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Neopia's Fill in the Blank News Source | 23rd day of Collecting, Yr 19
The Neopian Times Week 34 > Articles > 10 Dos and Don'ts of Neopian Authorship

10 Dos and Don'ts of Neopian Authorship

by muas

In addition to writing numerous stories and articles for the Times, I read the paper itself every week. I don't always manage to keep up with the series, but I do read a good deal of the stories and articles, and always the comics.

From this reading I've gleaned some insights into what makes a Neopian story memorable and what makes it fade into the background with all the other stories. It's one of my beliefs that you learn from mistakes, so here, I'll take a look at some of the most common story goofs and how you can prevent them.

1. A Non-Neopian Atmosphere
Imagine that you're someone who's never heard of NeoPets before. You do a search on a search engine and find a link to somebody's story in the Times. If it's a good story, you should be able to tell from the beginning that this is a NeoPets-based story, not something that could happen anywhere.

I've seen some stories in the Times where the authors could just have easily have replaced humans on Earth with the pets in Neopia, and nothing would change. That's not what you want. You need the flavour of Neopia. And it doesn't have to be very hard--instead of saying "Roxanne ate a dinner made up of pizza and soda in her house," say "Roxy ate a dinner of Snow Pizza and Neocola in her NeoHome on Krawk Island."

2. Confusing Names
Say you have four pets in this story of yours. You could name them Mandri, Mandicle, Mansoon and Manrone, but why? Chances are your readers will get very confused and may not stay to read the whole story if you do. Instead, you could name them Mandri, Rollma, Cyte, and Pauldone, and nobody will be confused.

The same goes for species. If you have a lot of pets, make them different species (unless it's integral to the plot that they be the same), and refer to them not only by their names but also by their species sometimes, just to refresh readers' memory.

3. No Character History
Your characters have got to mean something. Nobody will care about your story if your characters are flat, one-dimensional, and have no personality. Your protagonist (the main character) and the antagonist (the opponent of the main character) should grow and learn in the story, not remain the same.

So if your protagonist is a big bully in the Swashbucklers Academy, and his antagonist is the teacher of the academy, you could have the bully become the best friend of the teacher. Having a story just about the bully's teasing would definitely not be interesting and many readers would probably give up.

4. Implausible Endings
It's known as a deux ex machina (DEM): when somewhere, out of nowhere, with no foreshadowing whatsoever, something comes in to save the day and end the story miraculously. It's popular with people who don't create outlines and thus have no ending when they get to the appropriate place in the story.

Faced with no idea of how to get the characters out of the situation, they employ the deux ex machina. In Neopia, it could be a Light Faerie swooping down with her magic to rescue the pets, or Fyora herself granting a pet magical powers to get out of a situation at the last minute.

The best way to fight off the sneaking-up of a DEM? Create an outline. At the very least, make sure you've got an idea of how to end the story before you begin it. If you abhor this sort of thing, and find yourself using DEMs, go back through the story and add in some foreshadowing.

To use an example, let's say you've got two pets trapped by the Snowager in the icy mountains. Unfortunately, you've got no idea how to get them out of there. So you suddenly have a Fire Faerie swoop down and melt the Snowager, freeing the pets. This is classic DEM. But you can save your story by going back and maybe adding in a mention that one of the pets is a favourite of the Fire Faerie, or have the pets pick up a special trinket that summons a Fire Faerie.

5. No Proofreading
When you finish your story, print it out, go through, and look for mistakes. I guarantee you will find more errors on paper than if you scroll through the document on the computer. Mark each mistake with its corrected version and make any necessary adjustments on paper. Then go through the story on the computer and change the parts you need changed. Don't be afraid to trim down, remove entire sentences or change the order of things. If it makes your story better, it's worth it.

If you can, have somebody else read the story just to point out errors. Don't be egotistical and say you don't make any mistakes--everybody does. Stephen King makes mistakes. So did Shakespeare. Just fix them and your story will be the better for it.

6. Picking a Common Theme
The most common storyline (and popular with beginning writers) is the following:

Pet is rich, or pretty well-off. Suddenly something happens and they become poor. Owner must give up pet. Pet languishes in pound for a while before amazingly finding the perfect owner. We have a happy ending.

This story, or variations of it, has appeared in nearly every issue of the Times. I've done it twice before, though I tried to put a spin on it. Another common theme:

Pet is very rich and spoiled, but second pet or human teaches them a lesson and they become kind and good.

Again, pretty common. My first story, of a human "crossing over" to Neopia and experiencing it all, was so popular because nobody ever did it before. Once I did it a few people (very good writers) produced stories along the same vein, and I did some myself. If you have a good idea, write it! Don't go for old, stale plots.

7. ONLY IN COMICS: Stealing jokes from other comics
I am a frequent reader of the newspaper comics, and I tend to remember jokes. So if I then see a NeoPets comic which has the same joke, just with Neopian characters, I know it's a rip-off of the official comic.

This is plagiarism! Unless you are the original comic author, or you have permission from him or her, you can't steal their jokes, plots, or characters. It's kind of tacky, too.

8. Writing Outside Your Area of Expertise
If you own all Usuls and know everything about Usuls, write an article about Usuls. Don't try your hand at Gelerts if you know nothing about Gelerts; people will notice that you don't.

The same goes for stories. If you set your story in the Haunted Woods and you know nothing about the Woods your story will be weaker.

It's okay not to know about a topic before starting the article. Before you do, though, research it; go to the setting (the Woods in this case), ask other people about it, explore. Write down interesting things to remember and refer back to the setting at all times.

In your proofreading session (see #5), circle parts that seem weak, or betray the fact that you don't know anything about your topic. When you go back to fix the story or article, research the circled parts and fix it.

9. Awkward Dialogue
Some people are better at plots; some people can capture just the right nuances of speaking. If you don't fall into the latter category, your stories are in danger, because dialogue is essential. But never fear; you can learn.

It's almost impossible to teach in an article like this--in fact, people can and do devote entire books to this subject--but if you concentrate on the important things people say, their gestures, and their facial expressions, and then incorporate this into your stories, they will fare better.

10. Try, Try Again--Within Reason
Is this the 20th time you've submitted your story to the Times with no response? It may be time to consider going over that story again, or writing a new one. Not everybody is published every time.

However, if your article isn't posted in the very next issue, feel free to send it in again. I think 7 times is a pretty good limit on stuff like this. Once you pass that mark, do another draft of the story, or proofread it again. If it still doesn't get published, consider writing out another one.

I know that the first few times I tried my stories sounded awkward. They were published, yes, and my first one caused a storm, but looking back on it now, it sounds silly with a lot of extraneous information I could have left out. Just keep trying!

I hope these 10 tips have helped you on your way to earning that golden quill on your user lookup. The best tip, though, is the one I saved for last: always read the Times, for only by learning from other authors can you learn to be like them.

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