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Allen Guthrie's Infamous Writing Tips

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Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

R.T James

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I have a deep issue with the said rule. I couldn't figure out why until I grabbed a random book from my bookshelf and inspected it. The first three showed my issue.

Most of my literature is late 19th century and early 20th century, and what I enjoy the style of is French literature from that period. So I can turn to the page and I see, Choked, Wailed, Cried, Counted, Moaned, etc, etc. The only exception are the books gifted to me that are post 1930 in editing or publishing.

Might explain why I see the issue with the said rule. Everything I love and positively, and adore, doesn't obey that rule. In fact it chucks it out the window for emotion and feeling.

Said to me isn't invisible. If I see fifteen saids in a row I imagine two people saying things non-heartedly; like a depressed water cooler skit where every party involved is inconvenienced by seeing each other.

Guess I am the special snow flake here? Guess I am the odd man out.:Shrug:

Though I do agree with the smile rule. I might have to blow off the dust of a few of the french books and see what they did.
 

Jade Stuart

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Said to me isn't invisible. If I see fifteen saids in a row I imagine two people saying things non-heartedly; like a depressed water cooler skit where every party involved is inconvenienced by seeing each other.

I agree with you. In fact, one of the things I look for when I'm deciding whether to read a novel is whether the author uses other dialogue words. If the author is a said-er, the novel has to have some pretty compelling good points to make me read it anyway.

Most of the things on that list of rules, I disagree with. The fads on that list are a lot of what's wrong with modern literature, IMO. I want imagery. I want an extensive vocabulary. I don't want to have to be dragged through being "shown" every single damn thing, sometimes I'd rather be told and get on with it. And so on.
 

TravelHat

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Thanks, these are great, and I am guilty of many.

Although I have never heard the word "pleonasm," I have learned over time I use "that" far too often. When editing, I always need to get out my "that" zapper. Nine out of ten can usually go away.

That is why I love Scrivener, I put "that" in the search bar, and proceed on a seek and destroy mission. For my second round I put in "ly" and can instantly find most of those nasty little adverbs.
 
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Cascada

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I'm pretty much guilty of all of these in some shape or form, mostly due to unawareness that I'm doing it, but I'm learning!

This one:

24: Cut out filtering devices, wherever possible. ‘He felt’, ‘he thought’, ‘he observed’ are all filters. They distance the reader from the character.

I actually hadn't heard about until I read this thread. Very glad I came across it, because I am really good (or bad) at filtering. So yesterday, I went back to Chapter 1, and started editing out all the filtering.

Everything else is learning-in-progress.
 

Tchaikovsky

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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.

18: Give your characters clear goals. Always. Every scene. And provide obstacles to those goals. Always. Every scene. If the POV character in a scene does not have a goal, provide one or cut the scene. If there is no obstacle, add one or cut the scene.

19: Don’t allow characters who are sexually attracted to one another the opportunity to get into bed unless at least one of them has a jealous partner.

11 and 18 are ones that I will pin.

LOL on #19. I can see how that's usually the case, but there are lots of YA novels that explore first love as a theme, and so this can be bypassed. ;)

Great advice overall
 

Keithy

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Pleonasm? This is the first time I've come across the word. I'm already thinking it's something crude.

But... overall... I've either got or an getting the hang of most of these. At first the adverb thing sounded weird, but losing the adverbs helps with the show/tell thing. I did throw in some Plesiosaurs to get around the adverbs, but now I know that's not really much better. The other thing I did was shunt a few adverbs from prose into conversation. There they found a safe haven(!)

Another "but" is this: I keep thinking I've fixed all the writing problems to suit the rules, then I find more rules. Yikes!

But (last but) - I find myself wondering how many readers can actually spot these mistakes. If there's a lot of glaring examples, then yes. But all of them? Hmm, me is not convinced.
 

Keithy

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I'm wondering about the "shrugging thing". If a character does not care about a situation, or a question, or perhaps is not very talkative, then shrugging would be better than saying 'xxx did not care' in prose, or else having the character explicitly stating that he/she doesn't have a clue or doesn't care. The "no shrugging" rule seems to contradict the "show not tell" rule. People who don't know something shrug. They don't ALWAYS say "I don't know". And what if they're mutes? Should it be "he held up his little card with 'I don't know' written on it"?

Shrugging seems natural to me.
 

Zoe R

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Can someone provide an example of how to replace smiling?! Sighing is also hard to avoid, although I have characters nod and shake their heads more than shrug. #29 would definitely be my hardest to avoid!
 

Keithy

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His shoulders went up and down in unison.
 

ecerberus

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Fantastic list! This one's going to my onenote as reference.
 

Always Newbie

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Each time I'm reading it I make notes to print this list out. And each time I fail as you may guess.
Well, even writing "Avoid pleonasms!" on the front page of my working notebook might be helpful enough.
But mastering the art of avoiding them can take a lifetime.:D
 

MaeZe

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... Said to me isn't invisible. If I see fifteen saids in a row I imagine two people saying things non-heartedly; like a depressed water cooler skit where every party involved is inconvenienced by seeing each other.....
Could be said isn't the problem, could be "fifteen saids in a row" is.

There are reasons for these frequently repeated rules. There are many reasons not to follow them. The key is looking for and understanding the reason for the rule.

Replacing all those alternatives to said is a lot like replacing adverbs with stronger verbs, eliminating filter words and showing not telling. They make your writing stronger.

It's not about rules.

Take tags like "he shouted". It's stronger to show it and not use a tag at all.
"God dammit Missy, that'll be enough out of you!"​
You don't put 'he said' after that dialogue. And you don't need to say he shouted.

That is the point.

When you use s/he/John/Jane said, do it sparingly when it's too tedious to tag the dialogue with actions. Said is a tag to keep the reader oriented to who is speaking. It is not a tag to create the scene.

I agree, I've read books that overuse said. I believe those authors aren't as skilled as writers who make said invisible. I'll still read their books. I believe writers who continually search out replacements for said are not as skilled either, but I'll still read their books as well.

Could be both authors are more skilled than me. I'm still learning about a lot of things. I keep looking for the reasons behind the rules to better understand. I think it makes my writing better.
 

MaeZe

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Can someone provide an example of how to replace smiling?! Sighing is also hard to avoid, although I have characters nod and shake their heads more than shrug. #29 would definitely be my hardest to avoid!

:popcorn:

I can use all the help I can get with this one.
 

ThomasH

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My goodness, I should have come here first! :Jaw:
These are excellent tips and address many of the questions I didn't realize I had.
I can practically feel my fingers pulsing, itching to revise revise revise!

Genuinely, I believe I'm going to print this list and hang it on my office wall - right above my monitor.

I'll be right back - I've got an entire novel to cross reference with this! :Hail:
 

LSamDee

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Can someone provide an example of how to replace smiling?! Sighing is also hard to avoid, although I have characters nod and shake their heads more than shrug. #29 would definitely be my hardest to avoid!

The worst one I've ever seen was: "His face split in two with upward curved lips." I'm pretty sure the author's intention wasn't a belly laugh.
 

Enlightened

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10: Don’t be cute. In the above example, your protagonist should not be named Si Coe.
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I think this depends on what is being written, genre, age demographic, and other issues. I guess rule 32 corrects the issue though.
 

Froeschli

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Great advice, but what are we saying here? Characters are never supposed to smile or sigh or whatever real people do? Well, I guess if they're robots it might work.
This seems a bit odd to me as well. But I think the rule does what it's supposed to - make you think about using it more precisely.

one of my faves:
"I gave him my professional smile, bright and empty as a light bulb."

"His eyes sparkled with amusement."
"She extended a welcoming hand."

It's not that people don't smile, but there is usually more going on. And a reason. If they're standing there like tree stumps, and smiling, that would be creepy.

My art teacher once said: "if you see a guy muttering and cursing, you think he's having a bad day. Yet, when you see a person walking along, smiling inwardly, you conclude they're a bit soft in the head..."
 

aprildavila

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Number 3!

3: Use strong verbs in preference to adverbs. I won’t say avoid adverbs, period, because about once every fifty pages they’re okay! What’s not okay is to use an adverb as an excuse for failing to find the correct verb. To ‘walk slowly’ is much less effective than to ‘plod’ or ‘trudge’. To ‘connect strongly’ is much less effective than to ‘forge a connection’.

I wish more writers took this advice. There are so many great verbs. It's frustrating to see the boring ones get overused because writers are leaning on adverbs.
to talk loudly is to shout or yell or exclaim
to walk quickly is to run or sprint or dash or stride
to shine brightly is to glare or sparkle or beam

Down with boring verbs!
 

Woollybear

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The smiling/sighing thing is certainly problematic, but the easy trick for some of those smiles and sighs is to keep them and throw more at them.

She suppressed a smile.

She smiled, but more from anticipation than happiness.

On any other day she might smile at that.


That kind of trick doesn't always solve the inanity of she smiled, but sometimes it does. And it's simple.