I have to ask, is this topic analogous to the old "Writers" topic, or is it not so general?
In either case, since you do specifically ask for advice, I have come up with a few philosophies on writing in the last half year:
- Contrary to the opinion of my Calculus friend, I do not believe that the quality of a story is defined by how well it targets a base audience. By his definition, works such as Lord of the Rings were poorly written because they were "obviously meant for a younger audience" but "tactlessly not written in a style appropriately for that audience". While an audience is something to keep in mind, it should not define a story because a story should first and foremost have a voice, which is one of the basic principles of writing. The story has a soul, and it is the job of the author to fully realize that, which leads to the next point:
- Don't twist a story into something it's not. By all means, be natural. Usually your first impression of the story when you conceive the idea holds the key to what's at the heart of the story. Build everything off of the heart of the story. If you know what kind of story you're writing, then you can make it better.
- Illustrations are okay if they fit your story. Steve from Calculus would beg to differ, which was the biggest disagreement that we had. There is and always will be the philosophy that "readers prefer to see things in their own head". Okay, there is truth to that. Steve from Calculus preferred illustrations that only detailed things that had no significance to the story so that the reader could imagine the more important things for themselves. No, that is just ridiculous. I don't know how he came to that extreme. I'm fine if that's the way he personally prefers things, but his writing philosophy is way off if he's going to try and press it on me. My attitude is that illustration can be good because the importance of showing instead of telling, and for many people writing actually attracts them to the book. Furthermore, illustrations do not have to be only for a younger audience. They can be applied to more serious books as well. In my own writings, the case for illustrations lies in that the story is bold. Illustrations are bold. Illustrations will also add to the sincerity of my story, or so I believe. They will also provide an enhanced atmosphere that gives the story a distinct feel. Yes, the appearance of various aliens, places, and sci-fi objects is important to me. That's part of what sci-fi is.
- A professional actor once said that style was "knowing what kind of play you're in". This definition, when applied to writing, means that the style of your writing has to match the type of story you're writing. If you're writing a fantasy epic, it's okay to write in elevated language, because that's the nature of the epic. My friend from Calculus would call that bad writing (and in fact he has, so I'm not being presumptuous), but an English teacher would agree that part of the nature of an epic is the narrative style.
- If you ever run into my friend from Calculus, never let him tell you that you can't write about a person of the opposite sex. He'll tell you that your lack of experience will make your character disingenuous and alienate readers of that sex. It is possible to write about the opposite sex without having conspicuous flaws that detract from the story.
- The character is a real, living person. Your objective is to get to know them. Since they live in the abstract real of your mind instead of the physical realm outside of it, you do have a bit of an intuitive knowledge of them, but you still have to get to know them. There's the first impression, when you first conceive them. It's like being a casting director and seeing an actor, then thinking "A ha! That's the one I want for the role!" No, you do not create them. They already exist. Your job is to find a character and cast them for a role in the story, or maybe you find a person you like and decide to build a story off of them. it is important to remember that you do not create the character. The character is a person. They are already the way they need to be. At first you might have a few misconceptions about them that throw you off a bit. What most people call "revision" is what I call realizing that you misunderstood the character. Never let Steve from Calculus tell you that you dictate who the character is and that they are purely who you made them. That is a lie. Once you get into that thinking, the character immediately loses all sense of authenticity.
Other things not related to my hours of argument with Steve from Calculus is the significance of symbolism. Many people have shunned classic ideas and have called them cliches. One writer even said in her #i writing rule:
- There is no such thing as absolute good and absolute evil.
This is not quite true. While that is important for stories such as the Hunchback of Natre Dame, Frankenstein, Julius Causar and other such stories with complex, relatable villains, there is no need to be ashamed of having pure evil villains. Sometimes it's good for the moral of the story to be that villains are outcasts because they are evil and not evil because they are outcasts. In various classic epics, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Beowulf, Harry Potter, and the first and last scenes of Fantasia 2000, there is a distinct dividing line between good and evil, and many of the villains are pure evil. Is does not make them bad pieces of drama, though. Epics often take on the nature of good versus evil. It's not cliche: it's classic. There's nothing wrong with that, and this leads me to my main point about many lasting works within culture.
Cultural icons spur from literature and drama that targets the dreams that we all share. Why does Superman appeal to us? He shouldn't be good literature because he's too perfect. Let's face it: he's the man of steel with a heart of gold. Yet, it is because he is ideal that he appeals to us. This is because he's our dream hero. Sure, anti-hero's can be more interesting at times, but there needs to be a man who is the universal symbol for heroism. There needs to be the hero that's always the man we want him to be. Superman is that man. We all wish, to some degree, that we could be Superman, because we all like to think that in tough times we will make the right decisions. He is the hero who does those things, and because this do-gooder is so prominent in fiction, he gives us hope. He is the symbol behind which some people find strength. By wearing shirts with the Superman shirt, aren't we inherently subscribing to his ideals?
Likewise, we as a society also need symbols of evil. Sometimes they can be caricatures, but that's okay. Think of them more as muses. These villains are constant reminders of things that we should make enemies of. We should wage wars against sin. Let's face it, would Malefiscent have been as cool if she didn't say that she was going to stop Prince Philip with all the forces of ######? It was always cool that Disney had the nerve to include that line, but it was brilliant because it leaves no doubt to the depths of her evil. Witches have traditionally been people in line with the devil, and therefore they're as godless as they come.
Therefore, we have our Supermans and Atticus Finches with our Malefiscents and Makutas to counter them. INcarnations of good versus incarnations of evil. Remember that the heart of originality of not novelty, but sincerity. There are plenty of original books, movies, and plays that are released every day that are very original, but many of them are criticized for being poorly rendered. Just think of all the original books you've read and original movies you've watched and think of how many of them you've probably forgotten about now. It's odd how many people think will throw away a good story just to add a little more novelty.
The other feature of epics that I notice a lot is that along with there being definite forces of good and evil at conflict, many of these forces are given strong symbolism that supports their roles. Superman is in bright colors. Gandalf wears white. Kaptain Kirk would be nothing if we wasn't charming and the only guy wearing gold in the entire crew, and likewise, something very similar could be said for James Bond. The orcs are hideous, ugly things that follow a dark Maia wearing black, demonic armor. Darth Vader is tall and black. Let's face it: we're all suckers for those men in uniform and like to imagine that all Nazis look like Hitler. Meanwhile, don't be ashamed by associating goodness with light and life and evil with darkness and death. J.R.R. Tolkein wasn't. It's what makes great fairy tales.
It's also okay to have powerful characters if the story calls for it. For epics, it makes things more fun. It can be done wrong, but there are still times when it's okay. Many people like larger-than-life characters who give us something big to cheer for. Imagine how many fewer hardcore characters in the world we'd have if there was no such thing as Mewtwo, Godzilla, Shadow the Hedgehog, Super Saiyans, all our favorite superheroes, Beowulf, Grendel, Hercules, Neo from the Matrix. Every once and a while it's a pleasure to see a hero who can overcome impossible odds without breaking a sweat (the Toa), or to see villains who are not only pure evil but a true devastating menace (our beloved Makuta). If it happens to fit into your story, don't refrain.
Finally, there are other ways to make great fairy tales come true on paper. Besides having ideal heroes and villains, Star Trek portrayed an ideal crew with a sense of everyone belonging. Toy Story depicted a tale of friendship and a journey of self worth that would all like to have. In The Lion King, Simba is the little king we all wish we could be and he has the awesome father we all wish we could have. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker saves the princess, which has certainly been done before, but it never gets old. Forrest Gump is the tale of a simple person anyone can appreciate who's kindliness is inspiring. It's A Wonderful Life is the tale of a man who has the strength to set aside his own dreams to pursue the things that truly matter to him: friends, and family, and love. I absolutely adore these types of stories. Almost everyone does. Take a hint from great works such as these. They speak so much.