How not to write....

This is, ideally, something of a party game. How do you not write your story? What traps do you deliberately avoid falling into? Is there some piece of advice you always get about your story that simply does not fit? Or perhaps your story is in a pretty well-trodden genre, like vampire romance, so you have to work with (or not work with) a particularly strong expectation that This Is How It Will Go. Are there tropes you've fallen into for a while without realizing, only to realize they're a product of Twilight/patriarchy/that one story about the leper who had to save the world and didn't want to?

  • I avoid 'skipping the boring bits,' unless they are actually boring. Very few things blow up.

I am also looking for advice - how does one not write zombie apocalypse stories? How does one not write a matriarchal society? These relate to potential story ideas I have floating around in my head, and I would like to shortcut common mistakes if at all possible.

So far I have, for matriarchal societies:

  • There does not need to be lots of rape.

The thing to NOT do in a zombie apoc. story...including only zombies as the enemy. Do NOT forget that weather, distance, feral livestock/pets and madness are all a whole hell of a lot more dangerous than the zombies.

For matriarchal societies...for pete's sake do NOT make all the woman man hating lesbians. Do not make the make the men weak or useless. Those are the two most common mistakes I have ever seen. So common they are seriously pervasive all throughout the genre. It's highly irratating!

My one overarching rule: Don't write cliche. Ever. It can only cheapen your work.

The same rule applies, slightly less strictly, to pop-culture references. It's worth being very careful with them, because most times they just sound trite and silly, more like author-insertion shoved down the reader's throat than character/setting development.



If your characters have magic/mutations/special abilities, for the love of goodness don't make them something that's all powerful. If your hero can swat your enemy like a fly with no repercussions, the story just doesn't seem as interesting. Give them limitations and let them try to work around them, struggle to develop other skills, and yes, fail sometimes.

That's another biggie for me. Don't let your characters win against every foe/problem they come across. Let them fail, let them hit rock bottom. I love what desperation and misery can do to a character, and it's in times of trial and heartache that a lot of characters can really develop. And not just little losses, either, like forgetting their credit card at home and not getting to go out to eat with the gang, but sometimes the big, heart-wrenching ones. The ones where people's lives depend on them, and they were two minutes too late. The ones where they lose their job and have to suddenly figure out how to eat for the foreseeable future.

Do NOT make your male leads (especially if they're a) straight and b) your main narrative voice) overly emotional and sappy.

Sarratum, how do you pull that off? Male/female voices are an area I think I need to improve on.

"(especially if they're a) straight and b) your main narrative voice) overly emotional and sappy."

But if they're gay/bi it's okay to be sappy and emotional? I'm not sure I'm understanding you here, and am feeling kind of uncomfortable about what you're saying, would you care to clarify?

"(especially if they're a) straight and b) your main narrative voice) overly emotional and sappy."

But if they're gay/bi it's okay to be sappy and emotional? I'm not sure I'm understanding you here, and am feeling kind of uncomfortable about what you're saying, would you care to clarify?

-- OVERLY emotional and sappy. Aside from that, men in general society tend to be far less -outwardly- emotional than females. Without getting into the semantics of it, in most cases it isn't very hard to tell when a female author is narrating a male, especially in romance novels, and for me that takes away from the story itself, since it doesn't feel particularly real, in the sense of me being able to jump in and enjoy it. One of my most frequent praises are from male readers who tell me they didn't even 'know I was a girl' until they looked at my bio on the site. The gender-preference comment was for more of an exception, where many (but not all) homosexual men are more in touch with their feelings, or at least the ones I know, anyway. I didn't really mean to offend anyone.

Since the initial post of this thread entailed 'How do /you/ not write your story?', this is simply what -I- do, and am in no way trying to advise others to do the same.

Wysteria -- What do you think you need to improve on? Are your male/female characters more androgynous sounding? Or your male characters too female sounding, or vice versa? How do you normally write them?

I second the idea of having your characters fail. It's awesome and makes for more writing challenges. The best example of this in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Indy fails from moment one in that movie. In fact, he never actually succeeds at anything for more than 5 minutes before it's taken away. Just awesome.

The other big trap is - don't make your hero ALL heroic and your villain ALL evil. Unless you're talking about a supernatural force, like the Devil, no one is ALL evil. And no one thinks of themselves that way. Every character is the hero in their own story, even the scullery maid who only appears for two lines on page 47. Actually, I'm pretty sure even the Devil sees himself as the hero.

I try to avoid cliches, either in character personalities or in dialogue/plot, but not necessarily in character speech & thought.

Actually, I /avoid/ avoiding grammatically bad constructs or cliches, if that's the way the character would think or speak (One, for instance, is very full of herself and often thinks in melodramatic cliches)

I have to agree with Sarratum on writing genders. It's actually a very common complaint towards female authors, that many tend to write men as women with different plumbing. Which is, of course, just as much of a mistake as the other way around.

Characters should behave appropriately according to their upbringing and the norms of the society in which they've lived their lives. So, in an Earth-based setting, straight male characters (particularly American straight men) would be generally discouraged from showing or sharing emotions because of what is considered acceptable or ideal in our society. A lot of men never open up to anyone, even their closest friends, so unless the story is told by an omniscient narrator, it may not be realistic for those deep emotions to be openly conveyed. Hinting at things, giving little signals without stating anything outright, is a much more effective way of portraying such a character's feelings.

Women generally don't experience that culture of repression, which many gay men leave in favour of a more open and accepting peer group, so it can be glaring when a female author isn't aware of the Unwritten Code of male behaviour.



For what *not* to do concerning matriarchal societies, I look no further than Forgotten Realms' Drow. Good fucking grief.

For zombies, I'd avoid cliches concerning viruses and biological explanations (unless the ideas are within the realms of credibility; 28 Days Later may not be scientifically feasible, but we buy it because the zombies are distinct and obey certain rules--spread via blood, red eyes, they can starve, they can be killed with a shot to the heart, etc).

"Do NOT make your male leads (especially if they're a) straight and b) your main narrative voice) overly emotional and sappy."

I would just remove the conditional 'male leads' part from this advice. Don't make your narrative voice overly emotional and sappy--unless the audience you're targeting enjoys melodrama (some audiences do!).

EDIT: I should also add that for the above advice (concerning male and female leads), I think it's more interesting to have terse females and emotionally expressive males. Your mileage may vary. In the end, just be true to the character and the story. If it works with an expressive male, it works with an expressive male; if it works with a terse female, it works with a terse female.

Yeah, it was the orientation comment that gave me pause. Thanks for clarifying that you didn't mean all queer men (since, after all, queer men are raised with the same sexist gender roles drilled into them that straight men are, and sometimes are under MORE pressure to "act manly" to prove themselves, in order to avoid added harassment). I just wanted to make sure, since the "queer men are all sappy and over-emotional and cry at the drop of a hat regardless of canon" thing is a frustrating meme in a lot of bad slash fanfic.

That said, I'm not a gay/bisexual man myself (like you, I have only secondary sources to base my observations), so I do defer to what queer men have to say for themselves in the thread. :)

Interesting footnote: the word 'queer' would be considered quite insulting when used to describe gay people in British culture.



Thanks for the head's up, Ryan! In the USA I've always experienced it as a word that can be reclaimed, and since I'm a queer woman myself, I've tended to use it in a reclamatory sense for both myself and when mentioning LGBTQA culture. I definitely apologize.

Oh, I'm not offended, Morgan -- don't worry. I just thought it's something you might not be aware of. After all, the primary meaning/connotation of the word is 'strange', 'not quite right'. And the alternative meanings only go downhill from there! Back when I lived in Britain it was one of those words you just don't use.

In fact, I just checked, and even there it's labelled as 'slang: disparaging and offensive'.



Someone should tell that to those idiots who produce the show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy", or whatever.

I would have, but that horseshit doesn't air outside of America. :P

Sooo . . . What was the topic again?



I have the opposite problem, I have to remember to let my characters WIN once in a while.

how not to write, for me, is to not schedule time to write, and to schedule time to plot. Plotting, for me, happens when it happens, and I need to be ready to write down some base ideas, when they happen. Actually writing? Only happens when I say, Okay, I need to sit down for an hour, say 7, tommorow night, and WRITE!

(this is why I have 22 novels plotted from beginning to end, and 3 half written... I suck at scheduling)

Oh, I thought you meant that queer is specifically used in the UK as a male-specific term (and, therefore, as a queer woman I wouldn't be a part of the population that could reclaim it).

Queer is one of many terms that is being reclaimed by LGBT people in the US, and I wasn't sure if it was the same in the UK. In the US you can even take classes in Queer Studies at some universities. It's common to see the word queer being reclaimed in social justice circles, and to use it self-referentially in LGBT spaces.

Mind you, the term queer is still used as an insult by homophobes, and that's part of the point of reclaiming a term. That said, as with all reclaimed terms, if you're a not a part of the group it targets (in this case, if you're not LGBT yourself) you can't use it.