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So I usually use stackexchange as a last resort, but I'm completely stumped. If this question is inappropriate here, I will gladly delete it.

None of my teachers say that anything is wrong with my writing, but I suspect it's because I'm still young. I feel that my writing is incredibly... off? I feel that I try too hard to be "profound" and use "too many" rhetorical techniques to the point where it sounds... staccato, but NOBODY has mentioned it. I can't seem to change this, especially when writing emotions. I can write pretty fluidly, with non-fiction/persuasive projects, but anything else I fail miserably at. Just my ADHD, or indicative of a bigger (changeable) problem?

I think that my writing style comes from "gritty" video games and war movies, but not from actual books, so could that be my problem? I read a lot of course, but nothing like what I write.

Here's an example. I never finish writing ANYTHING, but I always have the concept down.

This is after a journal entry, with the main character being completely oblivious to what's about to happen. It's supposed to shift the mood quickly.

Fire.

Hellfire.

The concrete melts below me.

The bodies sink. The smell of rot fills the city.

Six men get up, skin charred black. Determined to fight.

Six men die, peppered with bullets. Cut to ribbons.

I run, and take cover under their bodies.

It works.

Only 300 meters to go.

I think this part is sort of satisfactory, but I obviously can't keep up this style for the next 300 meters. I took some inspiration from the Saving Private Ryan screenplay, which I think also limits me. It's my all-time favorite movie, but I think it's ruined my writing style.

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    Yeah, sorry, it's off topic. We don't do writing critiques. You are welcome to post a question like "how can I improve a choppy writing style?" It might be similar to the current question but you'd need to completely reframe it. – Cyn says make Monica whole May 1 '19 at 15:02
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    Hmm. Did you try poetry? – Alexander May 1 '19 at 15:57
  • This works for me but you probably don't want to limit your audience to those with ADHD. – ShadoCat May 1 '19 at 18:53
  • It sounds like you are struggling with sentence length variability which comes with practice. Move clauses, combine and swap. Think of it like music--you have rap, but might want some classical: Try this: Try to create a legato 16 measure phrase from your snippet. Like: In fire and hellfire, the concrete below me melts and bodies sink. The smell of rot fills the city. Six men get up, determined to fight, their skin charred black, and soon, peppered with bullets and cut to ribbons, those six men die. I run. Taking cover behind the mass of their bodies, I realize it worked. 300 meters to go. – DPT May 1 '19 at 19:15
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    If you're not writing a screenplay, using a screenplay as your inspiration is probably a bad idea. Screenplays are intended to be turned into visuals, not consumed by the audience as a written work, so they're written in a completely different way. – Anthony Grist May 1 '19 at 20:27
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Firstly, don't get disheartened. Writing is a skill that takes practice and the more you do it, the better you will get. You may have a longer road that some if your ADHD makes it difficult to concentrate on complete sentences? But even if that's so, don't let that discourage you. It's not a race, you may just take a bit longer to complete a project.

If I were in your shoes, I would take the following approach (forgive the poor writing examples, they are just to illustrate):

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1. DRAFT

Allow yourself the freedom to write terrible first drafts. Almost every writer writes a first draft they wouldn't want anyone else to see. Write your first draft in any way that feels comfortable for you, even if it reads staccato and takes inspiration from screenplays instead of books. Just get your thoughts down, get the scenes written.

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2. CONNECT

Once you have your staccato first draft, connect the sentences with conjunctions. Most writers will do this naturally, but you will have to force yourself in the beginning. Eventually, you may find you do it more often without thinking. For example:

Fire.

Hellfire.

The smell of rot fills the city.

The concrete melts below me and the bodies sink. Six men get up, their skin charred and black, but they're still determined to fight. Seconds later, the same six men die right in front of me, peppered with bullets and cut to ribbons.

I run.

With moments to spare before suffering the same fate, I take cover under their bodies.

It works.

Only 300 meters to go.

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3. PAD

Most writers have the opposite problem to you. They overstuff sentences with adjectives, adverbs and copious amounts of description that drags on for paragraphs. Their second drafts are usually much shorter than the first. Yours will be the opposite.

You need to take your scenes and pad them with exposition. You need descriptions of the setting and characters. You need to get into the thoughts of your protagonist and describe what he's thinking and feeling. For example:

Fire.

Hellfire.

The skeletons of burned out skyscrapers loom overhead, blocking out the sun. Smoke spills from glassless windows and the streets are littered with the still burning contents of office blocks and shops. The smell of rot fills the city.

Before the war, I walked these streets with a Starbucks in one hand and the Financial Times in the other. Life was good. If I'd know what was coming, I would have appreciated it more. In less than a month, everything was gone.

The concrete melts below me and the bodies sink. Six men get up, their skin charred and black, but they're still determined to fight. Over the horizon, the machines come.

'Get down! Get down!' I scream but they don't hear me over the roar of gunfire. And seconds later, those same six men die right in front of me, peppered with bullets, cut to ribbons.

I run.

With moments to spare before suffering the same fate, I take cover under their bodies.

It works.

Only 300 meters to go.

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  1. EDIT

Once you have scenes with connected sentences, balanced with setting, character descriptions, dialogue and exposition, you can set about honing it. Eliminate weak adjectives and adverbs replacing them with strong nouns and verbs. Cut out cliches and write and rewrite until it's perfect.

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Remember that writers who create perfection in a single draft are rare beasts indeed. Many books go through dozens of drafts. Just keep writing, rewriting and practicing. Read as many books as you can in your genre (not screenplays) and study how the bestsellers create scenes. Analyse them sentence by sentence. Look at how they balance dialogue, action, exposition, setting, etc. And read as many books as you can on craft.

It will get easier. You will get better. Just keep doing it.

HTH Good luck!

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  • Thank you a ton for the examples. I'm absolutely horrible at learning without examples. You're absolutely right about other authors overstuffing, I think that's also why I write like this. I grew up reading "meh" fanfiction and always thought "I can do better than this" and ended up trimming off so much fat that the writing became malnourished. Thanks! – Carlos Cienfuegos May 1 '19 at 15:30
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    @CarlosCienfuegos I like the style of leaving very short sentences alone on paragraphs. I do it in my own writing when I want the reader to pause and focus on that sentence alone. Hence leaving many of those behind in the examples. Don't worry about constantly editing down to the bones - that's a good thing. Most writers struggle to strip sentences down to the bone. What you don't want to do is overuse these short, stripped out sentences because one after another after another will make it sound staccato. – GGx May 1 '19 at 15:35
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    @ashleylee none taken... it wasn't meant to make it better. I don't have the time to write a great scene for Carlos. As pointed out at the beginning of the answer, they're poor examples designed to illustrate a point, not rewrite it for him. Esp. when I don't even know what's happening in the scene. As Carlos has already figured out, if he goes on in that style for page after page, it's going to get very tiresome for the reader. His characters are floating in thin air. There's no setting, no description, no exposition, no internal or external dialogue. – GGx May 1 '19 at 15:44
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    His sentence lengths are all short, there's no rhythm or variation, which means that none of the great and gritty short sentences stand out. It's his job to carefully balance all these things in the scene in a way that will make it better, not mine. I was just quickly illustrating each point. – GGx May 1 '19 at 15:44
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    @CarlosCienfuegos I would also steer clear of fan fiction while you're trying to hone your craft. Find some great books in your genre and learn from them instead. Trimming the fat until it's malnourished... I like that! I think you're gonna be fine! – GGx May 1 '19 at 15:47
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What strikes me is the lack of detail. I'm having trouble picturing the scene with what's given. There's more to a scene than just action.

A character who's in danger shouldn't notice much besides the threat - you have the right idea there. But even then, there are other details he should notice - both about the threat itself and how he can deal with it.

Here are some things you may want to consider for this scene: Someone is shooting at your character. Where are the shots coming from? What are their numbers? Are they using modern weapons, or some sort of futuristic ray guns? Is your character the only survivor, or are there others fleeing for their lives? Is your character armed and/or armored? If so, what sort of equipment does he have?

You mention almost nothing about the setting. How widespread is the fighting? How badly damaged is the city? Does your character need to worry about collapsing buildings? Are there piles of rubble lying about that he can use for cover? What do his last 300 meters look like?

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  • +1 because your answer points to the fact that so much needs to go into an effective piece. Action, narration, dialog, characterization, setting, strong use of language, and so on. But, FTR, I have enough setting, personally, in the piece-- because I have: a city smelling of rot, concrete, confusion, and probably at least a dozen people. 300 meters away is safety. As a reader, I'm sufficiently oriented. – DPT May 1 '19 at 19:22
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Got to be honest with you. I hate it.

It is choppy. Disjointed. fragmented.

Unless you are describing a first person reaction scene where the hero was just hit by the blast wave of a mortar shell.......

even then you shouldn't sustain it for more than half a page.

from your normal voice post, it is very obvious that you can do much better than that faux artistic style in the writing sample.

As to how you might improve it...

Stop trying to be whatever it is you are trying to be..

Be yourself. Don't force this phony (gritty.. video game) style on yourself... Write ... and let your style develop organically.

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  • Well, yeah, that's sort of the thing. The character was just "hit" with an incendiary mortar. He's disoriented. The problem is that I can't transition out of it, and any scene with emotion or confusion in it sounds the exact same way. My character shouldn't sound like he's always hit with a flashbang, but he ends up doing so anyway. How do I be myself? I have a severe issue with editing every little thing i write if it doesn't sound right (in fact, I just did it right now, and these parentheses were edited in later) , but how do I get myself out of that habit? Just force no corrections? – Carlos Cienfuegos May 1 '19 at 14:37
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    @Carlos Cienfuego: you don't sound at all like you have just been hit by a flashbang... :P Your normal voice is pretty clear and logical... As to how you might slip in and out of the gritty reaction style, I think you might want to go ALL-IN. Notice your words are still semi-3rd person. 6 men dead. 6 still alive. A guy just hit by a flashbang wouldn't know that. He would see blurry figures clambering up... Go ALL IN... to the first person reaction. and then when the scene is done.. you can just transition back to storytelling... – ashleylee May 1 '19 at 14:44
  • @CarlosCienfuegos Trust that you will develop an ear for it. Trust that this will happen. Edit until you no longer feel like editing (or until you think the edits no longer improve, only change) and move on. At some point, ask for readers among your critique group. – DPT May 1 '19 at 19:19
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You ask two questions.

1) Yes.

2) Ask yourself "What do I know about writing?" and then write down your thoughts. When you're done squeezing that out, research, by yourself, additional things about writing that are objectively true. Now we're going to imagine that's done. Ask yourself "What is good writing, or at least something a person would read voluntarily?" Do not answer from your perspective. If you must, just ask multiple people who are demographically dissimilar. Write down what they say, with your hand.

My personal take, based on the meager info here, is that you're young and you don't read frequently. You may not read deliberately on any occasion. You should.

LESS IS MORE. I'm not sorry for yelling. The most important people on earth are copy editors. They do a lot of things, but one thing they do which writers hate and readers love is they take all the words and sentences out that don't need to be there. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, take something you wrote that you really like, and rewrite it in as few words as possible. Just get to the point, leave out all the stylistic nonsense, because style without good content is objectively terrible. Everything is terrible, you can be less worse.

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