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Friday, March 22, 2013

Writing tips

This morning I read a blog post entitled “The 5 Worst Writing Tips I’ve Ever Received”.  I didn’t agree with the information and posted a reply.  I was promptly challenged by both the blogger to explain my criticism.  Always happy to oblige I agreed and promised to explain my criticism in a blog post of my own.  Make yourself comfortable as this could take a while.

According to the blogger, the five worst writing tips she received were:

5. Outline your stories before you write.
I wouldn’t say that’s bad advice, that is very good advice.
While there’s no need to go into great detail, a writer should have some idea of what his story will be about.  Let’s say that the story is about John and Jane.  Who are John and Jane?  Where do they live?  What did they do that’s worth telling others about?  What hurdles did they have to overcome to make the story interesting? 

While I agree that a writer should be flexible in his ideas and go with the flow, there has to be a basic plot.  If not on paper, then at least in the writer’s mind.

Having something on paper helps as the story develops.  John can’t have black, curly hair on page 5 and blond floppy hair on page 83.  Jane can’t celebrate her birthday on July 15th on page 3 and shiver in a freezing temperature on her way to her birthday party on page 90.

4. Set a writing schedule and stick to it.

Absolutely.  Writers are notorious procrastinators.  They want to write, they feel the need to write, but … oh yes, there are a whole lot of but’s.

Many writers have a full-time job and feel tired at the end of the day.  They’d much rather veg out in front of TV than sitting in front of a computer.  At work they decide to write “tonight”, when they get home they think “I’ll write something between lunchtime tomorrow”, when that doesn’t happen they promise themselves to start writing “over the weekend”. 

Unemployed writers face other challenges.  They’re going to write as soon as:

  • They’ve checked their emails and replied to those that need a response.
  • They’ve checked Facebook/Twitter updates and responded to the statements or experiences of their friends.
  • Updated their own status.
  • Posted pictures of their children and/or pets (Fluffy did something so cute they just have to share it).
  • Played one or several games online (they can be so addictive).
  • Done the house chores.
  • Went shopping for groceries.
  • Had a nap.

Take it from any writer … getting something on paper (hard copy or electronic), takes discipline.

3. Show, don’t tell.

I agree with that too.

It’s not enough to say that John or Jane were mad, show the reader how mad they were.  Did they scream and stomp their feet in frustration?  Did they grab a plate and hurl it against the wall? 

Neither is it enough to say that the island was beautiful, show the reader its beauty by describing the scenery in detail.  Make it so accurate that they can smell the flowers and hear the birds in the trees.

2. If you’re not depressed, alcoholic, or somewhat clinically insane, you can’t create a good story.

Plenty of writers are in a pleasant state of mind, stick to non-alcoholic drinks, are perfectly sane and still manage to write a gripping story.  Then again, the most beautiful poetry and heartwarming stories are written when a writer feels depressed.  Depression heightens emotions.

1.  Write about what you know.


It’s the first thing experienced authors will tell any aspiring author.  

Take Dan Brown for instance.  Dan is a highly educated writer with a fascination for the paradoxical interplay between science and religion.  His books are so well researched that there’s no doubt in my mind he knows the location of his stories like the back of his hand.

Equally knowledgeable about what she writes is Deborah Harkness.   For the past 28 years, Deborah has been a student and scholar of history, with numerous degrees to her name from the University of California, Northwestern University and Mount Holyoke College.  She has done extensive research on the history of science and magic between the years 1500 to 1700. 

Personally I’m in favor of writers writing about what they know, because they obviously have knowledge on the subject and can give details. 

A few weeks ago I read part of a story that was set in Africa.  Having lived in Africa for 15 years, I managed to get to page 5, after which I abandoned the story.  There were so many inaccuracies that the setting of the story infuriated me.  I subsequently wrote to the author and asked where she got her information?  In which part of Africa had she lived?  She admitted that she had never set foot outside of Minnesota.

So, all in all I think what the blogger describes as bad advice is in actual fact good advice.  Feel welcome to share your thoughts.

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