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View Full Version : Oft-given advice to new writers


ZeroFlowne
11-19-2008, 09:33 PM
1. Active Voice

2. Show, don't tell

I notice that those two things are thrown about (see what I did there?) almost reflexively on lots of writing forums (not here though, you guys are cool :-) as if they were hard rules. Passive voice and telling are not bad things. They shouldn't be used as much as Active voice and showing, to be sure, but they are a worthy component of any piece.

What are some other things that are almost-gospel like in the amount of their repetition?

scarletpeaches
11-19-2008, 09:36 PM
The adverb is not your friend!

writerterri
11-19-2008, 09:40 PM
Keep your crappy writing out of the slush pile, there are some of us who'd like to make it to the editors desk.








;):tongue:D

Shadow_Ferret
11-19-2008, 09:42 PM
Readers skip prologues.

writerterri
11-19-2008, 09:45 PM
Readers skip prologues.


True dat, little, furry, man ferret.

CaroGirl
11-19-2008, 09:51 PM
Never use said. No, always use said. No, never use dialogue attribution if you can help it. No. Wait. I'm confused.

mscelina
11-19-2008, 09:55 PM
A first draft will be rejected.

Rewrite or die.

That is all.

dgiharris
11-19-2008, 09:56 PM
Don't use exclamation points!!!!!

MissKris
11-19-2008, 10:25 PM
Write what you know.

That advice sucks for genre writers.

mrockwell
11-19-2008, 10:32 PM
Write what you know.

That advice sucks for genre writers.

Beat me to it, heh. ;)

-- Marcy

scarletpeaches
11-19-2008, 10:35 PM
Never start with a heroine called Kate waking up from a dream and being a little bit sick in her mouth and then looking in the mirror and describing her long, flowing hair and alabaster skin.

josephwise
11-20-2008, 12:15 AM
Write what you know.

That advice sucks for genre writers.

Only if they take it literally. Which is an odd thing for a genre writer to do.

maxmordon
11-20-2008, 12:26 AM
Write on what you care

DeleyanLee
11-20-2008, 12:31 AM
Write what you know.

Absolutely true. And what I know is dragons, wizards, couples in love, hot sex, fantastic landscapes, magic, gods, etc etc etc.

The etc etc etc is the most important part, after all. ;)

Mr. Chuckletrousers
11-20-2008, 12:32 AM
Read the Evil Overlord List (http://www.eviloverlord.com/lists/overlord.html).

Cybernaught
11-20-2008, 01:15 AM
"Sorry, this isn't quite what we're looking for."

That one gets thrown at me quite a bit.

scope
11-20-2008, 02:12 AM
"Write what you know best."

I write nonfiction and most often write about things which at first I know very little about. A good idea, a needy audience, caring, working in some capacity with credentialed people, and a lot of research really works!

KTC
11-20-2008, 02:24 AM
READ

MissKris
11-20-2008, 02:50 AM
Absolutely true. And what I know is dragons, wizards, couples in love, hot sex, fantastic landscapes, magic, gods, etc etc etc.

The etc etc etc is the most important part, after all. ;)

Stop. You got me on the hot sex part.

willietheshakes
11-20-2008, 02:51 AM
Don't give up your day job.

Karen Duvall
11-20-2008, 02:57 AM
First novels never get published.

Mad Queen
11-20-2008, 03:32 AM
Your protagonist has to be likable and sympathetic.

waylander
11-20-2008, 03:40 AM
A story has a beginning, a middle and an end.
And if your protagonist is not changed by what they have experienced then it wasn't worth telling the story.

MelodyO
11-20-2008, 03:43 AM
No head-hopping, upon penalty of death.

Unless you're already famous, then do whatever you want.

MissKris
11-20-2008, 04:11 AM
Only if they take it literally. Which is an odd thing for a genre writer to do.

What?!?!? You mean you aren't practicing butchering humans into the most pleasingly grillable parts for your cannibalistic horror or charging for sex so that you can better understand your "sweet but misunderstood prostitute who finds true love when the lonely John who just wants to talk shows up" romance?

Pfft, what kind of writer are you? :tongue

"A" Is For "Agent"
11-20-2008, 04:16 AM
Readers skip prologues.

Says who?
I read them BEFORE buying the book. The prologue is the sell for many.

maestrowork
11-20-2008, 04:18 AM
No one reads present tense.

Mad Queen
11-20-2008, 04:28 AM
... or first person.

Shadow Dragon
11-20-2008, 04:38 AM
As for advice, not everyone is going to like your writing, learn to accept that. As long as you have a fanbase then your doing alright, you don't need everyone to like it.

"A" Is For "Agent"
11-20-2008, 04:40 AM
No one reads present tense.

Past tense memoirs are secondary on my list.
It's difficult to pull off the present tense in memoir, but if done well, it far surpasses past tense.

Susan Lanigan
11-20-2008, 05:09 AM
No one reads present tense.

Yes, but they still publish it, particularly in short fiction. Which is probably why more people read novels!

Oh yeah, don't have too much of a plot in a short story. I've got a rejection back where there was too much going on.

Plot is for plebs :)

Susan Lanigan
11-20-2008, 05:11 AM
Oh yeah, and never start a flashback with "He remembered"

Dawnstorm
11-20-2008, 11:05 AM
Great rules, everyone. Little to add, but:

You must know them all, before breaking them.

blacbird
11-20-2008, 11:36 AM
Persist, and you'll succeed.

caw

Exir
11-20-2008, 02:06 PM
Do whatever you want

Darzian
11-20-2008, 06:48 PM
... or first person.

I do! I do!

Have your ending well planned out before you get there.

Not a 'rule' but strong advice. I've seen way too many deux endings.

Higgins
11-20-2008, 08:31 PM
No one reads present tense.


Am I not reading this now?

Higgins
11-20-2008, 08:33 PM
1. Active Voice



Having been told this a thousand times...I still am unable to get into active voice at the drop of a hat.

Mad Queen
11-20-2008, 08:59 PM
Am I not reading this now?
* hits Higging's hand with a ruler *
You haven't read that if it was written in present tense, because no one reads present tense. Not even the writer who wrote it.

Higgins
11-20-2008, 09:16 PM
* hits Higging's hand with a ruler *
You haven't read that if it was written in present tense, because no one reads present tense. Not even the writer who wrote it.


Here's a little something from the past (1960s grammar school):

Me: "Mrs. Posthietwaithe, can I go to the bathroom?"
Mrs. Postheitwaithe: "I don't know, can you?"
Me: "I guess so." I leave the room and probably get lost trying to find the touileiette.

It was suppose to be important to say "May I...."

Spiny Norman
11-20-2008, 11:27 PM
Don't give up/Keep at it

It's true, but it's still damn irritating to hear when you just failed.

underthecity
11-20-2008, 11:44 PM
No head-hopping, upon penalty of death.

Unless you're already famous, then do whatever you want.

Clive Cussler has head hopping down to a science. He's famous, though.

ZeroFlowne
11-21-2008, 01:22 AM
Having been told this a thousand times...I still am unable to get into active voice at the drop of a hat.

A lot of practice will have to be done by you. Actually, if you want to write Active, just look at your writing and active it up. Your sentence above would be something like

People tell me this all the time, but I still can't get into active voice.

(or something)

ZeroFlowne
11-23-2008, 07:46 AM
Don't write purple.

Ardellis
11-23-2008, 10:32 PM
You have to write a million words of crap before you get anywhere.

Also: You must give yourself permission to write crap.

Nivarion
11-24-2008, 12:41 AM
don't be afraid of the delete key.

first book won't be published first.

when you re-write, or edit, keep a copy of your old stuff in another folder. when you are feeling depressed about your work, look in the old folder and compare to the new.

i heard that Edgar Rice Burroughs told beginners to "write about what they know, in a place they have never been" (fantasy, it only works with fantasy. also i have heard that from a few different people, but never seen it in print so...)

mario_c
11-24-2008, 02:49 AM
Well, all good advice. I don't have the swagger to argue with any of it, but just between you and me...

Less is more.

I look at this as a nice way to say, "Your writing sucks." But what do I know?

SPMiller
11-24-2008, 03:02 AM
A lot of people think they know what active and passive voice are, but they don't. Keeps popping up in crits people do on my work. Should I go to the trouble of correcting them? Sometimes, I do; other times, I don't.

Here's some writerly advice that gets thrown around a lot:

Your protagonist must fight for what she wants rather than allow events to happen to her.

Mad Queen
11-24-2008, 05:30 AM
There must be conflict.

It's hard to argue against this one.

Elidibus
11-24-2008, 06:20 AM
Oh, pick me pick me!

*is picked*

Yay!

Second draft=First draft minus 10%

Did I do good?

=D

eLfwriter
11-24-2008, 08:43 AM
Gotta keep it exciting. No one wants to read about 'boring, everyday stuff'.

I remember reading 'It's not enough to put your protagonist up in a tree with a broken leg. Let's throw rocks at him while he's up there.'


@_@ Can't remember where I read that, but I think of it every time one of my characters is going about on otherwise boring business. I look at the sitch and say, 'hey, I bet I could get Merrick into a fight before he gets to the tavern' ...

DamaNegra
11-24-2008, 10:48 AM
Oh, pick me pick me!

*is picked*

Yay!

Second draft=First draft minus 10%

Did I do good?

=D

Actually, with me it's the other way around. First, I write the bare bones action and dialog and on the second draft I add description and everything that makes the scenes go alive.

underthecity
11-24-2008, 09:27 PM
Establish POV immediately for every scene.

John Farley
11-24-2008, 10:08 PM
check your fly before a pitch meeting.

ZeroFlowne
12-02-2008, 12:36 AM
Don't eat all the muffins.

Noah Body
12-02-2008, 12:45 AM
Unzip your fly before each pitch meeting, especially if your surname is Holmes.

dgiharris
12-02-2008, 01:13 AM
Great Ideas are meaningless. Great Ideas are a dime a dozen.
Execution via good writing is the ONLY thing that matters.

A shitty idea that is brilliantly written will sell long before a horribly written great idea. Just watch any Will Ferrel or Adam Sadler movie for proof. The public only cares about execution.

Good writting = Good execution of an idea.

Execution, Execution, Execution

Did I mention execution is important?

Mel...

p.s. learn the craft i.e. learn to effectively execute your ideas. See a theme here?

Dave.C.Robinson
12-02-2008, 06:20 AM
It doesn't happen until you put your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard.

dgiharris
12-03-2008, 07:00 PM
Beware repetition, repetitive words, phrases, sentence structures, gimmicks, etc. break up the flow of the story in a bad way.

If you use the word "house" and need to use it again in the same or next paragraph, then next time say "home", then after that use "place" then after that "domicile", etc. etc. until you build enough distance so that it doesn't seem like a repetetion.

Some words are invisible, but most nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and descriptors are not.

If you say 'ruby red lips' then guess what. You don't get to use the word 'ruby' again until you've built up enough distance so that the reader doesn't remember that last usage (usually a couple of pages).

There is no scientific formula for it, you have to develop an ear for it.

Lastly,

Be very very very very careful of using repetition as a form of emphasis. It is not near as clever or necessary as you think. You should limit yourself to about once per few pages, but again, no hard and fast rule. You must develop an ear for it.

Mel...

NeuroFizz
12-03-2008, 07:06 PM
This one is not often said, but I'll throw it out anyway.

Finish something, Poser.

If you think this is rude, go here:
http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=118356

Dave.C.Robinson
12-03-2008, 07:10 PM
I'd be wary of alternating nouns too much though. Some words like 'house,' 'home,' or 'place' are fairly common and can stand repetition more than a word like 'domicile.' While too much repetition is a bad thing - repetition of a common word is usually better than using an uncommon word that makes people think you are reaching.

The trick is always to make sure that the reader is focused on what you're saying not how you're saying it. Once you have them wondering how many synonyms you're using for 'house' you've lost them.

Mad Queen
12-03-2008, 10:48 PM
I never use synonyms for nouns. If something is a house, it'll always be a house or 'it', unless the narrator or POV character finds a more specific way to refer to it.

dgiharris
12-04-2008, 06:45 AM
I'd be wary of alternating nouns too much though. Some words like 'house,' 'home,' or 'place' are fairly common and can stand repetition more than a word like 'domicile.' ....

True,

but I think you are thinking about my repetition comment from the standpoint of decent writing. however, a good beginner litmus test (and first approximation) is to just be on guard for repetition.

House was not a great example, that was just the first thing that popped into my head. And I didn't mean it so much in the sense of using too many synonymns, more in the sense of just repetition in general.

Write two paragraphs and use the word house 5 times and there is a good chance that repetition will be a problem. This means that you either are being way too long winded, aren't using combined sentences enough, or not effectively using pronouns. Whatever the problem, the fact that you are being repetitive will be a good clue that there is another underlying problem.

Also, using the exact same (or similar) phraseology too close together is another type of repetition that breaks the flow.

I did put a disclaimer that you have to use your ear and that some words are invisible. :)

But repetition is one of the first and most obvious beginner mistakes I run across.

I would use it more like a rule of thumb just to keep you mindful of being repetitive. Repetition is definitely one of the things I root out during my later drafts.

Mel...

Dave.C.Robinson
12-04-2008, 04:39 PM
I'd actually be more worried about the same turn of phrase than I would be about simple repetition of words. I do agree with your basic point that repetition is easy to overuse and breaks the flow, though I personally think reaching for synonyms can often lead to a worse problem.

Mixing up common words is fine, so long as it's clear that all such words refer to the same thing. Otherwise you run the risk of confusing the reader who may not be sure if word 'x' and word 'y' are being used to avoid repetition or to refer to different things. Using an uncommon word to avoid using a common word twice in two paragraphs (especially a noun) is more likely to hurt than help. The real key is clarity.

It's the kind of thing I would be more likely to focus on in the edit phase than the initial writing phase myself.

triceretops
12-04-2008, 04:57 PM
Forget memoirs unless your famous.

Better have a platform for a non-fiction book. (Actually true)

You're the only one who can sell your book. (The credo of tons of POD publishers)

Tri