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The Essentials of Good Writing (Both essay AND discussion)

Posted: Tue Dec 03, 2013 10:44 am
by Giratina93
Hello, ladies and gentlemen! the latest chapter of NoED is going to come up tomorrow, and the emmies are just around the corner. So in honor of this festive writing air, I have decided to do a little essay on some of the elements of good writing. If it's well received, I may just do some more... because this will probably be a one-shot thing, this thread will also be the discussion for it. I hope you all enjoy the few nuggets of wisdom I have to offer as a vet fanfict writer of TK.

The Essentials of Good Story Making: The Protagonist and Antagonist
By (Insert Real name Here)

When it comes to writing stories, there is nothing quite like the feeling of writing something that not only is critically acclaimed as being a masterpiece, but also sells millions of copies and becomes a household word. We all know of the great novel writers of the past, like Jules Verne and C.S. Lewis, and their rousing successes they had with their stories… what is it specifically that makes these works last forever in the mind and hearts of readers? What is it that makes such works instant classics while other works fade away into obscurity as the sands of time swallow them up? What is it that defines a good story, and what is required to make such a story as it is?

These are questions every novelist needs to keep in mind when they begin the story process. For such writers, the road to fame and fortune is a perilous one, filled with dead ends and pitfall traps that can lead them into despair, or left forgotten as whatever their work ends up being is completely forgotten as the latest big hit swamps them. In order to create a good story, one must start at one of the most fundamental, basic areas of all literary works, non-fiction and fiction: The Protagonist and Antagonist.

The protagonist of a story is the main character that the audience gets to know and appreciate as the story unfolds. This sounds very basic, and you would think that creating a main character for a story would be quite simple. After all, all you need to so is make a heroic person that has a problem that needs to be solved, and done. The truth of the matter is, things are more complicated than that. You see, a protagonist doesn’t always need to be a hero. They simply need to be the main character who is trying to accomplish their goals. Such a thing exists called a Villainous Protagonist, where our central character… well, the name itself should be a dead giveaway as to what type of protagonist they can be. One example of this is Ralph from Wreck-it-Ralph, who is a villain from a video game that destroys the same building over and over, yet is still the main protagonist. However, pulling off a successful villainous protagonist can be rather hard to do, since one of the most important things any protagonist must be able to do is have the audience rooting for them ultimately. If your protagonist ends up being someone the audience cannot sympathize with or like, then why should they care for him? To latch back onto the previous example, Ralph is a nice guy who simply has a few temperamental issues and only acts villainous in his own game, since it’s his job to do so. Since we see him doing more heroic things, the audience can get behind him as the main character the plot follows. Other ways of making a villainous protagonist work is by having the antagonist, or the force that is preventing the protagonist from achieving their goals, be a far worse person than the protagonist. In the show Dexter, the character of that name is a serial killer, yet he always murders other rotten people that deserve to be killed for their far more heinous actions. As was said by one of the creators, “The biggest problem in the series is something that no amount of editing can get around: The series compels viewers to empathize with a serial killer, to root for him to prevail, to hope he doesn't get discovered” However, most protagonists aren’t villains… they are good guys who have a goal they want to have accomplished, wherever it be to save their girlfriend from evil, or deliver a package on time, or to just enjoy a journey across the world.

This, however, can lead to a different problem, especially if you want your character to have as few problems as possible with themselves. You could end up with a character that is flawless in every conceivable way, who always gets what they want, even if it means forcing the very laws of the universe they live in to bend backwards to allow that to happen, or so the reader concludes. These are known as Mary Sues, named after such a character in a Star Trek Fanfiction who popularized the concept (A Trekkie’s Tale, 1974). This is one of the easiest, most ancient writing traps a new and inexperienced writer can fall into, and it can devastate what might otherwise have the potential to be a good story. Mary sues as such are characters that are, for the most part, flawless. They have no faults, they have no problems, they are the most beautiful, perfect thing the world has ever seen, and they, for the most part, are outright boring characters to deal with. Superman, controversial as that statement can be, is a character one could say is a Mary Sue in his own right. As a super hero, the man is nigh indestructible, gains super powers out the wazzo that conveniently stop whatever the problem is, and his only weakness is so specific and so out there, that really, if Kryptonite wasn’t everywhere in the stories, he would be more or less immortal and unstoppable. Add onto that his general goody goody attitude and you have a Mary Sue-esque character that is downright boring and not fun to deal with, which may be the reason most Superman movies are not popular, even the newer, more decent quality ones like Superman Returns and Man of Steel. Problematic as Mary Sues can be in normal stories, they are especially nightmarish in fanfict works, where they yank away the limelight from canon characters, solve whatever problem comes their way with whatever they want that defies all logical plot explanation, and have every canon character of the opposite sex falling head over heels for them and going out of character for them. That said, there is no one simple archetype for a Mary Sue. All the things listed above are common traits, yes, but the specifics differ greatly. One of the most common types of Mary Sue is the Author Self-insert, where the author puts themselves into the story as the protagonist. Of course, seeing as the writer is not the main character, it would only be logical that they represent the “good qualities” of the writer at hand, and be made as perfect as possible, with no ill faults, and no real issues whatsoever. Needless to say, the Mary Sue, or Marty Stu, depending on the gender, is a character that is reviled and hated across the professional field of writing. Villains as well can fall victim to being Mary Sues, especially if they begin winning far more than they should. Of course, a villain that loses all the time begins to have the threat and intimidation factor wane as they suffer villain decay, but the opposite branch is just as dangerous. If a villain ends up becoming so powerful, so successful, and such a Magnificent Bastard that, by all logic, they would have won and taken over the world already or have the hero killed in such a way that there seems no possible escape from, then you as the writer have gone overboard. The reader is taken out of the suspense of the story and begins to think, “What overly intricate Deus Ex Machina will happen to save the day now?” They no longer are within the carefully crafted story you have made, and begin thinking that you as the writer will have to throw in a saving grace to the characters, which unfortunately, is all too common with such overly successful villains.

So, how does one stop their characters from becoming a Mary Sue? What does it take to keep a character like that from having the very laws of the story bend backward to grant their every desire? The simple answer is to make them flawed, both protagonist and antagonist. Give the hero vices that hold them back, that keep them from doing the right thing all the time, and present to them problems that cannot be easily solved either morally or ethically. This is one of the big reasons why Batman is such a popular and loved hero, while Superman nowadays is more seen as a boring, dull character. While Superman has few flaws and is more or less perfect, Batman is still just a human with a dark and troubled past. He wants to do the right thing all the time, but can’t due to his moral code conflicting with the enemies he deals with and his own personal demons. He doesn’t always win, he suffers tragic losses that he learns from, and he is overall an interesting and sympathetic character the audience can get behind and root for. As for antagonists, the opposite is what is required for them. While giving them flaws as well is important, an even more important aspect is humanizing them, giving them a personality and making them sympathetic. A villain whose so evil they kill, maim, torture and rape just because they feel that’s fun is not a realistic villain and, like the Mary Sue, sucks the reader out of what is supposed to be an enticing, realistic environment and into something they know is fake and end up not caring for, or worse, they know right from the start this guy is going to die because he’s so evil. This leaves the writer with little leeway in what happens. If he tries to redeem such a rotten character, then the readers throw the book away in rage and scream that’s pure bullshit that such an evil asshole was spared death. If he is sentenced to die, then they scream that his death wasn’t fit for someone that evil. Either way, the writer loses out. Making a villain more humane in personality has its own benefits besides avoiding that, though. The reader can end up understanding why the villain does what they do, and can even end up sympathizing with them somewhat. For example, take the earlier person who was a murderous, torturing rapist who did things for the lulz. Now give them something that keeps them anchored down to earth, something they care for more than anything else and only want their best interest for. This could be a garden, or a child, or an elderly family member in a hospital or something. Give your villain some moments where they simply spend their time with this thing, showing their soft side and being more like the protagonist than an evil scumbag. Bonus points if it’s for the sake of this thing they are doing what they do instead of for the evilz. However, this itself can lead down to a dead end in writing, if the villain ends up being more sympathetic, or just as sympathetic as the hero. This can come about either from a very sympathetic villain, or a complete jerk of a hero. When this happens, where both sides are as much at fault as the other, the reader can end up indecisive as to who to root for. In particularly bad cases where both areas are just as monstrous and no one has any redeeming qualities whatsoever, then the reader just drops the book and walks away. Congratulations, you have made the work so dark, and so broken, that the reader doesn’t care what happens to either party. They either just want to see the damn thing end, or don’t care anymore and is going to read something more light hearted. This is known as Darkness induced Audience Apathy (TVtropes, 2010), and is something any good writer should avoid at all costs. This is why a clearly defined hero and villain are almost required for a story to work; if they are so morally the same, that you might as well have them be interchangeable, then no one cares what happens to either of them. They are both so rotten, they should just all die and be the end of it.

A good way to avoid going down that dark road, and a great place to start off when creating a character, is planning them out. What does your protagonist like and not like? What is their favorite kind of food? What is their preferred kind of shirt they wear? What moral choices will they be willing to make, and where will they be able to draw the line of what to do and what not to do. Obviously, doing this for either hero or villain requires you to understand your setting first. One kind of hero in one setting might not work so well in another, but there are times where a Genre Savvy hero or villain can be used in a setting that is very much not in their favor, or unaware that they are not in the kind of setting they think they are. A villain that thinks they are Surrounded by idiots when they in fact have very solid, intelligent body guards might be in for a surprise when they try to dispose of them the normal way. A protagonist that thinks they are the hero in a romantic comedy would be in for a surprise when they realize their world is a dark and twisted parody of such. But in all cases, making such characters is quite simple. A good place to start off is with a profile to define who and what they are. Such a profile can be as such:

Name:
Age:
Gender:
Height:
Appearance:
Personality:
Backstory/Occupation:
Preferred habits:
Pet peeves and flaws:

To conclude, making an ideal protagonist or antagonist isn’t always an easy thing. There are tough questions every writer must answer, and pitfalls they must avoid if they wish to create good protagonists and antagonists for their stories. This is not a perfect end all be all guide to making solid characters, simply a general guide on how one should approach this issue. There are exceptions to the rules and observations made that can greatly enhance a story’s flavor, but they require extensive justification in order to make work. Whatever kind of hero or villain one chooses for their work, they are oftentimes the pivotal cornerstone of what is to come in a story… and are the foundation upon which true epics are born from.

Re: The Essentials of Good Writing (Both essay AND discussio

Posted: Tue Dec 03, 2013 11:40 am
by Kubo
I really dig this, FK. Very nice post. Summed up a lot of major writing topics nicely.

Re: The Essentials of Good Writing (Both essay AND discussio

Posted: Tue Dec 03, 2013 2:11 pm
by MothraRocks
Very nice thread Flygon, covers pretty much all details when making a good character; the form at the bottom is also a nice touch for beginner authors who may need some help organizing their thoughts.


dogorason wrote: Why hasn't anybody got the idea that mary sue characters are idiots on fanfics. I mean yeah, their hated.


Because usually they're just starting out and don't have much idea of how to portray a proper character, or they just...aren't good :|

But why doesn't anybody ever make an character that would be flawed to the point of being cowardly and shrewd. Peter Vincent in fright night made that happen/


I'm sure if you looked around you could find plenty of characters that are horribly flawed, but by the end have patched up some/most of them. If you're talking about making a character that just sucks the whole way through, then that's just as bad as a Mary Sue, and just as uninteresting.

Re: The Essentials of Good Writing (Both essay AND discussio

Posted: Tue Dec 03, 2013 2:51 pm
by Giratina93
MothraRocks wrote:
But why doesn't anybody ever make an character that would be flawed to the point of being cowardly and shrewd. Peter Vincent in fright night made that happen/


I'm sure if you looked around you could find plenty of characters that are horribly flawed, but by the end have patched up some/most of them. If you're talking about making a character that just sucks the whole way through, then that's just as bad as a Mary Sue, and just as uninteresting.


Precisely. A character that is so flawed they can't do anything is just as boring as someone who can do everything. It's a case of trying to avoid either extreme, and striving for the golden mean, or in this case, a character who has flaws, but is still competent and able to atleast function properly.

This thread can also be used as a jumping off point for people who want to create a character for any real purpose. Just follow the template at the end of the essay, and submit it here. It can be a peer review process, as we say what we like, don't like, and what needs to be fixed as well. I would add that to the title, but it won't let me since it's already so long.

Re: The Essentials of Good Writing (Both essay AND discussio

Posted: Tue Dec 03, 2013 3:06 pm
by GodzillavsJason
Very nicely done Flygon! I had a great time reading this and like KC said, a nice introduction show new readers here on how to write a good story. Again very nicely done.

Re: The Essentials of Good Writing (Both essay AND discussio

Posted: Tue Dec 03, 2013 4:48 pm
by Biogoji
Great Job Flygon I shall use this as a guide for my stories as hopefully I could be in the running for a emmy or two when it comes around.

Re: The Essentials of Good Writing (Both essay AND discussio

Posted: Tue Dec 03, 2013 5:28 pm
by Kaiju-King42
Very nice essay, Flygon. And while I do agree with most of your points...

This can come about either from a very sympathetic villain, or a complete jerk of a hero. When this happens, where both sides are as much at fault as the other, the reader can end up indecisive as to who to root for.


...I think that, if done well, even a story with grey and grey morality can work. Perhaps the line between hero and villain isn't as clear cut, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. If anything, it could add some tension to the story. Is the hero really doing the right thing? Could he slip up and descend into villainy? I find it especially works well in war stories. Propaganda tells us that one see was evil and one side was good, and the winners of the war are the ones that write history. A war between sides of greyer morality is not only more realistic, but creates tension as to which side is really doing the right thing.

Re: The Essentials of Good Writing (Both essay AND discussio

Posted: Thu Dec 05, 2013 7:10 am
by GodzillaFreak99
Really nice job FK! *Scratches chin* certainly gibes me a lot to think about.

Re: The Essentials of Good Writing (Both essay AND discussio

Posted: Fri Nov 14, 2014 10:33 pm
by Umair
Great Job Flygon I shall use this as a guide for my stories as hopefully I could be in the running for a emmy or two when it comes around.
:lol: 8-) :shock:

Re: The Essentials of Good Writing (Both essay AND discussio

Posted: Mon Dec 22, 2014 8:07 pm
by wisper15
Kaiju-King42 wrote:Very nice essay, Flygon. And while I do agree with most of your points...

This can come about either from a very sympathetic villain, or a complete jerk of a hero. When this happens, where both sides are as much at fault as the other, the reader can end up indecisive as to who to root for.


...I think that, if done well, even a story with grey and grey morality can work. Perhaps the line between hero and villain isn't as clear cut, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. If anything, it could add some tension to the story. Is the hero really doing the right thing? Could he slip up and descend into villainy? I find it especially works well in war stories. Propaganda tells us that one see was evil and one side was good, and the winners of the war are the ones that write history. A war between sides of greyer morality is not only more realistic, but creates tension as to which side is really doing the right thing.

This is kind of what my story I'll be writing is about; perspective. Who is at fault in this? What side is really evil? At times, it's very hard to tell.

Other than that, really like this stuff. Kinda helpful. Very helpful, actually.

Re: The essentials of good writing (Essay and discussion)

Posted: Wed Mar 08, 2017 1:06 pm
by Goji_Dreadnought
You posted this a while back but i found it and found it really good! Do you have any advice on making a story sad and actually getting to the reader?

Re: The essentials of good writing (Essay and discussion)

Posted: Wed Mar 08, 2017 4:30 pm
by Giratina93
Goji_Dreadnought wrote:You posted this a while back but i found it and found it really good! Do you have any advice on making a story sad and actually getting to the reader?


Actually, yes I do. The most important thing is to make your characters relatable and fleshed out. No one cares what happens to a nameless nobody with as much depth as a puddle. Flesh out your characters, give them ways to develop and connect with the reader. Give them strengths and weaknesses, have them become their own unique person that the audience wants to see succeed and roots for... That way, when something does happen, the reaction is one of shock, horror, and sadness rather than just "Oh well".

Secondly, show and don't tell. Don't just say, "X's kid slipped on some ice and broke their neck, and X was sad." Show us that sequence, or even if you just have someone say "Sorry X, your kid slipped on some ice and broke their neck", show how that news affects the person. One of the books that I read when I was younger was Bridge to Terabithia, where at the end of the book, things happen that really impact the main character. It's especially jarring because up until that point, things had been so whimsical and fun, and then reality slams in to pull at the reader's heartstrings. Develop those kinds of moments, and make sure they're integrated into the story, instead of just slapped on there for the sake of shock value (And no, while killing a dog in a story is an automatic sad moment, it's not a GOOD thing to bank on unless the story needs it and you pull it off well, otherwise it comes across as cheap and petty)

Re: The essentials of good writing (Essay and discussion)

Posted: Sun Mar 12, 2017 11:01 am
by Dawsbfiremind
Written well Giratina, though I suppose the alternative would be horribly ironic.
May I add some thoughts in a separate post of my own?

Re: The essentials of good writing (Essay and discussion)

Posted: Mon Mar 13, 2017 6:31 pm
by Giratina93
Dawsbfiremind wrote:Written well Giratina, though I suppose the alternative would be horribly ironic.
May I add some thoughts in a separate post of my own?


Sure, feel free to leave your own thoughts either here or in a separate thread.

Re: The Essentials of Good Writing (Both essay AND discussion)

Posted: Sun Feb 11, 2018 2:40 am
by Innocentlysadistic
No offense directed toward anybody; I am only being honest when I say this... This thread is filled with very unhelpful—and not to mention poorly written—advice.

I've been writing stories for over a year now. I've sold a few stories to some magazines and I'm starting to get paid to revise others' stories, so I think I have enough experience and know-how to say I don't think any amateur should take this advice very seriously. It's not bad advice really; defining your characters is necessary of course, but this really doesn't touch on any of the essentials of good writing. It's just a needlessly long explanation of the author's limited understanding of storytelling. It doesn't really teach me anything except to make sure my character isn't too much like this or too much like that, but what if someone decides to write a story which bends or transcends these guidelines? For those who are truly creative and imaginative, it's very easy to write something which disregards this entire thread, as I have done in short stories and outlines of novellas.

Re: The Essentials of Good Writing (Both essay AND discussion)

Posted: Sun Feb 11, 2018 4:45 pm
by GodEmperorGabara
Why revive an old topic if you don't intend to contribute to the discussion at hand? It just sounds like you're trying to brag.

Re: The Essentials of Good Writing (Both essay AND discussion)

Posted: Sat Aug 11, 2018 6:16 am
by GojiDude
hey i'm new here so i'll be presenting my own take of the new series i have developed........

Re: The Essentials of Good Writing (Both essay AND discussion)

Posted: Mon Aug 27, 2018 1:56 am
by LegendZilla
I have been struggling to write my own stories for my years. Particularly I have always wanted to create my own high-fantasy world a las Middle Earth, Azeroth, Tamriel ect.

Re: The essentials of good writing (Essay and discussion)

Posted: Tue Aug 28, 2018 12:16 am
by LegendZilla
^Thanks for your little essay.

I have been struggling to write a story for many years now. Particularly I’ve always wanted to create my own High-fantasy world in the vein of Middle Earth, Westeros, Oz, Azeroth ect.

Re: The Essentials of Good Writing (Both essay AND discussion)

Posted: Tue Aug 28, 2018 5:52 am
by Gojira21
We all struggle LegendZilla! that comes with anything though. I've struggled plenty of times with my stories and still do to this day.

However, never means should stop or give up though! So if you want to make that fantasy world then go for it! It will take time, but should use that time to plan out all the details, etc. You can do it!