Happy New Year, Wacky Writers, and welcome to the first Tip Cauldron of 2021! We’ve made it, everyone! We’re finally here! Obviously, no pressure, 2021, in your own time, of course. We’re just here doing our monthly column and happy to see you.
Let’s get into it!! We’ve got some juicy tips for y’all today, ranging from vindicating repetition to philosophizing on improving one’s writing, but, as always, please remember – the tips brewed may or may not work as advertised.
What is the best way to write texting into a story?
There’s no one set way to do this, but there are three important things to keep in mind when doing it:
- it needs to be clear that it’s texting.
- the reader needs to be able to keep track of who is texting.
- it should feel natural .
In order to achieve 1), you need to format your texting in a way that sets it apart from the rest of your writing. Most commonly used is either bold or italicized font, but you could also indent the texting portion, use a different font or even a different color. The key is to be consistent.
My go-to is usually alternating between left- and right-aligned text, usually in italics to denote conversation without using quotation marks (which are reserved for spoken dialogue).
Nice weather, right?
Another option would be to keep both speakers aligned to the left and alternate between bold and italics :
Nice weather, right?
If it’s just a short text, you could also weave it into a standard description:
Her phone buzzed on the counter and, picking it up, she saw a single line of text from Jane: It’s pouring, don’t forget your umbrella.
It gets trickier when a group conversation is involved. In that case, you might consider specifying each speaker’s name before the line, like in a script:
Mari: Hey Jane
Jane: Hi Mari, what’s up
Tanya: I’m cleaning the house again!
Ink: Nobody asked, T, lol
If your reader is familiarized with these characters by now, you could get away with just using their initials:
M: Hey Jane
J: Hi Mari, what’s up
T: I’m cleaning the house again!
I: Nobody asked, T, lol
And finally, once you’ve figured out a consistent way to format your texting, you should pay some attention to the content. Depending on who your characters are, their texting habits will vary. A teenager, for instance, might be more likely to use text speak and send several shorter messages, as opposed to an older character, who might prefer writing out the full words in one long text.
Texting punctuation is also different – that is to say, mostly nonexistent. Most people will omit the period at the end of a sentence or skip the commas. Sometimes ALL CAPS is involved, as well as way too many exclamation marks!!!
Whatever you choose to do, you just gotta make sure it’s clear and consistent, and true to your characters.
How do you write foreign languages into your story?
There are two main ways to go about this. The first is writing it in the foreign language in italics and then writing the English translation:
“Ich will dich nicht sehen!” Mari shouted. I don’t want to see you!
The second is writing the foreign language in English in italics:
“I don’t want to see you!” Mari shouted in German.
There’s a third way in case you don’t like the previous options. That is simply writing it as the first option, but then without the translation, and then implying the meaning. If you imply it hard enough, the reader can guess what you mean.
“Ich will dich nicht sehen!” Mari shouted, slamming the door in his face.
The readers may not know the exact translation, but they can guess it isn’t something friendly. How you approach the use of the language in your writing very much depends on what you’re trying to achieve by it. For the most part, your readers won’t care what language your characters are speaking in, unless it’s plot-relevant in some way.
Personally, I wouldn’t encourage writing entire lines of dialogue in a foreign language, only to have the English translation right beside it. A line or two can be impactful – in which case you can proceed as above – but a whole duplicated conversation can feel quite redundant.
To break it down in a few scenarios I’ve come across:
- Two characters who speak the same foreign language (and who may or may not find themselves in a place where that language is widely spoken): you don’t have to write the dialogue in a foreign language, because the reader can easily assume which language is being used. You could specify they’re speaking in a foreign language if, for instance, it’s important to know that other characters can’t understand them.
- A character who can speak a foreign language encounters other (native) speakers of that language: you could probably get away with a greeting or a few short words in that language, and then write the dialogue in English. Or you could use forms of address from that specific language to add some flair – such as Mari-san for Japanese, Mademoiselle Mari for French, Frau Mari for German, and so on.
- A character who cannot speak a foreign language encounters (native) speakers of that language: you could still use the forms-of-address trick here, but it would likely be one-sided. And this is the one scenario where I actually encourage using bits and pieces of the foreign language, which you don’t even have to translate, because the point is to show how out of their depth the character is.
Aside from plot relevance, you have to take perspective into consideration – think about the way your narrator experiences the language and then take it from there. Do they have a culture shock? Are they comfortable with it? Do they feel confused, embarrassed, overwhelmed? Once you establish that, it’ll be easier to determine how to convey those feelings.
Any tips for writing metaphors?
Metaphors are, essentially, word associations and something I wouldn’t force in writing, but perhaps you can train your brain to associate even the most unexpected words in a more creative manner.
One suggestion would be, of course, reading. Read authors who are well-known for their creative metaphors. Studying help articles online can only get you so far – reading fiction imbibed with metaphors will go straight to your subconscious and you’ll internalize a knack for it before you know it.
My personal recommendation is Raymond Chandler, because this gem from his novel The Big Sleep is the single most memorable I have ever read:
The main hallway of the Sternwood place was two stories high. Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn’t have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair.
You can read a sample here.
Alternatively, you could also try ‘studying’ the lyrics of your favorite songs! Most songs are metaphors, really, usually about love, but not only. Off the top of my head – Billie Eilish has a song called My Strange Addiction where she sings about pain, symptoms, going to the doctor, self-medicating and that you are my strange addiction – the entire song is basically a metaphor about love = addiction. Or there’s I Wanna Be Yours be Arctic Monkeys, where the singer says I wanna be your vacuum cleaner, among other indispensable household objects. My love = indispensable to you? 🙂
Lastly, there’s writing exercises you could try in order to actively make connections between words. Our Scribe Shin shared this one on the forums a while ago: using a random generator (like this one), choose two objects and then write a metaphor about it, no matter how outlandish.
It’s important to note that, whatever you choose, your style won’t change overnight. You just have to be patient and give it some time, your influences will show when you least expect it.
How is repetition?
Repetition, repetition, repetition…Not a bad guy, repetition. Not a bad guy at all.
It’s actually a useful tool in the writer’s arsenal, as it’s a fairly simple method of strengthening whatever point you’re trying to make. Say it once, the reader might gloss over it. Say it twice, you’re getting their attention. Say it three times – by now this is either really huge, or really annoying.
So, beware. Pace yourself. Don’t overuse it. It can’t be the trick you rely on to underline every major plot point or revelation in your book. If you do, it starts defeating its purpose. Like all good things, consume in moderation and you should be fine
How do you best incorporate descriptions in your writing?
In order to do a good description, you first must establish a strong narrative perspective. Are you writing first-person point-of-view? Third limited? Third omniscient? Second person? No matter which one you’re doing, you have be familiar with the ‘eyes’ (and other senses, but more on that later!) that you’re telling the story through.
Example: If it’s winter and Jane is inside, while John is standing outside, Jane would be describing it like this – “Surrounded by snow, John looked very cold, but luckily I felt quite warm indoors, in my cozy pajamas.”
Secondly, you have choose the appropriate timing and the right kind of description to go with it. If your characters are in the middle of a heated argument, for instance, they’ll likely not stop and notice that it started raining. Once the argument dies down, however, and awkward silence stretches, you can describe the sound of rain to punctuate that.
Thirdly, to keep your descriptions compelling and make them as immersive as possible, you should use as many senses as you can. Think about how you would experience the scene. If you walk into the kitchen and your mother is baking a cake, you don’t just see your mother, but you smell the cake and maybe hear a mixer.
Of course, you can’t always use all the senses (remember perspective!). If Jane and John had been arguing inside, they can only hear it rain. But if Jane angrily stomps outside, she’ll be sure to feel the rain and possibly smell it.
Lastly, in order to keep your descriptions, however beautiful, from becoming burdensome, you have to make sure they’re moving the plot or the conflict along, or enriching your characters. How does whatever they’re experiencing impact the character? How does the pattering rain make them feel after a noisy fight? Is the silence painful or comforting?
Maybe as Jane walks to her car in the rain, she remembers how she once got drenched on a hike with John, and what sights, sounds and smells she experienced back then, how it felt being there, out in the open with John as opposed to alone in her car now. And voila – you’ve got an immersive description, inner monologue and a new layer added to the depth of the characters’ relationship.
How do you improve your writing if you’re stuck in a plateau?
Read, read, read and write, write, write. Watch all the films and TV shows you can get your hands on. There’s no easy fix for anything in writing, but style above all requires extraordinary patience and dedication and (self) understanding to surmount.
I could wax lyrical for pages on end about this, but more to the point, let me tell you a story.
Some time ago, I stumbled across an excellent short story (Charles by Parabellum on Wattpad but that’s not so important) that literally had me on the edge of my seat and I couldn’t figure out why, what this itch was that I couldn’t scratch. I was simply in awe until the very end, when the author listed their influences – Japanese writers I’d had to read for my literature course in college.
Now, mind you, I graduated four years ago – but these influences had been etched so deep into my mind that I subconsciously picked up on them in someone else’s writing. And before you ask, yes, Japanese literature has influenced my own writing as well. A year after I graduated, I wrote one of my best works to date, a novella which led to me completing my first original novel ever after nearly ten years of failed attempts. A novella which was activated in my brain by another series of novels I’d just read and which vibed with this idea I’d had for so long.
So, there you have it. Read, write, consume (others’) fiction (or non-fiction, for that matter, as long as the writing’s good) and not only will you be exposing yourself to a variety of styles and storytelling methods, you’ll also enrich your vocabulary and expand your knowledge. This in turn will affect your own style. It might be subtle changes, like a stronger inclination towards metaphors, or this new knowledge you’ve accumulated might spur on ideas you would have never thought of before.
It might take weeks, or it might take years, but your writing will improve.
And that’s all for today, folks! Happy 2021! Stay safe and see on February 5th!
Oh, and don’t forget to check out our Reading Competition on the forums! We’ve got some sweet prizes up for grabs 😉