Writing Tips: Point-of-View and Switching Characters

One of the more difficult things to talk about when it comes to writing, in my opinion at least, is point-of-view.  Though the concept itself is pretty easily grasped, it’s also a major one that gets brushed off as unimportant in a lot of cases.  Particularly for writers who write their stories by instinct, the point-of-view is something that happens naturally depending on what they’re going for.  Unfortunately, this can often result in the point-of-view being written poorly.

However, of particular note for today’s tips, we’re going to focus in on stories where the point-of-view is limited, but the limited view is switched between various characters.  Now for some who aren’t avid readers, this may seem like a foreign concept to a degree.  There are numerous contemporary stories that use limited view, but they only ever focus on the protagonist.  However, there are indeed still others where it utilizes specific viewpoints of different characters to show different aspects of the story (Game of Thrones is one example).

Why this particular subject, though?  In my opinion, it is perhaps the one that poses the most risk to poor writing, as characters are often the driving force of a story.  As such, messing up how these viewpoint switches occur can quickly turn readers off.  There are ways to prevent this though, which is my goal for today: tips on how you can make sure you’re able to switch characters successfully.  Please keep in mind there are numerous things to watch out for, but these are the areas I believe one should be most concerned with.

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  1. For low risk switches, establish the character you want to switch to before they become the focus.

Imagine this scenario: you’ve followed hero Billy-bob for a while, and as the chapter/scene/etc. comes to an end, the story switches focus to Princess Bobweed, whom you’ve never seen before ever in the story.  I’ll wait a moment while you imagine this.

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..

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Now hopefully you realize one thing: this is going to be extremely jarring.  As a reader, you would have no attachment to Princess Bobweed, her desires, what her role is in Billy-bob’s world, etc..  In the end, she is an unknown character.  While new characters are good in a lot of occasions, the problem is via the fact she would become the main emotional focus.  Everything about the story would be filtered through her character essentially (whether first person or third person), and feel like it was destabilizing things that were established with Billy-bob.  Thus, readers would be compelled to want to go back to Billy-bob instead of learn about this new character.

So, in order to overcome this matter, one low risk maneuver a writer can utilize is to establish the character before they are switched to.  In the above scenario, the best course of action would be to have Billy-bob interact with Princess Bobweed.  Perhaps the two strike a deal and while Billy-bob is killing the dragon, Princess Bobweed will sneak in the back and take the magic mirror that is her family heirloom.  The interaction would, of course, have to be pretty meaty and give Princess Bobweed some good established character (sympathetic motivations, personality, etc.).  However, in so doing, if the viewpoint switched to her as she retrieved, it would feel extremely natural.  Instead of focusing on the fact that Billy-bob was no longer the filter, the reader would be enticed by the intrigue to see whether Princess Bobweed’s attempts are successful or if something she does endangers Billy-bob.  However, in their intrigue, the reader learns more about Princess Boboweed, so subsequent switches are much easier since she becomes a known character.

Keep in mind, again, that one must establish the character well in order for this work.  In otherwords, a few page scene where the characters just say a few words to each other is not enough.  One must establish why the reader should care about the future viewpoint character.  This way, when the switch occurs, the reader has an identifiable goal to root for in regards to that character.  Regardless, though, establishing the character before switching viewpoints to them is often the safest route to ensure that readers aren’t pushed away from your story.

 

  1. For high risk switches, provide something that immediately makes the character sympathetic and interesting.

Let’s say, in the above scenario, you decide that you want to take the high risk of just switching to Princess Bobweed anyway.  Perhaps the plot demands that Billy-bob and Princess Bobweed establish themselves as heroes before they’re put together as a team.  It is possible to do this, but one must keep in mind a few things.

First off, and a matter that will be discussed more in the next point, don’t spend too much time on Billy-bob so that the reader becomes overly attached to him.

Second, if you choose to switch like this, you must be prepared to make the character you switch to immediately interesting and sympathetic.  Perhaps, when the reader first meets Princess Bobweed, it’s as she’s being exiled from her kingdom by her evil uncle.  As she’s leaving, maybe she comments that Billy-bob’s hometown, Timber Town, will be the first to fall under her uncle’s terrible and ruthless rule.  Then, she declares she won’t stand for it.  By providing these elements, the reader is not only given a connection to Billy-bob, whom they care about, but also see that Princess Bobweed has sympathetic motivations to taking her kingdom back from a tyrant.

The point of this method is to make the character you switch to be just as interesting as the protagonist(s) you’ve already established as a viewpoint character.  This way, even if the scenario is a bit jarring, the reader will be intrigued enough to continue with the story.  Of course, as you may have noticed, in that scenario I added a brief connecting point to Billy-bob.  This another way by which you can make the switch smoother, since giving the reader something familiar to grasp onto helps them switch more easily.  Again, this is a method that’s higher risk, but it is possible to be executed well.

 

  1. Make it clear the point-of-view is going to switch.

Briefly, let’s talk about when to switch.  While for some this might seem obvious, it is worth stating none-the-less.  When you switch can be equally important as how.  In this respect, there are two things in particular to watch out for.

Of the more obvious, you should always make sure the switch occurs at a notable end.  A notable end, in this case, can mean the end of a chapter or the end of a scene (it truly depends on the media).  Either way, the flow of a scene should be closing out the main focus before the reader is transported to a different character.  Think about how awkward it would be if in the middle of Billy-bob swinging his sword, we switched to Princess Bobweed’s feelings on watching him.  Though some action sequences could get away with this, in most cases one needs to make sure to not disrupt the flow of action unless there can be an appropriate time gap.

The less obvious matter to watch out for is to make sure you don’t wait too long to start switching characters.  Let’s return to our usual scenario again for a moment for a new hypothetical.  You’ve gone on adventures with Billy-bob for half a book and seen him slay 5 of the 8 great dragons.  He’s met with Princess Bobweed some, but for this first half of the book the limited viewpoint has been entirely Billy-bob.  Then, suddenly, in the second half of the book there’s a brief scene where the reader is limited to Princess Bobweed’s viewpoint.

Even though Princess Bobweed was even established in this case, the fact her viewpoint came out of the blue is going to jar the reader just as much as failing the above points.  Though one can add the amount of characters to switch to later on, it is far wiser to make it clear early on that these switches may occur (even if infrequent).  In so doing, the reader can at least expect them and not wonder if they’d suddenly entered a spin-off story.

 

 

Through these tips, I hope I have established enough of a foundation to make switching viewpoints easier.  Though it can backfire quickly, it is often a great boon to a story to allow the reader different limited viewpoints.   Of course, as with all my tips, there are numerous other ways you can go about writing.  This includes switching the point-of-view.  However, I feel with these tips in hand, one will have some guidelines through which they can analyze their works.  Whether you write novels, comics, visual novels, or anything else, I hope you keep these matters in mind and write a successful, well-flowing story.

 

Image by LouAnna on Pixabay.

Strange Writing Mistakes

Anyone who takes writing seriously knows that there are certain conventions that should be followed.  From simple things like “they’re” vs. “there” vs. “their” to bigger things like handling protagonist character development, there are numerous mistakes that are talked about frequently.  However, there are still even more mistakes that do not get talked about often, if only because they used to be infrequent.  Yes, I did say used to be.

Due to my myriad of project types, I end up reading a lot in one day and get exposed to a lot of mistakes I’m surprised people even make.  That being said, there are a few in particular that not only grind my gears, but also are a concerning trend in certain areas of the internet.  As such, I would like to take a moment to address these unspoken mistakes.  You too may have seen these and felt the irritation I do.

Keep in mind these mistakes are pretty variable and don’t particularly have a consistent theme like previous articles; nevertheless, they are worth discussing.

 

  1. Titles that are in all lower case

Even for non-native speakers, it should seem a pretty noticeable after a while that titles for works should be capitalized.  While there are a few exceptions that were done on purpose by the creator for specific reasons, in most cases titles in all lowercase shouldn’t be done.

Yet, it is something I see happen very frequently for indie stories.  Whether it’s laziness or some desire to be edgy, I’m unsure.  What I do know, though, is that in most cases it makes the work appear extremely unprofessional.  This is especially the case when the creator is inconsistent about whether they capitalize the title or not.

So, unless you have a very, very specific reason not to, I highly recommend capitalizing your titles.  It is something simple that if not done, quickly turns off a slew of readers who just assume you’re otherwise going to be a bad writer (which is often not the case for the indie stories I see do this).

 

  1. Summaries that are an inappropriate length

For those who write stories, situations where you need to summarize the story can often be difficult.  Even I struggle for reviews sometimes actually summarizing what I’m seeing on comic pages, and the longer the story the more difficult it can be.  That being said, most of the time people persist and persevere through the problem and eventually come up with a summary that they believe is golden.

This is the point, though, where the next mistake comes in: not stopping to consider if your summary is the right length.

Not all summary lengths are appropriate for every situation.  For example, your two paragraph masterpiece of all things is definitely not going to fit onto Twitter.  On the otherhand, your Twitter elevator pitch probably isn’t appropriate length if you need to describe in detail what volume 1 of your masterpiece entailed.

Thus, my next tip is simply to consider what you’re writing your summary for and make sure to fit it to those specifications.  The point of a summary is to describe the work with as much information as you can in as few words as possible.  People will go in with different reading expectations depending on what the summary is for.  By that, I mean the person on Twitter is on Twitter to read sentiments that are 140 characters or less.  If you give them two paragraphs worth of summary, they will more likely skip it than read it.  In the end, it’s in your best interest to not just worry about the summary, but also how long and/or brief the summary needs to be.

 

  1. Not specifying the time zone

Time zones are a headache.  They have purpose and are around for a reason, but for the average person they can be a hassle.  Unfortunately, a lot of writers seem to forget that they’re a thing.

Let me give you a personal story.  Recently, in order to become more proficient at marketing, I’ve been researching the best times to post on social media.  While I have plenty of complaints about receiving mixed information, the thing that bugged me the most is that none of these articles I read listed the time zone.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Articles whose purpose it was to list the best times couldn’t be bothered to write the time zone abbreviation.

Hopefully, you can see my dilemma.  Sadly, it was a lot of articles who committed this folly, leaving me feeling confused and no more knowledgeable than when I started researching.

Although it’s easy to forget, it is generally wise to include the time zone.  Your 1pm is not necessarily someone else’s 1pm.  As the internet reaches the far corners of the Earth, this becomes more and more poignant, so it’s better to include than to not include.  Particularly, be sure to include it in situations like my story above where the time is the highlight of the topic at hand.

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In summary, these lesser talked about mistakes are still things that happen frequently enough to be worth addressing.  Even if you think you’d never make them, they’re good to keep in mind regardless, If you have made them, well, everyone makes mistakes and it’s always something you can fix in the future.  If this article taught you nothing, perhaps it at least brought to your attention your own pet peeve you’ve noticed happening more.

 

Image: Time zones courtesy of geralt on Pixabay.

Project Organization Tips

So, you’ve got your big project planned, but feel overwhelmed because there’s a lot to do.  Or, even worse, you’re in the middle of the project and keep missing deadlines, keep forgetting to do particular parts, etc..  These are generally all symptoms of lacking organization.

From my experience, lacking organization for your project is the quickest way to kill it, whether you’re working alone or with a group.  Even if you think you can remember everything off the top of your head, distractions in life will always pop up and prompt you to forget things.  As such, in my opinion having good organization for any project is the first key to success.  Surprisingly, though, few people ever seem to have a clear idea on how to get themselves organized.  Thus, the purpose of my article today is to give you my tips and tricks for getting organized and staying on top of your project.

 

  1. Break down your project into manageable goals

The first step for any project should be to break it down into manageable goals.  It’s very easy to become overwhelmed when one keeps in mind their lofty goal of creating a game, planning a birthday party, or anything else of a large nature.  Generally, without breaking down the project, you will eventually become confused, lost, and unsure of the steps you need to take to achieve completion.  You also run the risk of forgetting aspects until the very last moment when it’s too late to rectify.  Thus, breaking down the project should always be a first step.

Certainly, breaking down a project is no easy task sometimes.  However, there is a key question you can ask yourself if you’re struggling: “What do I need for this project?”  Once you start asking yourself this question constantly, you put yourself on the track to think about the project from a more manageable level.  Planning a party?  Well, you probably need decorations, a location, invitations, music, food, etc..  Creating a game?  You need art assets, music assets, an idea of what gameplay mechanics you want, and so forth.  You can continue to ask this question to make the tasks even smaller, but as may be clear, the tasks suddenly become easier to accomplish.  Yet, they all work towards your larger, lofty goal, so completing them is still progressive towards it; now, you’re just better organized and prepared to handle everything.

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  1. Use a to-do list

Your project is broken down, but how can you keep track of it?  My suggestion is to always have a to-do list.  Whether you want to use a web-service that syncs across your devices or write it on old fashioned paper, the to-do list is how you keep track of what needs to be done and its status.  Now I’m sure there are those who “ugh” at this point since to-do lists are, in themselves, work.  They are also something that has to be developed into a habit so one can stay on top of it.  There are reasons, however, to keep up with a to-do list.

To start, a to-do list again, helps keep track of the project.  The larger the project, the larger the chance you will have to wonder, at some point, if you did something or not.  As long as you stay on top of the to-do list, it only takes five seconds to check it (versus the many minutes you may spend checking otherwise).  If you’re a paranoid person like I am, it’s also helpful for boosting confidence; in other words, your to-do list can help assure you that yes, you did indeed do that task you were supposed to do last week.  A to-do list also helps ensure you don’t forget what tasks need to be done either.

At the end, this sort of organizational task, though work, helps make the project more efficient.  As mentioned, it’s much quicker to check something off a to-do list than it is to keep track of everything in your head.

 

  1. Plan a conservative schedule

With to-do list in hand, the next task to organizing your project should be to plan a schedule.  Even if you aren’t going to set a hard deadline, a loose schedule is still important.  You may know your tasks, but the order you do them in can be pre-determined by the nature of the project.  For instance, if you’re making an educational video on math, you can’t exactly edit the video before you shoot it.  Even for the most hobby oriented of projects, make sure you know the order.

Of course, for less casual projects, you want to set deadlines with your tasks.  Thus, we come to the “conservative” part of this tip.  The unfortunate truth of life is that stuff happens and life does not always want to work with your plans.  One minute everything is on track for your party, and then boom, your DJ cancels a week before because their parent is in the hospital.  Or maybe the artist you hired to make game sprites for your cool indie game just suddenly dropped off the face of the Earth, leaving you asset-less.

Inevitably, when picking your deadlines, always give yourself an abundance of time to meet them.  If you can draw two comic pages a week, promise to upload one every week.  If you think your art piece will take one week to make, give yourself two.  There are numerous scenarios I could rattle off, but you always want to give yourself extra time.  This way, when life throws wrenches into your plans, your organization has given you leeway to deal with them and still stay on track.  If you meet your deadline before then, that’s great!  Start working ahead.  Trust me, it’s a much better feeling to be ahead than it is to be behind.

 

  1. Communicate your butt off

While this tip is more oriented for group projects, it is still worthwhile to mention.  Group projects can be a pain in the ass, and more people generally means more can go wrong.  However, you can help the matter with organization and communication.

So let’s say you’ve done all the above tasks, but instead of a solo project it’s a group project.  The next step to your organization should be to assign the tasks appropriately and make sure everyone understands the tasks and what’s expected of them.  It may even be helpful to agree to check in with each other every week to monitor progress (i.e. hold each other accountable).  Perhaps, if you’re really ambitious about your communication, you can start a group project page on Trello or other similar sites.

The point is, for group projects, organization and communication go hand-in-hand.  One cannot stay organized and on top of their project if they can’t keep track of how things are going with other group members.  It’s a stressful time for everyone, so the more you can assure people the project is going as planned, the easier everyone’s life can become.  This will ensure the optimal efficiency for the project and keep it from falling through.

There are two things to remember though.  For one, every group always has Dick, the person who will be a terrible member, never communicate, miss deadlines, etc..  Just because one person doesn’t care though, doesn’t mean you should strive to be Dick.  Be better than Dick, and perhaps kick Dick off the project.  The other thing to remember is that people cannot read your mind.  You think Sally and Joe Bob know you’re working on the last character art, because you subtly hinted at it by saying you were almost done?  No!  They don’t know.  They probably interpreted it to mean something else entirely.  Sounds silly to you, of course, until you’re on the other end where someone expected you to read their mind.  Always be direct, and always assume the other people don’t know.  Even if it gets tedious and annoying, it will save you from miscommunication later.

 

In summary, though organization is work, it is an essential component to any project.  Not only does it make you complete projects more efficiently, but it makes sure you do so with confidence.  I have seen a ton of potentially great projects fall through cause it was clear the people involved weren’t organized.  So please, do not be those people.  Organize, do better, and you will have a successful project that comes together smooth as silk.

Tips for Writing Good Magic Systems

Magic is a tricky subject when it comes to any story.  Whether you’re writing an epic, medieval fantasy or a space opera, you have a high chance of creating characters who are capable of feats beyond our normal, mortal means.  Unfortunately for beginners, magic has a high risk of becoming too over-powered, too confusing, or too plot deviced.  There are a plethora of ways magic can go wrong, whether you’re writing it for a novel, game, or anything else.  It is not a topic for the faint of heart, as the saying goes.

That being said, however, there are certain mindsets that can help you create better magic systems for your stories.  In this article, I’ve chosen three tips that, at least for beginners, should be kept in mind while developing your world.  Before we begin, I will note that like most “rules” in writing, they can be broken.  These tips are not set in stone; rather, they should be used as guidelines to help you along the process.  With that out of the way now, let’s begin.

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  1. Understand how your magic system works, and convey that to the reader.

One thing you definitely do not want to do with magic is make it up as you go.  Sure, for a while Wizard Boy can peacefully shoot fireballs, ice spikes, and grease, but eventually some reader is going to ask questions about how it works.  Why can Wizard Boy do magic and not Warrior Chick?  How does Wizard Boy do magic?  The moment these questions start being asked, the moment the world starts to crumble if you do not have a concrete answer.

Thankfully, there are a myriad of ways to handle this area.  You can use a mana based system (like what most RPGs use for magic) that involves pulling energy from the area or from inside yourself to turn it into some sort of magic.  You can have the magic be reliant on incantations instead of just a wave of a wand.  You can even have something more out there like with Mass Effect’s biotics (i.e. space magic), where humans have specific implants that allow them to use it.

There are just numerous ways for you to go about magic creatively, whether it’s something you make up yourself or something inspired from other fictional works.  The important part is to have a clear understanding of it.  In general, you want to know where the energy for the magic comes from, who can perform magic, how magic is performed (incantations, wands, sheer willpower, etc.), what magic can do, etc..  The more rules your magic has, the better you will find yourself able to utilize it in a story.

However, you must also make sure you can convey this information to the reader.  Now of course, you don’t want to info-dump a ten page monologue from Wizard Boy to deliver the information.  Dropping tidbits at appropriate moments, though, is something that should be strived for.  The better you can put the reader on the same page as you, the more immersed and real the world will feel to them.  It also creates a world where the reader won’t get distracted asking their questions that you cannot answer without a well-established system.  So, whether your magic system is shallow or immensely deep, make sure you have moments the reader can understand it as well.

 

  1. Keep in mind advantages and disadvantages

Another way to title this tip would be to say make sure the magic in your story has limitations.  This is a point I cannot emphasis enough and is often the point I see that’s most broken, even by professionals who have monumentally successful series.  When it comes to magic, there is nothing that opens up a plot hole faster than a magic system that is limitless.

For example, if you established that characters aren’t limited by something like mana or anything else to produce magic, everyone is going to start to wonder why Wizard Boy didn’t just magic them out of that dungeon.  It’s at this point that more introspection is triggered, and readers may come to dislike your story for not having enough balance as far as character power dynamics goes.

As such, it is extremely important you establish some limitations.  Perhaps, like in Baldur’s Gate, characters can only use spells a certain number of times per day.  Or, like in numerous RPGs, characters only have access to a certain amount of energy (i.e. mana) to cast their spells.  As you can guess from my analogies, I highly suggest taking a look at games and analyzing how they limited magic via the gameplay mechanics.  While not the easiest to translate over to pure writing, for gameplay mechanics putting limits on magic is extremely important to creating a balanced game.  Taking inspiration from their ideas may give you a better idea of aspects you could utilize to limit your own story’s magic system.

On the flip side, however, let’s briefly talk about advantages.  Now while I don’t see this point broken often, there are times where a story will make magic horribly weak (until the plot demands it fix something at least).  As important as it is to give magic limitations, one must also remember magic should have some advantages.  To example, the most common advantage magic has is range, and magic users are generally very powerful as long as they stay out of close combat.  This is something you can easily utilize in a story.  Either way, magic should have a point of being in the story, and not be so weak it’s worthless.

Balance is key when it comes to magic systems.  Pros and cons must both be present, but in so doing you will have magic using characters who fit into the world smoothly.

 

  1. Keep rules and lore consistent

The last tip I have for writing magic is to have consistent rules and lore.  One of my first posts on this blog was basically a rant about how Dragon Age: Inquisition’s magic system broke immense amounts of lore.  Fortunately in that game’s case, however, it could be overlooked because gameplay mechanics generally take precedence over good lore.

Unfortunately for the subject of this post, though, that is a huge no-no.

For a reader, breaking of the lore and/or rules sticks out like a sore thumb.  If you establish, for example, that only fire nymphs can use fire spells, don’t suddenly tell us Wizard Boy can somehow use them too even though he isn’t a fire nymph.  Breaking rules and/or lore will generally and immediately pull a reader out of the story.  They will question why this was broken, and unless you have a compelling reason for why, you’re risking it coming off as a poorly written plot device.

Once you establish your magic system, you should try to stick to it like glue.  While you can slowly throw wrenches into the system, the heart of it should continually remain the same.  The reasons for this are largely related to the reasons for the first tip: you want to give the reader something concrete to understand about the magic system.  If you start throwing in wrenches willy nilly, you destabilize the system you developed, and more or less wind up back at square one.  Do not create rules unless you intend to follow them, because it’s the consistency that will help ground your world.

 

Thus are my baseline tips for writing magic.  Magic can be a high risk endeavor, but the reward for its presence can be interesting as well.  It’s not something that should be thrown together on a whim; it should be given some deep thought to create a world that is logical to the reader.  Of course, practice makes perfect, so don’t be afraid to try magic out either.  Eventually, you will come to learn your own tricks of the trade for magic, and will create something that nobody else has before.

Before closing out this article, I would highly suggest checking out Avatar: The Last Airbender (the show, not the terrible movie).  This show pushes the boundaries on these tips I’ve given, but does so in a way that’s well-written.  As I mentioned at the beginning, these guidelines are just that: guidelines.  There are ways to push and pull at the guidelines and still create a well-written story; so, if you need an example, that is the show to check out in my opinion.

 

Image: Wizard from Pixabay by GraphicMama-team.

Quick Tips for Business E-mails

While e-mailing your friends is easy enough, it’s often a whole other ballpark to e-mail a business or similar professional entity.  Is this too formal?  Will they care I didn’t capitalize this word?  What else should I do?  These are just some of the questions that may pop into your head as you try to conquer your nervousness.  As someone who deals with a lot of professional e-mails in an indie setting, though, there are a lot of common mistakes that get made that I feel the average person doesn’t quite consider.  That being the case, I wanted to impart my wisdom in these four quick tips that will help you compose a better e-mail.

Before I begin, please keep in mind this post will not cover formatting.  This is something that can easily be found in a plethora of other articles should you care to look.  It is also an aspect I feel is less important, since differing e-mail clients will change the format anyway.  With that out of the way, here are my quick tips to writing better business e-mails~!

 

  1. Say something; never leave your body blank

Though I expect some skeptical eyebrow raising from some, let me assay your worries: this does happen.  It’s not common, for sure, but it happens.  Especially in an environment where people will be sending you attached files, some e-mails just arrive with nothing to say.  Let me tell you, this is highly inadvisable.  It gives a bad impression to the receiving party when you say nothing.  Additionally, it makes it easier for them to not notice your attachments, since it blurs the line about what the e-mail is regarding.  So, even if it’s just a file exchange, always write something.  Even if you have to write something generic like, “Below I’ve attached the requested files for Project Name,” that is infinitely better than just sending a blank e-mail.  Remember, this is a business exchange.  You don’t need to write them an essay about this simple exchange, but you should properly state the obvious anyway to keep the line of communication clear.

 

  1. Don’t say too much; the receiving party doesn’t want your life story

Now this one is far more common than the former point.  Some e-mails are just flat out intimidating walls of text.  As a person, I can empathize; I, too, ramble a bit when I’m nervous.  That being said, the glorious thing about writing is that you can edit it down.  Trust me, if you have a huge paragraph, you may want to consider this.

Business e-mails should contain ONLY the necessary information that the receiving party requires.  If the receiving party requested certain files, don’t write an essay about your hard search for them or how your day is going.  Write a proper greeting, mention you included the files, and conclude the e-mail.  That is all that should be in the body.  Did the receiving party request the body to contain a short biography?  Write a proper greeting, mention the biography is below, write the biography, and conclude the e-mail.  Do you see the pattern?  Being concise is key for business e-mails.

There are certainly those who are asking what necessary information versus unneeded information is.  Unfortunately, there is no one catch all guideline for that.  For example, if in a certain file you had to redact something because of privacy agreements, that may be something worth mentioning in the e-mail.  However, perhaps the part you redacted was small and had nothing to do with the core parts the receiving party needs.  In that case, it may be irrelevant to mention.  There are a myriad of circumstances, so what is needed is a case-by-case thing.  My rule of thumb for this, though, is less is better.  Unless the receiving party specifically requested it, it’s probably better to not include.

For those wondering, the reason you want to be concise, is that the receiving party probably doesn’t have time.  It’s great you want to share your life story to everyone, but for business purposes it’s not really the place.  In fact, including too much information is liable to anger the receiving party more than it makes them like you.  The more you make the receiving party have to sift to find relevant information, the more likely they will not want to work with you.  So please, for your sake, keep your e-mails to the point.

 

  1. Write a clear subject line.

This is one you may find in articles about formatting, but I’m going to include it here because it is a frequent problem.  Always be sure to make your subject line as clear as possible.  In some cases, the receiving party will actually indicate what subject line they would like for the e-mail (i.e. your submitting content for a group project).  The best practice is to always use that subject line verbatim in those cases.  Don’t switch words around, don’t add cheeky emotes, or anything else.  Use that subject line exactly because it will make the receiving party that much happier.  For those times where the receiving party doesn’t specify a subject line, pick something that is a clear indicator of what the e-mail is concerning.  Is your e-mail a question about payment?  The subject line should probably be something like, “Payment Question – Project Name.”  Is the e-mail a submission of sorts to some project?  Perhaps include a subject line like, “Project Name– Submission.”  The key with subject lines is to be clear but concise.  I know that’s easier said than done in some cases, but with practice it’s something that can come naturally.  It will help you out too, in the long run, since you’ll be able to go through your “sent” folder and clearly identify which each e-mail was about.  Using a clear subject line leaves a better impression, so it’s good to endeavor to do.

 

  1. Read any instructions carefully

My last tip is one that I feel is most important of all: have stellar reading comprehension.  As a receiving party, there is nothing more infuriating than getting an e-mail that shows the sender didn’t read anything.  It gives the receiving party not only a bad impression of your work ethic, but also your ability to follow instruction in some cases.

Thus, I cannot stress enough how much writing a good business e-mail is equally about reading.  If you’re, for example, submitting content for a project, read all the project instructions and follow them to the letter.  Yes, some of those instructions can be a huge wall of text, but they are there for a reason.  Trust me, the receiving party did not write those instructions for fun.  Being able to follow the instructions not only makes the receiving party’s life easier, but gives them a much better first impression of you.

It is equally important, however, to pay attention to any e-mails you receive from a business/professional entity, etc..  The business, if run well at least, will be following these tips.  In other words, their e-mails, even if they’re long, will endeavor to only include the necessary information.  It is essential you read these e-mails top to bottom, sometimes twice, to make sure you don’t miss anything.  Sadly, as a frequent receiving party, I get many replies that ask questions that were blatantly answered in the e-mail I had just sent previously.  This is why it is important to make sure you understand an e-mail before replying to it.  It will, again, give a bad impression if you’re demonstrating you can’t be bothered to read.

That being said, if you have read everything, it’s perfectly okay to ask for clarification.  The receiving party is usually more than happy to answer reasonable questions that haven’t been addressed already.  It’s also fine to ask for clarification.  This is not quite the same as asking a question.  Rather, if the business answered the question, but you didn’t quite understand something about it, it’s fine to request clarification; just admit you didn’t understand it.  The receiving party will not think less of you; rather, they’re probably grateful you asked instead of wasting their time with confusion.

In summary, please read available information concerning the receiving party.  Tl;dr is not an excuse in a professional setting.

 

Although I could list infinitely more tips, these are ones I feel are overlooked key points that one should consider for any business e-mail.  As harsh as I’m sure some of these tips sound, remember that business communication is, in a sense, a collaboration.  Just as your time is valuable, so is the receiving party’s time.  It is best to endeavor to not waste it.  Simplicity can save everyone from long e-mail chains, and aid in everyone getting what they want.

 

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Image: By naobim on Pixabay

Basic Writing Tips from Rebel

As someone who writes most every day, I consider myself decently knowledgeable about numerous aspects of writing.  I’m no expert certainly and make mistakes like a normal human would, but I grasp the basic concepts pretty well.  That being said, as someone who writes often, it always surprises me how many people have stories to tell but claim to have no ability to write well.  Today, I would like to impart some knowledge on these sorts of folks.  Now, this is not an attempt to say, “I’m better than you,” or anything like that.  I simply feel some of the tips I can offer may help someone out down the line.

So if this is something that would interest you, please sit back and enjoy~!

 

  • Outline your story.

In my opinion, outlines are one of the most crucial steps to starting any story. While there are, of course, people who thrive when they don’t have a set plan for their story, I find more often than not most people do better with an outline.

So what do I mean by outline?  I simply mean a bulleted point list of all the major plot points.  Does Bob journey to the forbidden mountains, fall in love, and then get turned into a frog?  List all those as separate bullet points.  The organization of your outline is totally up to you; as long as it’s something you can understand, it’s fine.  You can add as many details to each point as you want (I’m a particular fan of organizing things with subpoints), but it’s also okay to just do the bare minimum.

The point of doing an outline, however, is so that you go in with a plan.  When you have your major plot points listed out, it becomes much easier to notice things like logic inconsistencies and plot holes.  Additionally, it also gives you the perfect medium through which to foreshadow future elements.  For me personally, I find writing is also infinitely easier when you have an outline prepared, since you already know where you need to get with any scene/arc/etc.  I could go on and on about the benefits to outlining, but the point is it gives you a plan, which is necessary particularly for those who aren’t experienced story writers.
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  • Remember writing is not science, it’s a creative pursuit.

I’m sure a plethora of people have heard this before, but it never hurts to reiterate. Throughout your writing development, you will be told numerous amounts of rules.  Generally, these are things like avoiding clichés and tropes, not beginning a story a certain way, etc.  However, unlike science, these are not set in stone rules.  While they are good guidelines to follow, there exist an infinite number of contexts where any one rule can be broken and work in an amazing way.  In the same spirit of art, it’s okay to experiment with how you write a story, even if it means breaking some of the rules that get hammered into you during your youth.

Now, another aspect of this being a creative pursuit that’s worth mentioning is writing is also subjective.  No matter what you do in regards to rule-breaking or not, there will always be people who don’t like your story.  Now, you should of course consider all criticism seriously.  That being said, you can choose to continue writing how you like if you feel certain aspects are necessary for the story you want to tell.  There’s nothing wrong with not following someone’s advice, and you can always find an audience that likes it the way it is.  The point I wish to make here is that you should simply write the story that makes you happy.

  • When applicable, read your stuff aloud.

Assuming you write your entire story down at some point, you’re probably going to want to edit it (at the very least for grammatical stuff). When you edit it, I highly advise reading it aloud.  Of course, I don’t expect anyone to start randomly reading their story on the crowded bus.  However, if you can find time to yourself, I definitely encourage reading the story aloud, or, if you can’t read it, getting someone else to with you present.  The reason this is a desirable way to edit, is it’s a quick cheat to find grammar, flow, and other sorts of similar errors that you might have otherwise missed.  I myself do this all the time since my brain has a tendency to auto fill in words even if they’re missing.  Reading aloud helps you catch issues like that quickly so you don’t wind up publishing a story with items like, “You only need go with flow.”  There are a ton of other ways in which this helps, and while you may have a sore throat after, you may find your editing skills improved immensely from doing this.

  • Trimming is important.

When I say trimming, I mean this in two ways. In the first way, it is often better to be brief than it is to expound on something.  While your two paragraphs about your protagonist’s breakfast may be a beautiful masterpiece, in the larger picture it may not really be necessary to elaborate that much on it (assuming the breakfast plays no part in the actual plot).  Of course, brief does not mean never describing anything ever.  Generally, the rule of thumb is to describe things that you want the reader to pay attention.  Does it turn out that the breakfast gave the protagonist magical powers?  Then yes, that would be a scenario describing the breakfast wouldn’t be out of place.  If it’s just a normal breakfast though, you don’t really need to write an essay on it.

The second way I mean trimming is simply to not make things overly complicated.  I’m sure you love your protagonist who is a magical girl, but also a princess and a half-demon who gets overcome by blood-lust occasionally.  While I won’t knock having such a protagonist, the problem is that all these things are going to require story rules.  What triggers the blood-lust?  What are the transformation rules?  The world is as much a part of a character as the character is a part of the world.  The rules between are intermingled and, unfortunately, readers can only keep track of so many rules.  So, simply for the sake of not confusing the reader, one needs to find a balance between being complicated and being simple enough readers don’t need a whole guidebook for how the world works.

 

 

There are a lot of other pieces of advice I could give, and ways in which I could elaborate on the points above.  However, I think I’ve conveyed a basic understanding at this point of these basic writing components.  Becoming a good writer, like numerous creative pursuits, is simply a matter of practice.  Writing with confidence, whether you think you are good or not, will also make a huge difference in your ability to convey your story.  I hope with this article that some people feel better equipped to dive into story-telling.  There are never enough stories to be had in the world, so I encourage everyone to tell the ones they have.

Starting an Etsy Shop: Three Things to Know

Very, very recently I opened up an Etsy shop to sell jewelry and plushies.  My reason for doing such is simple: I had already made jewelry a few years back to sell at an Artist Alley, had lots of backstock left, and finally felt it was time to sell the rest off.  This is my first time selling online, so I would not claim to be an expert on it, nor am I an expert on Etsy.  However, the things I wish to talk about today do not require expert knowledge.  Rather, they are just things that, while researching starting an Etsy shop, were not mentioned or were poorly explained.

The goal of this post is not to instruct you on taking good product photos, how to tag your product to get it found, or anything of that nature.  There are already hundreds of other posts online about those aspects by people who would know better than I.  I, instead, wish to tell you of three aspects to starting your shop.  These are aspects that are manageable, but caught me by surprise when I started.  I hope that this article can help someone else be better prepared for starting their shop.

  1. Be ready to list items immediately when starting your shop.

I generally like to take the time to prepare and plan before fully investing myself in something.  For a site like Etsy, this would include starting a shop without listing items.  This would be done in effort to achieve two things.  On the one hand, I would get a chance to familiarize myself with the interface and not run around like a chicken with its head cut off when something first sells.  On the other hand, I could also better assess what customization options there are for the shop so I could quickly make the store look decent.

Suffice it to say, one of the shop creation screens flat out wants you to start by listing some items.  I certainly understand Etsy’s reasoning: they want to discourage people opening up empty shops that take up shop names.  However, as I was not expecting this, I had to hold off on my shop creation for a week, because I was just simply unprepared to list items at that exact moment.

So, going in, my suggestion is to set several hours aside when starting a shop.  Have your product pictures prepared and, just in general, be prepared to list at least one item.

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  1. If you are a US seller, Etsy can auto calculate the shipping.

Another aspect of my personality is I always think about what to charge.  Do I need to fold in shipping costs into the product price?  How much should I calculate for packaging?  While shipping is readily mentioned in a lot of articles, from my experience at least, a lot of the information is different from article to article.  Etsy itself also has articles about things like Shipping Profiles, but I feel it does a poor job tying everything together.  Inevitably, I started opening my shop with little idea about what was going on for shipping and decided I’d have to cross that bridge when I got there.

To my surprise and relief, you can just have Etsy auto calculate the shipping if you are a US seller.  That being the case, you do not need to worry about folding shipping costs into the product price.  This also makes it easier to sell internationally. Now, of course, Etsy does offer the ability to offer free shipping, and you CAN fold in the shipping cost into the product price, but the point is it’s not necessary.  Etsy even lets you set a handling fee, so you can absorb your packaging costs into there.

Keep in mind for calculated shipping to work, you do need to be able to measure your package, as well as weigh it.  However, if you can get those measurements, shipping aspects of product planning become a breeze and nothing to get in a tizzy over.

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  1. If you are going to sell to people in Europe, be aware EU consumer protection laws force you have to offer returns and to reveal your identity.

Now first off, I am no expert on the particular laws involved, so the specific nuances to them are out of my league.  However, upon creating my shop, I did read up on what Etsy provided about them, and was disappointed I had seen a severe lack of mention of them in my previous research.

To put it bluntly, regardless of where you’re selling from, consumers in Europe are given certain protections that you still have to adhere to.  One such protection is you must accept returns (14 day minimum from them receiving the item).  Now, before you panic, Etsy policies let you state the return shipping cost is on the consumer, so you don’t need to worry about that.  In retrospect, it’s not a huge deal since it doesn’t really cost you anything to offer returns, and returns will keep your customer base happy.

The issue that was more concerning for me was the second part: you are required to identify yourself with name and address so that the consumer knows who you are.  As someone who values a certain level of anonymity, this definitely made me nervous.  Though Etsy does state that anyone outside Europe cannot see that information, I can understand why that would still deter some people.  Now for me, I bit the bullet and decided international selling was more important than anonymity.  However, it is something to keep in mind if you wanted to maintain a more shadow presence while selling internationally.

Of course, you circumvent this by not selling to Europe, but that is of course potentially lost sales.  In the end, this is one you’re gonna have to decide for yourself about what you value more.  Keep in mind there are more EU consumer protection laws than what I have mentioned, but these are the two I felt affected me on a personal level.

 

That’s about all I have to say on the matter.  I’m sure there are articles that do mention these things somewhere out there and I probably just missed them.  Nevertheless, I also think the articles discussing tags and photos are more abundant, so it can’t hurt the world to have another article that talks about these lesser mentioned aspects of creating a shop.  I hope this has left at least someone better prepared to start, perhaps someone like myself who does worry about these sorts of detailed aspects to selling.  I also hope I haven’t deterred anyone from selling on Etsy either, because the process of setting up a shop is easier than it seems.

With that, I wish all future potential sellers good luck, and don’t sweat the small stuff.

 

Etsy is © to Etsy Inc.

Image 1: Screenshot of part of Etsy’s new listing screen.

Image 2: Screenshot of part of Etsy’s Shipping Profiles setup.