Posts tagged writing advice
Posts tagged writing advice
Here is why just because a famous author goes against commonly-held advice, you shouldn’t, too. Pick and choose which reasons suit your author.
1. They knew what they were doing. Instead of going against good advice just because they wanted to, they went against it because going against it suited their story in a specific, tangible way that balanced the drawbacks.
2. They came from a time period before people realized the advice was good.
3. They had so many great things in their writing that their flaws seemed minor by comparison. Had they followed the advice, however, their writing would still have improved.
4. They were trying something completely new and the good things and bad things about writing that new idea hadn’t yet been sorted out.
The other day, I read a book that paused its narrative every so often to talk about the human spirit. Entire disjointed paragraphs existed just so they would make the author sound philosophical in the middle of their fast-paced action-thriller.
Please don’t do this. Your philosophical themes can reveal themselves through the actions of your characters, not through cutesy little quotable paragraphs talking about how “we all suffer hardships” in the middle of a third-person, past-tense book (I’m not kidding. The author literally changed tenses to deliver his sap).
If you can’t realistically work something in the narrative and must stop to talk to your readers instead, scrap it.
1. ”I need my free time.”
A) Your writing time *is* your free time. B) Yes, but you’re probably giving yourself more free time than you really need.
2. “I can’t write 24/7.”
Yeah, but you can probably write more than your current hours to days of the week ratio.
3. “I need to check my Tumblr just one more time.”
Save that as a reward for when you get a high enough word count.
4. “I have to keep up with my social life by texting and e-mailing instead of writing.”
Nobody will fault you if you say you’re busy. Spending a half hour every night texting your best friend is one thing. Spending every second possible attending to your social life is quite another.
5. “Writers read, so I’ll spend my every waking hour reading instead of writing.”
Writers write, too.
6. “Steps A, B, and C have to be done before I start writing.”
Rituals are fine if they last five minutes. Rituals are distracting and detrimental if they last two hours and only allow you to write every other Sunday.
7. “I can’t think of what happens next.”
Either take some time to brainstorm or revise what happened earlier to make it easier for yourself.
8. “I’m in a bad mood.”
Channel your bad mood into good words. If angsty thirteen-year-old poets can do it, so can you.
Perfect photographic memory is a terrible plot device, and authors need to quit using it. Scientists are unsure whether it actually exists in the real world. If it does, perfect memory most likely lies entirely in the realm of savants and extremely young children. Check out the evidence.
The sheer number of characters with eidetic memory makes me cringe. Half of them only have very good memory and the author tries to spice things up by using big words. The other half perform superhuman feats that literally nobody can do in settings without superheroes.
Photographic memory isn’t a fun quirk or a handy plot device. Unless your story is about aliens, it’s a physical impossibility. Stop it.
If you want a character to stick in readers’ heads for a long time after they finish your story, having a fleshed-out personality helps, but it’s not good enough. There’s an enormous difference between A) a character who is shy, tries to be brave around her boyfriend, wants to break free from society’s constrictions but is too lazy to do so, and can’t figure out how to care about strangers and B) the same character, only this time, she always wears a bright pink scarf and loves the study of insects.
Harry Potter has a scar, Katniss has a pin, John Egbert has a green ghost shirt, and Ash Ketchum and Finn the Human both have special hats. An item of clothing or extremely striking physical feature will stay in a reader’s mind far more easily than “defined cheekbones” or “large, blue eyes.” When you give physical description, try to give an unusual visual marker at least to your main character. Not necessarily to set them apart from the other characters or mark them as special within the story, but to set them apart from the hundreds of people your reader sees every day on their way to work or school.
Likes, dislikes, and obsessions make your characters pop off the page like no other character traits can. Sure, your protagonist is arrogant, but wouldn’t your story be more interesting if he were arrogant and liked pizza more than almost anything else? It doesn’t even have to be a plot point. Hobbies and interests make characters more human. Sadly, I’ve read many stories where the characters were only bundles of traits who only formed opinions about other characters and never on which TV shows deserved to be cancelled. Such characters are not fun to read about and probably need to be fleshed out more.
There are two ways to lose your momentum when writing a story: not knowing enough and knowing too much. Here’s how to keep going if either happens to you.
Most of writer’s block comes from not knowing what happens next. You have point A down, point B lies somewhere over yonder, and between the two is an infinite wordless chasm.
I find the easiest way to prevent this is to stop and think about what I want in that chasm without my computer actually in front of me. The chasm won’t get filled with sentences; it can only be filled by entire plot points, which need outside planning.
If that doesn’t work, try making a list of all the things you don’t want to fill the chasm. Making the list will help you whittle your options down to what you do want.
When all else fails, try ending the chapter at point A, following a different character, and picking up the next chapter at point B. If A and B are far enough away from each other, you’ll still have to explain what happened, but interspersing backstory is easier than tackling narrative. This is the cheater’s way out, so don’t rely on it too much.
If you have a good idea of what each paragraph needs to be, actually laying them out can get tedious. The idea is always more fun than the execution, and sometimes the former can completely clog up the latter with details.
Keep all of your main plot points. A good, detailed outline can help you write faster. Make a concerted effort, however, to change the minor details. The false ambassador could be spineless instead of sarcastic and his pet could be a dog instead of a parakeet. Figuring out how to alter the small things can be as rewarding as thinking them up in the first place.
By using autocorrect to automatically capitalize these and other “problem words,” I make it easier to edit them out later. If you’ve already finished writing your first draft, you can use find and replace to achieve the same effect.
One of the best things about writing fiction is that you get to subvert all the terrible cliches that you grew up reading. Maybe, instead of holding a ten-foot sword, your hero is skilled in more practical maneuvers involving realistic weapons. Wonderful. But if this is a sword-and sorcery story, he should at least have either some kind of cool weapon or a good reason not to have one.
While it might surprise the readers if the secret CIA treasure your protagonists have been looking for actually doesn’t exist, it won’t surprise them in a good way. They will feel cheated unless something more interesting than them finding the treasure happens instead. If you don’t want a cliche in your story, and your readers are expecting one, either change it or replace it. Giving people nothing when they expect at least something does not make for good reading.
In a similar vein, if you have something in your story such as dead parents or amnesia, ask yourself if you really need to get rid of your character’s family or backstory. A family of complex characters who help drive the plot along is often more interesting than a protagonist who angsts about their deceased family for half the story.