A Crash Course in Writing: A Few Pointers and Rules

From Brass Goggles

[edit] You there!

Lad! Or lass - I'm not particularly concerned about your gender. Actually, I just can't tell, because this is the internet and for all I know, you could be a highly trained squirrel rolling on a keyboard for fun and profit. Who knows?

Anyway, I'm here to offer input into making your writing better.

[edit] But Captain McCannon! What makes you qualified to tell me things?

I'm not entirely sure. But you clicked on the link to hear what I have to say, so it MUST have some merit, right?

Seriously though, here are some pointers I've picked up in my many travels through the wide and terrifying world of writing and publishing. Editors tell me things, I start making connections between acceptances and rejections, etc, etc. Hey, if it worked for me, it should work for you!

[edit] So what have you got to tell me?

Why, I'm glad you asked!

1. Immediate scene v.s. narrative summary.

When reading a book, you kind of have a natural inclination to see stuff happen. You want to be in the moment! You don't want to be an afterthought, like the characters were off having fun by themselves, saw you, and went, "Oh. It's him again." Immediate scene is being right there in the middle of the action. Narrative summary is when those jerk characters sigh and go, "Yeah, Jimmy escaped from a terrifying military test site that mutates humans, posing as a high-security mental asylum, using only a spoon and his slowly deteriorating mental health. But, y'know, that was that."

2. "Dialogue," he said.

Adding tags to the end of lines of dialogue is a great idea. It keeps your Jimmies from your Warden Thurgroves, your hims from your hers. But too many dialogue tags gets cumbersome and boring. Know when to cut.

3. Adverbs, badly.

Adverbs, when used correctly, can be decent at describing things accurately. But when you cheerfully overuse them in a sadly misguided attempt at cleverly enhancing your writing, your readers (and editors) will quickly, angrily, and frustratedly throw your work down in disgust. Disgustedly.

4. Your characters are different!

A demure secretary would not talk like a gruff sea captain. Think about how they would speak, but don't make it explicit and forced.

5. The Hemingway Iceberg, or, Show, Don't Tell

This may be the most important rule of writing. SHOW, DON'T TELL! That means that you shouldn't spoon-feed your readers every detail. For instance, instead of going, "Johnny was a chain smoker", you could rile 'em up by saying:

"Johnny leaned against the table, his weight resting entirely on his left arm. His right was busy fumbling in his pockets, digging through each one like an angry worm. After about a minute of increasingly frustrated searching, he withdrew a pack of cigarettes his scuffed trousers. He pulled one out and shoved it though his lips. A faint look of happiness flashed across his face as he lifted the lighter. Fifth one since six AM. Probably a new record."

Bad example, but sure. For further deliberation on this subject, read Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants".

Well, there's five things I hope you take into account. That's it from me. Go home, nothing else to see here. Move along then.

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