Saturday, 30 May 2009

The Five Best Pieces of Writing Advice I've Ever Received

Writing books and websites are full of advice - some of it good, some of it not so good. Over the years I've found the best pieces of advice are - quite naturally - repeated again and again. So I thought I'd gather up the five best pieces to pass on via this blog.

  1. If you catch an adjective, kill it. Mark Twain (not in person obviously). It's one of those show not tell pieces of advice. Adjectives are a form of telling and as such should usually be avoided.
  2. Resist the urge to explain. As phrased in "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers" which I reviewed here. Again explaining is telling, and worse your readers aren't stupid. If you feel the need to explain what's happening either you're doing it wrong (you shouldn't need to explain) or you're underestimating your readers which will annoy them.
  3. Lock up your inner editor. Write when you write. Edit when you edit. NaNoWriMo. It's kind of the entire reason for NaNo. If you start second guessing yourself and editing before you've finished you'll never finish. If I had a pound for every time I've been caught out by this one I'd be rich. No matter how bad you think your first draft is (and it probably is) finish it before you edit it.
  4. Dialogue in fiction should capture the essence of speech without its confusion. This is my own way of phrasing advice I've got from many places. People don't talk in proper grammar, so you shouldn't feel contrained to write dialogue that way. However if you stop and listen to a conversation sometime it's full of missing bits, interruptions, ums and ahs, and other confusions that would make a written dialogue unreadable. Therefore dialogue in fiction needs to seem natural without being natural. It's all about balance.
  5. All writing rules are guidelines. Also from "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers". Any rule of writing - no matter how good - will not apply in every case and half the trick is knowing when to ignore the rules.
I hope you find these pieces of advice as useful as I have.


Unknown said...

Those have been mine as well. And the funny thing is I heard all of those from you at one point or another. You've been my greatest influence in writing. I really appreciate it. Some people don't know if they are appreciated for giving advice so I just want you to know that you are.

Anonymous said...

I have another one: kill adverbs as well. If you use an adverb, it means your verb wasn't strong enough.