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Author Topic: Awayfarer's Writing Advice  (Read 665 times)


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Awayfarer's Writing Advice
« on: April 14, 2009, 09:11:10 am »

So it seems that we have a lot of people on these boards that enjoy/dread writing. I won't pretend that I have a ton of experience in the art, but I've written a little and I've even managed to get a couple of stories published (college lit. mag, not a huge deal). I'd like to think that I've learned at least a few things, so I thought I'd share. These aren't in any real order.

1: Wait before you edit

When you sit down to write, don't just write a paragraph or two and then go back and edit it again and again. You don't make any progress this way because you just end up going over the same ground again and again, trying to get it perfect. Let that first draft be flawed. You CAN com back to it.

I heard the following quote attributed to James Joyce (Paraphrased): "You never really finish a work, you just abandon it." That is to say, there will always be work that you could do on your story and there must come a point when you decide to let it go.

2: Be concise before clever

Take the following passages

A: "Robert grasped the silvery handle to the saffron portal, opened it and, upon doing so, entered the conveyance.

B: "Bob grabbed the handle of the cab. He opened the door and got in.

The language in "A" is so elevated that any sense of what is going on has been completely obliterated. Clear, direct language beats clever bullshit every single time.

3: Watch your tense

Switches between tense (past to present or vice-versa) are a pretty easy mistake to make. Just make sure that you're consistent.

4: Characters stare when writers don't know what happens next

I've been in a few fiction-writing classes and I've noticed this tendency to have characters stare as a reaction to anything. We generally don't just stare when faced with life-altering events, or hell, even mundan events. Characters should react.

5: Action!

When writing action, keep your sentences short. Something like "The grenade exploded." is actually more effective than "The grenade sent red and yellow flames out in a great ball of fire." The latter doesn't describe the action directly and doesn't mimic the action. "The grenade exploded." works because, like an exploding grenade, it is very short.

Also try to keep the number of actions in a sentence down to just one or two. When a character checks their watch, picks their nose, and leaps in a puddle it distracts readers because they do not know which action to pay attention too. It's also harder to picture somebody doing all of these things at once.

6: "-ly"

When you try to describe a certain way in which an action might be taken, generally avoid adverbs. Examples...

A: "Joe ran quickly to the gate."

B: "Joe rushed to the gate."

The second one flows a little more easily. It's often better to find a verb that describes not only an action, but a way in which that action is carried out. Here, "rushed" is a verb that indicates movement, but also implies fast movement.

7: "Show, don't tell."

When making a statement, show your reader rather then telling them. Rather than saying something like "Larry was angry." you'd be better off with a statement like "Larry face went red. His nostrils flared." Both show that Larry was angry, but the latter makes him seem like a living breathing person. Basically, characters can better their emotions through physical reactions.

8: "I remembered, I saw, I heard"

When describing something, you frequently do not need statements such as those above. This is especially true in first person stories. For example "I heard the car screech to a halt in front of me." can be shortened down to "The car screeched to a halt in front of me." We get that the character can hear this, he's right there!

That's all I got for now. I shall now leave to sprinkle myself with little silvery drops from the fountainhead mounted upon the wall of my abode. I'm gonna go shower.
--There: Indicates location or state of being.
"The ale barrel is over there. There is a dwarf in it."
--Their: Indicates possession.
"Their beer has a dwarf in it. It must taste terrible.
--They're: A contraction of the words "they are".
"They're going to pull the dwarf out of the barrel."