This guide will be a mini-series for writers who publish online, the do’s and don’ts and practical handles. It is by no way meant to teach you about grammar, spelling and all those technical things, this is a guide about the practical side of writing. I try to show you some conventions and some handles on how to write and get read online.
List of topics (in progress):
8. Narration styles, voices
9. Clichés to look out for
1. How to find readers/writers
2. How to make people remember you
3. How to give feedback that people appreciate
4. Know the Terms of Service of the website (or, How to keep out of trouble)
8. Narration styles, voices. To make a story believable you need to create an atmosphere and a voice. A voice is a way to create characters, they are the speech patterns, the little habits, the thought patterns, but mainly they are the way the reader can differentiate between different characters in your story. It is always important but more so if you’re planning on using different characters to narrate different parts of your story.
Some people might not care that you use the name above a section to show who the character is (especially when it is written in the first person POV), but I think this is a cheap trick and you should avoid it at all costs. I see it done in a lot of places and you can avoid doing it, if you’re willing to put in the time to strengthen your characters voices.
Make your characters strong enough that people can read within a few lines who is narrating a story. There are of course tricks in this that you can cheat your way through the first few chapters, like calling someone’s name or making them do something that is distinctive to that one character. But after that try to make it that you don’t need those tricks to get through who is narrating a certain part of a story. It will strengthen your work and people appreciate not being told everything up front.
On that same note, don’t have too many narrators. I use 4 narrators in one of my stories (Black Sheep) but it only has 3 narrators for each part of the story, this depends on whose voices are important in those parts, all chapters are written in first person POV though they sometimes have chapters after another that are from the same narrator. For Disturbed Fate I use 2 narrators but they are written in third person POV and the chapters are alternating between the two, keeping easy track of who is narrating.
For older works I have used a maximum of 4 narrators to tell a story. Some people don’t like multiple narratives but I’m a huge fan of it in a first person POV or a close third person POV. They give a certain depth to a story that you don’t get from a single narrative.
BUT be careful, make sure each voice (narrator) is distinctive and don’t use too many. Also, don’t alternate each paragraph, it makes a reader bond less with a narrator because they are not exposed enough to one voice. Keep it to chapters or longer stretches of text and you should be fine on that front.
9. Clichés to look out for.
So, this is going to get a lot of people trying to say why they need to use the cliché because it’s the only way their story works. Think really hard about it, unless you can really really change a cliché around, don’t use it.
First things first, someone who is the captain of “insert sport” AND has all As AND is also super hot is not a normal person. Don’t try to say they are because they aren’t, they will never be. Being one of the three is exceptional, being all three is just over the top. You (the writer) probably aren’t all those three things, I know I’m not and so are more than 90% of people I know. Of course there are people who are really smart and also look really good. But most people, aka ‘normal’ people, aren’t. They might play a sport, they usually get Bs and Cs and they look normal, they have flaws, a flawless person is not interesting. Normal means they are like you and me, they have normal problems, they study hard to get good grades and they need to work to get people to notice them.
Also, don’t have your female main character be “boring and plain” and then have all the boys and some of the girls fawn all over them. It’s not realistic. Of course, a popular girl might think that she has flaws, but I don’t think she would ever see herself as “plain and boring”. It doesn’t work.
You can say that someone is the best in a sport, has al As and is hot, but don’t say they are normal, they are exceptional and well, some people are. It’s okay if stories are not about someone normal, it is okay if they are exceptional, the are still people.
Your really plain MC might catch the eye of the exceptional guy because she is the only one who has as high grades as he has, or because she is the only one not impressed with who he is, or whatever. It is okay for someone who is plain to get with someone who is exceptional, but don’t make them something they aren’t because you think people will identify easier with them. Tell it as it is. Is he a hot guy who is really dumb? Well, go with it, they exist. Is she really plain looking but wears the most amazing clothes? Tell it as it is.
Not everyone is good at sports, smart and hot, most people aren’t, ‘normal’ people aren’t. If your character is not ‘normal’ don’t try to make them to be, not being ‘normal’ is okay.
Which comes to the next thing. Explain how the MC looks in the first paragraph or so by listing how they look and what they wear. Normal people don’t look in the mirror and go “my eyes are brown and my hair is blonde and I have a green top on”. People who look in the mirror think “Does this top make me look fat? Do I still have food on my face? And is my hair still in place?” Or am I an exception?
The easiest way to explain it is this: People don’t constantly realise what they look like in the mirror because they always see themselves in the mirror. They know what they look like, they don’t see the normal and boring stuff. They will see it when something is different, not when it’s the same. There are other ways to do this. One of the ways is actually to make them see themselves differently, bring in a new girl and have your MC compare herself to this new girl (though only if the new girl is important to the plot, don’t just introduce her for this reason), other ways are having somehow someone else describe your MC (I do this the other way around in Black Sheep, I have my MC describe his love interest twice on one page, first in a memory and the second time because he has changed so much). Clothes and things like that can be done easily by having your MC pick clothes to wear, you can say a lot about an MC just by what they wear (colour, size, style, etc.).
But don’t fall into the pitfall of having your character wake up at the start of the book. Unless there is a key happening when they wake up, like the time they wake up or who wakes them up, don’t do this. There is nothing as boring for the reader to read how someone wakes up, takes a shower, gets dressed and has breakfast in a minute by minute run through. The easiest thing to do is to just skip the whole thing and start at a moment where something really happens, like the breakfast table or the moment they arrive at school. Waking up from a dream is also not liked, unless the dream was really important of course and they get right into some action.
Actually, the easiest way to say what you should put into the story and especially the first chapter is this: Have action and keep your characters real, they are “real” people in your story so they will act like the real people you know, have them act like that. Also, waking up is not an action, having them fight with their mum is, but start where the action starts, not before that.