June 17, 2012 Leave a comment
I compiled these from notes made in the second semester of last school year. I would be reading student works and then writing notes like these, then presenting my notes to class for future improvement. But I thought that maybe this sem’s students would benefit from hearing these off the bad. And maybe other people online might get something out of it too. Anyways, here you go, a few tips on how to write better.
- Show Don’t Tell.
- Why are you writing? What are you trying to say?
- Writing is an act of hubris. Live up to your hubris.
- Make the reading worth the reader’s time. With the ubiquity of content, attention is a scarce resource. Don’t waste it. Make things matter, make the reader care about what’s going on. Reward their attention.
- When you write about something, it probably matters to you. The challenge is to make it matter to the reader.
- Know how much of yourself to put into the piece.
- Set the table.
- Let your ideas develop. If you hit on something, take it as far as it can go. If it doesn’t work you can always edit it. But if it could have been good and you didn’t pursue it, there’s no going back to it.
- Try to have amazing story openings and endings. It’s like a plane ride, once you’re cruising it’s fine, but you have to make sure you’re really doing well when you take off and when you land because those are what people remember most.
- Don’t go for twist endings. Set things up right. It’s not surprise, but resonance we want when we walk away from a story.
- Stories are made of scenes.
- Make things happen! Events! Confrontations!
- Don’t avoid confrontations. Build them into your work.
- How do you build drama? How do you make something engaging? Technique. You start with ideas and inspiration, but it’s technique that makes the writing work.
- Hold back. Restraint makes things more painful. Don’t give in to the cheese.
- Have an awareness of other stories similar to the ones you are writing so that you can avoid cliches and put your own touch on your work.
- Establish transitional devices, physical and literal markers, items, etc, which enable flashback, jumping through time, and dream sequences.
- There has to be a reason for a character recollecting the past. Something must be at stake in the present.
- Character deaths must be earned. If you kill characters we don’t care about, then their deaths hold no meaning.
- The God argument invalidates everything in your story. Make your characters the agents of their destinies
- How many of you have ever told a complex lie? You have to build in truth, build in details, so that the lie is believable. It’s the same with fiction.
- Write with clarity. Writing is communication.
- Don’t waste words. Say only what needs to be said, no more, no less.
- Be precise in your word choice.
- You don’t have to use big or complicated words. This is creative writing, not academic writing. If you can say it with one syllable, why bother with a longer word?
- Avoid adjectives and adverbs. Use nouns and verbs.
- Don’t rely on punctuation and typographical gimmicks, especially ellipses. Use the right words and the right emotions will be conveyed.
- If you say of your character, “You would never notice him/her…” or “He’s the typical…” then that doesn’t create interest. It’s not where the character is like everyone else, but how they are different that makes them intriguing.
- Why refer to your characters as normal, typical, or the usual (or geek or nerd)? These don’t create or unlock meaning. Choose details, work at illustration, and describe. If an artist doesn’t draw something, we can see that it’s missing. It’s the same thing with words.
- Dialogue should function first and foremost as dialogue. It shouldn’t be there for exposition, so that characters can explain things they already know to each other. It should sound realistic, sound like people actually talking. Good dialogue characterizes, pushes the plot, and provides information all at once.
- Have you ever watched dancers or actors who look bored while performing? No, because they know they have an audience, and they have to be at performance level. Writing is a performative act too. You readers can tell when you’re bored, lazy, or not into it.