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Allen Guthrie's Infamous Writing Tips

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WordLover

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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.

15: Whilst it’s good to assume your reader is intelligent, never assume they’re psychic.

23: Don’t allow your fictional characters to speak in sentences. Unless you want them to sound fictional.

24: Cut out filtering devices, wherever possible. ‘He felt’, ‘he thought’, ‘he observed’ are all filters. They distance the reader from the character.
no offense but this is poisonous advice for writers.
 

CaroGirl

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no offense but this is poisonous advice for writers.
I've read each of those 5 times but I don't taste the poison. They each seem like sound advice to me. Do you have a reason why you believe they're poinsonous?
 

MGraybosch

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I've read each of those 5 times but I don't taste the poison. They each seem like sound advice to me. Do you have a reason why you believe they're poinsonous?

I'm not sure what purpose I'd serve by having characters who are supposed to be well-educated and literate, but never speak in complete sentences. Also, why shouldn't I filter through my viewpoint character's perceptions if I am using a point of view that depends on knowing what a particular character is doing, sensing, thinking, and feeling?
 

bettielee

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I'm not sure what purpose I'd serve by having characters who are supposed to be well-educated and literate, but never speak in complete sentences.

I think he meant don't have them sound like robots or speak in a way that isn't natural. I'm doing a crit for someone, and he never uses contractions. All his characters sound like Data from The Next Generation

Also, why shouldn't I filter through my viewpoint character's perceptions if I am using a point of view that depends on knowing what a particular character is doing, sensing, thinking, and feeling?

but why filter? You can show all that without telling. I think filtering is the same as "show, don't tell"

JMHO.
 

CaroGirl

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I'm not sure what purpose I'd serve by having characters who are supposed to be well-educated and literate, but never speak in complete sentences. Also, why shouldn't I filter through my viewpoint character's perceptions if I am using a point of view that depends on knowing what a particular character is doing, sensing, thinking, and feeling?
I don't think these are meant as absolutes, especially judging by the final point. My interpretation is looser. If you have a character, no matter how educated, whose life is in peril, perhaps hanging from the window ledge of a burning building, and you have that character say, "Help! I think my hands are slipping and at any moment I might fall to my death." I don't think that's realistic.

I happen to wholeheartedly agree with removing the filtering from a point of view character; unless your intention is to distance the character from the reader.

For example, I rarely say something like: Thomas heard the sound of a shotgun blast. Instead, I try to say: A shotgun blast rang out. I think it's more immediate, uses stronger language, and, doggonit, it's just better writing.
 

Bufty

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I think they're only guidelines - the suggestion was to avoid filtering 'wherever possible'.

A beginner or inexperienced writer is likely to filter everything - not because that's the way he chooses to report a character's feelings but because he doesn't know any other way to do it, and it can be jarring and amateurish.

The more experienced writer can get away with mixing them up - filtering or not, as and when he feels it works better to adopt one way over the other.
 

MGraybosch

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If you have a character, no matter how educated, whose life is in peril, perhaps hanging from the window ledge of a burning building, and you have that character say, "Help! I think my hands are slipping and at any moment I might fall to my death." I don't think that's realistic.

Last time I checked, "Get me the f--- out of here!", is a complete sentence. :)

I happen to wholeheartedly agree with removing the filtering from a point of view character; unless your intention is to distance the character from the reader.

My intention, when filtering, is to give the reader the scene as the viewpoint character experiences it -- not to distance the reader from the scene.

For example, I rarely say something like: Thomas heard the sound of a shotgun blast. Instead, I try to say: A shotgun blast rang out. I think it's more immediate, uses stronger language, and, doggonit, it's just better writing.

I wouldn't do it that way either. Instead, I'd do the following: "Thomas threw himself to the ground as a shotgun shattered the night behind him."
 

Bufty

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So what are you disagreeing about in respect to filtering?

The undernoted is exactly what Guthrie is suggesting.

I wouldn't do it that way either. Instead, I'd do the following: "Thomas threw himself to the ground as a shotgun shattered the night behind him."
 

JMBlackman

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


Great list, but I have a question here. How do I show someone thought something (when using 3rd person) without saying they thought it? Can I just state it and assume the reader knows these opinions are those of that particular character and not some floating entity?
 

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Great list, but I have a question here. How do I show someone thought something (when using 3rd person) without saying they thought it? Can I just state it and assume the reader knows these opinions are those of that particular character and not some floating entity?
If you've established that you're writing in third limited (as in, inside one character's head) it should be relatively obvious to the reader that those opinions are those of that character. The occasional filtering device may still be necessary, but only very occasionally.
 

JMBlackman

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If you've established that you're writing in third limited (as in, inside one character's head) it should be relatively obvious to the reader that those opinions are those of that character. The occasional filtering device may still be necessary, but only very occasionally.


OK, super. I just wasn't sure if it was something that could be entirely avoided while still being comprehensible. I have general trouble with third person, anyway. And now I've made it more complicated on myself by going back and forth between two characters in a chapter. So, this has certainly been something I've been thinking about.
 

Mara

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Wow, this is a useful list. I'm surprised that my new WIP doesn't go against them much. (Guess that's the benefit of all of the false starts I had over the past month or so.)

2: Use oblique dialogue. Try to generate conflict at all times in your writing. Attempt the following experiment at home or work: spend the day refusing to answer your family and colleagues’ questions directly. Did you generate conflict? I bet you did. Apply that principle to your writing and your characters will respond likewise.

6: Keep speeches short. Any speech of more than three sentences should be broken up. Force your character to do something. Make him take note of his surroundings. Ground the reader. Create a sense of place.

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.

20: Torture your protagonist. It’s not enough for him to be stuck up a tree. You must throw rocks at him while he figures out how to get down.

23: Don’t allow your fictional characters to speak in sentences. Unless you want them to sound fictional.


Some thoughts on specifics, though.

2. I think this can be a big "newbie trap" in both directions. Too little of this, and there might not be much suspense. But too much of it, and readers start getting frustrated that the conflict is "contrived." It's like when a sitcom plot is based entirely on some ludicrously simple misunderstanding. It's mildly funny the first time, but gets annoying when you see it in every episode of every show.

I'm saying this because I think I'm guilty of having overly secretive, melodramatic characters at times, and I'm trying not to overdo it.

6. This has been difficult for me at times. I can do it, but it took me a while to figure out ways to make the dialogue breaking sentences look relevant, rather than being contrived ways to break up dialogue. So, an addition to this advice is "Try to have something else going on during dialogue so that characters can do something other than body language or tying their shoes."

19. This sounds like silly, insincere "advice" in a list of useful, sincere advice. Does the author really mean this? If so, it's completely absurd, like unironically saying "never write an action scene without ninjas or zombies." I guess perhaps the intent was to say "Don't have unnecessary sex scenes just for the heck of it."

20. This is another one that's hard for me to do, but I'm getting better about it. As a reader, I do think that many authors (and scriptwriters) overdo this a little bit at times.* The key is to do it enough that you create maximum suspense. If you go too far, the reader starts feeling like you're going to screw over the protagonist no matter what, and there's no reason to get emotionally invested in her. Knowing that everything will always turn out alright can ruin suspense, but so can knowing that everything will always go wrong.

*I'm not resisting the notion that I need to do it more, though. Even if someone else does it too much, there's no excuse for me not to do it enough.

23. I think this could have been worded a lot better. Characters shouldn't always speak formally (and many characters should never speak formally), but they should be able to communicate beyond grunts and sentence fragments.
 

LOG

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John took the knife out of its sheath and stabbed Paul with it. Well, that’s good news for Paul. If you travel backwards from ‘it’, you’ll see that John has stabbed Paul with the sheath!
I don't see the problem...
 

warofthesparks

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I don't see the problem...

Honestly, I don't either. No one smart enough to pick up a book is going to mistake anyone for stabbing someone with a sheath. I think it amounts to us writers being *cough, cough. anal. cough* about stuff like that. That's not to say we should abandon the rules of grammar, but come on.:Shrug:
 

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Great post! I laughed out loud at rule 20: "Torture your protaginist." I do well at following this list, but rereading the list is important. Thank you!
 

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