So, I'm not sure you're going to understand what I'm saying bc I'm literally the worst using my words but here ya go. I was wondering if you could help me with a writing issue. I love to write, even have some fic posted but I feel like they're too direct. He said, she did, he smiled. And I noticed in your fics that you use more than that. Like in Stardust, you wrote: (there's more, wait for another ask)
You wrote: “I love you,” Lydia says, again and again in the shell of his ear, and she clings to him tighter when he says it back, whispering it against her hair, her lids, her cheeks, between her breasts; I love you I love you I love you, and the words merge together. — And like, this is beautiful. If I was writing, I’d say “I love you”, Lydia says, smiling. Or something like that and I think that’s so… poor? And I want to do better but I don’t know how. (2/?)
So I was wondering if you could give me some points on that. How to write not so mechanically. How to let things flow and write something so easy to read that you can feel their emotions. I’m sorry if you’re too busy it’s just that your writing is so good and you were the only person who I thought about asking for help with it. Well, let me just finishing saying how great of a writer you are and how I love your fics. My fav is Safe in the 5 am light. That’s just… wow.
I’m never too busy to talk writing technique, anon! And thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!! I’m floored that you came to me for advice because I really, really struggle with my writing, and I constantly second-guess myself.
(You’re also very articulate! At least I understood your problem very well, so. I’ll try to be as easy to follow, but I don’t promise anything.)
Disclaimer: I’ve never followed any creative writing class or anything, and everything I’m going to tell you I learned studying other (dead) people’s writing and dissecting mine.
First, the devil is in the details. What I mean is, this is where you can write your best but also burden your fic. Details can really give life to your fic, and help with the dryness of your writing.
The thing is… There is a finite amount of things you can make a character say (I love you during a sex scene is hardly original, neither is the “whisper the words in your skin” trope); unless you’re writing banter, rapid back-and-forth where the words speak for themselves, you need to tell your readers how the characters say it.
If I’d just made Lydia blurt “I love you” in the middle of sex, it would have fallen flat because it’s such a cliché line at this point. So it needed embellishment. And you need to know when your words are going to be powerful enough to stand on their own and when they need a dialogue tag. Sometimes something else can work just as well!
“Blah… blah blah blah?” Character A tucked her hair behind her ear. “Blah, blah blah–”
I never used a dialogue tag per se here, but I did interrupt dialogue and it shows how A feels–obviously shy or embarrassed, she’s hesitant (the ellipse), asks a question so as not to impose herself, tucks her hair, which can often be a nervous tick, trails off, etc. If I say: “character A said, shy” it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it because you’re just shoving it in the reader’s face.
It’s the “show, don’t tell” rule.
Don’t say that Lydia is smiling. Describe her smile. (BUT be careful with not overdoing it. In the middle of a dialogue, it can really kill the flow. I usually indulge in this technique when I end the dialogue and go back to narrative/description.)
As a rule, whenever I want to write an apposition to a dialogue tag (like: “Lydia says, smiling”), I stop at says and puts a period before smiling. You’ll always feel like you can develop better with a sentence that starts with “she smiles” instead of having to add after an apposition (which can be very awkward). Look:
“I love you,” Lydia says, smiling.
Yeah, sure, and after? How is she smiling? That doesn’t tell us how she truly feels.
“I love you,” Lydia says. She smiles…
and then you choose. How does she smile? Softly or fiercely? Does she beam; does she smirk? Think of metaphors. What can you describe her smile as? Maybe you’ll write that she smiles softly as she squeezes Stiles’ hand. Then you’ll go back, think it’s too heavy, and cut out the smiling part, just have the hand movement, which, if you know Stydia, speaks volumes for them.
It doesn’t need to be elaborate in the end; actually, I’d advise to keep it simple most of the time. If you have metaphors, similes, and long winded sentences at every paragraph, it’s going to be tedious to read. But it will help you get inside her head and understand her emotions, and ultimately you’ll start writing more and more precisely. It’s a long process. It takes time, it’s normal!
One other thing that you need to know is: form reflects content. In Stardust, I wanted to write the emergency, the overwhelming feeling of both a surge of love and the climb to climax, which is why I choose that kind of format. I could have written several sentences instead of one if I wanted to convey a different emotion. Notice how I wrote “the words merge together” just after “I love you I love you I love you” where there are no commas? It reads very fast and it does kind of merge together in your brain. There’s a long repetition just before (her hair, her lips, her cheeks, between her breasts), then you breathe deeply with the semicolon, and you go again with the “I love you”s. That’s all deliberate!
I have no idea if any of this is coherent, makes sense or is even remotely useful but thank you for your messages! I hope it helped and you can improve as you wish (though, I can most likely guarantee you you’ll never be happy with your writing). If I didn’t scare or confuse you away and you need someone to discuss writing styles with, don’t hesitate to message me! I love that kind of shit.