, you also shouldn't be afraid of throwing the whole toolbox out the window and trying to build that bookshelf out of origami hats stuck together with toothpaste. It's definitely harder to pull off, but if you can manage it, that's awesome.
Third piece of advice: Do not hastily rewrite your story from first-person to third-person. Trust me, I learned this the hard way.
Recently I decided to try to get back into writing again, and I had some ideas that really appealed to me, so I sat down to write the first chapter of a new story. Before I realized it, I had an eleven page monstrosity on my hands, and absolutely no idea how to even begin to trim it down. I could put it out the way it sits, but if every other chapter ends up being of a similar length, I have a full length novel on my hands instead of what I intended to be a relatively short story, and if I cut down on the length of future chapters, the first chapter is going to stick out like a sore thumb.
So here I am looking for advice. Does anyone have any tips for trimming down lengthier chapters? Should I perhaps try to divide it into two separate chapters? Or maybe I should just suck it up and write a much longer story than I was originally planning to?
Eleven pages really isn't all that long, heh. Unfortunately there aren't any shortcuts to trimming chapters that you think are too long; it's always a question of what's extraneous, what you can get rid of without affecting the larger story.
Splitting a big chapter into two, like you mentioned, is always an option. In your particular case, though, I don't know that it's a great option. You say that you're worried about ending up with something novel-length instead of relatively short. Chopping the chapter in half will get you a shorter chapter, but it's not going to reduce the total length of the story, so it's not going to prevent a case of "oops-I-accidentally-a-novel."
As far as actually removing material goes, there are a couple things to look for. First is redundancy: are there any scenes, paragraphs, sentences, words that say something already addressed elsewhere in the chapter, or which will be addressed later on in the story? For example, if Mary's supposed to be afraid of bugs, how many scenes do you need showing her being afraid of bugs? If you have a scene showing her reacting in fear to bugs, perhaps you don't need that sentence that explicitly says "I hate bugs," or whatever. There's a difference between showing some important aspect of a character's personality and beating a dead horse by banging on that personality trait over and over again.
Another is looking for material that's outright extraneous. Are there any scenes that have no bearing on the larger plot? A common one in trainerfics is the random trainer battle: the gang fights some bug catcher or whatever, nothing particularly important happens in the battle itself, and then the fight is never referenced again afterwards. At that point the battle is just taking up words; you could delete it and no one would ever guess that it had been there in the first place. Long stretches of dialogue are another common culprit. With any conversation, you have to keep the point in mind. Is there plot-relevant information being discussed? Are new aspects of the characters being shown? If not, you can probably delete the conversation without worrying that you're losing anything important.
Descriptive passages are also a common source of bloat, especially in beginners' fics. They're very useful for conveying information quickly, setting the tone, and making the world of the story feel richer and more vivid. But I would say that writers have a tendency to go overboard here. The issue with description is focus; you want to choose the most telling details in any situation and lose the rest, which will just swamp the important bits and overall be less effective than a concise, pointed description. Some common culprits in this area are unnecessary character description--does it matter what color hair that minor character who's never going to be seen again has? Does anyone care what brand sneakers the protagonist is wearing?--and unnecessary environmental description. If the characters are simply passing through a place and won't return, if they're going to do minimal interacting with it, if it's straight up not very interesting, you probably don't need to talk about it. Pokémon center lobbies are common examples of places that receive unnecessary description. No one cares if there are couches if none of the characters are going to be doing anything with them.
Finally, you might consider not deleting scenes, but rather moving them to a later chapter. Like splitting the chapter, this doesn't get around the problem of the total number of words in the story, but if you're concerned about having one monster chapter next to a bunch of short ones, it can help you distribute your words more evenly. You might consider, for example, whether that bit of character backstory can be revealed later without messing anything up, or if that conversation about Team Rocket would be better placed right before they show up.
In general I would say don't worry too much about chapter length--eleven pages is far from insufferably long, and what's really most important is the structure of the chapter itself. You want to make sure that each chapter contributes something to the larger narrative, and has its own small arc; generally, you want something, whether the situation or some aspect of a character, to be different at the end of it than at the beginning. You also want some kind of small climax that the chapter can build towards and then resolve from. I'd say those aspects are more important than length, unless you're getting really gratuitous. If you're going for thirty or more pages or less than one page I'd say, generally, that you'd better have a sound artistic reason for it. But eleven pages is a nice size for most readers, I think.
The question is always, what's important? Is what I'm including in this chapter all pulling towards a common goal, or is what I'm really trying to get across (a plot or character development, an aspect of theme) getting lost in extraneous words? Like I said, there aren't really any hard rules here; it's all up to your own judgement. But hopefully I've given you a few ideas to play around with.
Oh, and as far as writing a longer story than you wanted to... well, if you can't think of a way to shorten it, you might be stuck with that. Some initially-small ideas grow up really big, and you really can't control it. If that's what you end up with, yeah, you might just have to write the big 'fic. But you can always shelve this idea for now and write something shorter instead, then return when you're in the mood for a larger story.
Last edited by Negrek; 30th October 2016 at 10:00 PM.
In which an undead trainer, a bloodthirsty super-clone, and an irascible ex-Rocket grunt set out to rescue an imprisoned Mew--if they don't end up murdering each other first.