Tag Archives: techniques

Bumper round-up of writing advice

Lots of good free advice for fictionistas in the RSS feeds today; the greatest chunk of which comes from Jim van Pelt’s Livejournal, a resource which I only discovered recently, but am already very found of.

Mr. van Pelt first looks at character creation, and the methods of showing rather than telling the reader what a character is like:

“For me, actions trump both appearance and speech.  The soldier who talks about how he will run when faced with the enemy, but throws himself on the grenade at a key moment reveals more about himself through his actions than his words.”

He then shares an exercise that he gives to his students, which sounds like the sort of thing I’d have really enjoyed, had my teachers in English ever set such tasks – go into another classroom and take observational notes about the teacher!

Next, he looks at situations where the canonical rules of writing can be broken, on the proviso that the writer knows what they are doing. For example:

Don’t shift point of view.   In general, this is good advice.  A writer who slips around willy nilly with point of view just confuses the heck out of the reader.  I responded to a story the other day that dipped into the cat’s point of view for a sentence, and then, catastrophically, into a house plant on the fireplace mantle for another sentence.  The better advice, at least to stronger writers, is Control point of view.  If you know what you are doing, a story that shifts point of view can be the only way to tell the story, if it works.”

Following on neatly from that is Carol Berg’s response to a reader enquiry about shifting POVs at the DeepGenre blog:

“There is certainly nothing technically wrong with multiple first-person narrators. It is no more “incorrect” than using multiple third-person points of view or present tense or omniscient POVs or whatever else. For those of us who love first person done well, multiple narrators can alleviate the biggest downside of writing first-person narrative, which is getting only one character’s view of the action.”

Ms. Berg goes on to list a number of techniques she uses to make sure her first person viewpoints work: making it clear to the reader ‘whose head they are inside’; minimising the use of ‘I’; and avoiding navel-gazing episodes, to name but a few.

Lastly comes a slew of advice on techniques for writing descriptively – thanks to the way Livejournal works, I can’t put a name to their supplier, but their LJ user handle is bg_editor – which were posted in response to the van Pelt material above:

“I look on description as my camera. If I am analogous to the director of the film my readers watch, then description controls many of the aspects of that story experienced by the reader. That camera is critical for conveying pacing, setting, character, and plot.

Description does not sit statically—it has a purpose. Like makeup, it is applied sparingly to highlight or emphasize what we wish to show, to draw attention away from what we do not. It cues the reader as to what is critical to the story and ensures that a tale maintains momentum.”

Lots of quoted examples from well-known writers in there, too; an excellent chunk of advice.

The only problem I have is that, the more writing advice I read, the more intimidated about sitting down and attempting to actually accomplish any writing I become. That golden first rule (writers must, y’know, write) has always been my biggest stumbling block.

The potential futures of advertising

A few things that seemed interconnected in the daily feeds today. Firstly, a letter written sixty years ago by an angry young copywriter named Bill Bernbach, complaining to his bosses that his industry was in danger of stagnating:

“The danger lies in the temptation to buy routinized men who have a formula for advertising. The danger lies in the natural tendency to go after tried-and-true talent that will not make us stand out in competition but rather make us look like all the others.”

Can’t help but feel that the industry must have stopped listening, and the recent rise of the web and viral marketing has caught them on the hop. New models, new challenges.

But never fear, there’s always a way to cheat: look at this piece about using fMRI brain scans to determine recognition patterns in the brains of people being shown different models of cars:

“When Daimler Chrysler recently showed pictures of their cars while measuring brainwave activity with an fMRI scanner, they found that sports cars stimulated the reward centre of the brain, which is also the area stirred by drugs, alcohol and sex. The front view of the cars, with distinctive facade and headlight “eyes”, subjects showed brain activity in the facial recognition centre of the brain.”

Now I’m a big fan of science, but the thought of it becoming the inescapable tool of marketeers is a far from pleasant one. I suppose it’s too much to hope for that companies might just focus on making brilliant, necessary products – instead of pissing away millions on brainwashing us into buying crap we don’t need. Meh.