Writing Advice #1

Writing advice is as cheap as a Google search. Everyone has advice to hand out even if they’ve never written anything past high school English and might read a book or two a year. If you’re like me, you find it annoying when people who know little about something that you know a little bit more about give you advice on how to do it better.

Tip: take a deep breath, and let it go.

If you do a Google search, or even an Amazon search through their books you’ll find out how many books about writing there are. Before you go to find out, it’s a lot. I’ve read several of them (I’ve lost count.) and I can tell you common threads runs through them all, although the advice varies on certain things, such as “said” in dialog tags.

Tip: take all the advice the writing world has to offer and swallow it. Digest it. Then think about it with your own mind and experience. Everyone writes differently. It’s part of that “style” thing. Readers have varying tastes when it comes to what is “good.” Example: I enjoyed Rowling’s “No Vacancy,” while many others did not. It’s a matter of taste and what we want out of a book.

My writing advice has changed over the last few years and it will probably continue to change, as I learn and write.

For the moment, let’s talk about something simple yet hammered into the brains of every writing student: show, don’t tell.

First, what does this mean? Telling = narration. Showing = action. The tricky part of this “show, don’t tell” isn’t changing all “tell” into “show” (that novel would be exhausting and thick like a brick) but to know what to show within the story and what to tell. That isn’t something learned quickly in a how-to writing book. It’s an instinct learned through practice.

Important scenes are shown. Important scenes that push the plot forward, reveal important character information or development, are shown. The “telling” is narration linking those scenes together.

Let’s say that in a short story there are three important scenes: the opening problem, the middle mess-up, and the ending victory. The main character, Steve, has three major scenes (think like a stage play). Let’s say the opening problem is when Steve realize that his favorite pair of socks is missing a sock. The middle-mess up is when he finds the sock, but in a twist drops it into the garbage compactor. In the ending victory, he finds a new pair of socks in the same brand at a bargain price.

The three scenes shone would be, “missing sock,” “found sock and broken sock,” and “new sock.” Those important scenes are shown with dialog and action. The in-between transitions, such as him searching for the sock and going to the store, link those scenes together. They are narrated.

Of course, in a longer, more complex story there would be more scenes and thus more transitions. Think of a a stage play. Between scenes the stage goes dark – sometimes the curtains stays up – and you can see/hear the crew moving things around, setting up the next scene. This is a transition. It transports us into the next scene.

How do you show a scene? Action. Dialog. Active verbs. Avoid internal dialog and lengthy narration. Instead of telling how someone feels, show how they feel through their actions.(Do people outright tell you they are mad, or do you sense it in how he talks? the way she stands? how he walks? the way she holds herself? the fury in his eyes? the quake in his clenched fists? is he tapping his fingers as he puffing on the cigarettes he’s trying to give up?)

There are so many ways to reveal emotion and character within a character’s actions. Here’s a fun exercise: go out and watch people. How do they walk? to they strut, meander, trot, or waltz? How do people convey personality in how they speak, dress, act, and approach other people? So they speak softly or loudly? Are they complaining or nervous?

Fiction is about people. Study people. Make notes. People can be really interesting.

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