Before you ask why I'm building on what Chaos has written, let me assure you I've received his permission and approval.
SECTION III: Refining Your Writing and Critique
“Alright,” you say, “I’ve created a plot, given my characters personality, and have used just the right diction that makes my story stand out. I’m ready to submit.” Wrong.
I used a variety of educational sources with examples as well as my own to create this.
This may come as a surprise to you: format controls how smoothly your brain reads lines of text. If you write something like this:
I waited. I waited until the shade crept over the field, waited until the farmer slept unawares. When I was certain all was at rest, I pressed on down the hill, padding through the tall prairie grass. Suddenly a shadow darted past me. Had I been caught? Would he shoot me? Would I die here after all the sacrifices I’d made like some stupid, wild animal? “Who’s there?” I asked? A raspy voice crooned before I could continue. “I what you’ve been running from,” it said.
You have not given reader’s eyes time to process what is going on or understand the pace of the piece. You’ve learned that paragraphs must be five or more sentences for years. Forget that right now; it is a teacher’s way of getting you to elaborate in technical—not narrative—writing. In a narrative you are at liberty to begin a new paragraph when a related sequence of thoughts, events, or both ends. You should. On paper, indent new paragraphs. On a forum, space before the next paragraph begins, like so:
I waited until the shade crept over the field, waited until the farmer slept unawares. When I was certain all was at rest, I pressed on down the hill, padding through the tall prairie grass. Suddenly, a shadow darted past me. Had I been caught? Would he shoot me? Would I die here after all the sacrifices I’d made like some stupid, wild animal?
“Who’s there?” I asked.
“I what you’ve been running from,” crooned a raspy voice before I could continue.
AB, I don’t want my story to have ugly spaces in it. Are you positive? If you think that adding new lines will cause breaks in pacing you are mistaken. The correct format will prevent your readers from losing their place. Frequent text walls are unacceptable in web-story publication. With the freedom online to make pages without cost, separate your text to suit your pacing.
Enzo wrote:The general rules for paragraph formatting are that 1) When someone (or someone else) starts speaking, you always start a new paragraph (which you mention). If the character speaking is the character who spoke last, you do not start a new paragraph. 2) It is indeed wise to start a new paragraph when a related sequence of thoughts or etc. begins, as you said. 3) It is okay to make a paragraph out of a single sentence if you need the emphasis. Finally, 4) Don't overdo making new paragraphs. Publishers will hate you and readers will hate you. Publishers will hate you because they will want to put as much ink on each page as possible to save pages and readers will hate you because it is annoying to see everything broken up.
Dialogue is like opening up the window you are observing the story through. Without it you would feel detached from the characters or worse—bored. It is important for every line of dialogue to have a specific purpose. Under no circumstances should your character talk to themselves through dialogue. If dialogue is not being used to establish character and move the narrative forward, get rid of it.
“I won’t do it. Get out of my way,” she said, pushing her way past the guards.
The Captain would remember that.
Don’t do this:
“Ow!” she cried out as she stubbed her toe.
Remember to understand the impact of your dialogue. Words are powerful. Dialogue illustrates character. Dialogue does not tell the story. If you have to explain the emotion being conveyed through the dialogue you are not writing effectively.
She clenched her fists until her knuckles shone like pearls.
“I will never forgive you for this!”
Don’t do this:
“I will never forgive you for this!” she screamed angrily.
Dialogue tags are the phrases that follow dialogue and tell who is speaking and how. Dialogue tags are only necessary when it is critical to emphasize the manner of speech. If your character is crying for help, you most likely want to indicate that “he shouted.” You are emphasizing urgency. Do not use a different tag every time someone speaks like in the following example:
He gave her a reproachful stare.
"Take that back," he yelled angrily.
"No," she screamed.
"You'd better!" he challenged.
"Never," she barked.
You do not need dialogue tags for every line of dialogue. Use said sparingly for consistency. Use something other than said when and only when emphasis is needed to establish mood.
Every time a new person speaks or the speaker changes, you need a new line:
He was crying. “I’m scared,” he sobbed. She embraced him.
“It’s alright. It’s okay to be scared.” He pressed his face against her. “Shh,” she whispered, stroking her fingertips through his hair.
“I don’t understand. You’re not even suffering, but you’re trying to help me. You don’t even know me. I don’t even know your name!”
She kissed his head.
By the time you finish preening your dialogue with this in mind your dialogue will have already started to feel streamlined.
QUOTATIONS AROUND ONE WORD:
I have seen some people place quotes around words to indicate sarcasm.
Example: I’m sick and tired of your “opinions.” (This is an attempt at patronizing the opinions. But because you literally mean an opinion you cannot place quotation marks around it.)
You only place quotation marks around a word when it is being used in a special way that does not reflect its dictionary definition.
Example: Bob was so busy with his job that the only “vacation” he could find time to take was to go see a two-hour movie.
If you want to emphasize or show sarcasm, italicize
I strongly advise against quoting words/italicizing words, but if you absolutely must visually emphasize words, do so correctly.
ACTIVE AND PASSIVE VOICE:
Let us discuss basics.
Kolin, Kirk, Greenbaum wrote:In the active voice, the subject and verb relationship is straightforward: the subject is a be-er or a do-er and the verb moves the sentence along [The council approved the new policy.] In the passive voice, the subject of the sentence is neither a do-er or a be-er, but is acted upon by some other agent or by something unnamed (the new policy was approved by the council.)
It is not incorrect to use the passive voice. However, if using the active voice does not incorrectly shift the balance of the sentence then use the active voice. Passive is just that—passive. A narrative written in the passive voice is languid. If you want your reader to stay awake you’ll want active phrases.
There are only two times you should be using the passive voice:
1. When the object receiving the action is less important than who does the action. Example: The hope diamond was stolen by the thief.
2. When it isn’t important to know the actor. Example: High tide can be observed at a certain time of
Do not do this:
The bullet was stopped by Crescendo.
This is boring and the bullet isn’t the focus. Write “Crescendo stopped the bullet.”
DICTION AND IMAGERY:
As you already know, it is important to select your words carefully. Vocabulary is a great tool and using more enigmatic words can really make your story look like the cream of the crop. However you must remain consistent, in control, and appropriate. If you plan on using a more advanced vocabulary you need to use advanced vocabulary throughout. Do not throw in something like “Jamie gasped. Her superfluous crush had been realized. The whole wide world would totally laugh!” Number one, superfluous stands out like a sore thumb. Number two, that level of vocabulary is unrealistic in a teenage drama. Suit your diction to the setting. Be careful when using heavy vocabulary. Do not use your thesaurus to describe something mundane. “I bounced the autumn colored rubber sphere and threw it upward at the monolith with the fickle basket and scored” looks foolish and pretentious. Save your good words for things that matter like establishing setting or describing abstract ideas.
Make yourself aware of the dictionary. Although words can have several definitions, the first two are probably what the reader will assume you’re talking about. Don’t try and use the fifth possible definition. Find a synonym that uses something similar to that definition more commonly to avoid confusion.
Adverbs, adverbs, adverbs. Do not describe verbs with prepositional phrases. “He said in coldness. He said in anger.” Don’t. Use adverbs. “He said coldly. He said angrily.”
Most importantly you must be direct. You cannot simply chain descriptive phrases together and hope that your reader can visualize what you’ve written. If you’re describing pale flesh on a gaunt character don’t write something like “a white, deadly color only comparable to the dead.” Say ashen in color. This is a specific image.
I have seen many reviewers collectively on this site and others constantly saying someone’s writing is too repetitive. That may be, but many of them are finding fault in repetition at the wrong times.
Nouns are not things you should be exchanging if you are writing about something specific. If your character finds a vase call it a vase throughout unless it is given a proper name later. Don’t call it vase, then pottery, then urn. The reader will have no idea what you’re talking about.
If repetition is being used for parallelism or for emphasis then do not butcher your thoughts by alternating adjectives or nouns.
The green grass--the very same green grass my father, my grandfather, and my ancestors tread before me--lies subservient below my feet for I am their sons and I am the new king.
is more intense than this:
The green grass--the very same emerald vegetation my father, my grandfather, and my ancestors tread before me--lies subservient below my feet for I am their descendant and I am the new king.
Concern yourself with varying your verbs, adverbs, sentence length, and sentence structure; do not try to use different words in every sentence.
While the next two things will not refine your writing directly, they are things writers should take seriously. To ignore either shows a lack of professionalism and childish behavior. If the writing forum is to be a productive, friendly place you must understand two things.
First of all, if you aren’t willing to take your writing seriously, do not expect others to. If you aren’t going to compose something to the best of your ability, be considerate of writers who are and consider resisting the urge to display it. Laziness is not an acceptable excuse for poorly composed work. You may not be so great at clarity or imagery or characterization—these are not the things I’m referring to. Your writing should not look like you slammed your fists on your keyboard or ignored your punctuation keys. Follow the format for online stories and make an effort to check your spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
Don’t write just for yourself. You want to hook people in and entertain them.
Do not be passive aggressive if you don’t receive written feedback. If you think people aren’t reading your story, link to the thread in your signature. People don’t regularly browse this sub-forum, but they do see signatures.
Do not respond with an “I don’t care” to constructive criticism. Someone is legitimately trying to help you.
Do not argue with the person giving you advice. Criticism is something you can take or ignore. If you want to leave your work as it is, do so silently. If they are blatantly insulting you or spamming your thread with nonsense, report them. Don’t clutter your own thread further by responding.
Do not argue with a punctuation or grammar rule by saying that “it is your style” or that you have seen a published author do what you are doing. Writing style refers to things like tone, mood, and sentence arrangement: what it doesn’t refer to is rule-breaking. Published authors break rules because they are successful and guaranteed to turn a profit. Amateur writers (any writer not being paid) cannot break rules.
HOW TO GIVE CRITIQUE:
You should have positive things to say in addition to the negative. I make the habit of writing about the positive things first, writing the negative things, and then re-stating the positives at the end.
Your feedback should be developed. “Dying” or “crying” is not an amusing alternative to positive feedback. Lay out specific things you liked. Negative feedback should follow this process:
1. Address a specific issue.
2. Describe the mistake or what you believe should be changed.
3. Explain why it is wrong. Explain how to fix it.
4. Give an example.
Do not drop a “your writing gave me a headache” or “fix your grammar.” That doesn’t do anything but show that you can be snide. Be polite.
Don’t refer to spelling and punctuation as grammar. Grammar refers to classes of words (modifiers, conjunctive adverbs, etc.) and the parts of speech.
SECTION IV: PUNCTUATION MECHANICS
New writers don't always have a firm grip on punctuation in their first draft. As you go over your work be sure these four punctuation marks--the four marks commonly misused by fledgling writers--are being used correctly
COMMAS, SEMI-COLONS, COLONS, AND EM DASHES:
For your benefit I will disclose the basics or the correct usage of each of these and common usage mistakes.
1. Use to connect independent clauses (clauses that are a complete thought on its own) when joined with one of these seven words: and, but, for, or, nor, so, or yet.
You saved the city, but you didn’t save the king.
2. Use after introductory phrases before the important clause. Common introductory words are after, although, as, because, if, since, when, and while. If you begin a sentence with one of these you are most likely going to need one after your phrase.
While I was looking outside, I saw a car drive by.
Don’t use a comma after the main clause if a dependent clause (clauses that aren’t complete thoughts/cannot stand alone) follows.
The cat jumped at me, while I was eating.
Infinitive phrases (the non-conjugated form of a verb like “to start” something), participle phrases (a form of have + form of another verb like “having started the car”), long prepositional phrases, and nonessential appositives (non-mandatory phrases that modify another noun’s action) need be offset by commas.
To start reading, you must open the book.
Having eaten dinner, I left the restaurant.
After the game but before I got home, I bought a ham for dinner.
The sun beating down on us, we rushed for shade.
These words need commas after them when they begin a sentence: yes, however, and well.
3. Use commas to offset information that isn’t essential to understand the meaning of a sentence.
How do you decide if information isn’t essential?
If you leave out the words would the sentence make sense? Does it interrupt the sentence?
If you answered yes to both a comma must appear before and after the information.
My dog, the animal I found seven years ago, is my best friend.
Never place a comma after the word that. That makes a phrase essential. Additionally, if you answered no to both of the above phrases the phrase is essential.
The game that I bought from you is amazing.
People who kill people are evil.
4. Use a comma to separate a phrase at the end of a sentence if it modifies the beginning or middle of the sentence. But be careful of your sentence arrangement.
Right: Yelling angrily, Harold ran after Herschel.
Wrong: Harold ran after Herschel, yelling angrily. (It is unclear if Herschel or Harold is yelling.)
Use a comma to separate a subject from a verb.
WRONG: “My favorite place in Virginia, is Smithfield.”
Use a comma to separate verbs in a compound predicate. Do not use a comma when and is joining two nouns.
I jumped the ramp, and fell onto the concrete.
I was told that a position was opening, and the job involves busing tables.
Use a comma before a dependent clause.
I was late, but not because I’m irresponsible.
The only time you do this is when there is extreme contrast.
She was very upset, although she had been happy before he arrived.
You may be thinking to yourself, “Not these. They’re just gaudy commas.”
Wrong. I will go over when to use these over commas.
Use a semi-colon to separate two independent clauses closely related to each other. This gives each piece equal importance.
Some people like caffeinated coffee; other people like decaffeinated coffee.
Use a semi-colon between independent clauses when separated by a transitional phrase or a conjunctive adverb (below):
But however they choose to write, people are allowed to make their own decisions; as a result, many people swear by their writing methods.
I appreciate your work ethic; however, I cannot allow you to work overtime per company policy.
If items in a series contain punctuation, separate the items with a semi-colon.
The order consists of two things: an aqueous martini, shaken not stirred; and a steak cooked to perfection.
Use a semi-colon between two independent clauses joined by a conjunction if the clauses are hefty.
I ride a bicycle—an inexpensive and environmentally safe alternative to driving—to work every day; but some people insist on driving gas-guzzling SUVs.
COMMAS VS. SEMI-COLONS:
Never use commas to connect two independent clauses without a conjunction because that is a comma splice!
Wrong: My friend is young, she is also intelligent.
Right: My friend is young; she is also intelligent.
Never use a comma to offset independent clauses separated by a conjunctive adverb!
Wrong: I appreciate your work ethic, however, I cannot allow you to work overtime per company policy.
Right: I appreciate your work ethic; however, I cannot allow you to work overtime per company policy.
Coordinating conjunctions do not require a semi-colon.
Wrong: The cow is brown; but not old.
Right: The cow is brown, but not old.
SEMI-COLONS DO NOT OFFSET SOMETHING LIKE THIS:
Wrong: Because you have a big nose; you must have a good sense of smell.
Right: Because you have a big nose, you must have a good sense of smell.
Use a colon to offset a list but DO NOT place a colon after a linking verb. Those negate the need for a colon.
Wrong: The things you will need for school are: pencils, pens, and paper.
Right: You will need the following items for school: pencils, pens, and paper.
Use a colon if a complete sentence following right after another closely related complete sentence explains that first sentence.
Religion and politics can be sensitive subjects: many people hold opinionated views and are easily offended by other peoples' remarks.
Use a colon to let the reader know that an item that follows a complete sentence is emphasized.
I didn’t notice that I was inches away from my greatest fear: the black widow.
Do not use one mark to denote this. Always use two (--).
These are comparable to strong comma but it cannot separate items in the list (except for the last item) or set off initial modifiers (unless followed by the word these).
On our farm we grow wheat, soybeans, alfalfa, corn--and bamboo!
Hot dogs, apple pie, and Mom--these are the traditional American symbols.
It can, however set off middle modifiers
The army—marching as one organism—stared at the enemy civilizations as though they were prey.
and join two independent clauses with a conjunction.
They took a wrong turn in D.C.—and, by the time they realized it, Pentagon security was approaching their car.
Do not use an em dash if there is no need for emphasis.
Edit: Regards to Enzo for pointing out a few problems with my post. I've made changes. See his post for more details.