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Allen Guthrie's Infamous Writing Tips

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channeller

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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?
 

FennelGiraffe

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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?

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.
 

DemiChippings

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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.
 

Telstar

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Well, besides that i DON'T like to torture my MC, all the rest is good advice, especially rule #32.
 

Richard Martin

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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?
 

Richard Martin

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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.
 

dpaterso

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Richard, points taken, you make the differences appear obvious.

-Derek
 

Richard Martin

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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.
 

sharla

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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.

Opinions?
 

MatthewPorras

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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.

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.
 

DemiChippings

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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.
 

Fillanzea

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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.
 

raxen

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This is really useful, thanks for sharing. Much appreciated. :p
 

TheAntar

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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.
 

ShyViolet

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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.
 

DeleyanLee

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Of all this, I only find two at all relevent:

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.
 

Loretta

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Rats and new beginnings

Aw, rats!!! I'll have to start all over.:rant:

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...
 

sadron

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I'm gonna print this and post it on my wall! :D Or at least save it somewhere...
So helpful!
 

priggy

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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.
 

Aura

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Danka fur dein advice. What's the best way to describe U-Boats and their crew during WW2
 

scratchingcat

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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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