How to Write Good - A Newer Guide to Fic-Writing

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How to Write Good - A Newer Guide to Fic-Writing

Post by Joshuareid36 on Tue Jun 06, 2017 10:23 pm

NOTE: As you may have guessed from the grammatically-incorrect title, this guide is INFORMAL. Informal as hell.

How to Start?

Writing a Yu-Gi-Oh! story can be tricky. There are tons of things to think about and plan, and the actual writing of the story is incredibly time-consuming. Writing a fic isn't for everyone, and the best way to figure out if it's for you is just to answer the question “do I like writing?”.

I'm going to assume anyone who's reading this does like writing, so here goes.

There are a few basic guidelines that everyone should follow.
Use proper spelling and grammar! Typos, of course, happen, but capitalize the first letter of your sentences, type out entire words instead of abbreviations, and... well, there are countless resources for how grammar works. Pick one and follow it.
Write with a professional tone. That is, emphasize words with bold, underline or italics, not quotes, don't end sentences with a bajillion exclamation marks, and if I see one tilde, I will burn your face to the ground. Basically, just pick up your favourite novel and write with the same formality it uses. (This guide, for example, is much too casual.)
Write in the past tense, and in prose (that is, like a novel instead of a script).
Post each chapter in a separate thread, and have a chapter index with links to each one.
If you have CaCs, make a thread for them in the CaC forum.
Each chapter must be at least one page in a text editor (that's not a guideline, that's a forum rule!)
Seriously, don't use tildes.

There is one extra guideline that I must talk about separately, because there's a good chance some English teacher taught it to you completely wrong: the word “said”. You may have been taught never to use the word 'said' and instead use one of a bazillion synonyms and vary them as much as possible – don't do this; just use a handful of dialogue tags, and INCLUDE 'said'.

(NOTE. I call a word that comes after quotes a dialogue tag. “Bob is over there,” said Alice. I may be the only one who calls it this.)

Dialogue should speak for itself. If someone says “the chair is red”, you don't have to use the word 'described'. It's obvious they described something. 'Said' is a perfectly reasonable dialogue tag for such a sentence. It becomes even more glaring when you see a dialogue tag that doesn't mean anything more than said like 'stated', 'articulated', 'verbalized', etc.

Basically, the dialogue tag shouldn't draw more attention than the dialogue itself. The best way to keep attention where you want it is to use a handful of simple dialogue tags. 'Said', 'yelled/exclaimed/shouted/cried', 'explained', 'demanded/asked', etc. If at any point you're on a thesaurus looking up synonyms for 'said', you are doing something wrong.

Sometimes, you don't even need a dialogue tag. If there are only two people in the scene, and they're talking to each other, you can leave off dialogue tags after the first couple lines.

"Hi," said Alice.
"Hello," said Bob.
"How are you?"
"All right. Yourself?"

Now that the guidelines are out of the way, I can move onto suggestions. Most of this guide is suggestions, and intended for new authors. If you've already written a fic that doesn't follow my suggestions to the letter, or if you're planning to write something that goes against something I've suggested, that doesn't mean I think you're a bad author. Got it? Good.

I suggest writing in third person (“Lance punched a dude in the face.” instead of “I punched a dude in the face.”). Writing in first-person may make your lead character look like an author insert, which is a bit of a snag, but also, it's much easier to justify an omniscient narrator moving between scenes. What if you want to tell the reader something that the point-of-view character isn't around for?

There's also second-person (“You got punched in the face by Lance.”) which I have never seen in a Yu-Gi-Oh! fic, but if you want to try a choose-your-own-adventure story, I wish you the best of luck and think you're awesome.

Writing well is more based on how much effort you're willing to put in than anything else. Thus, there's not much to be said about the minor details like spelling and grammar... so, let's dive right into the core of a story; the setting, plot and characters!

The Setting and Themes

Where and when is your story located?

I could go into a lot of detail on this subject, but there's one main point. One crucial point that I both demand and beg you to listen to. Here it is: you do not have to set your story in the same Universe as the Yu-Gi-Oh anime.

Choosing a setting is more than asking “should my characters be in the Monster World, at Duellist Kingdom/Battle City, in a Duel Academy, D-Wheeling in the future or in whatever the hell ZeXal's Universe is?”. This is your story. You can do whatever you want, and most fic writers just ignore this and write things in the same boring Universes we've seen four THOUSAND times.

Or worse, they combine all of them into one, which is four times as unoriginal AND messes with established canon. YUMA AND YUGI AREN'T ALIVE AT THE SAME TIME, PEOPLE.

The only real snag in creating a Universe from scratch is justifying the use of card games to solve your problems. But take it from me, the guy who justified holographic card game technology in a Western – people are willing to give a bit extra suspension of disbelief if you're presenting something new.

So take risks! Card games in feudal Japan! Card games in outer space! Card games in the circles of Hell! Card games 20,000 leagues below the sea! (Just... don't do something like “card games in the Pokemon world!”. The whole point of doing this is to have the Universe be YOUR OWN.)

If you don't feel like going too ridiculous, a simple 'real life but with duel disks' setting is a good clean slate too. Just give it your own twist – after all, this is the most common setting after the animes' settings.

And, of course, there's nothing wrong with using a setting from the existing anime, BUT there are more rules:
Follow the rules of the Universe! For example, there are SEVEN Millennium items - if there were an eighth, it would have been important in the show.
Follow the original characters' characterizations! This is tricky, but essential. Jaden isn't going to suddenly be a straight-A student.
Be careful when your original characters duel existing anime characters; the protagonists tend to be the strongest characters in the show. Your character is NOT going to be able to effortlessly defeat Yusei.

So that's a setting. What's a theme? Wikipedia says “The most common contemporary understanding of theme is an idea or concept that is central to a story, which can often be summed in a single word (i.e., love, death, betrayal).”

Your story on the surface might be telling the story of Jim the heroic card-game-playing samurai slaying the evil card-game-playing dragon, but the theme works behind the scenes. It's normally subtle, and takes some reflection on the reader's part to really grasp. “Hey wait,” The reader says. “Jim's first opponent used a lot of Trap cards and hidden information. Jim's second rival lied to his dad and stole a card. Jim's third rival used fake information to become mayor of the city. But Jim himself duels with almost entirely face-up cards, has never lied to anyone and fact-checks his information. Could it be that this story's theme is 'truth'?”

Pro-Tip! Not all themes have to be subtle. Stories whose themes are messages to society about something they're doing wrong (ex., a lot of anti-racism stories) work well because they're so blatant about their messages!
Serenade Says: You can create a story by building off one theme. ONE. If you try to build it out of several at once, it's gonna get clunky. Find the other themes as you write, then seed them in.
Related to themes is symbolism. You can use a symbol to represent your story's central theme. Suppose the theme of your story is 'growth'. You could use a seed growing into a tree to represent this. Where? Yu-Gi-Oh stories provide a perfect place for symbolism – a character's deck. The main character's deck could be a Plant deck. Or one of the primary settings could have a literal tree that grows as the story develops.
Serenade Says: The same symbol can mean different things depending on how the author presents it. (i.e., a tree doesn't always mean 'growth'.)
Symbolism doesn't have to be applied to the whole story either. Anything can be a symbol, and different parts of the story / characters / etc. might have completely different symbolism. Perhaps, for sake of example, you have a character who is 'reborn' as a new person, and their resurrection is represented by a phoenix, even if phoenixes mean nothing to any other characters.

Do, however, be cautious of making things symbolic just for the sake of symbolism. Christian symbols tend to sneak into completely unrelated stories – how many times have you seen a character referred to as a messiah for no real reason, or a group of characters blatantly based on the seven deadly sins for equally little reason?

The Plot

Writing an original plot is impossible. But don't give up, because writing a creative plot and/or a plot that hasn't been combined with card games is totally possible.

You can draw inspiration from anywhere. Novels, webcomics, TV shows, myths and legends, funny stories your co-workers tell you about their kids, ANYTHING. You can turn a regular story into a card game story just by switching out the primary form of combat.

Julius Caesar got stabbed with swords? NOPE, now he's been card game'd to death.

Obviously, this isn't to say you should directly steal a story. Just don't worry too much about “I wanted to do X, but Y story already did X! Now I cannot do X.”, and don't worry about “I want to do X, but X can't possibly involve card games, so I will not do X.” Anything you think of will have been done by some story already, and any plot can be adapted to card games.

Every genre, however, has its cliches, and card game stories are no exception. How many times has a character been possessed by some dark force? How many times has a character been kidnapped? How many times has a character been given some legendary card?

Using cliches is not bad writing, but playing them straight can be. TVTropes – one of my favourite writing references, and something I'll mention a lot – has different terms for playing with a trope/cliche. Suppose your main character's younger sibling has been kidnapped. The normal thing to do is for the main character to play a card game for the sibling's safety. An averted trope would be that the kid frees him/herself before the main character even shows up. An inverted trope would be that the main character is kidnapped and their younger sibling saves THEM. A deconstructed trope would be that the main character successfully saves his/her sibling, but said sibling is completely traumatized by the experience. An exaggerated/parodied trope is that the sibling's been kidnapped four times earlier today, and the main character's just sick of it by now. A zig-zagged trope would be that, when the main character shows up, the sibling was never in any danger, but then the kidnapper turns out to be a real threat, but then turns out to just be pretending and AAH MY HEAD HURTS.

So. Try to be creative with your plot, but don't scrap your plot just because it's been done before, and draw inspiration from any sources that interest you.

The complexity of a plot is another thing to consider. There's no maximum or minimum to the number of chapters a story can or should be. It's all about what you want to commit to. A complex story could easily take 50+ chapters to tell properly. Even if you write a chapter a week (which is about the maximum speed anyone here writes) and take no breaks, that's a YEAR you've committed to this story of yours. A story can be told in one chapter. Or ten chapters. Or fifty chapters. Or two hundred chapters. The most important thing is planning.

Pro-Tip! To plan your story, try writing one-paragraph summaries of what happens in each and every chapter! For a really long story, break it down into arcs, and – before starting each arc – write summaries for each chapter in the arc instead. This lets you visualize the story as the readers will; you'll be able to see streaks where a lot of crucial events happen one-by-one that can be a good place to add some light filler, or a section where nothing of interest happens that needs some real action!

But how do you know how long your story should be? Part of that depends on how many characters you want. If you have a cast of five main characters, and each one has – say, three duels – that's fifteen chapters minimum (or maybe 7-8 really long chapters, or maybe 30 short chapters!).
Serenade Says: Always remember "quality over quantity". How long or short a story is doesn't matter as much as the impact it has on the reader. You can have a story that drags on for 100+ chapters, but feels empty because it was horribly rushed. Meanwhile, a three chapter story can easily be the most memorable thing you've ever read. So don't rush to get that chapter out - make sure you took the proper amount of time to prepare it before you hit the submit button. (In the same vein, don't feel pressured to make your chapters long; especially in the beginning, a nice short chapter can incite the same interest a longer chapter does if you present it well)
The Characters

To me, the characters are THE most important part of any story.

Start, naturally, with your main characters. You can really have as many people in your main cast as you want, to an extent. There's no reason to have a character who doesn't DO anything; if you've got a character sitting around on the sidelines for the entire story, you might as well remove them (that is, before you start writing). Also consider that a cast grows naturally as the story continues – you can promote a minor character to your main cast much easier than you can just remove a main character.

I won't say “keep your main cast as tiny as possible”, but ask yourself with each character 'do you belong in the group?'. If you come up with a character who's a carbon copy of one already in the main cast, you're not going to get any interesting group dynamics using them. So there's really no reason to keep them around.

There is no magic number for the amount of main characters. A single main character can be tricky; you want your audience to be able to relate to them, and with only one set of characteristics, not everyone will be able to relate to that one person. Two main characters works well if you accentuate the differences between them; adding a third to be a sort of 'middle of the road' character is pretty common (and this is the spread I used in Yu-Gi-Oh! SP).

Four lends itself to a lot of common group dynamics – the Four Temperament Ensemble (one hot-blooded, one optimistic fun-lover, one serious person, and one shy introvert) is one of my favourites. There's also things you can do relating your main cast to the four elements.

Five is probably the most common number. Typically it's broken down as The Hero, The Lancer (the hero's sidekick, who tends to be a foil to the hero), The Big Guy, The Smart Guy, and The Emotional Centre (AKA The Chick, but doesn't have to be female).

TVTropes goes into a lot of detail about casts from one to seven members.

So you've decided how many characters you're comfortable writing. Time to invent a character. Sorting out a character's appearance is pretty easy. For the most part, you can have a character look however you want them to look. The main question is "how realistic is my Universe?". In an anime-esque Universe where the laws of physics are vaguely-enforced suggestions, feel free to give your characters wacky-coloured sea creature-shaped hair. The same doesn't hold for a character in a more realistic setting.

One thing to note - in almost EVERY setting, giving a character differently-coloured eyes is a sign of a Mary Sue. I don't know why, but it just is.

Another thing to keep in mind for a character's appearance is the trope 'Astonishingly Appropriate Appearance' - basically, is a character's appearance based on their decktype? This is another trope that can be done well or poorly. If you describe your winged beast-player as having a beak-like nose every other chapter and your cat-playing character has cat-like eyes and your fish-playing character has... I dunno, big fish-like lips, it can get silly. And therein lies the important bit: silly. If your character or setting doesn't take itself seriously, using this trope can add to the comedy. If you have a dark gritty story where everyone is described as blatantly resembling their trading cards, it'll detract from the mood.

One other part of the equation is "why does your character look this way?". If they were BORN with bird-like features and love birds, that can get somewhat silly. If your character has red hair and, out of pride for their redheadedness, plays a Fire deck, that's more reasonable. If your stoic character walks around with fake wings because they play a winged beast deck, that's less believable than a silly or overly-dramatic character doing it. Whenever you have to make a decision for a character, you have to make THAT CHARACTER'S decision, not YOUR OWN, and that's the hardest part of character building.

Sorting out a character's PERSONALITY is hard. Start out with a few traits that your character has – are they shy or friendly? Ambitious or laid back? Calm or emotional? Just keep asking yourself questions about your character.

Pro-Tip! Once you've decided on your character's personality, NEVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES TELL THE READERS WHAT IT IS. This can come in the form of other characters saying “wow, X character is so Y trait!” or, even more egregiously, the narration just saying “X character is very Y”. Don't do either. It's up to the readers to figure out a character's personality from their actions and reactions to events, and it's up to the writer to make the character act and react appropriately.

Proer-Tip! If you do inform the reader about a character's personality, MAKE SURE THEY ACTUALLY ACT THAT WAY. If you tell us that your character is smart, but your character needs to be explained things that are really obvious, you lied. Almost every time this is an issue, it's because the writer said the character was smart and they do something really stupid later on.
Serenade Says: There's a way to play with this: You can have the character seem (for example) strong and brave and heroic in common-day situations - where everyone praises them - but once the going gets tough, they begin to have nervous breakdowns, and become unable to wield their sword because they're shaking so much. It may seem like you were lying at first, but that's only because the character wasn't being presented in their true light.

When you do this, however, DON'T backtrack on it. You can have that same character try to play it off and have the praise keep coming, but the characters who saw what happened (in most cases, the hero) know the truth, so both of those characters will behave differently around each other than they did before.
Once you've come up with how your character should act, come up with a bunch of situations and ask yourself how your character would react to those situations. Going over the same situations with all of your characters will help you identify the differences between them. If all of your characters were at a picnic table and a fly started buzzing around them, how would they react?

Give your characters realistic strengths and weaknesses. A character who can hack supercomputers, punch stampeding bulls across the room, and seduce anyone (s)he waggles their eyebrows at just isn't going to be an interesting character. Leave your characters room to grow, and do it gradually. This is part of – but not entirely – how you avoid writing a Mary Sue.

A Mary Sue isn't JUST a flawless character – it's a character who never makes mistakes (it's easy to get confused; your characters need flaws to make mistakes). Let your characters screw up, and when they screw up, make their mistakes have realistic, natural consequences and have the characters LEARN from the mistakes. Let's look at an example.

Mary Sue is a gorgeous, techno-wiz kickboxer. She hacks the security system because she instantly knows the head of security is corrupt, shuts down the computer grid and saves the day. Mary Sue has no flaws, and there's never any risk of her making a mistake.

Gary Stu is a hot-blooded teenager. A cop tells him to stop littering. Gary Stu punches him in the face. Instead of suffering consequences, the cop realizes the error of his ways and leaves to rethink his life. Gary Stu DOES have flaws, but he's still a poorly-written character because he suffers no consequences from his actions.

Alice is a girl too curious for her own good. She hacks the city's security system because she wants to see if she can. The head of security finds out, and sends an officer after her. She gets arrested, and while waiting for her trial realizes that hacking the security system was a pretty stupid thing to do. Alice is a flawed character who suffers realistic consequences for her actions and learns from her mistakes.
Serenade Says: There are cases where a character may appear to be a Mary Sue, but is not actually one. This is where people tend to make the most mistakes when trying to "avoid creating a Mary Sue" - they worry so much about creating a Mary Sue that they end up making one anyway. Your character can appear to be perfect at first and then fail, and not only does that have deep repercussions for them, but also for those around them. The character doesn't necessarily have to fail, either. They could tell on their friend, only for that same friend to reappear as their worst enemy (oftentimes falling into the 'shadow' archetype), or the guilt eats them so much that they can't focus on anything else. You need to have them suffer consequences for their actions - whether the intentions were good or not - and give them realistic reactions to the problems that arise because of them.

Then there are characters with unique traits, a common sign of a Mary Sue. Well, if everyone can fly, flying isn't exactly a unique trait. That's because it follows the rules of your story's world. If your character can fly for no reason while others can't, then you can expect people to get annoyed about it. But if it's explained that people with magic relics gain the ability to fly through some crazy ritual, few will complain. Things like unique eye color or scars need to be explained - if it has no purpose then it shouldn't be there. If a character's backstory involves them getting burned, then sure, give them a scar. If a character's backstory involves them becoming cursed and it resulted in the unique eye color, then sure, go ahead with that unique eye color. If you're doing it because it makes them seem cool, remember that it's how the character acts that makes us decide whether or not (s)he is, not their physical description.

Here's what trips people up - because we don't see the backstory immediately some readers may assume the character is a Mary Sue, and you might start second-guessing yourself. That will happen. As long as that backstory is presented at some point and it makes sense in the context of your world,people will usually be willing to bare with you. Just make sure that things aren't going perfectly until we reach that point, though.

So, in short, the best way to avoid creating a Mary Sue is to not worry about it too much, but at the same time staying aware of what the characters are meant to do, and not to break the rules laid out for your world.
While we're talking about personalities, it is extremely tempting – and easy – to base characters on yourself. One of the first things most people write is “what would I be like if I were in X Universe” or “what would I be like if I were infinitely more badass?”. Everyone who tried writing when they were young has done it (I have dozens of old self-insert fics) but this is not the best plan if you want people to take your fic seriously. HOWEVER, there is a workaround – base characters on PARTS of yourself.

Everyone's felt vulnerable. Think of that when you're writing your shy characters. Everyone's felt happy. Use that when writing your silly, carefree characters. There might be some traits that all of your characters share with yourself (such as sense of humour), but don't let those shadow their own individuality. The main point to this is: do not have your characters do something they would not do, or act a way they would not act, just because you would in their situation. And if you have a character who agrees with you on everything, you might have to do some rethinking back at the drawing board.

There are also things to decide about your character that aren't personality, and are a bit more complex than appearance. Their gender, race, age, etc. The worst thing you can do in regards to gender and race is write a character differently because of it. Notice how, in the above example, you could change any of the character's genders, and none of them would have made much of a difference?

Don't write your characters as purely love interests. A female character shouldn't be written as a prize that your male characters can win a relationship with just by being good at card games. A male character shouldn't be written as a Disney-style Prince Charming who shows up out of nowhere after the heroine's story is over.

Naming a Character

Characters' names are really important, but there really aren't a lot of set rules that make a name good or bad. So this is another heavily opinion-based section. Here are my thoughts when I'm naming characters.

To find inspiration for names, I generally use sites like behind the name which list meanings and nationalities for baby names. The nationality is absolutely crucial. The main place this comes up in fics is when an author gives a non-Japanese character a Japanese name. That's silly. Don't do that.

The meaning of a name comes next. Getting the subtlety of a name's meaning right is tricky. Like the appearance, a character should not be named after something that was a decision they made, such as decktype. Don't name your character Luna just because they play a deck based on the moon (LOOKIN' AT YOU, ZEXAL MANGA). Basically, it gets silly if the meaning of a character's name is too in-your-face. BUT, like appearances, silliness isn't always a bad thing. If you have a silly story, making the readers laugh with something as simple as a name is nice.

This generally becomes a problem when you're looking for names that mean 'darkness'. Parents do not give their kids names that mean 'darkness' or 'evil' or 'demon', and the few names that do have dark connotations are overused like crazy. Specifically: Raven. Don't name your character Raven.

For more serious stories, I hardly recommend looking at the 'meaning' side of things at all. It's nice if you can find a name that sounds good and is meaningful, but your readers aren't going to be Googling your characters' names, so having a name with too hidden of a meaning doesn't really do anything.

The one downside to boring, non-meaningful names is that it can be very easy to forget a character with a really common name like Robert or Sarah or something, particularly if you introduce several of them at a time.

...Really, it boils down too much to personal preference. There's tons of names in the world. You can pick ones that are super-meaningful, ones that are really common, mix and match them depending on the character or tone of the story at the time, etc. Names are not a thing that should be dwelled upon.

Just don't name your character Raven.

So, now you have a cast of main characters. All of them are well-developed, no matter what race or gender they are, you know what they look like, and they have differences in personality that lead to them having different dynamics in the group. BUT WAIT, THIS IS A YU-GI-OH! FIC! What about decks? This is a good segue into cards.

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