Tag Archives: Common

Writing tips round-up

What with one thing and another, it’s been a donkey’s age since I last did a writing advice round-up. I had a few morsels lying about in the old RSS reader, so I thought I’d take a moment to pitch them out.

Twenty mistakes to avoid

This is the first of two posts from E. E. Knight, a man who manages to educate and entertain at the same time. It’s a list of twenty fiction-writing blunders made by beginning (and not-so-beginning) writers. My personal favourite:

11 – So that’s why you wrote this: I’ve read stories where the most precise language and evocative imagery is saved for the all-important pudenda-shaving scene as the heroine gets ready to go to the library. I’m not knocking your kink, I’m just wondering why so much word-weight is put into a personal hygiene choice in a story about tracking down Shoggoths.


Showing not telling – avoiding infodump

Back-story is probably more essential in genre fiction than any other form … but that doesn’t make it any more palatable when served in huge expository lumps. So here’s a snippet of E. E. Knight’s comprehensively lengthy advice on sneaking the back-story under the radar:

You’re doing a disservice to your readers when you present them with the information they need to know to understand your world (or the backgrounds for your characters, or whatever) in a couple of ways when you do this, though. For one thing, it’s absolutely static and therefore boring. For another, the authorial hand is visible, cold on the reader’s throat like a doctor checking your glands.

Indeed. Concludes with plenty of examples, also. If you’re a beginning writer, and you’re not subscribed to his RSS feed, you’re missing out.

Collaboration 101

Another writer whose advice I increasingly find indispensable (and another one by whose actual fiction, to my shame, I’ve never read*) is Luc Reid. While not so much of a didactic piece as Knight’s material above, this post lays out a procedural framework for collaborating on short stories:

6. When we have a completed first draft, one of us does the first round of editing. If one person did more of the original writing, the other should be the one to do the first round of editing. During editing, we discuss any major changes before making them, but other than that we’re ruthless and edit the stories almost as though they were our own. We don’t hesitate to strike out a beautiful phrase or change a character or what have you even if the other person has done the original work. However, we do this using Word’s “track changes” feature, which is very easy to use, so that if something needs to be restored it can be.

Hmmm. I’m thinking you’ll have to be pretty good friends with anyone you do that sort of work with! Good food for thought, though.

Clomping foot redux

It’s a mark of his great talent (and the great esteem in which he is held) that M. John Harrison can set the genre blogosphere alight with a few short paragraphs about the sort of fantasy he is tired of seeing:

Go away & write me a fantasy like that. Wait twenty years before you start. Write it out of some emotion of yours you never understood, or some decision you made you’re not sure if you regret; but never once name that emotion or let me see the decision. I want what’s underneath. Make it short. Remember the world never had a plot, & that there’s no difference between a “myth” & commuting to work, they’re just two really excellent ways of narrating the life out of life.

Tear this one up, & start again with that very good sentence from p50, “I didn’t know what was happening.”

Much like the original “clomping foot” post, I think people will be talking about this one for some time to come.

In fact, it reminds me of some of the things the Mundanistas have been saying, though there are fundamental differences. But that’s a post for another day …

[*Actually, that’s not strictly true – I have read some of Luc Reid’s super-short pieces over at The Daily Cabal, which is kind of like Friday Flash Fiction every single day, and another fine addition to your web-based diet.]

Friday Photo Blogging: pine and pole

What better warm-up for a Bank Holiday weekend in the UK than some random photo from a guy who knows nothing about photography, eh? Here’s some kind of pine tree down on Southsea Common:

Pines and poles against the sky

I can’t help but feel it would have been a more interesting shot had I been able to zoom in closer, but I’m still a bit cagey about taking more than one lens with me at a time – swapping them over in the great outdoors seems like an open invitation to getting dust and crap on the sensor, and getting that sorted isn’t cheap. Still, if I want to improve my photographic chops, I’ll have to bite the bullet. Selah.


Another week flies past in a blur of day-job, review-writing and a judicious amount of RP malarkey in Second Life – well, a guy’s gotta have some sort of leisure outlet, after all, even if it usually involves staying up far later than is probably healthy. Speaking of Second Life, the most excellent Fallon Winfield (better known as science fiction writer Jason Stoddard) delivered me my virtual pied a terre over the past weekend, which is just awesome in a “concrete Mexican compound designed for a post-apocalyptic shoot-out show-down” sort of way. I’ll have to remember to get some snapshots over the next few days to share with you. (I also need to blog about his thoughts on personal branding, because they tie in to my genre independence flag-waving. Watch this space.)

I’ve been tweaking away at the Naval Museum website while at my day-job, applying the SEO wisdom I’ve accrued since starting VCTB to help improve the page ranks and so on. It’s a long slow process; I’m basically just going through and changing all the page titles as a first pass, but there’s a lot more to be done. Still, progress is steady, and it’s good to be doing something I know I’m good at.

As far as freelance work is concerned, a whole lot of stuff peaks over this weekend – including doing the copy for a whole website, and three or four press releases for local bands and musicians. Plus a book review to do, six or seven CDs, and the Biffy Clyro show from last Sunday to write up. So it’s not going to be much of a holiday for me this weekend … although, as I work on Her Majesty’s Dockyard property, I get Tuesday off work as well, due to some old and arcane law or another. Bonus!

(Anyone interested in having a chuckle at my music journalism skills may wish to consult the ‘paulgraven’ tag on my del.icio.us account, which I’m now starting to use as a way of keeping track of where stuff I’ve written has ended up on the intarwebs. Because there’s, y’know, so much of it. Yeah.)


Incoming material has yet again been (mercifully) sparse. A few things of note arrived spread across a brace of care packages from Orbit, however:

  • Spindrift by Allen Steele (which I see is getting sterling reviews all over the place, so it’ll have to move into the upper layers of the increasingly baroque book-queueing system)
  • A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore (which looks to be aiming for that Tom Holt / Robert Rankin cod comedy supernatural soap-opera angle; I’ll give it a try, but if it doesn’t bite early I’m not going to expend precious reading hours on it)

The rest was fantasy or vampire boffing. Meh. Not my bag, guv’nor – and I don’t have enough hours in my life for the books which I know I want to read.


One final note: I just want to say how sad it is to hear that Andy Wheeler of the SFBC may be out of a job. I’ve never met Andy, but his was one of the first SF blogs I started following, and he’s someone I’ve looked up to ever since – as a good blogger, a man of solid and well reasoned (if crotchety) opinions on the genre and publishing in general, and an all-round good bloke. As much as I may sometimes proclaim the necessity of radical restructuring in the publishing industry, it’s sad to see the human cost of business rationalisation, here as anywhere. I wish Andy the best of luck, and I’m confident that a man of his obvious dedication and intelligence will find gainful and satisfying work in short order, should he require it. Nil carborundum, sir.


Well, there we go – another week of my thrill-a-second life typed up and encapsulated for your vicarious enjoyment. I have a few things to sort out before heading to The Goa for The Friday Curry Of Exceptional Justice and Righteousness (which isn’t a problem, as they’re not even open yet), so I’ll say my goodbyes and wish all my fellow Brits a happy (and hopefully warm and sunny) long weekend – try not to drink too much, and remember what Baz Luhrmann said about the sunscreen.