It’s important to know that no matter how obvious and sensible a piece of writing advice might be, there are always going to be circumstances when it won’t hold true. Or when there are other, equally effective ways to tell the story.
It’s all open to debate and depends on context and specific examples. An unmitigated disaster for one writer, may be an unqualified success in the hands of another.
It would be a lot simpler if there were solid, unquestionable, carved in stone rules that we could all learn and then go from there. So here are three universally true things that apply to all writers at all times in every situation(I am 1,000,000% not exaggerating for effect).
‘What the fuck’ is probably the first thing you think when you read the title. Hang on a moment! There’s a lot of writing advice out there, much of it collected in books (which are great! There’s a lot I like!) or totally free on the internet. That, frankly, is awesome! Writing advice is why you guys follow my tumblr, and others too. That is also awesome.
My sister used to yell at me for reading writing advice books and not writing. And she had me pegged, for one; I read the books and didn’t write because I didn’t have confidence in my writing. If only there was some advice out there, something that would truly get to me! I spent a lot of time looking for it when I could have been spending that time writing. I could justify it by saying I wasn’t ready to write, but that’s a really shitty excuse
Also, there’s a lot of writing problems out there, and therefore a lot of advice specifically for those problems. You can spend time (and enjoy spending time) reading advice about all of those problems, some of which you have, a lot of which you don’t, and some you don’t have to worry about just yet.
You’re on your first draft - maybe you should ignore stuff about editing. Your problem is plot, not characters, so why read character writing advice? Sure, it’s fun, and there’s nothing wrong with reading it. But is it really helping you right now?
What I really mean is this: Writing is hard! Reading writing advice? Awesome. Reading writing advice about things you’re not focusing on at the moment? Hey, it’s advice, it’s all good! Reading writing advice while not writing? Still okay! But all of that advice out there, as helpful and great as it can be, isn’t going to make your writing better. Sitting down and writing is what’s going to make your writing better. Even if you hate it! Even if you think it’s shit (though it’s not)! Don’t talk yourself out of sitting down and writing.
Reading about writing doesn’t count. Talking about writing doesn’t count. Thinking about writing doesn’t count. You’re a writer! It doesn’t matter if you never show it to anyone, or immediately burn it to ashes after you’re done (although please don’t do that, your work is valuable!). Writers write, even when it’s hard. Don’t talk yourself out of writing, like I did. Just write!
Oh my GOD. This is so important. “My brain hates me,” is literally one of my refrains, and I have EVERY SINGLE PROBLEM in this article, depression-related and not. Read it, for the love (or hatred) of grapefruit juice. Read. It.
(via YA Highway)
The Dos and Don’ts By James V. Smith Jr.
- Don’t introduce any new characters or subplots. Any appearances within the last 50 pages should have been foreshadowed earlier, even if mysteriously.
- Don’t describe, muse, explain or philosophize. Keep description to a minimum, but maximize action and conflict. You have placed all your charges. Now, light the fuse and run.
- Don’t change voice, tone or attitude. An ending will feel tacked on if the voice of the narrator suddenly sounds alien to the voice that’s been consistent for the previous 80,000 words.
- Don’t resort to gimmicks. No quirky twists or trick endings. The final impression you want to create is a positive one. Don’t leave your reader feeling tricked or cheated.
- Do create that sense of Oh, wow! Your best novelties and biggest surprises should go here. Readers love it when some early, trivial detail plays a part in the finale.
- Do enmesh your reader deeply in the outcome. Get her so involved that she cannot put down your novel to go to bed, to work or even to the bathroom until she sees how it turns out.
- Do resolve the central conflict. You don’t have to provide a happily-ever-after ending, but do try to uplift. Readers want to be uplifted, and editors try to give readers what they want.
- Do afford redemption to your heroic character. No matter how many mistakes she has made along the way, allow the reader—and the character—to realize that, in the end, she has done the right thing.
- Do tie up loose ends of significance. Every question you planted in a reader’s mind should be addressed, even if the answer is to say that a character will address that issue later, after the book ends.
- Do mirror your final words to events in your opener. When you reach the ending, go back to ensure some element in each of your complications will point to the beginning. It’s the tie-back tactic. Merely create a feeling that the final words hearken to an earlier moment in the story.
Check out amandaonwriting for more from Writers Write!
Being a writer is awesome. You get to make up worlds, fill them with characters you love, and then kill them off one by one (because making your readers hurt is a special kind of drug). However, there is a lot of personal responsibility that comes with writing as well, and that’s something that a lot of writers don’t seem to realize. There are a lot of things I won’t discuss here that could fall under writer responsibility that people are sure to think should be included – the writer’s responsibility to their characters, to their readers, to agents or deadlines, his responsibility to inspire or change the reader’s life – those things are things that I believe differ from person to person and from writer to writer depending on your situation and beliefs. Instead, I’ll stick with things closely tied to the actual writing process. Onwards, brave companions!
1. Do your own work/writing/research.
Writing is WORK. It is not easy. That being said, you can’t hand off that work to someone else. It’s wonderful to bounce ideas off of someone, but you can’t take credit for their ideas. You also can’t take bits of other people’s writing and call it your own. Plagiarism is gross, guys. Furthermore, writing itself is not the only work that a writer is a responsible for. I’ve written before on how freakin’ important research is, but there’s no doubt that research can be the suckiest part of writing. I know that. Really. I just climbed through a million articles on Shambhala. Research can be horribly boring. However, you still need to do it. You need to do it for the sake of your story, because facts are awesome. Furthermore, you need to do it yourself. Only you know exactly what you need, and only you can decide what is worth including or not worth including. If you can’t do your own research or writing, that also implies that you are lazy or that your story is not worth it, and those are not traits I see in any of the successful writers I personally know. You are responsible for that. It’s a brutal truth, but a truth nonetheless.
2. You are responsible for your successes, but you are also responsible for your failures.
This is a big thing for me. I see a lot of writers that are super thrilled about when their writing goes well for them. It’s an awesome feeling. But I also see writers that love to play the blame game when things go wrong. “I didn’t sleep well last night.” “I just didn’t feel like writing.” “I didn’t want to do my fact-checking.” “My neighbors were being too noisy”. There are a lot of reasons why you might not be able to write, but I will bet that ninety percent of them are based around you. Blaming others does not one any good. If you can accept your successes, you need to be able to accept your failures as well.
3. When you do have a failure, learn from it.
I have what feels like a million writing failures. Really. I have made character mistakes, research mistakes, plotline and development mistakes. I cannot tell you many times I can look back on a certain piece of writing or something I did writing-related, wince, and hope to god that it stays buried in the shallow, cliff-side grave I covertly left it in during a moonlight gardening spree. Failures suck, but good does come from them. You can learn from your failures. Ignoring one of your weaknesses does not make the weakness go away. You owe it to yourself and your awesome writing ability to focus on your weaknesses like an angry shark until those weaknesses have been obliterated and devoured and you are cruising through an ocean of win.
4. Do everything to the best of your ability.
Because laziness sucks, and I KNOW you are better than that. You KNOW when something is not the best of your ability. Do you really want to let it out knowing that you half-assed it? That might work for school essays (guilty as charged over here), but it should never be acceptable for something that you are hoping to make into a career.
5. ACTUALLY WRITE.
This one is a no-brainer people. Seriously, just go do it. That’s the one thing a writer is pretty much totally responsible for.
You can totally do this, guys. So go to it.
If you don’t agree with me on this, that’s cool. If you do, that’s also cool. I am by no means an expert and this is just my personal opinion. I also think that Sharktopus and Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus are legitimate examples of excellent cinema, so there you go.
Ah, gender-neutral pronouns! Indeed, the English language is not very fond of them, but you may find yourself in need of them for a character who does not fit the gender binary, perhaps someone genderqueer, intersex, or trans* (more on the asterisk in a bit).
Let’s define some terms to start:
Pronoun (n): The part of speech that substitutes for nouns or noun phrases and designates persons or things asked for, previously specified, or understood from the context.
Pronouns can signal a lot about the way individuals perceive themselves, and authorial intent with regard to pronoun use is important. Pronouns speak volumes about a character just as they would a real-life individual and, though most authors take it for granted, there are many characters who are misrepresented by the pronouns she and he. More on that later.
The word pronoun may have a pretty hard and fast definition, but other terms like sex and gender are deceptively difficult to define. Let’s take a look at these words we think we understand so well:
Sex (n): A set of biological and physiological characteristics including but not limited to:
- Evidence of the SRY gene being turned on
- Secondary (external) sex characteristics
- Internal sex characteristics
- Hormone levels
- 23rd pair of chromosomes
Because there are many characteristics to consider, defining the sex of any given person as absolutely “male” or absolutely “female” can be very complicated. Likewise, defining a person’s gender is equally complex.
Gender (n): A set of of internally (personal) and externally (societal) determined criteria used to construct ideas about roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes for people which are generally sorted into constructed categories, such as “masculine” and “feminine”.
Why is it important to know these terms? Because your character’s sex and gender may well fail to fit neatly into society’s expectations. These are separate, nebulous concepts for which there are no definitive definitions. All the better for you, because absolutes make for boring characters.
Let’s delve a little deeper into some terms connected with understanding gender-neutral pronouns:
Gender Identity (n): A personal conception of oneself as male or female (or both or neither).
Gender identity and gender are separate, though connected, concepts. While gender broadly categorizes an individual on myriad social scales; gender identity is most concerned with an individual’s personal opinion of their gender.
When you would like to know a person’s gender, instead of asking, “What are you?” or, “What type of person are you?” it is much more polite to ask, “What pronouns do you prefer?”. Responses to this question might include she, he, they, and ze.
You might have noticed that she and he aren’t the only options when choosing pronouns to describe characters, but you may not have considered or even heard of options like ze before. Why? Well, it may have something to do with the gender binary.
Gender Binary (n): The classification of sex and gender into two distinct, opposite and disconnected forms of masculine and feminine.
As Hank Green explains in his video “Human Sexuality Is Complicated”, the binary is essentially two nice and shiny boxes. It implies that people are split into categories of either male or female, possess separate gender roles, and have different gender identities altogether. Western society decides this by a pretty base interpretation of a person’s sex. The gender binary slaps on a label of either male or female at a person’s birth because of what is between their legs. It suggests that only men have penises and only women have vaginas, excluding all possibility of trans*folks.
Non-binary people are the ones that do not fit into boxes of either male or female, and may therefore prefer pronouns that are gender-neutral.
So who is non-binary, and who might want gender-neutral pronouns applied to them in writing? Let’s take a look at some possibilities:
Genderqueer (adj): A catch-all term for gender identities other than man and woman, thus outside of the gender binary.
Genderqueer folks may struggle with comfortable, fitting pronouns, as the singular third-person pronouns in English are limited to he and she. Thus, these folks who identify outside of the binary may also use gender-neutral pronouns.
Intersex (n): A general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.
A person whose sex is neither definitively male nor female may prefer a gender-neutral pronoun over the heavily gendered traditional pronouns of “he” or “she.”
Trans* (adj): An umbrella term that refers to all of the identities within the gender identity spectrum, with the exclusion of cisgendered men or women.
The term trans* includes the asterisk because it is more inclusive of identities, rather than referring to only transmen or transwomen. Some trans* folks who do not have identities that can be classified as either male or female and whose sexes do not match their gender identities may not be comfortable using he or she as their personal pronouns, opting for gender-neutral ones instead.
Transgender (adj): A term to describe an individual whose gender identity does not match their assigned birth gender; Trans, a prefix derived from Latin, means “across”, “beyond” or “on the opposite side”.
Some transgender folks, too, might not necessarily identify with being male or female, and use gender-neutral pronouns to reflect that.
Cisgender (adj): A term for individuals who have a match between the gender and sex they were assigned at birth; Cis, a prefix derived from Latin, means “to/this the near side”.
Cisgender is a complement to transgender; a person is usually either cisgendered or transgendered. Cisgender folks fit in the gender binary, possessing sexes that match with their gender identities. They are often comfortable using he or she as personal pronouns.
Characters who use gender-neutral pronouns may identify as some of the gender identities described above. To write a character that does not fit in the binary, you must first understand the gender binary. It is important to know what other gender identities might use gender-neutral pronouns as well. Knowing the history of gender-neutral pronouns provides background to their present-day usage. Moreover, in writing them, it helps to know which ones exist and how they are used.
And again:“God send everyone their heart’s desire.”
— William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, Act III, Scene 4
They is a singular, gender-neutral, third-person pronoun, and you’ve probably used it as one when you didn’t know the identity of someone.“There’s not a man I meet but doth salute me
As if I were their well-acquainted friend.”
— William Shakespeare, A Comedy of Errors, Act IV, Scene 3
They in this case refers to a single caller. A singular, gender-neutral, third person use of they does exist, though it should be noted that it is most often used in colloquial, spoken English. You might see it in dialogue, but it is definitely not commonly found outside of it nowadays.Person 1: Your phone rang while you were out.
Person 2: Did they leave a message?
Now that you have some definitions and history to back up your understand of this topic, let’s take a look at some tips about using gender-neutral pronouns in your writing!
Nate grinned. He wasn’t sure where he was going, but he was on his way now. He was out the door, down the garden path, on the street feeling the wind from passing cars. It was only a matter of time now. An adventure was bound to find him.
Nate grinned. Ze wasn’t sure where ze was going, but ze was on hir way now. Ze was out the door, down the garden path, on the street feeling the wind from passing cars. It was only a matter of time now. An adventure was bound to find hir.
Nate grinned. They weren’t sure where they were going, but they were on their way now. They were out the door, down the garden path, on the street feeling the wind from passing cars. It was only a matter of time now. An adventure was bound to find them.
Be true to yourself. Be true to your character and your story. Be respectful of the real, definitely not made-up group of people you are portraying when you write genderqueer individuals into your story. If you can do those things, then you’re on the right track.
If you have any questions about this article or writing in general, feel free to hit up our ask box!
-Q and C
We also need to give a big thank you to xanderthegreatest and his girlfriend for their advisory role in the creation of this post. We couldn’t have done it without them. Thank you!
nothing-can-be-gained asked: Where does the line between purple prose and vivid description lie? How can I tell if something I’ve written is purple prose-like?
You know when you read a book a get to a passage or a line and say, “Great Scott, the things I would do to be able to write sentences like that.” Often, in trying to write a sentence like that, you end up with a writer’s disease called purple prose.
Purple Prose: Writing so extravagant or orate that it breaks the flow of the narrative and draws attention to itself.
The Elements of Style calls this writing that is “hard to digest, generally unwholesome, and sometimes nauseating.” There’s no solid example of purple prose since the definition is subjective, but it is something you definitely don’t want. Below is one example of the evolution from concise language to purple prose:
Hopefully no one is shooting for the last example. The problem, of course, is differentiating between that writing which invites disgust and vivid, beautiful writing. There is nothing wrong with description; however, learning what needs to be described and when to describe it is vital, and that kind of experience takes time hone.
Here are a couple of things to keep in mind while working out the distinction between purple prose and good description:
The story is not about you (unless it’s an autobiography/memoir). The story is about the story. Your merits as a writer will come forward in a faithful telling of it, with language that will vividly depict it, not language that is trying to show off your skill. The real skill in this department is not in flowery language, but in precision of language, which we’ll see below.In bad or unsatisfying fiction, [the] fictional dream is interrupted from time to time by some mistake or conscious ploy on the part of the artist… It is as if a playwright were to run out on stage, interrupting his characters, to remind us that he has written all this. (x)
Using your words effectively will be enough to make your point. Check out this selection from Oliver Twist, in which the narrator tries to tell us that Oliver had a breathing problem.People add extra words when they want things to sound more important than they really are. ‘Boarding process’ sounds important. It isn’t. It’s just a bunch of people getting on an airplane. (x)
The fact is, that there was considerable difficulty in inducing Oliver to take upon himself the office of respiration, - a troublesome practice, but one which custom has rendered necessary to our easy existence.
Charlie (can I call you “Charlie”?), we know that breathing is necessary for existence. Just tell us that Ollie had a hard time with it. That’s all we need.
Omitting needless words does not mean cutting out all of your description or only using simple words and single-clause sentences, it only means that every word must serve a specific purpose.
These words, though often thought to be impressive, can actually blur the intent of your writing and make you seem pretentious. For more on nominalizations, check out Beware of nominalizations (AKA zombie nouns).Nominalization (n): A type of word formation in which a verb or an adjective (or other part of speech) is used as (or transformed into) a noun. (x)
Clearing out purple prose is a service to your story. It gets the reader more involved in its reading in the sense that it becomes a more intimate experience, as the story is being told without interrupting the vivid and continuous dream. It also can help tell your story more effectively if you cut down and use language that is more focused.
There is no straight answer to this question. Because each writer’s style is different, the line for purple prose may change from person to person, and what pleases you will not please everyone. There are things to keep in mind in terms of keeping your diction focused, but your style is your style.
Thank you for your question! If you have any comments or questions about this article or writing in general, use our ask box!
Blame social networking and reality TV. Thanks to them, we live in a time where there’s little distinction between a person’s private and public life. Think about how easy it’s become to learn about a person. It used to take years to learn the intimate details of someone’s life. Now, just pop over to their blog. You can learn everything you want and even some things you don’t. Technology!
Memoirs are sometimes considered a dusty, dehydrated mode of expression. We’re a generation eager to talk about ourselves in front of our numbered friend count. Yes, people talk about themselves—and often—but they rarely strap their past selves down on the operating table and do some exploratory surgery.
So, let’s talk about autobiography and memoir. Since the two are so closely related, let’s set out some basic definitions here:
Autobiography (n): Ideally non-fiction; The biography of a person written by him- or herself that puts the person’s life in context (of time, place, etc.).
Memoir (n): Ideally non-fiction; A sub-genre of autobiography; an account of the personal experiences of the author, usually limited to an era in or an event of a person’s life.
Autobiography and memoir are now used interchangeably, but usually, autobiography encompasses an entire life while memoir revolves around a single event or subject in a person’s life. This event or subject can be anything: a family trip, your experience with a friend or relative, your struggle with substance abuse. It can span from a page in length to a monster of five volumes (like Sir Osbert Sitwell’s Left Hand! Right Hand!, one of the longest autobiographies ever written).
“While an autobiography typically focuses on the ‘life and times’ of the writer, a memoir has a narrower, more intimate focus on his or her own memories, feelings and emotions.” (x)
But why bother with this genre anyway? Do you really get anything out of this? Yes. Here’s what you get:
In our opinion, those are both pretty great outcomes of memoir-writing. So, without further ado, here are some tips for writing a memoir:
by Kevin Kaiser
How do you write a story?
It’s a strange question, really, like asking how to fall out of a tree, or walk across the street, or how to properly skin a cat (not that I’ve ever done that or endorse doing so, though I wonder who considered it first and, more importantly, why).
The answer, I’m afraid, is simpler than you might want it to be, and one I suspect you already know: You simply have to do it. You write by writing.
But before this first weekend of NaNoWriMo, let me offer some encouragement beyond the obvious—encouragement that a writer far more accomplished than I gave me recently.
First, take your writing seriously…
We all write stories by putting down one unsatisfactory word at a time, then more words, and still other words until the thing is finally done. There’s no quick fix because the blue-collar nature of writing sinks bone deep. No way around it.
You will never get much done in life, whether writing a book or mastering long division, unless you take the work itself seriously. Even a blind squirrel will occasionally stumble upon a nut, but only an industrious beaver can build dam after dam. And trust me, beavers take their craft seriously.
I realize the analogy is a stretch, but go with it. All will become clear about halfway through your manuscript.
Second, don’t take yourself too seriously.
There are a good many curmudgeonly writers in the world. They don’t have friends, or cats, for good reason, and quite a few smell funny despite their best efforts. Don’t be one of those people.
Approach your story with a light heart. What you’re doing isn’t rocket science. After all, you’re just making stuff up, right? Take the discipline of your craft seriously, but leave the harsh judgments about yourself (especially yourself), the work, and others’ opinions about it on the curb.
Those things don’t matter, not really. Always remember: we’re just making stuff up.
Most of all… enjoy the process.
Some people say that they enjoy “having written” more than writing and that they’re unable to find joy in the creative process itself. Those people would make terrible musicians; who wants to see a band that doesn’t want to be on stage? And who would want to eat a meal by a chef who only looks forward to “having cooked”?
Don’t wish your life away or try to live in the future as someone hoping to look back on the past. It’ll only rip the space-time continuum. I’ve done the math.
Enjoy the moment and invest yourself in every single word of your story. Every moment. Your story, like your life, only happens in the Now. All the best stuff exists between “Once upon a time…” and “The End.” So, don’t rush it. Enjoy the road along the way because that’s all you really have.
I’m in the middle of a story but it’s gotten to the point where I’m running out of ideas and getting bored with it! I have ideas for another story but how do I the one I’m already doing; before jumping into another story?
This is a hard one, and a problem I struggle with myself. The exciting new idea can be very seductive.
First, you need to exorcise your new idea. Write it down in a notebook, make sure you get it out of your head to tackle later on. Second, you need to rediscover your excitement for the piece you’re currently working on.
- Introduce a new character who brings a new subplot with them.
- Add a new obstacle into the path of your main character’s journey; one that takes them off on a tangent from their main goal.
- Read what you’ve written already to find what excited you about the story in the first place.
- Take a break from your story and write some other things related to it. Write a news story from your world, write some journal entries for your characters, write a letter from your characters to yourself.
(made rebloggable by request)
I think this is great advice.