Some thoughts on writing

  1. Grant yourself unfettered access to the entire English language. Do not fret unduly about using words or parts of speech others have misused or overused or put on a list of ‘things to avoid’. All you need consider is whether you are using the right word in the right place for your work.
  2. ‘To be’ is a very strong verb. If you don’t believe me, reread the first ten verses of the KJB translation of The Gospel according to John or else the first sentences of 1984 or The Bell Jar or Bring up the Bodies or More Than This. You may decide to use it sparingly but few verbs are more powerful in declarative statements.
  3. Don’t rush to judgement when a sentence is written using the passive. No crime or sin is being committed.
  4. The presence of ‘was’ does not automatically render a sentence passive. Your writing life will be easier if you can distinguish the grammatical passive voice from the past continuous (otherwise known as the past progressive or past imperfect) form of a verb.
  5. Feel free to make use of dialogue tags other than ‘said’; people do indeed ‘whisper’, ‘shout’, ‘hiss’, ‘scold’, ‘murmur’ or ‘dictate’ upon occasion.
  6. Fiction isn’t Latin or academic prose so use contractions, split infinitives or end sentences with prepositions if you wish to.
  7. Too much showing is as tedious to read as too much telling. Assume intelligence in your reader: there’s no need to show, tell or explain everything.
  8. A little description can go a long way. The well placed detail is the key to world building, whatever genre of book you’re writing.
  9. Sweat the small stuff! Anachronisms, factual errors and unwarranted assumptions will play havoc with a reader’s ability to suspend disbelief so do your research and get the details right. Pay attention too to internal consistency.
  10. Be open when people offer their opinions on your work, consider carefully what they say, but do not feel obliged to follow their advice if it goes against your grain (and, yes, this goes for everything I’ve written here, except point 4).
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7 Responses to Some thoughts on writing

  1. Reblogged this on Jane Dougherty Writes and commented:
    If you’re thinking of writing a book, read this first. If there’s one piece of advice you ought to heed before you embark on your project, this is it.

  2. People who follow writing advice to the letter generally end up writing the fiction equivalent of concrete mixer manuals. Reblogging.

  3. To be frank (see what i did there :)) these are all obvious points. But it is astounding how hard it can be to get people to grasp the obvious. To use an analogy, you learn to play football by repeatedly kicking a ball until it goes exactly where you want it to go to, not by reading the Football Association’s rule-book five thousand times. Colin

    • I agree these points are mostly obvious but this post is a reaction to reading too many pieces of writing advice. It started as a rant and ended up as a more moderate attempt to redress the balance.

      • Oh, I know that feeling. Authonomy was great for ranting on and full of fools citing ‘rules’ and equally full of fools saying they didn’t need any ‘stinking’ rules as a justification (God I sound old) for having a tin ear for prose.

        Unfortunately, people actually want ‘rules’ because rules are easy to follow. Hence the twelve simple steps to health, wealth, and a great relationship genre when life doesn’t actually resemble a staircase so much as a round of crazy golf.

        Your ‘obvious’ points are all guidelines and suggestions that force the writer to decide for themselves. You’re right, but you won’t be popular. 😦 Colin

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