Writing tips.

Apr 4th, 2013
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  1. Some writing bullshit. Read it to improve your writing.
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  5. Basic bullshit that you should already know:
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  9. Show, don't tell. Yes, some of the oldest and most cliched writing advice in the modern world. Why? Because it's fucking true, that's why. And new writers ignore it all the time. When you are describing one of your characters, try to imagine whether your prose reads like ambient description of setting and action, or if it reads like Morgan Freeman doing a voice over. If it's the latter, you have a problem.
  11. Ex. Johnny was a jackass. (NO)
  13. Ex. Johnny walked past the table of otakus and flipped over the lunch tray at the end with a casual air. He didn't even bother looking over his shoulder as his victim stared after him with mashed potatoes in her lap. (YES)
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  17. Dialogue tags. One of the most useful and contentious tricks of writing fiction prose, and yet very few beginning writers know how to use these properly. In almost all cases, he said/she said are the only dialogue tags that your fiction needs (if any at all - if your characters are distinct enough, you don't even have to tag dialogue). Dialogue tags are not capitalized - they are an extension of the dialogue that comes before them. If you are continuing dialogue with a break in the middle for a dialogue tag, the previous piece of dialogue should be closed off by punctuation, usually a comma.
  19. Ex. "How could you do this to me?!" She sobbed. (NO)
  21. Ex. "This is the cruelest thing you have ever done," she said. "And that's saying a lot." She turned away from him. (YES)
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  25. It's vs. its. The former is a contraction of "it is", the latter is a possessive.
  27. Ex. "It's a boy."
  29. Ex. "The dog played with its bone."
  31. You're vs. your. Same issue. the former is a contraction of "you are", the latter is a possessive.
  33. Ex. "You're a coldblooded bastard," the writer said to the editor.
  35. Ex. "Hey, don't make the changes if you don't want to. It's your book," the editor replied.
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  39. Names in dialogue.
  41. Example:
  43. "Billy, why you be puttin' all those names in your dialogue?"
  45. "I don't know Jim, I just don't understand how natural dialogue works."
  47. Listen to the people speaking around you. People don't usually use the names of others while speaking to them unless they are a) very angry, or b) speaking to another person about someone.
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  51. Mixed tense. There are three major tenses used in writing: past, present, and future. Look them up, learn the difference.
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  55. Mixed perspective. There are two major perspectives utilized in writing: third person (either limited or omniscient), and first person. Second person perspective is also an option, but outside of the very select choose-your-own-adventure genre, second person perspective is generally frowned upon by many editors and is notoriously difficult to pull off.
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  59. -ly ending adverbs. The lazy writer's friend. If you feel the urge to write the following, you have not put enough emotion in the prose itself to depict these feelings: nervously, sadly, calmly, angrily, etc...
  61. Ex. "Quit using those goddamned -ly ending adverbs!" Ronin said angrily. (NO)
  63. Ex. Ronin held out a copy of On Writing as she stalked towards the fledgling writer. She brandished the book before the amateur's downward-cast eyes, admonishing him for piddling all over his work. "No more -ly ending adverbs!" (YES)
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  67. Exposition dumps. This is where the writer has a shit-ton of information that they need to convey to the reader, but instead of doing it through ambient dialogue, setting, and characterization, they decide to just lump it into a paragraph. See Basil Exposition.
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  71. Overuse of passive voice. As opposed to active voice, which is dynamic and kickass, passive voice often comes across as boring and detaches the reader from the action at hand. Active voice is more forceful, especially when dealing with narrative action. Sometimes passive voice is necessary due to the context of the scene, but in many cases it can be eliminated for the active voice in order to bring more vibrancy to a piece of writing.
  73. Ex. The proposed initiative to limit passive voice was being bitterly opposed by some writers. (NO)
  75. Ex. Some writers stood in bitter opposition against the initiative to limit passive voice. (YES)
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  79. Lack of conflict. You have 2,500 words of a guy wanking internally to himself in an inner monologue that you find fascinating and the other 99% of humanity finds mind-numbingly tedious. The best source of internal conflict, which can be poignant if used well, is a strong source of external conflict.
  81. Ex. Boring short story – Wife thinks about how dull her life has become. Does nothing about it, but we are forced to listen to how (internally) miserable she is. DULL.
  83. Ex. Cool short story – Wife is abused or neglected by her husband, and as a result makes the impromptu decision to take off in the night and fly to Cambodia.
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  87. OVERUSE OF EXCLAMATION!!!! No, I'm not trying to outlaw exclamation marks, or even all-caps dialogue. Both choices have their place in narrative fiction. But in many cases, an exclamation mark can be suitably removed in exchange for making the entire piece of dialogue stronger, and the all-caps YELLING dialogue can be replaced with the smoother, more stylish italics.
  91. Ex. “Oh my God,” Christian said. “I can't believe that you can get emphasis across without exclamation marks or all-caps dialogue. It's fucking genius.” (YES)
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  95. Semicolon abuse. Somewhere, as we speak, someone is throwing in a semicolon between two sentence fragments because they think it looks cool. Just don't do it kids. Semicolons lead to indiscriminate dashes, and indiscriminate dashes lead to James Joyce. Given his notorious wordcount (or lack thereof) nobody wants that. So don't let it happen to you. Learn how to use irregular punctuation correctly. You have to master the rules before you can break them.
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  99. Never use 'very'. It limits your vocabulary. Use other words or actions instead. They give the sentence more depth.
  101. Ex. He is very fat. (NO)
  103. Ex. The floorboards creaked under his weight as he steps across the room. His cane is slightly bent from all the years it had to support its master's weight. (YES)
  106. Giving up because somebody said something mean about your writing. Writing is a tough sport man. People always think of writers as these frilly guys (or gals) hanging out in coffee shops with their laptops and their fluffy cats, pulling awesome out of the ether. But the real truth is that writing is hard and having your work critiqued is even harder. It's like having someone tell you that your baby is ugly. Sometimes people say it with the best of intentions – sometimes people say it just to be an ass to you. The only difference between you and the mother of an ugly baby is that you actually have the chance to make your baby beautiful. So don't throw your baby in a dumpster just because someone said something mean about it that one time. Criticism happens. It's part of writing. It should never define your work.
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  110. Not starting at all. Common excuses: I have too much homework, my dog ate my Macbook, it's four degrees shy of comfortable in here, I haven't finished my outline yet, I haven't finished worldbuilding yet, I'm not satisfied, I'm not ready, I can't do it. Suck it up and write. You're never going to be in perfect conditions. Your first drafts are always going to be shitty. Even Stephen King's first drafts are shitty. Just shut up and write. You can always fix it in post.
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  114. “This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”
  116. -Gary Provost
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  120. How to write a scene:
  122. 1. What needs to happen in this scene?
  123. 2. What's the worst that would happen if this scene were omitted?
  124. 3. Who needs to be in the scene?
  125. 4. Where could the scene take place?
  126. 5. What's the most suprising thing that could happen in the scene?
  127. 6. Is this a long scene or a short scene?
  128. 7. Brainstorm three different ways it could happen.
  129. 8. Play is on the screen in your head.
  130. 9 . Write a scribble version.
  131. 10. Write the full scene.
  132. 11. Repeate 200 times.
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  136. Emotional chart:
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  140. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
  142. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with the flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconsious association with the material.
  144. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theatre, it doesn't exist. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person - a real person you know, or an imagined person - and write to that one.
  146. If a scene or section gets the better of you and you still think you want it - bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave you trouble is because it didn't belong there.
  148. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
  150. If you are using dialogue - say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.
  152. - John Steinbeck
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  160. Write 50 words. That's a paragraph.
  161. Write 400 words. That's a page.
  162. Write 300 pages. That's a manuscript.
  163. Write every day. That's a habit.
  164. Edit and rewrite. That's how you get better.
  165. Spread your writing for people to comment. That's called feedback.
  166. Dont worry about rejection or publication. That's a writer.
  167. When not writing, read. Read from writers better than you. Read and Perceive.
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  171. Drama is based on the Mistake. I think someone is my friend when he really is my enemy, that I am free to marry a woman when in fact she is my mother, that this person is a chambermaid when it is a young nobleman in disguise, that this well-dressed young man is rich when he is really a penniless adventurer, or that if I do this such and such a result will follow when in fact it results in something very different. All good drama has two movements, first the making of the mistake, then the discovery that it was a mistake.
  173. W.H. Auden
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