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Thread: Allen Guthrie's Infamous Writing Tips

  1. #26
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin dayne-jen's Avatar
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    Awesome list! I need it poster-sized and stapled to my forehead. Oh, wait--I can't see the monitor....


  2. #27
    figuring it all out channeller's Avatar
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    Very helpful stuff! I understand how all of them would help improve a text (and I really like the one about dialogue!), the only one I'm unclear about is adjectives... how are adjectives bad? And more to the point, what could you use instead to descibe how something looked? All colours for example are not possible to substitute... or have I got this all wrong? Is it certain vague adjectives (big, small) when you could use more precise ones?

  3. #28
    It's green they say FennelGiraffe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by channeller View Post
    Very helpful stuff! I understand how all of them would help improve a text (and I really like the one about dialogue!), the only one I'm unclear about is adjectives... how are adjectives bad? And more to the point, what could you use instead to descibe how something looked? All colours for example are not possible to substitute... or have I got this all wrong? Is it certain vague adjectives (big, small) when you could use more precise ones?
    Value judgment adjectives--beautiful girl--should usually be avoided. Those often accompany too much telling and not enough showing.

    Specific adjectives--red dress--are fine.

    Even with specific adjectives, avoid piling them on--hot, dry, dusty day--one adjective per noun is usually best.

    Context matters, too. If you describe two men in enough specific detail to show that one is much larger than the other, and your POV char doesn't know their names (so you can't refer to them by name), then it's reasonable to call them "the big guy" and "the little guy" for the rest of the scene.
    In a science fiction novel, if I describe what's on a desk, the reader will use this to figure out the level of technology in the society.

    In a mystery novel, if I describe what's on a desk, the reader will understand that one of those objects is a clue.

    In a literary novel, if I describe what's on a desk, the reader will understand it to be a metaphor for the protagonist's mental state.
    - James D. Macdonald, discussing Reading Protocols, 6 Apr 2009

  4. #29
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin jcheney's Avatar
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    Great list!
    You just forced me to start a complete rewrite...

  5. #30
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin DemiChippings's Avatar
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    Smile

    I know you probably don't mean my extreme scenario but when I read the rule about people not smiling I had this image in my head of a novel filled with miserable sods. The wedding where nobody smiled, ooh can't forget the graduation of stern faces lol...sorry my imagination is running amok now...I'd reign it in but it likes the feeling of sun on its back, you know if I wasn't in England where it apparently never stops bloody raining...sorry.

  6. #31
    I create people Telstar's Avatar
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    Well, besides that i DON'T like to torture my MC, all the rest is good advice, especially rule #32.
    "Story is life, with the dull part taken out." -A. Hitchcock

    [please note that English is not my first language]

  7. #32
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    For example, in “Hunting Down The Pleonasm”, ‘down’ is pleonastic. Cut it and the meaning of the sentence does not alter.
    I guess it depends on what the meaning of meaning is, but does everybody agree that there's no difference between "hunting" and "hunting down"?

    Or how about "I know he's the killer" and "I just know he's the killer." No difference in meaning?

  8. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by Isaac Espriu View Post
    A lot depends on context. In the example quoted, no, there's not any difference.


    Hmm. To me, in any context, there's a difference between "hunt down" and "hunt". There's an implication of additional force or violence in "hunt down". It may have more to do with the state of mind of the one saying it than with what actually happens when the hunting or hunting down succeeds, but to me there's a marked difference in what the speaker/narrator feels & means.

    My point in both questions is that a subtlety of meaning can be lost by following too closely such a rule as Eliminate all "unnecessary" words.

    On "I know he's the killer" vs. "I just know he's the killer":

    With your example just above, both sentences really do have the same meaning. 'Know' is emphasized in both - the 'just' doesn't add anything to the meaning in the second example. If you're wanting depth of feeling, you can just (<-- chuckle) italicize the 'know' to achieve that.
    Here again, to me there's a subtle difference in what's implied. "I just know he's the killer" suggests, for example, that evidence has been presented that the fellow is not the killer, but the speaker/narrator is insisting that he still believes the guy is the killer and is emphatically dismissing the counter-evidence, maybe even trying to convince himself. Somehow the "just" yields that particular meaning.

    But your example looks to be dialogue. Dialogue doesn't really follow the same guidelines as narrative.
    Mmm, sometimes it does, sometimes it doesnt. That's the thing about "guidelines" to me. Narration can be very much like dialogue. That's my overriding point--that each example, each sentence, each phrase, each word in each situation, deserves its own special consideration, which following rules too closely can neglect.

  9. #34
    Mostly harmless SuperModerator dpaterso's Avatar
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    Richard, points taken, you make the differences appear obvious.

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  10. #35
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    Quote Originally Posted by dpaterso View Post
    Richard, points taken, you make the differences appear obvious.

    -Derek
    Thanks. And I'm not saying one or the other is right, only that I believe the differences are there and therefore give the writer a choice. Getting rid of words that don't help is one thing, robbing the writing of flavor, rhythm, style & suggestion is another.

  11. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by Isaac Espriu View Post
    Happy writing
    Iz
    You, too, Iz.

  12. #37
    What's up?? sharla's Avatar
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    I just read this list and printed it. I laughed out loud at rule 29 on smiling/shrugging... Oh lordy I'm guilty of that, but I've already started weeding some of that out. Now I'm gonna be paranoid about it! Need to do a 'find' and shoot the grinning idiots!

    I do wonder about others thoughts on #14 -- I personally try to eliminate unnecessary 'he said/she said' moments and let the dialogue carry itself if there are only two people talking and it's clear.

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  13. #38
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    Quote Originally Posted by DemiChippings View Post
    I know you probably don't mean my extreme scenario but when I read the rule about people not smiling I had this image in my head of a novel filled with miserable sods.
    Works in the genre and franchise I'm writing. A lot of Klingons and Vulcans standing around glowering at people.

    Quote Originally Posted by Isaac Espriu View Post
    And in my sentence above you could remove 'no' and the meaning would not be altered in any way - and you would save yourself two commas.
    Is there a shortage of commas? Maybe I need to start recycling mine.

  14. #39
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin DemiChippings's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MatthewPorras View Post
    Works in the genre and franchise I'm writing. A lot of Klingons and Vulcans standing around glowering at people.



    Is there a shortage of commas? Maybe I need to start recycling mine.
    Ah gotta love those glowering Klingons...but would Vulcans glower? Wouldn't that be going against their whole "no emotion" thing they have going on? Glowering implies a negative emotion and those snotty gits see emotions as being illogical...by snotty gits I mean Vulcans and quite possibly university professors.
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  15. #40
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    11: Avoid sounding ‘writerly’. Better to dirty up your prose. When you sound like a writer, your voice has crept in and authorial intrusion is always unwelcome. In the best writing, the author is invisible.
    I can't manage to agree with this one. I mean - there is a fault I see with some beginning writers, that they think they have to adopt a high-sounding and pretentious voice because they're Writers, and that may be what he's referring to. But there's a lot of fantastic writing that is not invisible.
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  16. #41
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin raxen's Avatar
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    This is really useful, thanks for sharing. Much appreciated. :P
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  17. #42
    practical experience, FTW TheAntar's Avatar
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    Here again, to me there's a subtle difference in what's implied. "I just know he's the killer" suggests, for example, that evidence has been presented that the fellow is not the killer, but the speaker/narrator is insisting that he still believes the guy is the killer and is emphatically dismissing the counter-evidence, maybe even trying to convince himself. Somehow the "just" yields that particular meaning.
    Present the evidence in either context. Now have someone say:

    "I know he's the killer."

    Isn't it still (basically) the same thing? As mentioned, I realize we're talking about dialogue here so the rules aren't strict. I'm just saying, given the context the word 'just' still doesn't really do much for that sentence.
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  18. #43
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    #30 is not exactly correct. The pronoun "it" could refer to either the knife or the sheath. It works in dialogue because everyone would assume that poor unfortunate Paul was stabbed with a knife rather than the sheath - I personally would also think it worked because the knife was obviously the object of John's action.

    It's not ideal, though - the problem is that the antecedent isn't clear. This page is the clearest explanation I found, although there are others: http://www.towson.edu/ows/proref.htm. Basically, pronouns should clearly refer to one and only one noun/antecedent.

  19. #44
    Writing Anarchist DeleyanLee's Avatar
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    Of all this, I only find two at all relevent:

    Quote Originally Posted by robertmblevins View Post
    13: Don’t confuse the reader. If you write something you think might be unclear, it is. Big time. Change it or cut it.


    32: If something works, forget about the rule that says it shouldn’t.
    And I take #13 more as a ruler to measure the work by and #32 more as the only way I can write.
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  20. #45
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Red face Rats and new beginnings

    Quote Originally Posted by Write4U2 View Post
    Aw, rats!!! I'll have to start all over.
    LOL...loved this I've been away from my final draft for awhile...we had a move and then a hurricane....it makes me shiver to think what fresh eyes are going to find... Sigh....wry smile...

  21. #46
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Very helpful! Thank you very much for posting this. I will share it to everyone I know.

  22. #47
    Writing Space Pirate sadron's Avatar
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    I'm gonna print this and post it on my wall! Or at least save it somewhere...
    So helpful!
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  23. #48
    practical experience, FTW
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    Great list but there is another problem with #30. You should never end a sentence with a pronoun. Unless of course, your character is speaking because that is surprisingly common even though we're always told not too.

  24. #49
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Aura's Avatar
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    Question

    Danka fur dein advice. What's the best way to describe U-Boats and their crew during WW2
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  25. #50
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin scratchingcat's Avatar
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    All right, I read this list and went in my head: Yup, did that, did this, did that too, repeatedly, did this, have to check if i did that, but think I did....

    In short, this is very humbling and helpful.

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